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Which Test Should You Take: the GMAT or GRE?

An increasing number of MBA programs (including many outside the U.S.) accept both GMAT and GRE scores. So if you're applying only to schools that have adopted this policy, you can choose which exam to take — or you can take both exams and then decide which scores to submit to the schools.

This page explores decision factors that can help you develop your best strategy. See also this section-by-section comparison of the two exams.

GMAT vs. GRE — Test Availability, Testing Fees, and Your Career Goals

Your decision as to which exam (GMAT or GRE) to take might very well turn on a particular school's admission policy, on testing availability and fees, or on your long-term objectives. Here's what you need to consider:
  • Hundreds of B-schools accept scores for both exams. Find out if the schools that interest you accept GRE scores. If they don't, then you'll probably need to take the GMAT.

  • Although the GMAT and GRE are both widely available throughout the world, the GRE is offered in more cities and in more countries than the GMAT. So for each exam, find out if there is at least one testing center located conveniently enough for you.

  • The GRE registration fee is lower than the GMAT registration fee (although both fees are subject to change from year to year).

  • If you have diverse academic interests or career goals, consider taking the GRE instead of (or in addition to) the GMAT in any event. That way, you'll have a GRE score report ready to submit to your M.A. or Ph.D. programs of choice should you later decide to pursue an advanced academic degree. (Like GMAT scores, GRE scores are valid for five years.)
Of course, if both the GMAT and GRE are available to you and if you have enough time to prepare for both exams, your best strategy is probably to take them both.
NOTE: At the official GRE website (www.ets.org/gre) you'll find a list of MBA programs officially accepting GRE scores. (Also available at the site is a GRE-to-GMAT score-conversion table.) But keep in mind: some B-schools do not publicize that they accept GRE scores, so be sure to contact the schools directly to inquire about their current GRE policy.

Comparing General Features of the GMAT and GRE

Comparing the general features of the two exams provides only limited guidance in determining which exam better plays to you strengths, since in many respects the two exams are quite similar:

  • Both exams measure the same general cognitive skills: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing.

  • For the most part, the two exams employ similar question formats for measuring the above-listed skills.

  • Neither exam is inherently more difficult than the other (and GRE scores convert reliably to GMAT scores).

  • Testing procedures are virtually the same for both exams.

  • Both tests employ essentially the same computerized testing interface.

  • Total testing time is about the same (3 hrs. 30 min. for the GMAT; as long as 3 hrs. 45 min. for the GRE).

In terms of general features, there are only two significant differences between the GMAT and GRE:

  • The GMAT CAT adapts to your ability level from one Verbal or Quantitative question to the next, while the computer-based GRE is adaptive only at the section level. (The overall difficulty level of the second Verbal or Quantitative section depends on your performance during the first section of the same type.)

  • The GMAT CAT does not allow you to return to any question once you've confirmed your answer to it. In contrast, the computer-based GRE functions more like a paper-based exam: you can return to any question within the same section, and with the exam's mark-and-review feature you can "tag" questions that you want to skip but possibly review later.

If you're more comfortable with an exam that allows you to skip questions and to review and change answers to questions you've already answered, then consider opting for the GRE. Otherwise, comparing general features is not all that helpful in deciding between the two exams.

GMAT vs. GRE — Section by Section

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