GMAT or GRE: Which One Should You Take?

November 3, 2018

There's been a lot of news lately around the number of business schools that now accept the GRE in lieu of the GMAT for admissions. Traditionally, the GMAT was the sole exam that allowed you entrance into MBA programs across the globe. But now, students have more options and can opt instead to take the GRE, which may or may not suit some strengths and weaknesses better.

Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, MIT and Columbia are just a handful of top programs that permit GRE test scores instead of its GMAT counterpart. But what are the differences between these two exams? Are they basically the same test or are there major variations that would cause a student to seriously consider one over the other? After all, there are significant differences in the SAT vs. ACT when it comes to undergraduate admissions, as well as the TOEFL vs. IELTS. Is it possible these two tests are one in the same and you can decide which one to prep for with the flip of a coin?

Take a look at a breakdown of some of the major similarities and differences between the GRE and GMAT and how it affects your choice on which exam to take.

Purpose and Format

Below are some basic differences between the GMAT and GRE that are charted out:

Test-Takers Annually559,000251,000
Who Takes It?Business School & MBA StudentsMBA Students
Who Accepts It?Over 1300 universitiesOver 7,000 business programs at 2300 universities
Computer or Paper-Based?Paper-based three times per year; mostly computer-basedComputer-based only
Tested VerbalSentence Equivalence, Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, Text CompletionSentence Correction, Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning
Tested MathArithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Data Interpretation, Word ProblemsArithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Data Interpretation, Word Problems
Calculator PolicyCalculator permittedCalculator not permitted

Purpose and Format

As previously stated, the GMAT is known as the test to take for business schools, whereas the GRE has been more closely associated with graduate programs; however, the GRE is becoming more common for business schools. Both are offered on computers and question or section-adaptive, meaning the questions get harder or easier, depending on your performance.

In terms of duration, the GMAT is 3.5 hours on a computer, whereas the GRE is 3.75. If taken on paper, however, the GRE ties with the GMAT at 3.5. The GRE consists of one 60-minute analytical writing section with two essays, while the analytical writing section on the GMAT runs at about 30 minutes with only one essay. On the GRE, there are two 30-minute verbal reasoning sections and two 35-minute quantitative reasoning sections, along with a 30-35 minute experimental section that could be either math or verbal.

The GMAT, on the other hand, consists of a 30 minute integrated reasoning section, a 75 minute quantitative section and a 75 minute verbal section. In regards to scores with the GMAT, they range from 200 to 800 in ten-point increments, whereas the GRE ranges from 130 to 170 in one-point increments. Both scores are good for five years.


The cost of both exams is comparable, with the GMAT being slightly more expensive at $250 and the GRE at $160.

Math and Verbal

If you have better quantitative capabilities, the GMAT is probably more suited for you, as the math questions on that exam tend to be more challenging. Programs that value math skills will probably look at the GMAT in a more favorable light than the GRE, as it reveals those capabilities in greater depth. If you dislike Geometry, the GMAT is also more for you, as the GRE features more Geometry than its counterpart.

Verbally-speaking, if you are a nonnative English speaker or lacking an elaborate vocabulary, the GMAT might also be best for you, as the GRE features more obscure words. The GRE is known to test tough and demanding vocabulary, so if a b-school puts an emphasis on that, then more than likely that's the exam you'll want to take.


Generally speaking, there are more GRE test centers than there are GMAT test centers. Why? Well, the GRE test takers are twice in number to those taking the GMAT, and if you don't reside in a metropolitan area, it might be challenging for you to find a location and test date that works with your admissions time line and schedule.

What Schools Say

With the rise in an overall acceptance of both tests, what are business schools saying? Harvard made news in 2009 when it announced it would accept either exam for admittance. Deidre Leopold, Managing Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at the time, claimed, "We are pleased to widen our requirements to give all MBA candidates the option of submitting results from either the GRE or GMAT exams."

She went on to clarify, "Since many HBS applicants are also considering graduate programs besides the MBA, there is now no need for them to take the GMAT if they have already taken the GRE. We believe that both the GMAT and GRE meet our expectations of what a standardized test can tell us about a candidate's ability to thrive in our MBA Program."

Stanford, in its September 2017 update to their website, stated, "We have no preference for one test over the other. If you take both exams, you may provide both scores. Candidates applying to joint-degree programs that require the GRE should not feel obligated to take the GMAT." Stanford was one of the first schools accepting GRE scores instead of GMAT scores starting as early as 2005.

Many positive and encouraging comments confirming a non-bias about either exam are plentiful from admissions counselors. Rod Garcia, director of MBA Admissions at the MIT Sloan School of Management was quoted in Bloomberg as claiming, "Good people always manage to shine whether they take the GMAT or GRE." George Mason University, like many others, states on its website, "We are now using the GRE or the GMAT. We do not have a preference of which exam you take."

The overarching goal to reach a more diverse applicant pool is outwardly stated by many recruitment officers. Nikhil Varaiya, Director of Graduate Programs for San Diego State University, explained this to U.S. News And World Report: "With more and more employers saying, 'We want students from diverse backgrounds,' it was sort of difficult to argue that the GMAT was the only measure to use."

Finally, and perhaps most encouraging, the Admissions Committee at NYU's Stern School of Business publicly affirmed, "Applicants who submit GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores are not held in lesser regard. Taking the GRE exam will not have a negative impact on your application. However, we do not have any statistics on the average GRE score."

It is important to note, however, that the following schools still only accept the GMAT: London Business School, University of Toronto, Erasmus University, IESE Business School, Indian School of Business, and HKUST Business School.

What Companies Are Saying

Patrick Perrella, Director of MBA Career Development at the University of Notre Dame's Medoza Business School, was quoted in 2015 as saying, "We see a large number of consulting companies, some investment banks, and a couple of corporations all looking at both GMAT and MBA GPAs." He goes on to clarify, "These companies are looking for a sustained record of academic excellence."

For some companies, GMAT Integrated Reasoning scores are also important. In an interview with BusinessWeek in 2013, Kevin Bevans, global head of recruiting at Bain and Company, proclaimed, "The IR scores are trying to test analytical abilities, which is important to us. We hope it's a good match for determining if you'll be successful at Bain."

As this GRE/GMAT trend makes it way through b-schools, perhaps it's a little slower to making its way through companies who have traditionally sought after stellar GMAT-scoring graduates. However, with the need for a diversified workplace, hence the impetus to make the GRE just as viable as the GMAT, perhaps some companies will weigh GRE scores in the same light as they have its counterpart for years to come.

All in all, you have to be the one to decide which test is right for you, keeping in mind your career ambitions and b-school goals. Take the time to research the exams that meet the needs of each school you apply to and be honest about what kind of preparation you'll need to do to attain the score that you want and need. Both the GRE and GMAT will require ample amount of study time, so finding the test that is right for you first is the beginning of your journey in test prep and MBA admissions.