Graduate programs across the nation require prospective students to submit either a GRE score or a GMAT score. Although the GMAT is primarily used in the business school application process and the GRE is typically used for other graduate majors, many programs give applicants the option of submitting the results of either exam. If a university gives you the opportunity to choose between the two exams, pick the one you can master more easily. Since the two tests are both given on a computer and contain a fair amount of similarity between sections, you must examine the specific contents of each test to make the proper choice. To begin, compare the sections on each test:
|GMAT Test Section||# of Questions||Question Types||Timing|
|Analytical Writing Assessment||1 Topic||Analysis of Argument||30 Minutes|
|Integrated Reasoning||12 Questions||Multi-Source Reasoning|
|Total Exam Time||3 hrs, 7 minutes|
|GRE Test Section||# of Questions||Question Types||Timing|
|Analytical Writing Measure||2 Topics||Analyze an Issue|
Analyze an Argument
|Quantitative (x2)||20 Questions in each of the two sections|
|Multiple-Choice: Select One|
Multiple-Choice: Select One or More
(70 mins total)
|Verbal (x2)||20 Questions in each of the two sections|
(60 mins total)
|Total Exam Time||3 hrs, 10 minutes|
Each test has Quantitative, Verbal, and Writing components, but as you can see from the table, the types of questions within each section are not always the same.
One immediate difference between the GMAT and the GRE is that the GRE provides an on-screen calculator for use during the Quantitative sections, while the GMAT does not allow for the use of a calculator.
Conceptually the Quantitative sections of each exam are quite similar, as both tests are based on high school level arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. The most common question type on each test is multiple-choice, which are math problems where you are presented with a question and several answer choice options. Here is an example:
If 2x + 4 = 16, then x =
The correct answer is (E). The GRE introduces a slight variation on multiple-choice in that some questions could potentially have more than one correct answer choice and a test taker must select all of the correct answers to receive credit, however the multiple choice questions on both exams are quite similar overall.
The major differences between the two quantitative sections are in the remaining question types: the GMAT has an additional problem type called Data Sufficiency and the GRE offers two additional types called Quantitative Comparison and Numeric Entry.
Data Sufficiency questions on the GMAT consist of a question followed by two different statements, numbered (1) and (2). For example:
Is the integer x odd?
(1) x is the product of two different prime numbers.
(2) x is divisible by 7.
The answer choices test your ability to evaluate whether the information in the two statements is sufficient to lead to a consistent solution to the problem:
(A) if (1) alone is sufficient to solve the problem
(B) if (2) alone is sufficient to solve the problem
(C) if both statements together are sufficient to solve the problem
(D) if each statement alone is sufficient to solve the problem
(E) if the statements together are not sufficient to fully answer the question
The answer above is (E), meaning that even when you know x is the product of two primes AND is divisible by 7, it still cannot be known whether x is always odd. While this problem is considered to be at the easier end of the spectrum, data sufficiency problems can be extremely challenging, and incorporate algebra, arithmetic, and geometry.
The GRE offers its own unique math problems—Quantitative Comparison and Numeric Entry. Numeric Entry questions are fairly straightforward in presentation: instead of selecting from among several possible answer choice (multiple-choice), a test taker must supply his/her own answer.
Quantitative Comparison questions, or "Quant Comp" as they are often called, are unique because they do not require a "solution" per se; you simply must compare two values to determine their relationship. Each problem contains two columns, labeled Quantity A and Quantity B. In each column is a number, a variable, an expression, or a statement:
|Column A||Column B|
|1/5 of 65||6/11 of 31|
If the quantity in Column A is greater, select (A) as you answer. If the quantity in Column B is greater, choose (B). Should the quantities in the two columns prove to be equal, pick (C). And finally, if the relationship cannot be determined from the given information (the relationship varies), select (D). The answer to the problem above is (B). Quantitative Comparison questions test arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
Most students find that both Data Sufficiency and Quantitative Comparison questions are challenging at first, but with practice they become much more manageable. It is generally agreed, however, that Data Sufficiency is more difficult to master, and the math on the GMAT is therefore considered by most to be more difficult than the math on the GRE.
