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GMAT vs GRE

MBA applicant taking the GMAT on a laptop

Both the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Exam GRE) are in the process of debuting new, shorter versions. This makes deciding which test is the best for you, more tricky than usual.

The new version of the GRE was launched on Sept. 22, and the older test is no longer available. The GMAT Focus Edition launched on November 7, 2023. After a short transition period when hen both tests are available, the old GMAT was retired Jan. 31, 2024.

Fortuna coaches have been tracking details of the tests closely and consulting with test prep experts for advice. We’ve detailed the changes in both tests here.  

One place to start in deciding which test is best for you is to compare them by the numbers.

GMAT vs GRE

A Comparison of GMAT Focus Edition and the GRE 

                                  GMAT Focus EditionGRE
Total time        2 hours 15 minutes1 hour 58 minutes
Verbal 23 questions (45 minutes)27 questions (2 sections, 41 minutes total)
Quantitative 21 questions (45 minutes)27 questions (2 sections, 47 minutes total)
AnalyticalData Insights: 20 questions, 45 minutes Analytical Writing: (1 essay, 30 minutes)
Score Ranges205–805 (formerly 200-800)
Section scores range from 60 to 90
260-340 (unchanged);130–170V, 130–170Q
Verbal topics   Assesses critical reasoning and reading comprehension skillsReading comprehension, text completion, sentence equivalence
Quant topicsProblem-solving questions, including word problems and algebra.Quantitative comparisons, multiple choice, and numeric entry covering data interpretation, geometry, algebra, and word problems
CalculatorsNot allowed on quantitative sectionBuilt-in calculator app
Fees$300 online;  $275 in-person;
(price varies by country)
$220 (except China and India)
Test-taking processComputer-adaptive test. Difficulty changes based on answers to previous questions.
Can select order in which sections are taken and can bookmark and review items. Can revise up to three answers per section.
Computer-adaptive test. Difficulty changes based on answers to previous sections.


The Purpose 

To better understand the differences between the two tests, a little background is helpful. Historically, the GMAT was designed specifically for business schools, to measure the skills required to master their curriculum. It bills itself as the proven and trusted predictor of academic success on an MBA program. 

However, the GRE, which is used by graduate schools for everything from a PhD in biology to a master’s degree in history, has grown into a strong contender. The Educational Testing Service, the company that runs the GRE, states that their test is also a valid indicator of how an applicant will perform in business school. Because the GRE is versatile and used for a wide variety of graduate programs, it can be an appealing option for non-traditional candidates, who may be looking at options other than an MBA, or who might have already taken the GRE for another masters program.

The GRE was once seen as a niche alternative to the GMAT, fine for someone who had an unusual career path, but not the right test for consultants or investment bankers. However, since 2020, the share of MBA candidates submitting the GRE has grown substantially, in part because GRE responded nimbly when the COVID pandemic hit, with a relatively seamless rollout of a functional at-home GRE, while GMAT stumbled with their version.  

The GRE’s market share reached an average of about 30% at its peak, and some schools saw 50% of applicants submitting GRE scores. That growth was short-lived, however, and the trend has been reversing since 2021, according to Poets and Quants,

Regardless of which test is popular with applicants, today 90% of US and international business schools will accept either exam.

 

What’s Behind The Redesign?

GMAC says they are changing their test to help business and graduate schools better identify candidates who are qualified to succeed in a changing academic environment. With the Focus Edition, the  GMAT “has evolved to reflect the rapidly changing business landscape” and assess “relevant skill sets, such as data analytics, that are increasingly in demand in today’s business environment.”

ETS says it is shortening its tests to make it easier for students to take the test and send scores to schools, improving the test experience while maintaining rigor and validity.

It’s likely both shortened tests in order to make them less daunting so candidates will keep registering for the exams, says Fortuna co-founder and director Caroline Diarte Edwards. During the pandemic, many schools went test optional. And while many top schools have now restored their test requirements, a fair number still offer test waivers. Looser requirements from schools adds up to less demand for the test. “Hence the testing companies are making their exams shorter and, they hope, less off-putting,” she says.

