How the GRE Stacks Up Against the GMAT

So, why exactly did the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) decide to change? Well, if you take test owner Educational Testing Service’s word for it, it’s about more accurately assessing the candidate for skills that he or she will need in grad school. If you are more conspiracy-minded, you may like this theory better—the GRE wanted to compete with the GMAT.

When you read ETS’ bit on its site about how the Revised GRE will be accepted at over 450 MBA accredited institutions/programs, the theory gains more than an iota of plausibility. Regardless of ETS’ motives, if you are considering business school, then which test to take is a very important decision. Below are some important considerations to keep in mind.

1. Price

The GRE is over 100 dollars less than the GMAT ($140 vs. $250.) While not substantial, such a sum could dissuade those who are not 100% set on business school from taking the GMAT. If you are still undecided about business school, then you may want to defer taking the GMAT and sit for the GRE instead.

2. Quantitative

Compared to the GRE test-taking pool, in which poets are mixed with physicists and philosophers with artists, the GMAT pool mostly consists of those with strong math skills.

As a result, the math on the GMAT is more difficult than that on the GRE. Moreover, the GRE is curved much more leniently. Miss a few and you can still get a perfect score. To get a perfect score on the GMAT, there is a little room for error.

So if math is not your strongest point, you may be better off taking the GRE. That said, if geometry conjures up memories of high school torture, keep in mind that the GRE is more geometry-centric than the GMAT.

3. Verbal

Whereas the difference in math sections on the two tests is mostly one of difficulty (and perhaps something called data sufficiency), the verbal sections on the two tests differ significantly.

For starters, the GRE is highly dependent on vocabulary. For the GMAT, you don’t have to know the difference between parsimonious and pusillanimous. Indeed, you don’t have to know either word, or any vocabulary words not encountered in academic-level reading. You will, on the other hand, encounter logic puzzles in the form of paragraphs asking you to identify flaws in reasoning.

There is also GMAT Sentence Correction, a section in which the test-taker is grilled on the minutiae of grammar. So, if you never learned about dangling participles and illogical modifiers, you may be better of taking the GRE.

4. Business School Realities

The GMAT is still the golden standard as far as most top B-schools are concerned. While many schools state they will accept either, a lingering suspicion remains that taking the GRE is tantamount to copping out. That said, Stanford and Harvard were amongst some of the very first business schools to accept the GRE.

5. Keeping Your Options Open

If you are not sure whether to pursue a business degree, then taking the GRE will not pigeonhole you in the same way that taking the GMAT will. Then there is also the question of price (see #1.)

Final Word

If you are in a dilemma over which test to take, then the best takeaway is to simply find out which test you’re better at. Both have free downloadable software that allows you to take an actual Computer Adapted Test (CAT). If you score significantly higher on one test, then you may want to seriously consider sitting for that exam.

For the last ten years, Christopher S. Lele has been helping students excel on the SAT, GRE, and GMAT. Some of his GRE students have raised their composite scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Chris posts helpful tips and strategies for Magoosh GRE test prep.


  • Dòyín Adio

    Can you use GMAT textbooks to prepare for GRE

  • Anna Mouse

    I am an unusual MBA candidate in that I already have worked for a top tier consulting firm for about 5 years. Just going back for the piece of paper so I can move ahead – yippie!
    The GMAT is a crappy test and I can’t believe MBA programs accept the test as an effective measure of applicants. Modern day MBA classes and business projects require spreadsheets or at least the ability to pound out an answer on a calculator. Who gives a flying poo about esoteric number properties or complex geometric shapes? If you are thinking about a PhD in mathematics – then this knowledge would come in hand but NOT for an MBA! The GMAT is very formulaic and one can do quite well once you figure out what type of answer the test makers are looking for. One odd omission seems to be basic psychology as the point of managing employees is to get various personalities to work together and not strangle on another.

  • Siddharth GV

    Hey! I’m hoping someone would be able to help me out here. I’m in my pre final year of Engineering, and I’m weighing up my options for the future. I’m looking to pursue either an MBA or a Master’s degree in Finance or Management. All universities I’m looking at accept both the GRE and GMAT. My vocab is horrible(as the GRE expects) since I’m not from an English speaking country and I’m good with math. That said, I’m sure to work hard enough to change things. Which test do you recommend I take?

  • yeah

    Tier one and failed gmat dont go together… I think someon is confused about what tier 1 means.

  • MensaNumber

    I think if you’re clear on going to a B school, you should NOT EVEN think of taking the GRE!

    I think B schools are still learning how to evaluate the new GRE scores. For instance, one of a top 30 B schools told me that they consider 49+ on quant section of GMAT a competitive score which is only 83%. Whereas for the GRE, avg quant score of last year was 166 which is 94%. How stupid is this?? Whatever advantage you supposedly get with easier GRE quant is totally goes down the drain with heavy discounting that B schools use to evaluate you GRE score.

    It is the same story almost everywhere. Another b school mentions on its website- ” The Department ordinarily requires that the candidate take the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), but if a candidate has not taken the GMAT but has taken the GRE, the Department will accept the GRE. Since most of our applicants and current students have taken the GMAT, students who have not taken either test are highly encouraged to take the GMAT as it is easier for us to compare students, and this is likely to improve the applicant’s chance of admission.”

    Bottomline is – if you are sure you want to go to a B school, NEVER EVER take the GRE!

  • prateek

    when you sign up on gmat site on the third or fourth page there is gpa conversion table

  • ron

    how can some one fail on the gmat the marks are given from the range of 200 to 800….even if somebody is very dumb he/she can get above 300 easily just by answering a few simple questions correctly….on the other hand in gre one has to learn around thousand word which that wold never use. in my opinion if someone is doing mba and has taken gre instead of gmat , that person is simply a coward ,plain scared of hard work

  • edbtz

    I took both tests recently so here is my take on the issue. Overall, they are about the same. Interestingly the ETS GRE-GMAT score conversion predicted my score perfectly. It’s on the ETS site. If you want to know how your score would translate, then I would check that out.

