GMAT to 99th% GRE with Almost No Prep: a GMAT Tutor’s Perspective

On the face of it I’d done a very thin GRE prep. Before walking into the GRE testing center I had taken a practice test, spent two to three hours drilling some of the tougher problems from the GRE official guide, and worked through vocab flashcards, which I quickly abandoned (more on that later). In contrast to my lightweight studying I was hoping for a heavy-duty official GRE score exceeding the 99th percentile. 

Why bother? I tackled the GRE because we teach it and sometimes have students who switch from GMAT to GRE. Also, because I get asked a bunch by my GMAT tutoring students about GMAT vs GRE and whether the GRE is easier than the GMAT I wanted to compare firsthand. Lastly, at Atlantic we’re strongly encouraged to take and retake GMATs, GREs, and Executive Assessments to stay fresh.

So what happened? Of course, no spoiler alert here, the GMAT and GRE are very, very similar, and yes, the GRE is easier than the GMAT. Here were my big GMAT vs GRE takeaways:

Same Old Problem Solving, Different Test

GRE quant problem solving felt very much the same as that on the GMAT, if a bit more straightforward (more focused on the math content/less puzzly). All the greatest hits come back: algebra, number properties, work and rate, geometry… If you have a steady footing on your GMAT PS then most of these questions will be a no-brainer. 

GRE Quant Comparison — Data Sufficiency Lite

I could list off more than a few GMAT tutoring students I’ve worked with who have a love-hate relationship with GMAT Data Sufficiency. I’m willing to bet that’s also true for the larger GMAT-taking populace. 

The GRE has no 1:1 equivalent but quantitative comparisons are similar in that you’re not solving for an answer but analyzing statements and picking pre-defined answer choices. Basic idea: you’re given two equations, expressions, geometric settings, etc. and you have to determine which quantity is larger. If you’ve been weight training on GMAT DS for a while Quant Comps should feel more transparent. I didn’t feel any resistance from the Quant Comps and required very little question specific training to understand the logic.

If You Love Sentence Correction, I’ve Got Some Bad News…

…It’s not on the GRE. Nor does grammar come up on the exam. The biggest area of overlap with GMAT Verbal is Reading Comprehension, which in most regards was almost identical. The passages felt a little bit shorter overall but still had roughly the same number of questions I’d expect to see on a typical GMAT RC passage. Every once in a while I’d see a Critical Reason-esque question (e.g. strengthen/weaken) attached to a Reading Comprehension passage but that happened one or two times on the whole test.

The major difference here was the sheer number of passages that I ended up seeing — RC comprised roughly half of GRE Verbal as opposed to making up closer to a third of GMAT Verbal. My test also ended up including an ungraded beta Verbal section, so by the end of the day I’d done a ton of RC. Don’t be like me and take an evening test (unless you’re a night owl). With the experimental section the GRE really is a marathon. If it were me I’d schedule your GRE for the morning.

Vocab: The GRE Wild Card

The non-reading comprehension part of GRE Verbal tests vocabulary in a fill-in-the-blank format. This section strikes me as being potentially challenging to get perfectly consistent and is probably the area I spent the most time practicing ahead of the test. That was, before realizing that drilling vocabulary questions meant drawing from a near-limitless bank of content. So I switched my primary focus to the critical thinking/strategy side of things: using sentence context, the definitions of words I did know, using the roots of ambiguous words to infer their meanings. Of course, knowing words helps. A lot. But the strategy component can really help fill in the blanks (no pun intended!).

GRE format is so much easier than GMAT CAT

It needs to be said that the GRE format is a breeze compared to the GMAT CAT. On the GRE you can skip around and pick off easy questions first. On the GMAT you can only work on one question at a time and can’t return to questions once you’ve locked in your answers. Also, on the GRE you have a calculator (you cannot use a calculator on the GMAT). It doesn’t do the math for you but it does help with some the more clunky calculations.

Final GMAT vs GRE thoughts and my GRE results

Riding on just my GMAT skills (with about 2-3 days of GRE fine tuning), I earned a perfect 170 on Verbal and a near-perfect 169 on Quant. I found the GRE significantly easier than the GMAT. Of course, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the trenches GMAT tutoring and have always been a strong standardized test taker. I scored a 770 on the GMAT.

Still, if you’ve been diligently preparing for the GMAT for a few months, it’s not unlikely that you’ll have many of the basic skills you’ll need for GRE success. The big question mark is the vocab section in that it’s not on the GMAT and comprises about half of the GRE verbal section. For MBA we still recommend the GMAT as it is the gold standard but it’s great to have the GRE in reserve.