GMAT vs GRE for MBA: Should you take the GMAT or GRE for MBA admission in 2021?
The short answer is: for MBA take the GMAT!
-GMAT is still the gold standard (78% of Harvard’s class of 2022 accepted with GMAT vs 22% with GRE)
-Even though the GRE is easier, it’s comparable enough so that you shouldn’t expect to do markedly better on one test or the other.
GMAT or GRE: Which should you take for MBA?
This blog post goes deep for several thousand words comparing everything about the GMAT and GRE but I think most people just want to know which test to take. Here are our boiled down suggestions:
-The GMAT is the standard entrance exam for MBA admission. 78% of the class of 2022 at Harvard Business School was admitted with a GMAT score (that’s dropped from 85% in 2020 but still represents a size-able advantage over the GRE).
-A great GMAT score leaves no questions unanswered about your ability especially on quant.
-The great GMAT score potentially puts you in a better position for scholarships as a top GMAT score helps a schools ranking.
-Because the GMAT is primarily used for MBA a GMAT score shows you are serious about going to business school.
-A great GRE score still requires considerable effort.
-With far fewer official practice materials and exams GRE can be tougher to study for.
-The transition from GMAT to GRE is generally easier than vice versa.
-Overall the GRE is easier than the GMAT, namely the quant and the overall format.
-If you have an abnormally amazing vocabulary you may find GRE verbal very simple as around half the section is based on vocab.
-If you have an application that puts you in an incredibly desirable category and you are somewhat certain that your test scores are going to be far below the median of your target school the GRE may provide a backdoor. GRE scores don’t yet count for MBA rankings so crappy GRE numbers don’t hurt rankings.
-If you’re considering other graduate programs besides MBA you may need to take the GRE.
-There’s no lifetime limit on GRE’s so you can take as many as you want until you achieve your score goal (there is still a 5 per year limit).
Most people would do well starting off with the GMAT and then, if needed, considering the GRE as a second option. The skills required for both tests are similar and switching over to the GRE won’t require a complete overhaul.
Still think the GRE might be the better option to start? Then take GMAT and GRE official practice tests and see how you do. If you’re substantially stronger on the GRE then that’s a decent indicator for starting in that direction.
OK, buckle up. We’re going to get into the standardized test weeds!
Which exam has an easier format? GRE = Familiar GMAT = Foreign
The GMAT’s format is opaque, unfamiliar, and anxiety producing. Unlike the tests we all experienced in high school and college, the GMAT is computer adaptive. That fact creates two main distinctions from the GRE. Most troubling is the “set in stone” question navigation. eh? You can’t skip a question and then go back later. Once you confirm an answer it’s committed. The sequence and level of difficulty are computed by an algorithm which adjusts according to your responses.
As you answer questions correctly the exam gets harder. So, as you’re getting potentially more fatigued, stressed, and time starved you may get slammed with the most challenging material. If you’re not doing so hot then the question difficulty drops, a shift that can be detectable and demoralizing.
The GRE is very similar to a classic pen and paper test. It just so happens to be administered on a computer. You said adaptive right? Well, yes. It is a little adaptive. Section adaptive. Do well on the first quantitative section and the next one will have a tougher pool of questions. But, the “adapted” set isn’t proportionately more challenging or less challenging based on your individual results. There isn’t a gradient of easy, medium, difficult, very difficult, brain melting… You either get set “A” or set “B”.
With respect to the test structure and format GMAT is harder than GRE. For a broader discussion on the GMAT CAT take a look here: GMAT CAT.
Here are all GRE and GMAT administrative details including basic info on the number of questions, timing, adaptivity, score reporting, cancellation, rescheduling, and cost.
GMAT vs GRE Vitals Chart
GMAT: 78 q | 1 essay | 3hr 7min GRE: 80 q | 2 essays | 3hr 10min
Format Question Adaptive CAT
-Algorithm adjusts per Q
Section Adaptive CAT.
-Algorithm adjusts per section
Quant 31q/62 min
5 answer multiple choice
40q/70 min (2 sections)
5 answer multiple choice
-select one choice
-select multiple choices
-Test taker inputs answer
Verbal 35q/65 min
5 answer multiple choice. Question
40q//60 minutes (2 sections)
5 answer multiple choice
-Text Completion (vocab)
-Sentence Equivalence (vocab)
-Reading Comprehension + Critical Reasoning
Essay 1 Essay/30 min
-Analyze the argument
-Analyze the Argument
-Analyze the issue
Integrated Reasoning 12 questions/30 minutes N/A
Structure Test taker selects the order of sections. Order of sections is random.