The only similarity between the verbal sections of the GMAT and GRE is the Reading Comprehension question type. Reading Comprehension questions present a 100 to 400 word passage, followed by one to six multiple choice questions.
The GMAT has two additional Verbal question types: Critical Reasoning and Sentence Correction. Critical Reasoning questions present a short statement or argument (typically two or three sentences), and then test your ability to use logic to evaluate the statement. These questions have multiple choice answers. Sentence Correction questions contain a sentence in which a part of the sentence is underlined, and analyze your ability to identify and correct errors in grammar and usage in the underlined portion.
The GRE contains two additional Verbal question types as well: Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence. Text Completion questions contain a sentence or short passage with one, two, or three words or phrases missing. From the answer choices, you must pick the missing word(s) that best fit(s) the overall meaning of the sentence. Sentence Equivalence question present a single sentence with one word missing. You must select the two answer choices that both logically complete the sentence AND produce sentences with equivalent meanings. These question types are a test of your ability to understand sentence context, as well as your vocabulary.
The GRE and GMAT both have a 30-minute essay on the analysis of an argument, where the prompt asks you to analyze an argument for its questionable assumptions and overall validity. The GRE also has a second 30-minute essay where the prompt asks you to take a position on an issue and present an argument for your positon using specific examples.
The GMAT has a wholly unique section titled "Integrated Reasoning" where, according to the test makers, the four question types (and 12 total questions) "measure how well you integrate data to solve complex problems and test the following skills:
- Synthesizing information presented in graphics, text, and numbers
- Evaluating relevant information from different sources
- Organizing information to see relationships and to solve multiple, interrelated problems
- Combining and manipulating information from multiple sources to solve complex problems"
Essentially you are given charts, graphs, tables, or other sets of data and asked to interpret and manipulate them to provide meaningful answers to the questions asked. The real challenge here, aside from the large amounts of information presented, is that the figures are responsive and must often be rearranged—adjusting rows, columns, inputs, etc—before questions can be answered.
Both the GRE and the GMAT use an adaptive exam format, although in slightly different ways. The computer adaptive format on the GMAT chooses each question based on your performance on the previous question(s), meaning you must answer each question in order, and you cannot skip questions or go back to prior questions.
The GRE is a section-adaptive exam: your second sections of Verbal and Math adapt (become harder or easier) depending on your overall performance in your first section of Verbal and Math, respectively. That means that you can skip questions and move around within a section, much as you can on more traditional, paper-based exams.
The GRE gives three different scaled scores:
- A Quantitative score reported on a 130-170 score scale, in 1-point increments
- A Verbal score reported on a 130-170 score scale, in 1-point increments
- An Analytical Writing score reported on a 0-6 score scale, in half-point increments
The GMAT provides four separate scores:
- A Quantitative Score on a scale of 0 to 60, in 1-point increments
- A Verbal Score on a scale of 0 to 60, in 1-point increments
- A Total Score on a scale of 200 to 800, in 10-point increments
- An Analytical Writing score reported on a 0-6 score scale, in half-point increments
For the GMAT, the Quantitative and Verbal scores are section scores, and these two section scores are combined to create the Total Score. The Total Score is the one most familiar to GMAT test takers, and it is given on the famous 200 to 800 scale, with 200 being the lowest score and 800 the highest score (similar to the SAT scale many people encountered in high school).
The current price to take the GMAT is $250, while the GRE costs $195.
You should now a have a better understanding of the differences between the GMAT and the GRE. If you are trying to decide between the two tests, consider the following:
- If you have very strong math skills, but feel that your English skills (particularly vocabulary) are weaker, consider taking the GMAT.
- If you have very strong English skills (particularly if your vocabulary is stronger than your grammar knowledge), but feel less confident in math, consider taking the GRE.
- If your verbal and math skills are about equal, consider taking the GRE.
- If you are applying to a program focusing specifically on your Quantitative or Verbal scores (such as Engineering or English), consider taking the GRE.
- If English is your second language, consider taking the GMAT.