GMAT vs. GRE: Key Differences between the Tests


Post your graduation, if you want to apply to universities abroad, the first and the most critical decision to make, is to decide which qualifying exam would you want to take – GMAT or GRE?

Depending on the stream and subject, the majority of the universities abroad require you to submit either your GMAT or GRE score. These exams have been designed to test skills relevant to the programs you want to study and hence are considered an indicator of your aptitude.

Today both GMAT and GRE exam scores are widely accepted by most of the B-schools abroad. If you are planning to apply for an MBA program at a reputed university abroad, you will have to decide which of the two qualifying tests you would like to take – GMAT OR GRE. The article is meant to help you take that decision by helping you understand:

  • How GMAT and GRE are structured
  • Differences between GMAT & GRE
  • Other factors to take into consideration while deciding on which exam to take


GMAT – Graduate Management Admission Test

GMAT is owned by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). They first launched the test in the year 1953 as a standardized test to select qualified aspirants who wanted to apply to study business programs. The GMAT exam is designed to test those skills of applicants, which are essential for them to succeed in the corporate business world. The exam has Four Sections namely:

  • GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment – measures the ability to think critically and also how well do you communicate ideas
    Question Types – Analysis of an Argument
  • Integrated Reasoning — measures the ability to analyze data and evaluate information presented in multiple formats
    Question Types – Graphics Interpretation, Table Analysis, Multi-source Reasoning, Two-part Analysis
  • GMAT Quantitative Reasoning — measures the ability to analyze data and draw conclusions using reasoning skills
    Question Types – Data Sufficiency, Problem Solving
  • GMAT Verbal Reasoning — measures the ability to read and understand written material, to evaluate arguments and to correct written material to conform to standard written English
    Question Types – Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction

All four sections are timed differently. The test in total takes just under 3.5 hours to complete, including two optional breaks.


GRE – Graduate Record Examinations

Owned and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), the Graduate Record Examinations was first introduced in 1936 by four Ivy League universities and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The test is designed to gauge the applicant’s skills required to successfully complete master-level programs in streams like science, law, and business. The exam has Six Sections, including unscored research sections namely:

  • GRE Analytical Writing – measures the ability to articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively, support ideas with relevant reasons and examples, examine claims and accompanying evidence, sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion and control the elements of standard written English
    Question Types – Analyze an Issue” task and “Analyze an Argument” task
  • GRE Verbal Reasoning – measures the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from the discourse, reason from incomplete data, understand the structure of a text, understand the meanings of words, sentences and entire texts; understand relationships among words and among concepts, distinguish major from minor or irrelevant points and understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author’s intent
    Question Types – Reading Comprehension, Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence
  • GRE Quantitative Reasoning – measure the ability to understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information, solve problems using mathematical models, apply basic skills and elementary concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis
    Question Types – Numeric Entry Questions, MCQs with one answer, All that apply, Quantitative Comparison questions
  • Experimental section – The section is an additional unscored Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning section that does not count toward your score, may be included and may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section

An identified research section that does not count toward your score may be included in place of the unscored section. The test time for the GRE General Test is about three hours and 45 minutes.

Difference between GMAT and GRE


Test Design Features

Question Review and Use of Calculator

While taking the test if you first like to answer the questions you are sure of and then return to the difficult or lengthy ones, it is only possible in GRE.


The exam allows you to move forward and backward throughout an entire section with features that allow test takers to preview and review capabilities within a section and mark and review features to tag questions. These features allow test takers to skip questions and return later. The answers within sections can be changed/edited. The GRE exam provides an on-screen calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning section.

GMAT – The exam does not allow you to go back and forth to review the questions while taking the test. A calculator is provided for use during the Integrated Reasoning section only. Unlike GRE, Calculators are not permitted during the Quantitative section. Test takers are provided with note boards and markers to work out the calculations on the Quantitative section.

Question Types

GMAT – The exam primarily has multiple choice questions, except for the Data Sufficiency questions.

GRE – The exam alongside multiple-choice questions has other different types of questions like – multiple answers, highlight the sentence for passages and numeric entry.


Section Wise Difference

Quantitative Section

GMAT– The quant section has two sections:

  • Quantitative section
  • Integrated Reasoning section

The quantitative section has questions on data sufficiency and problem-solving. Integrated Reasoning has questions on multi-source reasoning, graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, and table analysis

GRE – The quant section has questions on arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.

The topics for the section in both the exams are quite similar however, the GMAT quant section is considered to be more challenging as it focuses more on the critical thinking of the test taker.

Verbal Section

Both GMAT and GRE test verbal skills with questions on grammar, comprehension and writing skills. The difference lies in the weightage given to different elements of the English language.

GMAT –  The exam has one section for verbal skills comprising of three types of questions: Reading comprehension, critical reading and sentence correction.

GRE – There are two sections for verbal skills with questions on Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence

Of the two, GRE’s verbal section is considered to be more challenging due to the difficulty level of vocabulary and reading passage. Non-native English speakers may have to work harder here to score well.

Related Blog Post: Strategies Which are Common for GMAT and GRE

Analytical Writing

This section is meant to see how well you gauge the strengths and weaknesses of an argument given in the reading passage. Both GMAT and GRE have this section. GMAT has one passage to read and analyse, whereas GRE has two passages to comprehend before you get down to writing your essay. The time differs accordingly GMAT has 30 minutes and GRE has 60 minutes allotted to the section.