Scoring Quant: 0-60 (51 in practice)
Verbal: 0-60 (51 in practice)
Composite Score (Q + V) 200-800
Integrated reasoning: 0-8
The GRE has no composite score.
Cost $250 $205 (USA)
# of times per year 5 per rolling 12 months. Max 8 per lifetime. 16 day gap between tests. 5 times per rolling 12 months. 21 day gap between test. Unlimited per lifetime.
Cancelling Must be done at least 7 days in advance. $80 refund (of $250) Must be done at least 4 days in advance. 50% refund ($102.50).
Rescheduling Must be done at least 7 days in advance. $60 fee. Must be done at least 4 days in advance. $50 fee.
Score reporting -Scores can be previewed and then cancelled.
-Revive cancelled scores within 4 years and 11 months for a $50 fee.
-Non-cancelled scores can be cancelled within 72 hours via mba.com for a $25 fee.
-Cancelled scores do not appear in any form on your score report.
GRE score select allows you to report any or all GRE scores. No fees apply.
GMAT math is harder than GRE math but does it matter?
The GMAT presents more puzzles while the GRE is a more straightforward “math test”. Still, on the easy/medium side the tests are similar. What’s different? The GMAT has a “6th gear” and could hit you with a question that leaves you completely stunned. For most people who are “good” at math this deer in headlights moment is unlikely to happen on the GRE as it flattens out rather quickly.
Here’s a comparison of the quantitative sections. Below we’ll compare their questions types.
GMAT vs GRE Quant Chart
# of Questions 31 40 (2x20 minute sections)
Timing 62 minutes 70 minutes
Format 5 answer multiple choice
5 answer multiple choice
-Test taker inputs value
Scoring 0-60 (51 is the highest achievable score in practice) 130-170
Plain Jane GMAT or Look at Me GRE Problem Solving
The GMAT problem solving is a very standard five answer multiple choice the like of which you’ve seen on many standardized tests. Here the GRE is the oddball.
What’s different about the GRE problem solving?
- Multiple answer multiple choice questions. These have more than one correct answer. Oh no!!! Don’t worry, I don’t think this makes the questions inherently more difficult. It’s just something to be aware of and to practice in your GRE studies.
- User input (you key in the answers). Runnnn!!!!! It’s OK. Come back from the ledge. Same deal as above. Not a problem. You just need to be prepared for the format.
- You get a calculator! Woohoo. Yes, there is less arithmetic to do. That said, the type of work that you can do on the GRE calculator isn’t what’s challenging about either test.
Which pile is bigger (GRE Quantitative Comparisons) vs Do I have enough information (GMAT Data Sufficiency)
For most people beginning their GMAT saga the most foreign section is the Data Sufficiency. This makes a lot of sense as DS is unique to GMAT and can be as slippery as a salamander. Why? You’re solving for sufficiency not for a specific answer. So the answer choices are identical for every Data Sufficiency question. That there are no actual values in the answer choices makes it tough to detect rotten logic. Confused? Here are some Data Sufficiency samples to get you up to speed. Here’s a GMAT DS example and a vide walkthrough of Data Sufficiency and a solution for the question itself:
The GRE response to Data Sufficiency are the Quantitative Comparisons. You are presented with two piles and have to judge which is bigger. There are only 4 answer choices so you have a 25% chance on a guess. Here’s a GRE Quant Comp sample question with a video walkthrough:
Notice it took a little longer to get through the Data Sufficiency question. Of course, I was taking my time explaining things. We could have gotten through both of those much faster. But, still, there’s more to think about with DS. GRE Quantitative Comparison is easier.
Is GMAT Quant Harder?
Yeah, it is. The questions get thornier and Data Sufficiency can be challenging to get used to. Will you do far better on the GRE Quant given the same set of skills? Probably not. Will you have to study less for x% of improvement on the GRE Quant? Again, probably not. Does that mean the GRE is worthless? No. You could be an exception and for whatever reason be a GRE superstar. Take an official GRE practice test and find out!
Is GRE Verbal tougher?
