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Question: What Are the Differences Between the GRE and the GMAT (GRE vs. GMAT)?

Answer: The GRE and the GMAT are standardized admissions tests with some similarities and many differences in terms of their design, use, scoring, and purpose. The GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, is designed for use by a broad range of graduate school programs to assess an applicant’s math, verbal, and analytical writing skills. The focus of the GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, is somewhat narrower in that its primary purpose is to measure the math, verbal, analytical writing, and integrated reasoning skills of applicants to graduate programs in business, management, and related fields.

Policies regarding the standardized admissions tests and their use in the admissions process vary by program. The GRE and the GMAT are two of the most common admissions tests that graduate programs may employ to help measure an applicant’s academic preparedness. Both tests are broken up into several sections consisting of multiple-choice questions and both include a written essay question section. Some programs prefer or require the GRE over the GMAT and vice versa, while other programs do not require applicants to submit GRE or GMAT test scores. There are also programs that offer test waivers to applicants who meet certain criteria, such as a high undergraduate grade point average (GPA), several years of relevant professional experience, and/or professional licensure in the program’s field of study.

The GRE

The GRE is standardized, computer-based, graduate program admissions test designed and administered by Education Testing Services (ETS), a New Jersey-based, non-profit company that offers several other prominent assessment tests, including the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and Praxis teacher certification exams. In addition to the GRE General Test, typically referred to as “the GRE,” ETS offers GRE subject tests in six areas: biology, chemistry, literature, mathematics, physics, and psychology. However, the general-assessment GRE, which was introduced in 1936 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, remains the most prominent and most widely used exam offered by ETS for admissions to master’s and doctoral programs.

Composition of the GRE

The GRE in its current incarnation consists of six timed sections, beginning with a two-part Analytical Writing section comprised of two essay tasks: a 30-minute “Issue Task,” and a 30-minute “Argument Task.” Each task comes with instructions for a specific type of written response. One composite score is assigned for the Analytical Writing section.

The final five sections of the GRE are comprised of the following:

  • Two 30-minute, 20-question Verbal Reasoning sections
  • Two 35-minutes, 20-question Quantitative Reasoning sections
  • One experimental or research section that is not assigned a score and that may be an unidentified Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning section, or a designated research section of another type

The GRE’s Quantitative Reasoning sections use four basic types of questions: multiple-choice questions with one correct answer; multiple-choice questions with one or more correct answers; numeric-entry questions that do not provide a list of answers; and quantitative-comparison questions in which test takers must choose from several statements about the quantities being compared. Test takers are provided with an on-screen calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning section.

The Verbal Reasoning sections features a mix of multiple-choice questions with one correct answer and multiple-choice questions in which test takers must determine if one or more of three given answers are correct. In addition, the Verbal Reasoning sections include questions that ask test takers to highlight the correct sentence in a passage, and questions in which test takers must choose two words from a list of six that best complete a sentence.

How the GRE Is Administered and Scored

The GRE is primarily administered as a computer-based test, although there is a paper-based test available in places where computer-based testing is not supported. The total time allotted for the GRE General Test, including breaks, is three hours and 45 minutes.

The computer-based GRE does not vary questions within a particular section based on how prior questions were answered. However, performance on the first verbal and math sections may determine the relative difficulty of the verbal and math sections that follow.

The General Test is offered year-round at Prometric testing centers and can be taken up to five times within a 12-month period. After the GRE is graded, ETS provides test takers with report that includes three scores: Analytical Writing (0-6 points); Quantitative Reasoning (130-170 points); and Verbal Reasoning (130-170 points).

Types of Graduate Programs That May Require the GRE

The submission of GRE scores may be required for admission to a range of different types of master’s and doctoral programs in many fields, including some business programs, which may accept the GRE in lieu of the GMAT. The list below offers an overview of some but not all of the types of programs that may use the GRE to make admissions decisions.

  • Master’s in Analytics Programs
  • Master’s in Architecture and Urban Planning Programs
  • Master’s in Communication Programs
  • Master’s in Computer Science Programs
  • Master’s in Counseling Programs
  • Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs
  • Master’s in Cybersecurity Programs
  • Master’s in Education and Teaching Programs
  • Master’s in Engineering Programs
  • Master’s in Environmental Studies or Science Programs
  • Master’s in Fine Arts Programs
  • Master’s in Government and Public Affairs Programs
  • Master’s in Health and Healthcare Programs
  • Master’s in Psychology Programs
  • Master’s in Social Work Programs

The GMAT

Like the GRE, the GMAT is a standardized test designed to measure verbal and quantitative problem-solving skills and meant for use by admissions departments to assess the academic preparedness of applicants to graduate programs. However, the GMAT was created by an association of business schools in the 1950s with the specific goal of providing graduate programs in business and related fields with an independent means of assessing applicants to business programs. The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), a non-profit, international consortium of business schools, is the organization that administers the GMAT and the test remains primarily a tool for assessing applicants to programs offered by schools of business.

The Composition of the GMAT

The GMAT is comprised of four separately timed sections: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. In order to improve the overall test-taking experience, GMAC began allowing test takers to choose the sequence in which they complete the test’s four sections in 2017. Test takers are given three options to choose from at the start of the test:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment/Integrated Reasoning/Quantitative Reasoning/Verbal Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning/Quantitative Reasoning/Integrated Reasoning/Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Quantitative Reasoning/Verbal Reasoning/Integrated Reasoning/Analytical Writing Assessment

The Analytical Reasoning Assessment section consists of one 30-minute essay task in which test takers are instructed to analyze and/or critique a stated argument. Responses are assigned a score between zero and six points based on several factors, including composition and structure of the response, the identification of key features of the argument and its logic, and the use of relevant supporting evidence and examples from the argument presented.

