GMAT or GRE: Which Is Better for Your MBA Application?

As you prepare to apply to graduate school, deciding between the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is among the first of many choices you will need to make. Many business schools now accept both. These standardized tests are administered year-round at test centers around the world, but they have different formats, scoring models and pros and cons.

To help you make this decision, here is a quick overview of the key differences between the two tests.

Format

• The GMAT includes 30-minute sections for analytical writing (one essay) and integrated reasoning, and 75-minute sections for quantitative and verbal testing. It is available on computer only and lasts 3½ hours.

• The GRE consists of two 30-minute analytical writing tasks (two essays), two 30-minute verbal reasoning sections, two 35-minute quantitative reasoning sections and a 30-minute experimental section that can be either math or verbal. It is offered in a paper-based or a computer-adaptive format and lasts over three hours.

Scoring Model

• GMAT scores range from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments. GMAT scoring is cumulative (not broken down by section) and does not factor in the analytical writing section. You would need to score a 700 to land in the top 90th percentile.

• GRE scores range from 130 to 170 in one-point increments. You receive separate verbal and quantitative scores, and according to the GRE website, a combined score of 327 would land you in the top 90th percentile.

Reasons to Choose the GMAT

• Because the GMAT is specific to business schools (and a few economics programs), taking the GMAT sends the message that you are serious about pursuing your MBA. Some business schools also prefer the GMAT, though they won’t always state this outright.

• If you are strong in math and excel in grammar over vocabulary, the GMAT might play in your favor. The GRE also has a math section, but the verbal section places a heavier emphasis on vocabulary.

Reasons to Choose the GRE

• The GRE’s math section is considered less arduous, in part because you are allowed to use a calculator. Also, Poets and Quants reports that the GRE’s grading curve is easier.

• If you choose to take the GRE in paper format, you are able to skip questions and return to them later. The GMAT, on the other hand, is only offered on a computer so you cannot skip questions, and subsequent questions are based on past performance so it’s tougher to bounce back if you struggle on the first few questions.

• The GRE does not have an integrated reasoning section, so if this is a weaker area for you, this might tip the scales in favor of the GRE.

• The GRE is slightly less expensive ($195 compared to $250 for the GMAT), but the price differential is so small that this shouldn’t be the deciding factor unless you are sitting for the tests multiple times.

• Business schools and other graduate programs use the GRE to assess prospective students, so the GRE offers more flexibility if you are still deciding what to study.

Which exam is best for me?

Ultimately, choosing which test to take is a personal decision. If you are stronger in reading and writing than math and want the flexibility to apply to different types of graduate programs, you may be wise to choose the GRE. On the other hand, if you are only applying to business schools and feel your quantitative skills are stronger, then you might choose the GMAT. Another option to help you decide is to take a practice GMAT and a practice GRE with no preparation. Whichever exam you do better on initially is probably the exam that will best fit your skill sets.