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GRE vs. GMAT — What Should You Prefer and Why

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Getting to know the two tests:

GRE, administered by the private non-profit organization ETS, is a standardized test for taking admission in many colleges and universities across the US, Canada, Australia and UK. GMAT is another such test that ETS used to administer until a few years ago, when it lost the rights to another organization. Previously, the common assumption was that the GMAT  is for business students and the GRE  is for anyone willing a take up a graduation course. However, GRE is now being accepted by many business schools. Also, ETS is trying to make this test acceptable to most business schools with the revision of the test format. The revised GRE general test has merged the distinctions between the two tests, making them very similar in many ways. It is no surprise that business schools are less hesitant now to admit students based on their GRE scores only. This has resulted in even more confusion for the students. The question “Why should one prefer one test over the other one?” is more obvious now. Though the GMAT  is considered to be designed specifically for students wanting to take up a business course, now those students, too, can consider the GRE test merely because of its broader reach. Here we will look into the details to find out which one of the two tests you should prefer.

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Structure of GRE vs. GMAT:

First, let’s take a look at the structure of GRE and GMAT. The GRE test has one Analytical Writing section, one Verbal Reasoning section and one Quantitative Reasoning section. The GMAT test has the following four sections: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Verbal section and Quantitative section. The analytical writing sections of the two tests are similar. GRE has one Analysis of an Issue task and one Analysis of an Argument task, GMAT only has the latter. In both cases you get 30 minutes to complete each task (in the current version of the GRE test, however, you get 45 minutes for the Issue task). In the Analyze an Issue task, you are required to argue for or against an issue. The Argument task asks you to critically analyze a given argument to decide how logical it is. Both sections judge your ability for logical thinking, and minor spelling or grammatical mistakes are often overlooked.

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The Verbal Reasoning section of the revised GRE test has three types of questions: Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence and Reading Comprehension. On the other hand, the Verbal section of the GMAT test has these three question types: Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning and Sentence Correction. The revised version of the GRE test no more has antonyms and analogies. Both the sections test your ability for understanding written material, specifically the relationship between words and expressions. The Critical Reasoning questions of the GMAT Verbal section are a bit different as those judge your ability for developing and evaluating an argument or a situation.

The Quantitative section of the GMAT test has two types of questions: Problem Solving Questions and Data Sufficiency Questions. The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE test includes Quantitative Comparison, Data Interpretation and Problem Solving questions. Students often find the Data Sufficiency questions harder to answer, thereby making the GMAT test more difficult. However, the revised version of the GRE test introduces a new type of question — Numeric Data Entry question — which requires the students to enter a value in the answer field, rather than choosing it from a list. This new question type makes this test a bit more difficult. Apart from this one type of question, the rest of the questions for both the verbal and quantitative sections of these two tests are multiple-choice type questions. The questions of the quantitative sections of the two tests are based on common concepts of mathematics, and do not require any special mathematical skills.

Computer Adaptive Test vs. Computer-based Section-level Adaptive Test:

The Verbal and the Quantitative sections of the GMAT are computer adaptive. That means that the computer adapts to your standard, and the answer you give to a question decides the difficulty level of the following questions. The first question you face is of medium difficulty. If you answer it correctly, you get a harder question next; otherwise the question you get next is less difficult. As the computer scores each of your answers immediately, there is no going back. You cannot even skip a question or come back to it later. The current version of the GRE test is also computer adaptive, and works in a similar way; it is section-level adaptive. That is, the answers you give in the first section determine the difficulty level of the next sections, but the questions in one particular section are fixed. This provides you with the extra options for reviewing your answers to rewrite or correct them, or you can even skip questions and come back to them later. This way the test is more user friendly, and lets you have a similar experience as a real test on paper.

Score Scale — GRE vs. GMAT:

The total score scale of the GMAT test is 200-800, and the scores of the verbal and quantitative sections range from 0-60. The revise version of the GRE test has 130-170 score scale with 1-point increments for each of the verbal and quantitative sections. The score scale of the Analytical writing section of both the tests is from 0 to 6. The scores of both the tests are valid for five years from the day of taking the test.

GRE vs. GMAT — at a Glance:

This far we have discussed about the structure, format and score scale of each of the two tests. This will give you an overall idea of both the tests. But there is more to it while comparing the two tests! Let’s have a side by side look at the pros and cons of the two tests:

  • GMAT is for management students; but the GRE test is no more only for students taking up regular graduation courses. Thus, students who are unsure of which course to take up for graduation, have more possibilities with the this test.
  • However, many business schools and colleges still prefer GMAT. If you want to take admission in one such institution, GMAT is for you.
  • The GRE test is administered all over the world, but the GMAT test is not available in many places.
  • The GRE test costs less than the GMAT test.
  • ETS lets you take the optional subject test along with the general test to show your subject specific skills.
  • GMAT test does not have unscored sections, but GRE can have one or two unscored sections. However, the GMAT test does have unidentified trial questions which are not counted while scoring.


Finally, it depends mostly on the needs of individual students whether they take up the GRE or the GMAT test. Hopefully, the above information will help you in taking the difficult decision of settling for one of the two tests. Of course, this is not the end of the comparison. A revised version of the GMAT test is due, and can make it even more difficult for the students to choose one test over the other. However, if you are sure to take up a business course, GMAT might be the one for you. Otherwise, GRE provides you with more options to choose from.

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