The Integrated Reasoning section is designed to measure data analysis and interpretative skills in various contexts using charts, tables, text, and graphics. Test takers are allotted 30 minutes to solve 12 problems that include multi-source reasoning questions, table analysis questions, graphics interpretation questions, and two-part analysis questions. An on-screen calculator is provided to assist test takers in this section, which is scored on a one to eight point scale.

The Quantitative Reasoning section consists of 31 multiple-choice, problem-solving and data-sufficiency questions that must be completed in 62 minutes without the use of a calculator, and the Verbal Reasoning section allots 65 minutes for 36 multiple-choice reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction questions. Both of these sections are presented in a computer-adaptive format, which means that the computer selects questions of varying levels of difficulty based on the answers to prior questions in that section. As questions are answered correctly, the degree of difficulty increases and vice versa. This also means that test takers cannot return to prior questions within these sections while taking the GMAT.

How the GMAT Is Administered and Scored

The GMAT is only available in a computer-based format and is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers around the country and globally. It is offered year-round and can be taken up to five times in a 12-month period. Test takers are allotted roughly three and a half hours to complete the exam, which includes two optional eight-minute breaks between sections.

GMAT test reports include several scores, including separate scores for each section. Analytical Writing is scored in half-point increments between zero and six; Integrated Reasoning is scored in whole numbers on a one-to-eight scale; and the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections each receive a score between six and 51 points based on the total number of questions answered, the number of questions answered correctly, and the degree of difficulty of those questions. In addition, test takers receive a composite score between 200 and 800 points that combines the results from the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections.

Types of Graduate Programs That May Require the GMAT

Unlike the GRE, which has broad applications, the GMAT is primarily used by schools of business and by graduate programs in related fields such as economics, finance, and organizational leadership. This list below provides an overview of some but not all of the types of programs at the master’s level that may require applicants to submit GMAT scores.

  • Master’s in Accounting Programs
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) Programs
  • Master’s in Economics Programs
  • Master’s in Finance Programs
  • Master’s in Human Resource Management (HRM) Programs
  • Master’s in Management Programs
  • Master’s in Marketing Programs
  • Master’s in Organizational Leadership Programs
  • Master’s in Taxation Programs

GRE vs. GMAT: A Side-By-Side Comparison

The table below offers a comparative overview of the GRE and GMAT, lists many key features of each exam, and highlights some of the similarities and differences between the two tests.

TestGRE General TestGMAT
Testing OrganizationEducational Testing Service (ETS)Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC)
Used ForAll types of graduate programsBusiness and business-related graduate programs
Total Number of SectionsSixFour
Number of Scored SectionsFive Four
Scored SectionsAnalytical Writing (one section)
Quantitative Reasoning (two sections)
Verbal Reasoning (two sections)
Analytical Writing (one section)
Integrated Reasoning (one section)
Quantitative Reasoning (one section)
Verbal Reasoning (one section)
Unscored SectionsOne quantitative or verbal Experimental/Research sectionNone
Essay QuestionsTwoOne
Scoring0-6 for Analytical Writing
130-170 for Quantitative Reasoning
130-170 for Verbal Reasoning
0-6 for Analytical Writing
1-8 for Integrated Reasoning
6-51 for Quantitative
6-51 for Verbal
200-800 Composite for Quantitative + Verbal
Delivery MethodComputer-based, although a paper-based exam is offered in cases where computer-based testing is not availableComputer-based
Length Three hours and 45 minutesThree hours and 30 minutes
Cost$205$250
SchedulingOffered year-round at Prometric test centers by appointment through ETSOffered year-round at Pearson VUE test centers by appointment through GMAC
RestrictionsCan be taken once every 21 days up to five times within a rolling 12-month periodCan be taken once every 16 days up to five times within a rolling 12-month period
Scores Valid ForFive yearsFive years

GRE and GMAT Policies

Colleges and universities that offer graduate programs are free to determine whether or not to use standardized test scores as part of their admissions processes. Depending on the school, policies regarding the use of standardized admissions tests may be determined at the department or program level. As a result, some schools may require all graduate programs to use the GRE or GMAT, while other schools may only require an admissions test for particular programs.

In addition, some schools and programs specifically require either the GRE or the GMAT, while others do not require the submission of any standardized test scores. Graduate programs that require applicants to submit GMAT scores may instead accept GRE scores and, while less common, there are some programs will accept the GMAT instead of the GRE. Programs that require the GRE or the GMAT may also accept scores from the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), a 60-minute, multiple-choice, standardized test administered by Pearson Assessment in addition to or in lieu of other standardized test scores.

A subset of programs that require standardized test scores may waive this requirement for applicants who meet certain criteria, such as a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, several years of work experience and/or professional licensure/certification in a particular field, or prior completion of a master’s or doctoral degree program. Applicants who may be eligible for a GRE or GMAT waiver are typically required to apply for a waiver, which may not be automatically granted. Finally, programs that do not require the GRE or the GMAT may allow applicants who feel their test scores may increase their chances of acceptance to submit scores from these tests.

For information about specific types of online graduate programs that do not require standardized test scores or that offer waivers, refer to the following pages:


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