    I think the GMAT is easier to study for in terms of recognizing frequent question formats. The GRE seemed to have a pretty wide array of problems. This was particularly true in the quant sections because there is a basic calculator.That said, the calculator doesn’t really help much because it only does basic functions and is slow to use. It’s much better to do the calculations mentally except for something like multiple interest compounds.

    Guessing strategies are not as applicable for the new GRE because a lot of the problems ask you to enter the exact answer into a box, and some are “check all correct answers” (usually a range problem, or a verbal problem in which 2-3 answers made sense).

    I do think GRE is harder for non-native English speakers. The verbal has a lot of logic components now (“What would strengthen/weaken?” “What is assumption X?”) and these require really fast and careful English reading.

  • JeremyUCLA

    Stick to the GMAT because your English would get murdered in the GRE.

  • varun

    Hi, I have a 75.8% from indian university. I would like to know the GPA conversion scale for it.Can anybody help me out??

  • ABC

    hahaha, i dont know whats more embarrassing… failing it twice or thinking one is a genius after failing it…..

  • hey French, if you failed your GMAT how you entered MBA program then and how you came to beat think tanks after? What is idiotic in your understanding. GMAT is not like GRE, this is one test to examine applicant’s ability to think and apply knowledge critically. You can ace all your courses in MBA program and/or be in the top 5 of your MBA class, but think for a moment is MBA your final destination. I always regarded MBA as a tool and not objective. When you say you got in top-tier and graduated, you miss something what do you do now? The essence of MBA admissions isn’t only after recruiting nice guys able to ace their classes in schools but to make rich living after leaving school. The latter requires little brain and skepticism which are tested in GMAT. hahahahah 🙂

  • French Chick

    The GMAT is an idiotic test designed to do nothing more than frustrate students with its circular logic. While it’s supposed to determine how well one will do in an MBA program, I found it to be utterly useless in that capacity: I basically failed the GMAT when I took it, yet I graduated at the top of my tier 1, AACSB-accredited MBA program (that’s right, I beat out scientists, engineers, bankers, finance guys, and all of the others that claimed to have “aced” the GMAT). After graduation, and just for fun, I retook a GMAT practice test. Once again, I failed it. On the other hand, I can honestly say that the GRE really tests those skills that will be used in an MBA program: straight math, reading, writing, and data interpretation skills (no puzzles, no “gottchas,” no bullpucky – just straight, solid academics). I fully support and am glad to see that the GMAT is getting sucker-punched by the GRE. It’s about time someone came to their senses!

  • mohamed rafiq

    Hi pranay,


    I am Rafiq from India, I have completed my graduation in 2010 and have an aggregate of 66.7 percent. Till Now I have an work experience of 10 months in the field of IT as a software developer.
    My aim is to do my MBA at LBS in 2012, So right now I am planning to take up GMAT test.

    It would be really appreciable, if you could help me out in my preparation and the key factors that a person should have to get into LBS.

    Thanks in Advance!!!!!

    Mohamed Rafiq

  • Pranay Gupta

    Hi John

    Very informative site, major Kudos.

    I have query regarding these two exams. I took the GRE in 2008 and scored a 1520 (Q-800 V-720). I recently took the GMAT and scored a 780 (Q-51 V-46). I have a low GPA (around 3.2) from a Indian Univ. Can I use both these scores to my advantage when applying to a B-school?

    I’d appreciate any advice on this front. Thanks.


  • Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your assessment. I’ve often heard that the math is easier on the GRE, but never that the verbal is easier on the GMAT. Interesting! So which test will you use to get into business school?

  • I’ve taken both the GRE (2006) and the GMAT (2011). They’re both a little slice of hell to which I wouldn’t even subject my worst enemy. With that being said, I found the Verbal on the GRE to be more difficult than the Verbal on the GMAT and the math on the GRE to be easier than the math on the GMAT. Ironically, I scored in a higher math percentile on the GMAT and higher Verbal percentile on the GRE, so what do I know?

  • Bruce Vann

    I wish Chris Lele called this “The GRE vs. GMAT Smackdown”!! I know that this website has a lot of smackdowns but I feel that you can never have too many.

  • The short answer to this question is yes. The longer answer is yes, but…

    So while there will be fewer questions focusing on geometry, there will still be a number of geometry questions on the test. In fact, I have a sense—though we will have to wait till August to find out—that there will be more coordinate geometry on the new GRE vs. the current GRE.

    Overall, there will be more graphs and tables, i.e. data interpretation, supplanting a couple of geometry questions here and there. Questions will also be more skewed to questions that ETS describes as “real-life scenarios.” (I’m guessing geometry won’t fall under this rubric).

    For now, to get a sense of the distribution of problems you can download an actual practice test from ETS here.

    (You can also buy The Official Guide to the Revised GRE to see the breakdown.)

    In terms of difficulty, the new GRE math will be tougher, mainly because of the new question formats: multiple-answer choices, fill-in-the-blank (Numeric Entry). The reason behind this increased difficulty could very well be that ETS wants to compete with the GMAT, and assure business schools that the GRE Quant simply isn’t GMAT-lite. Incidentally, the GMAT doesn’t stress geometry as much as the current GRE does.

    As to whether the new GRE will be as difficult as the GMAT, in terms of quant, we will have to wait until Aug. 1st.

  • Anon

    Isn’t the new GRE reducing or eliminating the number of geometry questions? It also appers, for a “poet” like myself, like the new GRE math questions are inching toward the same level of difficulty as those of the GMAT math questions.