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GRE vs. GMAT: Which Exam Is Right for You?

February 14, 2020
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The GRE vs. the GMAT: It’s a debate that intellectually ambitious professionals nationwide face every year as they contemplate applying to business school to develop their skill sets and advance their careers. Many top-tier business schools throughout the country include standardized testing as an application requirement; while some are only willing to accept the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), others offer the option to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) instead.

If you are unsure which exam will give you the best opportunity for success, read our breakdown of some of the key characteristics of and differences between the GRE and the GMAT to help you decide which to take.

GRE and GMAT Content

A key difference between the GRE and the GMAT is the subject matter you’ll encounter on each exam. The GRE is an all-purpose exam that is designed to assess your readiness for graduate-level work in any academic discipline. Its content is thus relatively general in nature. It covers only three subject areas: Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning.1

While different programs will put different amounts of weight on your scores in these areas, business programs are typically most interested in your performance on the Quantitative Reasoning sections. Business school coursework, either in an MBA program or a master’s degree program like a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA), is often heavily quantitative in nature, and your prospective school will want to ensure you have the mathematical skills and knowledge to succeed.

Unlike the GRE, the GMAT is designed specifically to gauge your readiness to succeed in a graduate business program. Like the GRE, the GMAT features Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning sections, but it also features an additional section called “Integrated Reasoning.” The Integrated Reasoning section consists of four types of questions designed to assess basic business competencies: Multi-Source Reasoning, Table Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, and Two-Part Analysis.2

The format of individual Integrated Reasoning questions is unique as well. Because they are designed to assess your ability to solve complex problems, questions in the Integrated Reasoning section are multi-part, requiring more than one response. And to accommodate their complexity, the section provides an online calculator to help support your work on their quantitative components.

Two Exams, Two Unique Structures

Takers of the GMAT and the GRE will have quite different experiences on test day in terms of their exam’s structure and organization. The GMAT features one section in each of the four areas listed above, 30-minute Analytical Writing and Integrated Reasoning sections, a 62-minute Quantitative Reasoning Section, and a 65-minute Verbal Reasoning section. These may be taken in any order the test-taker desires; the order of the exam is selected at its outset, as well as whether the test-taker would like to take one or both of two optional 8-minute breaks.3

The Analytical Writing section of the GRE, comprised of two 30-minute essay questions, is always delivered first. After that, test-takers will encounter at least two 30-minute multiple-choice Verbal Reasoning Sections and at least two 30-minute multiple-choice Quantitative Reasoning sections in any order. If more than two of either type of section appears on the exam, the additional section is an unidentified, unscored section used to workshop questions for future exams. You will not know which section is unscored, so you must approach all of them as though they count. An additional unscored section may also be included at the end of the exam which is used for Educational Testing Service (ETS) research purposes, but it will be identified as such.4

Understanding GRE and GMAT Scores

Both the GRE and the GMAT are computer-based, adaptive exams. This means that they are delivered entirely by computer at a testing center (although in rare cases, paper-based exams may be offered), and that the set of questions an exam-taker encounters is dynamic rather than static.5 Adaptive exams monitor your progress and assess your answers in real-time, allowing them to adjust the difficulty of questions as you work your way through the exam with the goal of eventually arriving at a score that accurately reflects your performance.

The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections on the GMAT are item-level adaptive, which means the exam adjusts its difficulty on a question-by-question basis, depending on whether you provide accurate answers.6 The GRE, on the other hand, is section-level adaptive. It features two Quantitative and two Verbal Reasoning sections, and the difficulty of the second of each is determined by your performance on the first.7

Each exam has its own scoring methodology and metrics. The GRE provides a score report consisting of three individual scores: Scores for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections on a scale of 130-170 and an Analytical Writing score on a scale of 1-6. Verbal and Quantitative scores are derived from your raw score (the number of questions you answered correctly) through a process called equating that takes into account the difficulty of the questions you faced, while your essays are reviewed both by human readers and an “e-rater” program.7 The GMAT calculates a “Total” score on a scale of 200-800 that is derived from an algorithm that synthesizes an Analytical Writing score on a scale of 0-6, an Integrated Reasoning score on a scale of 1-8, and Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning scores on a scale of 6-51.6

Is a GMAT/GRE Waiver an Option?

If you’re a busy working professional, particularly if you’ve been out of school for some time, you may bristle at the prospect of having to carve out the time, energy, and focus to take a standardized test. Many business schools understand this mindset and offer opportunities for you to demonstrate your preparedness for an advanced degree program in other ways.

Take the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University, for example: The GRE/GMAT waiver policy for the Online MBA program is quite broad, offering a number of avenues through which you can showcase the aptitude necessary to get out of taking the exam. Albers accepts numerous academic degrees, professional certifications, or combinations of education and work experience as grounds for Online MBA applicants to apply for a waiver.

The Online MSBA program at Albers is a bit more stringent in its requirements for a GRE/GMAT waiver, but they will still consider issuing one for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field and a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale), or for candidates who successfully complete a GMAT Waiver Math Assessment with a score of 75 or higher.

Ready to Choose? Put Your Score to Use at Albers Today

Seattle University accepts either GMAT or GRE scores as part of the application to the Online MBA and MSBA programs. If you feel you’d benefit from structural flexibility and focus on practical business skills, you may opt for the GMAT. Conversely, if you prefer to focus on more general quantitative, verbal, and writing skills—and if you’re not 100 percent sure your graduate school future lies in business school—it may make more sense for you to take the GRE instead.

Whichever path you choose, your score will be incorporated into a holistic assessment of your readiness for graduate level work at Albers. Learn more about the admissions requirements for the Online MBA and MSBA programs, and explore our tips for crafting a winning resume for your application and requesting tuition reimbursement from your employer.

  1. Retrieved on February 3, 2020, from ets.org/gre/revised_general/about/
  2. Retrieved on February 3, 2020, from mba.com/exams/gmat/about-the-gmat-exam/gmat-exam-structure/integrated-reasoning
  3. Retrieved on February 3, 2020, from mba.com/exams/gmat/plan-for-exam-day/test-day-decisions
  4. Retrieved on February 3, 2020, from ets.org/gre/revised_general/about/content/computer
  5. Retrieved on February 3, 2020, from gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/validity-and-testing/demystifyingthegmat_computeradaptivetesting.pdf
  6. Retrieved on February 3, 2020, from mba.com/exams/gmat/about-the-gmat-exam/gmat-exam-structure/how-is-the-gmat-exam-scored
  7. Retrieved on February 3, 2020, from ets.org/gre/revised_general/scores/how/