That’s going to depend on you. If you have a terrible vocabulary then the GRE verbal will be hell. A majority of the questions are vocab based. If instead you have trouble evaluating arguments, the GMAT verbal will be harder as it has much more critical reasoning than does the GRE and the reasoning on those questions is more challenging. Here’s an overview of the GRE vs GMAT verbal:
GMAT vs GRE Verbal Chart
# of Questions 35 40 (in two sections)
Time 65 minutes 60 minutes (in two sections)
Question Types 5 answer multiple choice
5 answer multiple choice
-Text Completion (vocabulary)
-Sentence Equivalence (vocabulary)
-Reading Comprehension + Critical Reasoning
Scoring 0-60 (51 is the highest achievable score in practice) 130-170
Which is harder? GMAT reasoning is tougher How’s your vocab? Not so good? GRE verbal will be hard.
GRE and GMAT Reading Comprehension are almost the same
In its newest iteration, the GRE Reading Comprehension has trended closer to the GMAT reading with shorter, less dense passages. This makes sense considering that the GRE strives to appeal as an international entrance exam for business school and probably wants to avoid scaring off non-USA candidates who might be put off by dense reading. So is there an easy way out for reading comprehension? I don’t think so.
Nowadays the difficulty level is very similar on both tests. The only real difference is that you can skip around on the GRE as opposed to the GMAT which only allows you to see one question at a time. GRE also has some variations in the question types. This variation takes some getting used to but doesn’t add to the difficulty level of the GRE.
GRE Text Completion and Equivalence vs GRE Sentence Correction
They both have “sentence” in the name but these GMAT/GRE sections are quite different. But, both being the odd man out in this GRE vs GMAT debate, I pitted them against each other. If you have a strong vocabulary the completions will be relatively simple. Here are two GRE vocab question examples:
There isn’t much critical thinking here – just regurgitating memorized words. If memorization isn’t your thing or if you do not already have a broad vocabulary you may have an easier time learning the “logic” of the GMAT sentence correction. Here’s a GMAT SC example:
GMAT Critical Reasoning is much more difficult
You will most likely only have two pure critical reasoning questions on your GRE. Compared to the GMAT critical reasoning the GRE critical reasoning is lightweight. I would place the GRE critical reasoning questions somewhere around mid-level GMAT critical reasoning questions. If critical reasoning is a strength then go GMAT! Those CR skills will most likely translate to the reading comprehension as well and contribute to an excellent verbal score. If you abhor critical reasoning then the GRE might be a great way to avoid these guys. You can train critical reasoning but it can take some real time and effort to see significant improvements.
Who cares about GMAT or GRE Writing?
The writing sections count for very little and shouldn’t factor into your decision making. They are very much pass/fail. But just for the sake of completion here’s the summary:
There are two essays on the GRE versus one on the GMAT. I’d say that’s a negative for GRE. I’m not sure that it makes the test any tougher but it is extra work to slog through.
GMAT vs GRE Essay Chart
# of Essays 1 2
Time 30 minutes 30 Minutes Per Essay
Essay Topics Analyze an Argument Analyze an Argument/Issue
Scoring 0-6 0-6
Relevance to MBA Admission Low Low
GMAT Integrated Reasoning vs ?
The GRE has no section which compares to the IR. Also, although it may be an important element at some point in the future, in 2020 the IR still doesn’t seem to be extremely relevant to admissions decisions.
How do MBA programs feel about the GMAT vs GRE in 2020?
In a 2014 study by Kaplan test prep, 74% of business schools claimed to have no preference for GMAT or GRE for their MBA programs. We don’t have those figures for 2020 but one can imagine that there is still a healthy chunk of schools that do have a preference. And among those “neutral” 74% it’s tough to judge how that “no preference” actually translates into admissions results. Also, it could be that the 26% encompasses all the MBA programs to which you want to apply. Without having the numbers it’s very difficult to take this idea of being “test agnostic” very seriously. That said, having talked to a few admissions consultants regarding GMAT or GRE preference it seems that the GMAT advantage has decreased quite a bit.
There are more applicants admitted with GRE scores than ever before but this GRE slice still only comprises a small percentage of the applicant pie and there are some schools for which GRE admits has dropped. As reported by Poets and Quants, At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business although the percentage of successful applicants with GRE scores skyrocketed from 2013 to 2015 (4% to 12%) in 2016 it dropped (11%).
