Key takeaways

  • The GMAT is the standard option for MBA program admissions, but the GRE is accepted at many graduate programs, too.
  • The GMAT is specialized for business school. It has a difficult quantitative section requiring critical thinking skills skills.
  • The GRE is less specialized, meaning it's accepted in other types of graduate programs. But non-native English speakers may struggle with the verbal section.

For a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, you can typically take one of two standardized tests to satisfy admission requirements: the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

The GMAT is the most commonly accepted exam for an MBA and is specialized for business schools. The GRE is less commonly accepted for MBAs. But it’s a good option for creative thinkers and those deciding between an MBA and another type of graduate program.

Though admissions counselors consider more than just test scores, your GMAT or GRE scores matter. They represent your potential to succeed in graduate school. If you plan to apply for an MBA program, here’s an overview of both exams and which is best for your MBA degree.

GMAT vs. GRE: Overview

GMAT GRE
Scores 205–805 130–170 for verbal and quantitative reasoning, 0–6 for analytical writing, 200-990 for every subject test
Sections Analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning Analytical writing, verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, research
Format In-person or online In-person or online
Cost $300 online, $275 in person (in North America) $220 (in North America)
Length 2 hours and 15 minutes 1 hour and 58 minutes
Score validity 5 years 5 years
Best for Logical, analytical thinkers with solid math and quantitative skills Creative thinkers with a strong vocabulary and a propensity for geometry
Worst for Flexible thinkers who do better with textbook-style math questions and a calculator Non-native English speakers and students whose math skills outpace their language skills

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is a business school entrance exam that evaluates a candidate’s quantitative, analytical, writing, reading and verbal skills. Most in-person and online MBA programs accept this test, although not all require it. Some programs allow business professionals with several years of experience and solid GPAs to waive the exam.

In late 2023, the Graduate Management Admission Council introduced a new, shorter version of the GMAT. The GMAT Focus Edition officially replaced the classic GMAT in February 2024.

Benefits of the GMAT

The GMAT is typically the first choice for students pursuing a business degree. Here are some of the test’s major benefits:

  • Widely accepted: Virtually every MBA program accepts the GMAT. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, more than 5,000 graduate programs worldwide use the GMAT scores in their admission process.
  • Designed for business school graduate programs: The GMAT was created specifically for business programs. It focuses on quantitative and analytical reasoning. These are skills relevant to success in an MBA program and as a business professional.
  • Ability to review and edit questions: In the new GMAT Focus Edition, test takers can edit responses later within each section. This allows you to skip questions you are unsure about and revisit them later. You can change up to three responses per section.

Drawbacks of the GMAT

The GMAT isn’t the right choice for everyone. Consider some of the downsides before signing up:

  • Difficult quantitative section: Many educators consider the quantitative section on the GMAT more complex than the similar section on the GRE. While both exams test equation-solving and data interpretation, the GMAT requires more critical thinking and analysis.
  • Limits on answer changes: You can only go back and change up to 3 responses per section.

What is a good GMAT score?

A good GMAT score varies based on the competitiveness of the MBA program and the student’s demographic profile. GMAT test scores for top business schools can average 730, with 700 considered the baseline. Less-competitive MBA programs accept GMAT scores in the low-600 range.

Keep in mind, though, that the GMAT score is only one part of the application. MBA programs also consider applicants’ background, experience and past academic performance.

What is the GRE?

The GRE is a standardized test that measures academic readiness for graduate programs. Unlike the GMAT, which is specialized for business school, the GRE applies to almost all graduate programs. More than 1,000 business schools accept the GRE. Some institutions prefer this test for specific programs, such as the marketing MBA.

Benefits of the GRE

You may consider taking the GRE if you haven’t decided on a graduate program. Here are some of the test’s benefits:

  • More versatile: While the GMAT focuses entirely on business school, the GRE is accepted at multiple types of graduate programs. Undecided students or students pursuing programs other than MBA programs may choose to take only the GRE to save time and money.
  • Ability to skip and change answers: For the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections of the GRE, you may go back and change answers or choose which questions you’d like to answer first. The testing software will track which questions you’ve skipped so you can easily access them later.
  • Cheaper: The GRE is the same price ($220) whether taken in-person or online. It’s $55 or $80 cheaper than the GMAT, depending on whether you take it in-person or online, respectively. If you have to take the test multiple times, these costs could add up.

