GMAT tutor Tom Obrien takes the GRE and compares it to the GMAT
One of the most common questions tutoring students ask me during consultations is whether they should take the GRE or the GMAT. It’s a deceivingly simple question. The GRE is easier than the GMAT (for most people). Both tests are accepted for MBA admission. And most admissions people report no preference for GMAT or GRE.
So you’d think: GRE all the way! Why not?
Well, there are differences between the GRE and GMAT and those differences can play into individual strengths.
For most people it will take a solid effort to earn an excellent score on either.
The GRE is easier in a lot of ways but it’s not necessarily the easier test to study for because there aren’t that many official GRE practice questions and practice tests.
The GMAT is still the gold standard for MBA.
In this post, I’ll talk about the subjective experience of taking the GMAT and the GRE and hopefully provide some insight to help you make a decision on what test to take for MBA. I recently took a GRE so will also share my score. If you’re new to the process and want a super detailed comparison of the two tests, check out our GMAT vs GRE breakdown.
GMAT Quant is Harder. GRE has more time pressure.
One of the greatest challenges on both GMAT and GRE Quant is not the content, but the clock. Solving a word problem involving factoring a quadratic? No problem. Doing it in 90 seconds? A little harder.
The challenges come in different forms, however. On the GMAT, questions are a little trickier, but you have a little more time.
On the GRE, however, you often need to go a bit faster than is comfortable. Fortunately you can skip around and pick off low hanging fruit first. That’s a really important strategy on the GRE. It’s key to liberally tag answers for review and check them at the end.
GRE verbal relies a lot on reading. GMAT has more variety.
When it comes to verbal, it’s my impression that the GRE is very reading comprehension heavy. Even the vocabulary questions require solid reading skills. With a correct understanding of the sentences, it is possible to get sentence equivalence and sentence completion questions correct without knowing the meaning of every word in every answer choice.
Likewise, poor understanding of the sentences can lead to incorrect answers, even when you know all the words. So, if you’re the literary type who enjoys reading and has a solid vocabulary, you may find GRE verbal easy. If you struggle with reading then the GRE verbal could weigh you down even if you put in a lot of effort doing RC practice and memorizing vocabulary.
For better or worse, the GMAT has a bit more variety. Someone who isn’t as strong on reading comprehension can make up for it by mastering the sentence correction grammar rules and the logic of critical reasoning. Also, GMAT gives you more time. So if you’re struggling with the clock then the GMAT may be preferable to the GRE.
That said, it bears repeating that you can mitigate GRE timing issues with a smart timing strategy. It’s not quite as easy to employ on the verbal because of longer questions and reading passages but it is still something that can help quite a bit.
GMAT vs GRE Mindset
Though based on the same content, the GRE and GMAT have a very different feel. The GMAT always feels kind of hard, regardless of how well you are doing, especially on quant. This is because it is heavily adaptive and constantly adjusts question difficulty. The more questions you get right, the harder the questions get. You will always feel challenged.
With that in mind, even if you’re a quant whiz you’re probably still going to get a bunch of questions wrong as the algorithm drastically ramps up the difficulty.
That’s ok. It doesn’t take perfection to get a great GMAT score. In fact, you can get almost a third of the Quant section wrong and still end up with a section score in the high 40s. Doing well on the GMAT is about knowing when to move on from a really tricky question to save time for more manageable ones. It’s also about resilience and being able to bounce back from a rough question to tackle the next one.
The GRE is way more straightforward. All the questions are worth the same and the difficulty level is a little more uniform. It’s closer to the tests most people are familiar with. To do well you need to get a high percentage of questions correct.
Which test should you take, GMAT or GRE?
That’s another somewhat simple question. GMAT is still top of the top. That’s your best foot forward. Of course, there may be factors that point you to the GRE. If you are considering both tests then it’s a good idea to take an official practice test of each. Then you can compare the experience and the scores. Keep in mind two things:
- It’s easier to switch from the GMAT to the GRE (because GMAT is harder)
- There’s MUCH more GMAT material to study with (there aren’t many official GRE questions available).
How was my GRE compared to my GMAT?
Last thing! I wrote this article because I took the GRE recently. My last GMAT was a 760 (q49 v45). My recent GRE was a q170 v167. I was able to earn that with very little studying. I do teach GRE so am very familiar with the format but, again, it does indicate how close the tests are.
Comment with any question – good luck!