GMAT vs. GRE: Which is best for an MBA?

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The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are standardized tests that are required for admission into many graduate schools. While admissions counselors utilize a holistic approach when considering an applicant, the test score plays a significant part, representing a candidate’s potential to succeed in graduate school.

For a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, it’s often better to take the GMAT. However, if your program accepts it, the GRE is also a viable option.

GMAT vs. GRE: Overview

GMAT GRE
Scores 200–800 130–170 for verbal and quantitative reasoning, 0–6 for analytical writing
Sections Analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning Analytical writing, verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, research section
Format In person or online In person or online
Cost $250 online, $275 in person $205
Length 3 hours and 30 minutes 3 hours and 45 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 Nonnative 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 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.

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: Long considered the gold standard for business school admissions, virtually every MBA program accepts the GMAT. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), more than 7,000 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, emphasizing quantitative and analytical reasoning — skills most relevant to success in an MBA program and as a business professional.

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 difficult than the similar section on the GRE. While both exams test equation-solving and data interpretation, the GMAT requires more critical thinking and analysis.
  • Unable to skip or review previous questions: The GMAT utilizes a computer-adaptive test model. This means that the computer adapts the questions, making them harder or easier based on the accuracy of the answer to the previous question. This format makes it impossible for test-takers to skip questions or change previous answers.

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, with some institutions preferring 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 several different types of graduate programs. Undecided students or students pursuing programs other than MBA programs may choose to take only the GRE to save both 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 at a later point.
  • Cheaper: If you take the tests online, the GRE is $45 cheaper than the GMAT. If you take them in person, the GRE is $70 cheaper. 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 that it’s the right choice for you. Some drawbacks to consider are:

  • More difficult for nonnative English speakers: Nonnative English speakers may find the verbal section of the GRE difficult. The vocabulary test includes obscure words that even native English speakers find challenging, and the analytical writing section may prove difficult.
  • Not as widely accepted: While the GRE continues to grow 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 162 for the verbal section, 169 to 154 for the quantitative section and 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?

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

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, you may want to 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 both the GMAT and the GRE is that there are plenty of resources to 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 sections of the test. 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.

Frequently asked questions about the GMAT and the GRE

Is the GRE harder than the GMAT?

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 nonnative English speakers, since it focuses on vocabulary.

Do business schools still prefer the GMAT?

More and more business schools are beginning to accept the GRE — and if the program lists the GRE as an option, it doesn’t matter which test you take. However, some MBA programs may still require the GMAT, since the test focuses on quantitative and analytical skills necessary for many business degrees.

Can I submit both the GRE and GMAT?

While most schools allow applicants to submit both their GRE and GMAT scores, many don’t recommend this approach due to the investment in time and money required for each exam. Instead, students should consider checking with their school of choice to determine if one test carries more weight than the other.

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Written by
Marisa Upson
As a freelance writer for the last 10 years, Marisa Upson specializes in health and wellness, hospitality, business and higher education trends.
Edited by
Student loans editor