If you’re bound for graduate school, you may need to submit GMAT or GRE test scores as part of the application process. But you might be wondering which exam to take and how your results can impact your grad school admissions. Ultimately, the choice of exam will depend on your academic goals.
To help you decide which is right for you, we’ll break down the GMAT and GRE individually. We’ll highlight the formats for each exam and discuss their purpose, then lay out how you can prepare for them.
What is the GMAT?
The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, is produced by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), a global association of graduate business schools that produces a variety of resources for prospective students and educators alike.
The GMAT is made up of four sections, which assess skills similar to those assessed in the GRE General Test but in different ways:
Analytical writing assessment tests for argument analysis, critical thinking, and communication skills through writing.
Verbal reasoning measures your ability to read, comprehend, evaluate, and revise written texts, and focuses largely on grammar.
Quantitative reasoning gauges your ability to use logic and foundational math concepts to analyze quantitative data and solve problems without a calculator.
Integrated reasoning evaluates your ability to assess multiple sources of information in various formats and develop conclusions and solve problems based on the data available.
What is the GRE?
The Graduate Record Examinations, which include the GRE General Test and GRE Subject Tests, are produced by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), an organization that develops and administers numerous assessments and aptitude tests.
The GRE General Test is composed of three sections, each of which measures different skills and abilities:
Analytical writing measures your ability to interpret source material and make logical arguments using standard written English.
Verbal reasoning assesses your ability to analyze and interpret texts, derive meaning, and draw conclusions from written works, and focuses largely on vocabulary.
Quantitative reasoning evaluates your ability to work with quantitative data and solve problems using foundational math skills and a calculator.
What's their purpose?
While both are exams typically used for graduate school admission, each has its own purpose and structure.
A GMAT or GRE score is just one part of a well-rounded graduate school application. Admissions departments use these standardized test results along with other application materials, including:
Letters of recommendation
Test results allow admissions counselors to compare applicants’ performance and assess academic proficiency levels equally across the board. Percentile-based scores also illustrate where applicants are in relation to their peers. While a test score is not the only factor under consideration, it will certainly help inform admissions decisions.
Which schools accept GMAT and GRE test scores?
According to the ETS, the GRE General Test is typically accepted by graduate schools for a wide range of programs:
Master of Science (MS)
Master of Arts (MA)
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Specialized master’s degrees in business
Juris Doctor (JD)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The GRE is the most widely used standardized test for graduate school applicants. It’s accepted globally and by 3,700 institutions in the U.S. alone. While it’s often an application requirement, some schools consider it optional.
According to the GMAC, the GMAT is accepted by 2,300 institutions around the world. Only institutions that offer graduate degrees in management and business are eligible to request GMAT test scores. Some graduate business schools will only take GMAT scores, while others will accept either GMAT or GRE test scores.
What do the GMAT and GRE tests measure?
The GMAT and GRE have similar verbal reasoning and analytical writing components. However, the GMAT’s quantitative reasoning section tests your ability to use logic and reasoning to solve quantitative problems, as you might in a business setting. In contrast, the GRE’s quantitative reasoning section is more of a traditional test of your mathematical knowledge and skills. This explains why a calculator is permitted for the GRE but not the GMAT.
Additionally, the GMAT has a supplemental section dedicated to integrated reasoning. This part of the test measures your ability to interpret different sources using a combination of qualitative and quantitative reasoning tactics to solve complex problems.
Who should take each exam?
If you’re a prospective business or management student, you may have the choice to take either the GMAT or the GRE, but it is best to check the application instructions and find out if your target program indicates a preference for one or the other.
Unless you are seeking a business or management degree, your target school will likely accept the GRE and not the GMAT. Taking the GRE could be the right choice if you are applying for a program in a field such as the liberal arts, sciences, or humanities. The GRE is also useful if you wish to leave your graduate school options open and aren’t completely set on a business or management program.
In addition to the GRE General Test, there are six types of GRE Subject Tests, each with their own question formats and structure. You might consider taking one of the GRE Subject Tests if you have specialized knowledge and experience and you plan on applying to graduate-level programs in any of the following disciplines:
Literature in English
Check the application requirements for the programs and schools you wish to apply to so you know your options. The decision of whether to take the GMAT or GRE really depends on your academic goals and preferred testing style. In addition to researching and comparing the GMAT vs. GRE, it can be helpful to take a practice exam for both tests to see which you feel more comfortable with.
