How the GRE Stacks Up Against the GMAT

by Christopher Lele on Print Print

Chris Lele

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.


  • 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!

  • yeah

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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Dòyín Adio

    Can you use GMAT textbooks to prepare for GRE

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