Now that you have decided to apply to business school, you must submit scores from either the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) or GRE (Graduate Record Examination). These tests are a way for business schools to gauge how well you'll perform in their programs.
A common question is whether the GMAT or the GRE is easier. However, how easy either of these standardized tests will be for you is subjective. A strong GMAT or GRE score is a great way to improve your MBA profile.
This guide will describe each test's subject matter, provide a GMAT and GRE score comparison, and ultimately help you decide whether you should take the GRE or GMAT for MBA admissions.
About the Tests
Both the GRE and GMAT are standardized admissions tests that business schools use to gauge your academic readiness for an MBA program.
About the GMAT
The GMAT is a computer-based, multiple-choice test that lasts just under three and a half hours. The GMAT tends to command the most respect in MBA admissions. There is a strong correlation between an applicant’s high GMAT scores and excellent academic performance at business school.
Unlike many exams you may have taken in the past, the GMAT assesses your applied reasoning skills. Instead of answering basic questions that test whether you can recall your knowledge, the GMAT makes you apply your knowledge.
About the GRE
The GRE General Test is administered by the Educational Testing Service, known as ETS, and takes around three hours and 45 minutes to complete. You can also choose to take the GRE Subject Test, which takes two hours and 50 minutes to complete.
Unlike the GMAT, which is exclusively used for business school admissions, the GRE is used for admission to a series of graduate programs. But, much like the GMAT, the GRE requires you to apply your knowledge.
Dennis Yim, the director of live online courses with Kaplan, notes that “... it’s not enough to have memorized hundreds of vocabulary words and have gone through the math topics that you haven't seen since high school. You need to be able to use that and become a problem-solver in the moment.”
GMAT Versus GRE Subject Matter
Are the GMAT and GRE similar in terms of subject matter?
There is some overlapping subject matter on both the GMAT and GRE, which will make it hard to determine whether the GMAT or GRE is easier. The subject matter of each test is broken down below.
GMAT Subject Matter
The GMAT covers four areas of subject matter.
Analytical Writing Assessment:
The Analytical Writing Assessment section demonstrates your critical thinking skills and how you communicate ideas. You will have to analyze an argument and write your essay without other tools like a grammar or spell checker.
The Integrated Reasoning section demonstrates how you analyze data in various formats and process and evaluate your information. This section will cover a mix of quantitative and verbal questions.
These questions will often provide you with a lot of data that you may not necessarily need to answer the questions. Your job is to sift through the information and identify what is relevant.
The Quantitative Reasoning section demonstrates how you analyze data and what conclusions you draw from data. These questions will cover topics like algebra, geometry, and statistics.
There will be a mix of problem-solving and data sufficiency questions. Problem-solving questions are formatted familiarly as multiple-choice answers. Data sufficiency questions are a hybrid of math and logic.
Once you have the hang of these questions, you will realize that not all of them require you to do every math step to answer. This is a beneficial tip to save you mental effort and time.
The Verbal Reasoning section demonstrates your comprehension of written material and how you evaluate arguments. You will also have to correct writing so that it conforms to the mechanics of written English.
There are three types of questions in this section: sentence correction, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension:
- Sentence correction questions will ask you to identify the “best” sentence from a selection.
- Critical reasoning questions will present an argument that you will need to analyze. You may be asked to identify new pieces of information that strengthen or weaken your argument, infer something, or find an assumption.
- The reading comprehension questions will ask you to answer questions about a given passage. You may be asked to discuss the passage’s main idea or details about it.
GRE Subject Matter
The GRE is similar to the GMAT in that it includes Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning questions but has two sections for each. Similar to the GMAT, the GRE also has a section dedicated to analytical writing. This test does not have an Integrated Reasoning section.
Analytical Writing Assessment
The Analytical Writing section demonstrates your critical thinking skills and how you communicate ideas.
One essay will ask you to analyze an issue and develop an argument with points to support your perspective. The other essay will ask you to explore an idea and consider its logicalness rather than agreeing or disagreeing with what’s written.