GMAT vs. GRE: Which is easier?
It might be tempting to choose whichever test seems easiest, but in reality, both the GMAT and GRE are designed to be challenging.
The best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the different formats and approaches of both exams so you can choose the one that plays to your strengths.
What is the format of the GMAT?
If you take the GMAT, you will be able to choose the order of your exam sections from three different sequences:
Analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning
Quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing assessment
Verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing assessment
The GMAT analytical writing assessment includes one “analysis of an argument” question that must be completed within 30 minutes.
You will also have 30 minutes to complete the GMAT integrated reasoning section, which contains 12 questions in the following formats:
The GMAT quantitative reasoning section includes 31 questions that must be answered in 62 minutes. Question formats are:
Finally, the GMAT verbal reasoning section contains 36 questions you must complete in 65 minutes. The three question types in this section are:
What is the format of the GRE?
Analytical writing will always appear first on the GRE General Test. This includes two separately timed 30-minute essay questions:
Analyze an issue
Analyze an argument
Verbal reasoning contains two separately timed 30-minute sections with 20 questions each. The three question types in this part of the GRE are:
Quantitative reasoning includes two separately timed 35-minute sections with 20 questions each. This part of the GRE features four question types:
Multiple-choice questions with one possible answer
Multiple-choice questions with one or more answers
You may also be required to complete a third verbal reasoning or quantitative reasoning section, known as the experimental section. The purpose of this section is to help the GRE exam developers test the difficulty level and suitability of new questions that may be used on future tests. A similar type of section called the research section may appear at the end of your test as well. Neither of these additional sections will contribute to your overall score.
Differences in format
The GMAT and GRE are both computer-based exams that utilize adaptive testing technologies. (But you may have the option to take the GRE on paper if computerized testing is not available in your area.) This means your performance on earlier questions informs the difficulty level of later questions. However, the scoring is designed to balance out regardless of which difficulty level you ended up with based on your performance during the exam.
The GRE is adaptive across sections. This means:
Your proficiency in the first part of a section will determine what questions you receive in the next part.
Within each self-contained section, you can go back and check your work and even change your answers before the time runs out.
You don’t have to answer each question in order while working through a test section.
However, the GMAT is adaptive from one question to the next. This means:
Your answer to one question will determine the difficulty level of the following question.
You must answer one question at a time, in the order that they are presented.
You can’t go back to change your answers, even in the same section.
Depending on your personal testing preferences, one of these formats may be preferred over the other. For instance, the fact that you can go back and check your work in certain parts of the GRE may ease testing anxieties for some test-takers — but it could cause others to second-guess their work.
Differences in approach to subject matter
It helps to know exactly what each test measures so you can choose the one you feel most prepared for.
The GRE math questions require more traditional applications of math skills like algebra and geometry — subjects that can be mastered through a more straightforward test prep approach. In this sense, the GRE’s quantitative reasoning section is often considered “easier” than the GMAT’s. Questions on the GMAT require you to apply logic, which is a more abstract concept to study. In simple terms, here is how the sections compare:
The GMAT’s math section is designed to assess the quantitative “street smarts” of test-takers who will eventually crunch numbers in a business setting.
The GRE’s math section is geared toward testing the quantitative “book smarts” of prospective students in a wide variety of disciplines.
Because of the exam formats and question weights, weaker English skills will impact your overall score more negatively on the GRE. On the GRE, more attention is dedicated to vocabulary words — which can be harder to memorize — than on the GMAT, where the focus is on grammatical concepts.
How to study for the GMAT
There are a number of methods to help you study for the GMAT, including some of the same types of resources that are available for those taking the GRE exam.
The GMAC offers many valuable tools that can help you prepare for the GMAT, such as practice tests and an eight-week study timeline with tips and resources designed to get you ready for the exam.
Additionally, the GMAC provides a breakdown of strategic study recommendations, including:
Determine your target score based on your target business school programs.
Take a diagnostic practice test to determine how close you are to your target score.
Determine the prep method that best suits you, whether that’s attending an online class, working with a tutor, or studying on your own.
Personalize your study plan.
Take timed practice tests on a consistent basis in order to track your progress and fix your mistakes.
