5 Key Differences Between the GRE, GMAT

US News & World Report

By Ilana Kowarski
March 16, 2017

Experts say the ability to save questions for later is a significant advantage of the GRE.

Many business schools will accept either the GRE or GMAT, two graduate school entry exams. And MBA applicants can choose which test to take in order to showcase their academic potential.

Seventy-three percent of business school admissions officers surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep in 2016 said that GMAT and GRE test-takers were treated equally during their admissions process. In that same survey, less than 2 percent of admissions officers said GRE test-takers had an advantage, and 26 percent said that GMAT test-takers had a leg up.

Here are five factors experts say MBA applicants should consider when choosing between the GMAT and GRE.

1. School preference: There are some business schools where the GMAT is strongly preferred, so it is important for MBA applicants to investigate whether that is the case at one of their dream schools, says Brian Carlidge, executive director of pre-business and pre-graduate programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

“It’s just something you want to take out of the admissions equation if it is an issue for the admissions officers in that school to accept one test over the other,” he says.

However, there are many business schools that give the GRE and the GMAT equal weight during the admissions process, including the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“We accept both exams, and have no preference for one over the other,” Luke Pena, Stanford’s MBA admissions director, said in an email. “We encourage you to select the exam that best highlights your ability to be successful in a graduate management degree program.”

2. Math skills: Experts say the quantitative questions on the GMAT are generally more difficult than those on the GRE.

“As a result, students with stronger math skills may want to take the GMAT in order to demonstrate those skills,” Dan Edmonds, a test prep tutor with the New York-based admissions consulting firm IvyWise, said in an email. “Further, if you plan to apply to a program that values math skills, that program may look more favorably on the GMAT than the GRE.”

However, experts say that although the GMAT quantitative section is harder than the GRE quantitative section for most test-takers, it may be easier for those who prefer logic problems over geometry questions, since there are more geometry questions on the GRE than the GMAT.

“If you really dislike geometry, then you might lean towards the GMAT,” says Stacey Koprince, senior academics manager and director of online community with Manhattan Prep, a tutoring company.

3. Language skills: Experts say the GRE includes more obscure words on it than the GMAT does and that the GRE verbal section can be difficult for nonnative English speakers.

Edmonds of IvyWise wrote: “The GRE verbal section is generally more difficult than the GMAT verbal section; that difficulty is in large part driven by the extent to which the GRE tests tough vocabulary.”

4. Career goals: MBA applicants who plan on working for management consulting firms or investment banking firms after business school should know that some of these firms require job applicants to submit GMAT scores, so keep that in mind when picking a test, Koprince says.

She says two Manhattan Prep clients who were accepted to b-school with the GRE ended up needing to take the GMAT during school so they could be considered for full-time consulting jobs.

5. Test anxiety: Unlike the GMAT, the GRE allows test-takers to save and return to questions during each section, which can reduce the amount of stress involved in completing the test, says Erfun Geula, the owner-operator of two test prep companies, GRE Compass and GMAT Compass.

Geula, who is also the author of “McGraw-Hill Education: Preparation for the GRE Test 2017,” says because the GRE allows test-takers to skip questions they find difficult and the GMAT does not, MBA applicants who have a tendency to panic when faced with hard standardized test questions often perform better on the GRE.

“You can skip back and forth on questions on the GRE, which some people just prefer for reducing anxiety,” he says.

Koprince of Manhattan Prep, who serves as an LSAT, GMAT and GRE instructor, says some GRE test-takers find comfort in being able to return to test questions to check their work if they have sufficient time, and that the lack of this opportunity to fix mistakes on the GMAT can make the test more psychologically difficult.

“In practice, the time constraints are so tight on both exams that you don’t really have time to come back anyway, but just knowing that you could makes a big difference for some people,” Koprince wrote in an email. “It allows them to let go more easily, where, on the GMAT, they might get completely stuck and really mess up their timing, and therefore, their score.”