The passage given in GMAT has to be analyzed by the test taker to present her/his view on it in the style they deem fit. It is mostly an argument given to evaluate. GRE has this section segregated into two parts- analyse an argument and analyse a task. For the argument task, the test taker has to critique the argument given in the reading passage, whereas in the analyse of a task one has to give her/his point of view, justify it with evidence.


Both the exams are scored on different scales.

GMAT – Both Quantitative and Verbal score ranges from 6 to 51 in 1-point increments. The GMAT, also, provides the test-takers with a composite score which ranges from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments.

GRE – Verbal and Quantitative scores range from 130 to 170 in 1-point increments. The exam does not provide a total score.

Question Difficulty Level

GMAT is a question-level adaptive exam and GRE is a section-level adaptive exam.

GMAT is a question-level adaptive test which means the first question during the test will be of medium difficulty. If the test taker answers that question correctly, the next question will be slightly harder. If the first question is answered incorrectly then the next question will be slightly easier.

GRE is offered as a computer section level adaptive test which means the difficulty level changes per section. For example: for the two graded quant sections, if you performed well on the first one, the second section will have a higher level of difficulty. The same goes for the verbal sections.

Paper version of GRE is only offered in areas of the world where computer-delivered testing is not available.

Exam Fee

The exam fee for the two tests varies slightly. Though the difference is not significant, but if one has to retake a test the exam fee cost will have to be taken into consideration.

GMAT Exam Fee: In India, the GMAT exam fee is $250. There is an additional fee for rescheduling, enhanced/ additional score reports, essay rescoring, etc. The fee may vary slightly basis the location.

GRE Exam Fee: In India, the GRE exam fee is $213, whereas in the majority of the countries it is $205. Apart from the exam fee, other costs like preparation cost, rescheduling fee, additional score reports fee, etc. should be taken into consideration.


Point to Consider While Deciding GMAT Vs GRE

With these differences, one has to decide which exam to take for further studies. Earlier, the GMAT was the only test accepted for business-related master-level studies. Now GRE too has just about the same level of acceptance for business and management related study programs. In cases where universities clearly specify which exam score they want applicants to submit for admission, there is no choice. However, where universities are open to both GMAT/GRE scores, applicants have to pick one of the two. There are few factors when taken into consideration can help one decide which exam to take:

Career Goals

Your career goal/s will be the most crucial factor in deciding which exam to pick. In certain industries like banking and consulting, employers may ask you for your GMAT scores at the hiring stage. So depending on where your interest lies, it is recommended you do some research on the industry you want to get into first and see what are companies looking for while hiring fresh MBA graduates. Getting in touch with alumni would help a great deal especially knowing what their experience has been during the recruitment phase after completing their MBA program?

Subject Knowledge

Your level of comfort with subjects matters a lot while choosing between GMAT and GRE. For example: if you are strong in English and find it easy to converse and write in it, preparing for and taking GRE should not be difficult. You will find it easier to work on the vocabulary, which many find challenging. Likewise, if math is your strength then GMAT might be your pick, as the difficulty level of the quant section of GMAT is considered to be higher compared to GRE.

It is purely a function of where your strength lies. Whatever subject you feel more comfortable with, choose the exam that will help you score higher basis your subject level expertise.

Related Blog Post: What Does the Term ‘Percentile’ on Your GRE Score Report Mean?

Score Reports

This is an important factor to consider as it relates to the final score you will be submitting with your application for the program of your choice. This is especially vital in cases where the exam has been taken more than once.

For instance: you took a particular exam more than once. If it was GRE, you can choose which score or scores you would like to submit with the application. Whereas, if it is GMAT, your report by default will contain all your scores attempt wisely.

The number of attempts does not have a negative impact but attempting the test too many times might lead to more examination by the reviewers than normal. In a situation like this GRE will give you more control in terms of which score/s you’d like to share with your university application.

Practice Test

If you are really confused about which test to take, the best way to pick is to take a full-length mock test for both. A practice test taken before preparation will show you your baseline score which will also help to understand your strengthens and weaknesses section-wise. Basis the results you can decide which exam of the two GMAT or GRE would you like to pick.



The decision of whether to take GMAT or GRE lies in your abilities and preferences. Both the exams GMAT and GRE are meant to test your quantitative, verbal, writing, and critical thinking skills. They have similar sections. In general, the GMAT quant section is considered to be slightly more difficult than GRE and GRE verbal section is considered to of higher difficulty level than GMAT.

Most of the business schools now accept both GRE and GMAT. However, keep in consideration, if you are not able to get through the University of your Choice, with GMAT your options will be limited. You may have to settle for a low-ranking business school. With GRE, as it has wider acceptance you will have more options. If you do not get to the business school of your choice, with GRE you will have the option of applying for other master’s programs for instance a law program or Ph.D.

Though with GMAT, the impression you leave with the reviewers of your application is that you are committed to studying for a business program to build a corporate career.

Researching the exam features, similarities, differences, other details and policies will help to gain a clear understanding of which exam will suit your need better. Check with the universities you want to apply to by thoroughly reading the information given on their websites and brochures. Speaking to ex-students/ alumni will help you immensely in this regard.

Start your preparation after you are satisfied with your research. Once you decide on an exam, prepare for it with complete focus and dedication. On your way you will come across many opinions and advice, our suggestion is to stick to what you have decided as it is based on your performance abilities. Thinking of switching exams mid-way in your preparation phase is not advisable until and unless it absolutely has to be done. This will only confuse you to leave you stressed about the outcome.

GMAT or GRE take your decision based on your subject knowledge, time in hand to prepare, and your career goals. Whichever test you pick prepare well and study smart.


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