How to study for the GRE
There are a wide variety of options to help you study for the GRE. You could choose to undertake solo studies with a test prep book, enroll in a test prep class, take timed practice tests at home, or a combination of these activities.
The most popular test preparation resources for the GRE include:
Official free and for-purchase resources from the ETS, which are available on the organization’s website
Test prep courses at local colleges or universities
Online test prep courses from third-party companies, such as The Princeton Review
Test prep books from third-party companies
There are advantages and disadvantages to each test prep strategy, and you should develop a plan that best suits your needs. For instance, official GRE test prep resources are the most authoritative, but a third-party test prep book might be organized in a way that better aligns with your specific study goals and learning style preferences.
An in-person test prep course can provide motivation and hands-on assistance, but when it comes to the day of the test, you will have to work through the material on your own — so some solo studying may be beneficial as well.
Taking the test
Once you are prepared to take the GMAT or GRE, here is what you need to know about the test-taking logistics:
When should I take the GMAT?
Test-prep experts recommend that you schedule your GMAT a few months in advance of your first graduate school application deadline. This will provide you with enough time in case you want to take the test again to achieve a higher score. You can register for the exam up to six months in advance.
According to the GMAC, students who are successful in getting accepted to graduate business school give themselves three to six months on average to prepare for the exam.
When should I take the GRE?
Just as with the GMAT, it’s ideal to schedule your GRE exam a few months before the application deadline for graduate school so you have time to retake the test if your score is lower than you’d expected. The Princeton Review also recommends factoring in extra time in case of unexpected delays. It can take up to four weeks for your designated schools to receive your official scores.
How can you register to take the tests?
You can register to take the GRE General Test through the ETS website. The GRE registration fee is $205 in the U.S. You can register for the GMAT through the GMAC website. The GMAT test fee is $250. You will need to provide your basic identification information, search for test centers and dates, and sign up for your preferred location and exam date.
Where can you take the GMAT or GRE?
Different types of organizations can be considered official testing sites, but many test-takers will choose to visit the offices of a third-party testing company to take their exam. To search for testing locations in your area, visit the test registration pages through the GMAT and GRE websites.
How long are the tests?
Both the GMAT and GRE are timed tests. The paper-delivered GRE takes three and a half hours and the computer-delivered GRE lasts for approximately 15 additional minutes. The GMAT takes about three and a half hours to complete as well.
What are the test dates and registration deadlines for the GMAT and GRE?
Specific GMAT and GRE test dates will vary from year to year. However, the computer-based GRE General Test and the GMAT are both administered multiple times throughout the month at various testing centers globally.
How many times can you take the GMAT or GRE?
You can take the GMAT once every 16 days, up to five times in a 12-month period. The lifetime limit is eight GMAT attempts. You can take the GRE once every 21 days, up to five times in a 12-month period, and there is no lifetime limit.
How can you take the GMAT and GRE virtually during COVID-19?
Testing agencies have shifted to virtual testing during the coronavirus pandemic. The online, at-home GRE and online, at-home GMAT will be slightly different from the traditional in-person exams held at testing centers. There may be proctor requirements and testing restrictions, and certain sections may be omitted, such as the GMAT analytical writing assignment. The ETS and GMAC will continue to update testing guidance and resources for test-takers during the pandemic.
Once you’ve taken the GMAT or GRE, here is what you need to know about your test scores:
How are the GMAT and GRE tests scored?
GRE General Test scores range from 130 to 170 on the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections, and between 0 and 6 on the analytical writing section. Average scores, according to ETS, fall around 150 and 3.5, respectively.
GMAT scores range from 200 to 800, with two-thirds of test-takers scoring between 400 and 600. You can also view your score as a percentile to see where your performance falls in comparison to the rest of the test-taking population.
What is considered a good GMAT or GRE test score?
Different schools may have minimum score requirements. In general, a score above the 50th percentile and the aforementioned scores are considered above average, but some highly competitive programs may look for students whose scores fall in the 75th percentile and above.
When are test results available, and how long are they valid?
GRE test scores will be available online within 15 days after your test date, and are valid for five years. Similarly, GMAT test scores are available online within 20 days after you take the test and will be valid for five years. Keep these timing considerations in mind as you explore your graduate school options and application deadlines.
Find your path
Standardized testing is just one possible part of your journey toward pursuing a graduate education. Explore and compare online graduate degrees to find the next step on your learning path.