If you’re wondering whether to take the GRE or GMAT, you’re probably getting ready to apply to business schools. In a lot of situations, it doesn’t matter very much which test you take! However, there are some critical differences between the two tests, and you don’t want to be surprised when it’s time to submit applications. Keep reading to learn how to make your GRE vs GMAT decision.
GRE or GMAT: First Steps
In some situations, you have to take the GRE. In others, you have to take the GMAT. Do your research now, because if you’re in one of these situations, there’s only one right test for you!
Although a large and growing number of MBA programs will accept the GRE, a small number only accept the GMAT. The ETS has published a list of programs that accept GRE scores: if your program is on this list, you’ll be able to take either test. However, a few programs have stated that they prefer the GMAT, even if they technically accept the GRE. It goes without saying that if you’re applying to one of these programs, the GMAT is the way to go.
In some situations, you’ll have no choice but to take the GRE instead of the GMAT. For instance, if you’re applying to a dual-degree program, research your program’s test requirements. Some dual-degree MBA programs require the GRE rather than the GMAT, in order to satisfy the admissions requirements of both programs.
There are also logistical reasons to choose between the GRE or GMAT. The GMAT comes with a lifetime limit: you can only take the test eight times in total, and while you can appeal, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be allowed to take it a ninth time. There’s also a limit to how many times you can take either test within a year (five times in any twelve-month period for either the GRE or GMAT). If you’re at this limit, you’ll have to take the other test if you want to continue retesting. It’s also possible, but unlikely, that you’ll be offered testing accommodations for one test but not the other. In that case, you’re probably better off taking the test that you received accommodations on.
At this point, go ahead and check the websites for the programs you’re applying to. If none of the situations above apply to you, and if all of your schools accept both tests, keep reading! And while you’re at it, jot down the average GMAT and GRE scores for your target schools: they’ll help you make your decision later on.
Which Test is Easier: GRE or GMAT?
You may have heard that one of the two tests is easier. That’s not entirely false—but it’s not entirely true, either.
The GMAT is an “item-adaptive” test. On the GMAT, you aren’t allowed to go back and check your work on previous problems. Also, if you’re consistently getting problems right, the test will steadily increase the difficulty level until you start getting a significant number of problems wrong. Because of this, virtually everyone misses a substantial number of problems on the GMAT, especially on the Quant section. The difference in scores comes not from how many problems you got right, but from the difficulty of the problems you were able to answer consistently.
In contrast, the GRE is scored based on how many problems you get right. However, you can also go back (within each section) and double-check your work, and you can save problems for later to avoid wasting time.
Due to this difference between the test algorithms, you’ll almost certainly get more right answers on the GRE than on the GMAT. That can definitely make the GRE feel easier. But does it mean your score will be higher on the GRE?
Probably not! Even though you’ll get more right answers on the GRE, a very high GRE score requires a lot of right answers, while a very high GMAT score definitely doesn’t. On top of that, remember that both tests compare you to other test-takers. Even if the GRE is easier, it’s easier for everyone who takes it—so your “higher” score will put you at about the same level, once you’re compared against other test-takers.
So neither test is universally “easier”—at least not in any way that matters. However, it’s possible that one of the tests will be significantly easier for you. If that’s the case, you should definitely take the significantly easier test. Here are some things to consider.
The Test-Day Experience
The GRE and the GMAT are both taken at a testing center, in front of a computer. Both tests are about equal in length, and the rules (no notes, no snacks in the testing room, no using your phone) are similar. Nonetheless, many people find the GRE less stressful than the GMAT.
If you’re seriously affected by test anxiety, especially if you’re currently struggling with the GMAT, consider taking the GRE instead. You should exhaust other avenues for anxiety reduction first, but it’s possible that taking the GRE will get you unstuck. The GRE allows you to go back to previous problems, check your work, and mark problems to review later, which can make the time limit feel less oppressive. It’s worth your time to take a practice GRE and see whether there’s a substantial improvement.