GRE vs. GMAT: How to Decide Which Exam You Should Take

Last updated: Sep 4, 2019

You’re facing the existential angst of every grad school applicant: Should you choose the GRE or the GMAT? What do the exams even test? And (the ultimate question) which exam is easier? If someone painted a picture of you right now, it’d probably look a lot like this.

The bad news: Whichever exam you choose, you’ve got a lot of studying ahead. Stock up on snacks now.

The good news: We’re here to help. As you debate the merits of the GRE vs. the GMAT, here’s how to decide which exam you should take.

College students studying together.

Are You a Business Major?

No? Take the GRE. You can use your GRE scores to apply for many kinds of graduate schools, but the GMAT is only applicable to business programs. That means if you’re not a business major, GMAT scores won’t do you any good. (See how easy that was?)

If you are a business major, the GMAT is the traditional exam for you to take. However, there may be reasons to consider the GRE if your program accepts it.

Business Majors: Does Your Prospective School Accept the GRE?

Look at your prospective school’s admissions requirements. In the past, you’d likely have taken the GMAT to enter business school. But today, the number of business programs that also accept the GRE has risen to approximately 90 percent. You can find out whether the school you’re considering accepts the GRE by looking at this list.

It’s possible that your program accepts both scores but favors the GMAT. This is true of the MBA program at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business. Some business schools prefer the GMAT, according to PrepScholar, because:

  • They’re familiar with it, which means they can more easily interpret your scores and predict your likelihood for success in their program.
  • They believe the GMAT shows you’re serious about a business program because your scores won’t gain you admission anywhere else. (They know you’re not waffling between an MBA and an MFA in creative writing.)
  • They think the GMAT more adequately tests skills that you will use in business programs.

The best way to uncover a school’s preference is to have a conversation with the admissions office.

What Are Your Career Goals?

Even if your program accepts the GRE, your future job may not. If you want to work for an investment banking or consulting firm, you may need to present GMAT scores. That means that, depending on your career path, taking the GMAT could lead to better employment opportunities.

Why Consider the GRE?

If the GMAT is the traditional entrance exam – and preferred by some employers – why even consider the GRE? Here are a few reasons:

  • You’re undecided about pursuing a degree in business. If there’s a chance you may want to expand your options, a GRE gives you that flexibility.
  • You’re applying for two programs or a dual major, and one requires the GRE.
  • You think you will perform better on the GRE. (We’ll help you figure this out in the next sections.)

College student studying for the GRE.

Which Exam Is Easier?

Both are challenging in different ways. You can compare the content of each exam by exploring the GRE and GMAT websites.

  • Content: The GRE is divided into verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The GMAT is divided into verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, integrated reasoning, and the analytical writing assessment.
  • Time: The GRE takes about three hours and 45 minutes, and the GMAT takes about three hours and 30 minutes.
  • Cost: The GRE costs $205, and the GMAT costs $250.
  • Score validity: Both are valid for five years.
  • Adaptive: The GMAT is computer-adaptive on a question level, which means questions get easier or harder depending on your performance as you go along. The GRE is section-level adaptive, which means the sections within verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning get easier or harder depending on your performance.

Your Strengths and Weaknesses Can Help Determine Your Best Fit

The best way to decide between the exams is to take a practice test of each, then compare your scores using this converter. You should also take some time to assess your strengths and weaknesses:

  • Do you have strong language skills? You may do well on the GRE, which has a more difficult verbal section than the GMAT. The GRE is known for its challenging vocabulary, which can be especially hard if English is your second language.
  • Are you a grammar whiz? The GMAT’s verbal section has a stronger focus on grammar, compared with the GRE’s focus on vocabulary questions.
  • Do you have excellent math skills? Showcase them on the GMAT, which has a more challenging quantitative section than the GRE. To answer questions in this section, you’ll need to use analysis, logic, and problem-solving. No calculators allowed.
  • Not a math pro? Go with the GRE, which has a more straightforward quantitative section. Calculators are allowed. You should be prepared for more geometry questions on the GRE than the GMAT.
  • Do tests give you anxiety? The GRE allows you to skip questions within a section and return to them later, which can minimize your stress during the exam.
  • How do you feel about writing? You’ll spend more time writing for the GRE (an hour) than for the GMAT (30 minutes), and you’ll write two essays instead of one.

This Business Insider article sums it up well: “People will generally perform better on the GRE if they're stronger on vocabulary, geometry, data interpretations, and multi-answer problems. Alternately, they'll perform better on the GMAT if they tend to be stronger on grammar, story problems, and mathematical theory and logic.”

What If You Perform Well on Both Practice Tests?

Let’s say you score high on both the GRE and GMAT practice tests, and you’re a serious candidate for business school. Then go with the GMAT. In a 2016 survey of admissions officers, “26 percent said that GMAT test-takers had a leg up” in the process of applying for a business program.

How Do You Prepare for Your Chosen Exam?

Congratulations, you’ve found the right exam for you! To prepare, you can study solo with a test-prep book, or you can enroll in a course designed to give you the skills and confidence you need to conquer exam day. For example, USF offers on-campus and online test prep courses for the GRE and the GMAT, so you can study from wherever you are in the world.

If you have more questions about the GRE, the GMAT, or test preparation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education is always ready to help. Good luck!