Drawbacks of the GRE

Before signing up for the GRE, make sure it’s the right choice for you. Some drawbacks to consider are:

  • More difficult for non-native English speakers: Non-native English speakers may find the verbal section of the GRE difficult. The vocabulary test includes obscure words that even native English speakers find challenging. The analytical writing section may also be hard.
  • Not as widely accepted: While the GRE is growing in acceptance at business schools, some programs still require the GMAT scores.

What is a good GRE score?

A good GRE score depends on several factors, including the type of school and the student’s profile. Kaplan sets the “competitive” score range at:

  • 158 to 170 for the verbal section.
  • 165 to 170 for the quantitative section.
  • 4.5 for the writing section.

As with GMAT scores, your GRE test score is only one part of the application. If you have a slightly lower GRE score but an otherwise competitive application, you can still be considered for an MBA program.

Should you take the GMAT or the GRE?

When planning to begin an MBA program, there are many things to consider. You must decide what test to take, where to apply, and even how to pay for the MBA.

The first step in deciding which test you should take is checking with your school. Not all MBA programs accept the GRE test, so the choice of which test to take may not be yours.

If your chosen school accepts both tests, consider playing to your strengths. If you excel at math, logic and reasoning, the GMAT may be your best option. On the other hand, if you possess a strong English vocabulary and prefer a more flexible testing format, consider the GRE.

You should also assess your career goals when deciding between the GMAT and the GRE. Some employers in top investment, banking and consulting firms require GMAT scores for candidate consideration.

GMAT and GRE resources

The good news about the GMAT and the GRE is that plenty of resources help you prepare for the exams, from practice tests to prep courses. Some resources to check out include:

  • GMAT online practice exams: The official site of the GMAT exam offers several practice exams, including a free starter kit and over 350 past verbal and quantitative exam questions.
  • GRE online practice exams: The ETS provides practice tests for the computer-delivered GRE. A test preview tool familiarizes students with the exam, and real test questions let them test their preparedness.
  • GMAT Official Guide Prep Book: The GMAT guide bundle contains three books that review the topics and questions covered in the GMAT. In addition, online question banks enable students to create custom practice tests.
  • GRE Official ETS Prep Book: ETS publishes a guide to the GRE general test, plus two books covering specific test sections. These books provide real test questions, four real practice tests and explanations.
  • GMAT Kaplan online prep courses: Kaplan’s GMAT preparatory courses include a study plan, online instruction and nine computer-based practice tests. Students can also take a practice test at an official testing center.
  • GRE Kaplan online prep courses: Kaplan offers live online GRE preparatory courses and one-on-one tutoring for students looking to dive deep into the topics found on the GRE. Additional resources include practice tests and customizable quizzes.

FAQs about the GMAT and the GRE

  • While many consider the quantitative section on the GMAT more difficult than that of the GRE, students who excel in logic may find it easier than the geometry questions on the GRE.
    The GRE may also be harder for non-native English speakers because it focuses on vocabulary.
  • More and more business schools are beginning to accept the GRE.
    However, some MBA programs may still require the GMAT since the test focuses on quantitative and analytical skills necessary for many business degrees.
  • Most schools allow applicants to submit both their GRE and GMAT scores.However, many don’t recommend this approach due to the investment in time and money required for each exam.
    Instead, ask your school of choice to determine if one test carries more weight than the other.
  • There are several ways to pay for an MBA. Fellowships, grants and scholarships may be available, or your employer could offer tuition assistance. These types of funding do not usually require repayment. Another common approach is taking out a graduate school loan, which requires repayment. Federal loans offer more perks, though their size is limited. To get a federal student loan, you’ll start by creating a Federal Student Aid account and completing the FAFSA form.