The Quantitative Reasoning section contains two subsections that demonstrate how you analyze data on subjects like algebra, geometry, and number properties. This section has quantitative comparison questions that ask you to compare two quantities based on given information. You will also see multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank problems.
The Verbal Reasoning component contains two sections that demonstrate your reading comprehension skills and showcase your knowledge of vocabulary. You can expect to see questions about text completion, sentence equivalency, and reading comprehension.
Text completion questions will ask you to choose the best word to fill in blanks in a sentence. Sentence equivalence problems will ask you the two best answers (often synonyms) to make the sentence mean the same thing. Reading comprehension questions will ask you to read a passage and answer related questions to analyze it.
The GRE may also include an unscored research section. This section is entirely optional and helps ETS, the GRE developer, test out potential future questions.
GMAT Versus GRE Scoring
Both tests use different scoring systems, so let’s explore the GMAT and GRE score comparison.
The most important score you receive on your GMAT is called a composite score. The composite score is a total of your scores only from the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections. You will also receive scores from each individual section.
Scores for both Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections can range from 0 to 60 in one-point increments. The Analytical Writing section’s score range is between 0 and 6 in half-point increments. Finally, the Integrated Reasoning section’s score range is between 1 and 8 in one-point increments.
Your composite score can range anywhere from 200 to 800. The raw calculation is converted to a higher number in the Total Score range in 10-point increments.
The GRE differs from the GMAT in that there are no composite scores, and the three sections are reported separately. Both the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections range from 130 to 170, and are in one-point increments for a total score of 260 to 340.
Like the GMAT, the GRE’s Analytical Writing section's score range is between 0 and 6 in half-point increments. Be sure to check whether the program you are applying to considers the essay score, as some programs don’t.
GMAT Versus GRE Format
Each section of the GMAT and the GRE comes with a predetermined number of questions and time limits. The following describes in detail the format of each test.
- Analytical Writing Assessment: You will complete one essay within 30 minutes.
- Integrated Reasoning: You will answer 12 multi-part questions within 30 minutes.
- Quantitative Reasoning: You will answer 31 math questions within 62 minutes.
- Verbal Reasoning: You will answer 36 questions in 65 minutes.
If you’re taking the GMAT at a testing center, you have three orders in which you can complete the test:
- Choice 1 will have you start with the essay and Integrated Reasoning, followed by Quant and Verbal.
- For choice 2, you begin with Quant, then Verbal, followed by Integrated Reasoning and the essay.
- Choice 3 will have you start with Verbal, then Quant, followed by Integrated Reasoning and the essay.
The Quant and Verbal sections are the most critical GMAT content, so candidates will often choose choices 2 or 3. If you are doing the GMAT online, the test is always administered in Quant, Verbal, and then Integrated reasoning followed by the essay. In total, the GMAT is 3 three hours and 7 minutes in duration.
An important note is that the GMAT is completed electronically and is an adaptive test.
Computerized adaptive testing means that candidates will first answer a question at medium difficulty in the Quant and Verbal sections. If the candidate answers the first question correctly, the following questions will be slightly more challenging. If the candidate answers the first question incorrectly, the next question will be slightly easier. This process will continue throughout both sections.
- Analytical Writing Assessment: You will complete two essays within 60 minutes, timed separately with a limit of 30 minutes each.
- Quantitative Reasoning: You will complete 20 questions in two sections within 70 minutes.
- Verbal Reasoning: You will complete 20 questions each in two sections within 60 minutes.
Similar to the GMAT, the GRE is completed on the computer and is adaptive. Your score on the first sections of both Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning will impact the difficulty of the questions offered in the second sections of each subject. The duration of the GRE is about 3 hours and 45 minutes.