The overall trend is up for GRE but for top MBA programs GRE still lags: In 2017 the top two GRE accepting elite MBA programs were the University of Michigan Ross School of Business with 19% GRE admits and MIT Sloan School of Management with 18%. Harvard HBS’s 2019 class had only 12% GRE test takers. As you go down the rankings GRE rates climb as high as 40% of the total.
As a potential boost to the GRE’s credibility, Harvard Business School has begun releasing GRE statistics. This may have been a reaction to Robert J. Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News & World Report, which compiles the most respected MBA rankings list, speculating that schools may be punished for failing to report GRE numbers (as reported here by Poets and Quants). With that you may see any GRE advantage evaporate as schools clamor to increase their median GRE scores.
Conclusion: GMAT vs GRE the definitive guide for 2020
A top GMAT score is more meaningful than a top GRE score. Why? Since the GMAT is the de facto MBA exam most admissions officers are more comfortable judging GMAT scores (and some have stated that they still prefer seeing GMAT scores). It’s also well established that the GMAT is harder than the GRE.
But just to play devil’s advocate you could argue that schools might be willing to accept a lower GRE score because at least of now that score won’t ding their prized GMAT averages which are used to calculate MBA rankings. However, don’t expect this loophole to:
- Apply to you unless you have a very compelling application.
- Last forever because more schools are reporting GRE stats and the GRE may start factoring into b-school rankings.
Getting a super score on either exam is going to take most people some real, solid effort. So given the same substantial time and cash investment I would bet on the safe choice, GMAT, and have the GRE as a backup. Once you have prepared for the GMAT it doesn’t take much added effort to adjust for the slight differences presented in the GRE.
One last thing to consider: as demented as it sounds, some jobs require that you submit standardized test scores. I’ve had students retake the GMAT after being accepted to business school just to improve post-MBA job opportunities. A low or non-existent GMAT score might make you a less competitive candidate (then again you may not be gunning for this type of job). Should you take the GMAT or GRE for MBA admission? The GMAT is still the reigning MBA entrance exam.
Here’s the GMAT and GRE compared in a chart
GMAT vs GRE GMAT GRE
What’s it for? The GMAT is the definitive test for MBA admissions (88% of Harvard’s 2019 class was admitted with a GMAT score) The GRE is the definitive test for admission to general masters programs
What does it test? Verbal and quantitative reasoning skills. Same thing.
# of test takers for MBA 250,884 (2017) 35,704 (2016)
GMAT, GRE scores for top MBA programs Class of 2019 Stanford GSB GMAT: 737
Class of 2019 Yale SOM GMAT: 730
Class of 2019 Stanford GRE: Quant 164 Verbal 165. Equivalent to a GMAT 710 using the GRE to GMAT conversion tool.
Class of 2019 Yale GRE: Quant 164 Verbal 166. Equivalent to a GMAT 720 using the GRE to GMAT conversion tool.
Which is harder? All things equal: the GMAT Tougher quant? For most people: the GMAT. Tougher verbal? GMAT quant is harder than GRE Quant. Have great vocab skills? The GRE verbal might be easier.
Easier to study for? Have great reasoning skills? The GMAT verbal might be easier. The GRE is less puzzle-y so one could make the argument that the studying is more straightforward.
Tell me which test to take!!!!!! -Most people would benefit from starting their test preparation focused on the GMAT.
-GMAT is the standard for MBA admissions, there is a well worn path for studying, and it is better understood by MBA admissions committees.
-Beyond that, if you’re looking to put your best foot forward with the “rolls royce” of MBA admissions tests the GMAT is it.
-Take the GRE is you have a great academic profile and really special application that would make it so a school was looking for a way to admit you even with lower test scores.
-With this very specific profile you might start with the GRE.
-Also, if you have an amazing vocab but are terrible at grammar. Solid reader but shaky reasoning skills. You may do much better on the GRE.
-And: are you applying to other masters programs besides an MBA? You may need to take the GRE.
GMAT vs GRE FAQ
Should I take the GMAT or GRE for MBA?
The GMAT is the Rolls Royce of MBA admissions exams. There may be some valid reasons for taking the GRE for MBA. Here are a few:
- You’ve taken all 5 GMATs available to you in a 12month period or all 8 in a lifetime.
