GRE vs. GMAT: What’s the Difference, and Which One You Should Take

GRE vs. GMAT: What’s the Difference, and Which One You Should Take

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by David Recine

The names of American grad school tests can sound downright alien. The GRE? The GMAT? What are these? How are they different? Which should you take?

Read on for a crash course in “test” English. Below, I will decode the terms “GRE” and “GMAT,” revealing the secrets behind the abbreviations.


GRE, Decoded

GRE stands for Graduate Record Exam. If you think the full name of the test sounds very non-specific, you’re right. The GRE is a general-purpose grad school entrance test. At top schools (especially the Ivies), you’ll need a GRE score for almost any program. Getting a doctorate in English Literature at Harvard? You’ll need to take the GRE. A Master’s in Engineering at Stanford? GRE scores required.

At mid-tier schools, the GRE is less common for degrees in the humanities. Here, an MFA in creative writing or a doctorate in education probably won’t require the GRE. Instead, the GRE is reserved for degrees with a math or science focus. At these “middling” schools, you’ll probably need to take the GRE for majors like economics, math, or marine biology.


GMAT, Decoded

GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admissions Test. This sounds a little more specific than “Graduate Record Exam,” now doesn’t it?

They keyword here is “management.” The GMAT is specifically designed for grad programs in business management. This exam is the gold standard for MBA programs. GMAT scores are required for MBA admissions at almost all business schools, regardless of their ranking.


GRE Content vs. GMAT Content

The GRE and GMAT have some pretty obvious similarities. Both have a Quantitative Reasoning section and a Verbal Reasoning section. Both exams also have an Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section that tests essay-writing ability.

So on the surface, it looks like these tests are the same. Appearances can be deceiving, however. There are actually significant differences between these exams.

In Verbal, for example, the GRE tests advanced academic English vocabulary really heavily, with little or no assessment of grammar. In contrast, GMAT Verbal has easier vocab, but deals with some really advanced English grammar.

Then there’s the Analytical Writing Assessments on these tests. With AWA, the difference comes down to quantity. By this, I mean that the GMAT requires less writing than the GRE. The GRE AWA Section has two essays: one where you analyze an argument and another where you analyze a social issue. The GMAT only has the argument AWA essay.

Now, the math in GRE and GMAT Quant does look very similar. But wait a moment. There is one very notable difference between GRE and GMAT math. In the GRE Quantitative section, you can use a calculator. But in GMAT Quant, you can’t. To compensate for that, every Quant question on the GMAT can be calculated mentally. This makes GMAT math harder than GRE math in some ways, but easier in others. GMAT Quant is harder because you can’t check your work with a calculator. But it’s easier too, because all problems need to be doable without a calculator.


GRE vs. GMAT: Which Exam Should You Take?

If you’ve already decided which specific grad schools you’ll apply to, the answer to this question is easy. You should take whichever exam your schools ask you to take.

If you’re not sure exactly which schools to apply to, think about your intended major. Are you planning to do your MBA in the states? Then the GMAT is your best option. Looking for a grad degree in a math or science field, or any grad degree at a top school? In that case, the GRE is your test. If you’re considering a range of degrees that could require either test, take both exams.


GRE vs. GMAT: How to Study for Each Test

Once you figure out which exam you need to take, you’ll need a good study plan. Certain study materials and schedules work best for the GRE. Other prep materials and planners are specially designed for the GMAT.

Not sure how to plan out your studies for your chosen test? Never fear. Magoosh has you covered! Check out Magoosh’s GMAT schedule options, or their GRE study plans.

You can read more of David Recine's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh TOEFL Blog.