Additionally, in the US many undergraduate programs went test optional during COVID and have stayed that way, or, like the University of California system, don’t accept tests at all. That means there will eventually be a new generation of candidates coming through to business school who won’t necessarily have taken a standardized test before. It’s likely to become a less dominant part of US educational culture, and the test providers are positioning themselves for that. 

However, the more competitive the business school, the less likely they are to offer waivers, Diarte Edwards advises. Even for schools who do offer waivers, in many cases candidates are still best advised to take a test.

 

Level of Difficulty

People often ask which test is more difficult. But the real question is, which one is more difficult for you? Depending on your background and strengths, you may find one test easier than the other but your friend may have a completely different opinion.

Verbal Section

The GRE’s verbal section is generally thought of as more challenging than the GMAT’s. Getting a top score on the GRE requires an extensive vocabulary; reading comprehension, text completion and sentence equivalence problems will all test your knowledge of the meaning of a variety of words. If you are someone who is a prolific reader, you may breeze through this section. However, if you are someone who is a non-native English speaker or whose vocabulary could use some expanding, you will probably need to memorize about 1,000 words to do well here.

The GMAT Focus edition has eliminated grammar; the analytical writing section is also gone because both students and schools found it assessed the same skills as other application components. The sentence correction problems are also eliminated. This places a greater emphasis on reading comprehension and critical reasoning. That may be easier for some students, but on a test with scaled scores it’s going to make high-level achievement on challenging reasoning questions even more valuable, according to test prep expert Bryce Warwick of  Warwick Strategies.

Preparation

With shorter tests, every question matters more in your total score, which makes test preparation essential. ETS is emphasizing that the test content is essentially the same – just shorter — so existing test preparation materials and sample questions should serve you well. GMAT is releasing prep materials tailored to the Focus Edition, and doubtless many others will follow with more. 

Whether you study on your own, with a prep course, or with a tutor, it is important to make sure you are properly prepared so you can hit your target score. At Fortuna, many of us have sat in the admissions office and can attest that it’s sad to see a great application derailed because an applicant bombed their test.

Fortuna coaches can coach you on your study routine and help you develop a test strategy based on your strengths and test history. 

One other thing to keep in mind is that if you switch from one test to the other, you will need to do some new review, but you won’t need to start from scratch. Some of the concepts you have been learning will carry over from the GMAT to the GRE and vice versa.

Which Do Business Schools Prefer: GMAT vs GRE?

The good news here is that most of the top business schools genuinely don’t care which test you take. Some schools do state a preference, in which case you should follow their guidance. But the schools that tell you there is no difference really mean it. They have enough data on how their students perform with GRE and GMAT scores to be able to evaluate your application fairly no matter which you submit.

Which Test Should You Take?

Given the significant changes in both tests, the choice of which to take has the potential to be a bigger issue than it has been in the past. Talking with a test prep expert is a wise first step. 

That said, figure out which test you want to take based on which one plays to your strengths — not which one you think people expect you to take. Even people in consulting and finance are now submitting applications with GRE scores.

The best way to decide is to take a full practice GMAT and GRE. Many online study programs offer free sample tests, and it’s worth taking the time upfront to make sure you are studying for the right test. Once you’ve taken the practice tests, decide which one feels like a better fit for you. You may see a difference in the predicted scores. Check the average scores at the schools you are targeting, and see which test is more likely to give you a score in that range.

 

Final Words

Once you’ve done your research and figured out which test you want to take, don’t second guess yourself. Many people will do similarly well on both tests, in which case it comes down to personal preference. And finally, remember that a standardized test score is just one piece in the application process! A great score won’t automatically get you in, and at Fortuna, we see candidates with a wide range of scores on both the GMAT and GRE accepted to business school. You truly are more than just a number or a test score to the Admissions Committee.


Want More Advice?

To learn more about why the GMAT matters to top MBA programs and how to prepare, read our related articles:

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we are able to coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to a top business school, request a free consultation.

 


 

 

 

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Fortuna Admissions coach Rachel Erickson Hee is a Stanford GSB alum and former GSB interviewer. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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