- You took a GMAT and didn’t achieve your goal and need a test score for your MBA application sooner than the 17 day GMAT retake period.
- You’ve been accused of a test center irregularity and are banned from taking another GMAT.
- You have a freakish vocabulary and are terrible at quant.
- You are overall terrible at standardized tests but have a stellar application.
What’s the difference between GRE and GMAT?
The GMAT and the GRE are very similar standardized tests used for admissions to graduate programs worldwide. They test quantitative and verbal reasoning. The basic quant content is nearly identical. The exams diverge on the verbal as the GMAT focuses on critical thinking while the GRE is heavily weighted towards vocabulary.
Is the GRE or GMAT easier?
For most people the GRE is easier than the GMAT. However, easier doesn’t mean easy. Here are five reasons why the GRE is easier than GMAT:
- The GRE is easier than the GMAT because you can skip questions and go back to them.
- The GRE is easier than the GMAT because you can use a calculator.
- The GRE quant is easier than GMAT quant.
- The GRE is easier than the GMAT because it is section adaptive instead of question adaptive.
- The GRE is easier than the GMAT because there is no lifetime limit on GREs. You can take as many as you want.
Is the GRE easier than the GMAT?
Simple answer, yes. The GRE is easier than the GMAT. See above for more details.
Which is harder the GMAT or GRE?
The GMAT is considered the harder test. Here are 6 reasons why the GMAT is harder than the GRE:
- The GMAT quant has more challenging math puzzles.
- The GMAT question adaptiveness is more challenging than GRE section adaptiveness
- On the GMAT you can’t skip questions or return to them.
- GRE vocabulary is easier to memorize than GMAT critical reasoning is to learn
- On the GMAT you can’t use a calculator.
- There is a yearly and lifetime limit on GMAT retakes.
What is GRE to GMAT conversion?
There is strong evidence to suggest that admissions committees convert GRE to GMAT. That conversion allows easy comparison amongst the entire pool of applicants most of whom have taken the GMAT. Here’s a more in depth look at GRE to GMAT conversion.
What is the Business School Test?
The GMAT is the standard test for admission to MBA programs worldwide. The GRE is also accepted at a great majority of MBA programs but far fewer people take the GRE for MBA.
What does GMAT stand for?
GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test
What is the GMAT test?
The GMAT is a computer adaptive standardized test designed to assess a candidates readiness for a masters in business (MBA). It is used as a selection criteria for admission to MBA programs worldwide.
What is the test to get into business school?
Most business schools require either the GMAT or the GRE. The GMAT is the gold standard for MBA admission while the GRE is a relative newcomer.
Should I take the GRE for MBA?
You should take the GRE for MBA if:
- You have an incredible vocabulary.
- You have run out of GMAT attempts.
- You want to try for a more competitive test score but don’t have time to wait to retake the GMAT.
- You have never been able to achieve on standardized tests but have an otherwise fantastic application and profile.
What is the GRE exam?
The GRE (Graduate Records Exam) is the most common standardized test taken for admission to masters programs worldwide. It is also accepted for admission to MBA programs. It tests quant and verbal reasoning skills meant to be a predictor of graduate school success.
Business schools that accept GRE?
Here are the business schools that accept the GRE
Is GMAT Prep Enough for GRE?
Yes. GMAT prep will also prepare you for the GRE. Is GMAT prep enough for GRE? No. There are a few key differences between the GRE and the GMAT that you’ll need to prepare for:
- The GRE verbal tests vocabulary (no vocab on the GMAT)
- The GRE quant has a special type of question not present on the GMAT, Quantitative Comparison
- The GRE format is slightly different so you’ll want to take at least one GRE practice test to acclimate yourself. On the GRE you can skip questions and return to them. So GRE and GMAT timing strategies are different.
Switching from GMAT to GRE
Same as above. A lot of what you study for on the GMAT, especially on the quant side, will transfer to the GRE. However, there are differences between the tests so if you are switching from the GMAT to GRE you should spend a few weeks on some GRE specific preparation, especially relating to the vocabulary questions on the verbal section and the overall GRE format which is much more flexible than the GMAT format and so requires a different approach.
Is the GRE as good as the GMAT as an MBA admissions test?
That’s very tough to judge. Here’s a research paper supporting that the GRE is a valid predictor of MBA success.