GMAT Versus GRE: Business School Preferences and Average Scores
Business school preferences are another factor to consider, along with whether the GMAT or GRE is easier. The GMAT was designed specifically for business school applicants. The GRE is a test that can be used to gain admittance to a wide range of graduate programs, including the MBA. Average scores also play an essential role in your chances of acceptance.
Business School Preferences
More than 7,000 programs at 2,300 business schools worldwide will accept GMAT scores. In contrast, the GRE is accepted at more than 1,200 business schools worldwide.
Business schools view the completion of the GMAT as a commitment to pursuing an MBA. Completion of the GMAT can help increase your chances of admission. About 90 percent of candidates apply to business schools with GMAT scores.
The GMAT was tailored for business school admissions to show the critical thinking skills of MBA applicants. It tests these skills in candidates to determine whether they would be a good fit for an MBA program. Most business schools are also more accustomed to comparing GMAT scores between applicants, so they have to convert the GRE scores to GMAT scores to evaluate all candidates fairly.
Despite the prevalence of GMAT score submissions to top business schools, many will also accept GRE scores. However, this does not mean that GMAT and GRE scores are perceived as equivalent.
Some schools may openly express a preference for GMAT scores over GRE scores. According to a recent survey, 26 percent of admissions committees preferred the GMAT, while 2 percent preferred the GRE. For example, Harvard Business School states that it has no test preference, but candidates who apply with a GMAT tend to do better in admissions.
Take these percentages into account when deciding which test is the best for you to take.
Accepted MBA candidates’ average GMAT scores differ from school to school. Recent data collected from the top 50 business schools show that the average accepted GMAT score ranged from 684 to 734. For the entire pool of GMAT takers, the average score is about 560.
Some business schools only report averages based on the middle 80 percent of the scoring range. The middle 80 percent is a way to eliminate outliers that score in the bottom and top 10 percent. This data collection method paints a more accurate picture of average GMAT acceptance scores.
Similar to GMAT scores, the average accepted GRE scores will be school-specific. Recent data collected from top business schools show that the average accepted total GRE score ranged from 316 to 330.
A service offering GRE test prep or GMAT test prep can help you achieve a competitive score.
Is the GMAT or GRE Easier?
Whether the GMAT or GRE is easier will depend on the person taking the tests. Below is a breakdown describing the general difficulty of the GMAT versus GRE. This should help you decide what is easier, the GMAT or GRE.
GMAT vs. GRE Difficulty: The Analytical Writing Section
Each essay section in both the GMAT and GRE is generally regarded as somewhat similar in difficulty. Both the GMAT and GRE will ask you to analyze an argument’s weaknesses and strengths.
Even though the GRE includes two essays, the difficulty does not increase. For both tests, you have the same amount of time to complete one essay.
GMAT vs. GRE Math Difficulty: The Quantitative Reasoning Section
There are some slight differences in the Quant sections of the GMAT and GRE that make the GRE somewhat less complicated.
The Quant section of the GMAT is widely considered to be more complex because the data sufficiency questions can be challenging. You cannot use a calculator when taking the GMAT, while you have access to a calculator in the GRE’s Quant section.
The GMAT also contains the Integrated Reasoning section, which generally requires elevated critical thinking and analytical skills. Overall, the GRE’s Quant section is a little more straightforward than that of the GMAT.
Should I Take the GMAT or GRE?
Whether you should take the GMAT or GRE will depend on your plans for your academic future, rather than being told whether the GMAT or GRE is easier.
The first step is to identify the programs you want to apply to and determine which schools require which tests. If the school accepts both the GMAT or GRE, you can email or call to ask whether there is a preference for one over the other.
Taking GMAT and GRE diagnostic tests can also help you decide which test to take based on your baseline performance. Your mock scores from these tests can show you which test you are inclined to perform better on naturally. Your innate ability to perform better on one test than the other will reveal whether the GMAT or GRE is easier for you.
