In this article, we will go over the differences between the GMAT and GRE and which one is likely the best fit for you. Specifically, we will examine the difficulties and perceptions of each exam and what would be considered a good score by admissions offices.
It all boils down to two questions:
- Do you test significantly better on the GMAT vs GRE, or vice versa?
- Are you also interested in applying to non-business school programs?
What Are the Differences Between the GMAT and GRE?
The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is administered by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). The GMAT is a computer-adaptive exam scored between 200-800 points using a 10-point increment. The entire exam has a duration of 3 hours and 7 minutes.
The GMAT covers four sections:
- Quant Section (6-51 points) – 31 questions in 62 minutes
- Verbal Section (6-51 points) – 36 questions in 65 minutes
- Integrated Reasoning (1-8 points) – 12 questions in 30 minutes
- Analytical Writing (0-6 points) – 1 question in 30 minutes
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is provided by the Education Testing Service (ETS). The GRE is also a computer-adaptive exam scored between 260-340 using a 1-point increment. The duration of the exam is 3 hours and 45 minutes.
The GRE consists of three sections:
- Quant Section (130-170 points) – Two sections of 20 questions each for 35 minutes
- Verbal Section ((130-170 points) – Two sections of 20 questions each for 30 minutes
- Analytical Writing (0-6 points) – Two essays to complete in 60 minutes
GMAT or GRE: Which Exam Is More Popular – And Why?
In 2019, graduate school candidates took 395,280 GRE exams. By comparison, prospective MBA candidates sat for 82,844 GMAT exams in the U.S. We are referencing 2019 because of a shift in the testing landscape resulting from COVID. In response to COVID, many graduate programs waived testing. Therefore, the testing data beyond 2019 looks starkly different. It is unclear how many schools will reinstate the testing requirement. However, even with the waiver in effect, a strong GRE/GMAT score can work in your favor when there is a lack of similar data available for other candidates.
The data above shows us that the GRE is more popular than the GMAT. The reason is that the GRE is the test standard for graduate programs (exempting the MCAT and LSAT) outside of business. In contrast, the GMAT is exclusively used for MBA programs. Most business schools, although not all, accept the GRE as an alternative. Therefore, part of choosing between the tests depends on what type of program you wish to pursue. If you are certain that you want to pursue your MBA, then you should choose the GMAT. The only exception is if you test significantly better on the GRE. While if you wish to apply to multiple programs, including a business one, you face a trickier decision.
Exam Perceptions – Is the GRE easier than the GMAT?
There is a debate about whether the GMAT or the GRE is easier. Both exams have similarities but vary in their purpose. The GMAT has a robust quantitative section which is why MBA programs have traditionally focused on it. From the perspective of an MBA program, you want to be sure that the candidate is strong quantitatively. It is generally agreed that the GMAT quantitative section is more rigorous than the GRE. Conversely, the verbal section of the GRE is considered by many to be more difficult. The GMAT is riddled with logic, whereas many perceive the GRE as a more straightforward application of skills.
GMAT Versus GRE – What Do Admissions Think?
Most MBA programs say that they weigh the GMAT and GRE equally. However, it is important to know that nearly 90% of MBA candidates submit a GMAT score, meaning that admissions departments have more experience with the GMAT and possibly an implicit preference for it. That said, the GRE continues to grow in popularity each year, and a strong GRE score will certainly not be ignored.
What is a Good GMAT Score?
According to GMAC, the average GMAT score is 568.21 with a standard deviation of 114.73, based on data from 2018 to 2020. In other words, following a normal distribution, 68% of GMAT test-takers scored between 450 and 680 (rounding for 10-point increments). Yet, amongst the top 20 MBA programs, based on the US News rankings, the average GMAT score was 720 (rounding for 10-point increments). We cannot say that a certain GMAT score will gain you entry, only that it will increase your odds. Understand that MBA rankings such as US News or the Financial Times rely heavily on GMAT scores, and the universities know this. You should at least aim to be within the range of accepted scores. More realistically, you will want to aim at or above the average GMAT score for your target school.
Please see the chart below for a more detailed breakdown including score ranges.
|MBA Program||GMAT Score Range||GMAT Mean||GMAT Median|
|University of Chicago (Booth)||590-790||732||740|
|University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)||733||740|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)*||690-760||730|
|University of California – Berkeley (Haas)||690-760||726||730|
|University of Michigan (Ross)||690-760||722|
|Dartmouth College (Tuck)||600-780||724|
|Duke University (Fuqua)*||670-750|
|New York University (Stern)||620-770||729|
|University of Virginia (Darden)||715|
|Cornell University (Johnson)||710|
|Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)*||640-740||691||700|
|University of California – Los Angeles (Anderson)*||660-760||711|
|University of Texas – Austin (McCombs)*||650-740||708|
|University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)||696|
|University of Southern California (Marshall)||716|
|*Indicates 80% or 90% score range.|
What is a Good GRE Score?
According to ETS, the average GRE verbal reasoning score was 150.37 with a standard deviation of 8.59. The average GRE quantitative reasoning score was 153.66, with a standard deviation of 9.44. However, amongst the top 20 MBA programs, as per the US News rankings, the average GRE verbal score was 161.6. Meanwhile, the average GRE quant score was 162.8.
Similar to our GMAT advice above, no specific GRE score will gain you entry into a top MBA program. However, a higher score will significantly increase your chances. You should, at minimum, aim to be within the GRE score range for the program you are targeting. Ideally, aim to hit the average or above.
You can find out more information about average GRE scores for the top MBA programs in the table below.
GMAT or GRE – Which Should I Choose?
The short answer is that it depends on what programs you wish to attend. If you want to apply to non-MBA programs as well, then taking the GRE is the likely answer. If you are certain about business school, then take the GMAT. The only caveat is if you test significantly better on the GRE. All things equal, you want to put your best foot forwards, so whichever exam you can test better on should be the one you submit.
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