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GMAT vs. GRE: What's the Difference?

Image: What Degree is Right for Me?

When you first applied to college, you probably remember writing personal statements, getting recommendations, and all the time spent preparing for and taking the ACT or the SAT. If you're considering going to graduate school, thankfully you won't have to take either of these exams again. However, you may have to take one or more graduate-level assessments. And, just as certain undergraduate schools required the ACT while others asked for the SAT, different graduate programs may have different requirements.

If you're looking into a business program, the question often comes down to the GMAT vs. GRE. On a basic level, the GRE is more general in what it measures, and the GMAT focuses on assessing skills needed to succeed in business and management. However, there are some other important differences, which we break down below.

What Does the GRE Measure?

The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is designed to assess a wide range of skills that students will need in order to complete a graduate degree. Rather than being taken as a sole predictor of success in graduate school, GRE scores are often taken into consideration alongside an applicant's undergraduate GPA, recommendation letters, and other written submission materials.1

Because the GRE is accepted by such a wide variety of graduate programs, it tests a diverse range of skills, including three distinct sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning – This section tests reading comprehension, vocabulary, and one's ability to recognize relationships between words and concepts.
  • Quantitative Reasoning – This section measures the test taker's problem-solving skills, focusing on basic math, algebra and geometry, as well as some data analysis questions.
  • Analytical Writing – In this section, students are asked to write essay responses to given prompts in order to assess their critical thinking and analytical writing skills.

What Types of Programs Require the GRE?

Because the GRE is intended to help schools predict an applicant's likelihood of success in an advanced program of study, the questions on the exam are designed to generally reflect the kinds of tasks and thinking that will be required in graduate school. For this reason, many types of programs use the GRE as part of their application process, including both master's and doctoral programs.

While certain types of programs may require applicants to take a GRE Subject Test specific to their area of study, there is no such test for an MBA or other business programs. Many business schools do take the GRE, however (you can find a complete list here).2,3

What Does the GMAT Measure?

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is designed to measure skills necessary to succeed in business and management, including critical thinking, data analysis, problem solving and logic and reasoning. Unlike the GRE, the GMAT is specifically tailored to business programs and degrees (like an MBA), and test questions will be focused on business-related tasks and scenarios.4

The GMAT is broken into 4 sections:5

  • Verbal – This section tests reading comprehension and the test taker's ability to respond to and evaluate arguments.
  • Quantitative – This section requires test takers to evaluate quantitative data in charts and graphs, and then use basic math and algebra to solve problems based on this data.
  • Analytical Writing Assessment – In this section, test takers are asked to evaluate a specific line of reasoning and respond to the conclusion of that line of logic. Answers in this section take the form of a short analytical writing sample.
  • Integrated Reasoning – This section tests one's ability to analyze and synthesize data communicated in several different forms.

Do You Need to Take the GMAT to Get into a Business Program?

Whether you need GMAT vs. GRE scores to get into an MBA program will depend exclusively on the program(s) to which you're applying. While many business schools require or prefer the GMAT, this is not always the case. Some may ask for GRE scores instead, while others may leave the option open to applicants or require neither exam.

In cases where both the GRE and the GMAT are accepted, you may consider whether one of the tests seems to cater more closely to your academic strengths than the other. For instance, you may opt to take the GMAT if you think you'll be able to score higher on this test relative to the GRE based on the specific skills evaluated by each.

Ready to learn more? Explore online business degrees at AIU.

1. Educational Testing Service, GRE, "About the GRE Revised General Test," on the Internet at http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about (visited March 8, 2016).

2. Educational Testing Service, GRE, "About the GRE Subject Tests," on the Internet at http://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about (visited March 8, 2016).

3. Educational Testing Service, GRE, "Taking the GRE® Revised General Test for Business School is a Smart Move," on the Internet at http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about/mba (visited March 8, 2016).

4. Graduate Management Admissions Council, "The GMAT Advantage,"on the Internet at http://www.gmac.com/gmat/the-gmat-advantage.aspx (visited March 8, 2016).

5. Graduate Management Admissions Council, "GMAT Scoring by Exam Section,"on the Internet at http://www.gmac.com/gmat/learn-about-the-gmat-exam/gmat-scoring-by-exam-section-normal-view.aspx (visited March 8, 2016).

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