Another factor to consider is whether you are interested exclusively in MBA programs or have your eyes on a dual-degree program. If you are not sure whether you want to pursue MBA programs exclusively, you may want to choose the GRE to widen the scope of programs offered to you. If you’ve decided that you want to pursue an MBA only, the GMAT is an excellent way of showing the admissions committee your commitment to attending business school.
As mentioned above, you should keep your strengths and weaknesses in mind. If the school you want to apply for happily accepts both the GMAT or GRE, you should take the test you know you will perform well on come test day. Those with a knack for language and vocabulary may fare better on the GRE, while those who are more mathematically inclined may perform better on the GMAT. Take these points into consideration when deciding which test is suitable for you.
GRE vs. GMAT FAQs
We’ve compiled several questions to help you decide whether to pursue the GRE vs GMAT for MBA admissions.
1. How long are my GMAT and GRE scores valid?
Both your GMAT and GRE scores are valid for five years after the testing year. The testing year runs from early July to the end of June.
2. What are the fees to take the GMAT and GRE?
The fee to take the GMAT is $250, and the fee to take the GRE is $205.
3. When will I know my GMAT or GRE scores?
Preliminary scores for both tests are available to the test-taker immediately after you’ve completed the exams.
4. What are my options if I’m unhappy with my GMAT or GRE score?
If you are unhappy with your GMAT score, you can immediately cancel it.
If you change your mind about your score later, you have within 30 days to reinstate it. You can also cancel your GRE score immediately if you are unhappy with it. You have a period of 60 days to reinstate your score if you change your mind.
5. Can I retake the GMAT or GRE?
Yes. You are permitted to write the GMAT once every 16 calendar days and no more than eight times within one year. You can sit for the GRE once every 21 days and no more than five times within one year.
6. How do I schedule a GMAT or GRE test appointment?
To schedule an appointment to take the GMAT, visit the registration site and pick your date, time, and location. You can complete the GMAT at a testing center or at home with GMAT Online. You can schedule an appointment online to take your GRE as well. Candidates can take the GRE at a testing center or at home.
7. Am I guaranteed acceptance into the program of my choosing with a high GMAT or GRE score?
Applications are reviewed holistically, and you are not guaranteed entry into your chosen program solely based on a high GMAT or GRE score.
While high scores will undoubtedly help your chances, there are many other prerequisites for admission to MBA programs. Check business schools’ websites to get a better understanding of what you need to be an ideal candidate.
8. Can I take both the GRE and GMAT?
Yes! You can register for both the GRE and GMAT. However, this isn’t something that business schools will recommend.
Each exam requires a lot of dedication and hard work. If you’re aiming for an excellent score on one, you will have to prepare for weeks. Studying for both tests may overwhelm you and impact the grades you get in each.
Instead of taking both tests, research each test and pick one that suits you best. As noted above, the GMAT remains the standard test for business schools. But if you want to take the GRE, more than 1,200 business schools accept it.
Alternatively, you can see which exam your target business school prefers and complete that one. Some institutions, like Stanford Graduate School of Business, London Business School, and NYU Stern, have no preference between the two tests and accept scores from both. However, other schools like Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business prefer the GMAT.
9. Are the GMAT and GRE similar?
While both tests have some overlapping subject matter, they have different formats and scoring systems.
Your Call: GRE or GMAT?
Choosing between the GMAT or GRE can appear intimidating, but this guide should help you decide which is right for you. So, is the GRE easier than the GMAT? It’s your call.
Remember that you can cater to your strengths and weaknesses and that whether the GMAT or GRE is easier is subjective. Some may find the GMAT easier, while others may find the GRE easier. Taking a diagnostic test for each is a good place to start when deciding which test is suitable for a strong performance.
The Quant and Verbal sections of each test are most important. Evaluate how well you will do in these sections on both tests. Keep in mind that, if you are stronger with numbers, the GMAT may be ideal. If you are better with vocabulary, the GRE may be more manageable when aspiring to a high score.
Whether the GMAT or GRE is easier for you, you can certainly ace either test with the proper preparation and knowledge.