GRE vs. GMAT: which test to take

Davis: Hey everybody, this is GRE Bites. My name is Davis, and I’m an educator with over ten years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.

So, Orion, today we are going to talk about… What do I want to ask you about? We’re going to talk about the GMAT and GRE.

Orion: That’s right.

Davis: So first, the difference between the GRE and GMAT – what is it? Should I take the GRE or should I take the GMAT? Why don’t you just… What does each stand for? What’s GRE stand for? What is the GMAT stand for now?

Orion: You’ve put me on the spot. I think the GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. Okay. And the GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. I think that is correct.

Davis: So, management – so that’s business, so GMAT is for business school.

Orion: Well, that’s what I’m getting at. That’s the stereotype about the GMAT that we’re going to discuss today. So, the question of whether or not we should take the GMAT or the GRE is a question anybody interested in applying to graduate business school is going to ask themselves at some point. Historically, the GMAT was the test to take; it was the only test that business schools accepted. And so, the GMAT has long been associated exclusively with business school. What some people may or may not know is that about five years ago, there was a huge sea change in graduate school admissions where suddenly, functionally all the business schools in this country, and certainly 100% of the top 25 ranked programs, decided to accept the GRE or the GMAT for business school admissions. So now, anyone wanting to go to business school actually has a choice they didn’t have before: they can choose to take the GRE or the GMAT as well. Okay, so one or the other, not both?

Davis: Is there an advantage to taking one? Is there still preferential treatment towards one test or the other at most institutions?

Orion: Excellent questions. You definitely don’t want to take both; that doesn’t… You don’t get a gold star for doing that. And that sounds like just a path of pain. So, pick your poison: do the GRE or the GMAT. So, the second question is one that I get often from students who seem to believe that there might still be some, let’s say, residual preference for the GMAT over the GRE in business school admissions. And I don’t believe that that’s true. I can say that if a graduate program says in their admissions materials that you can apply with either the GRE or the GMAT, they are not legally able to discriminate against students based on which test they decide to take. So, they have to legally weigh those tests equally. Now, whether they do that in practice is a question that I can’t fully answer, but I know they’re not supposed to. Let’s put it that way. They’re not supposed to weigh the GRE lighter or heavier than the GMAT in business school applications.

Davis: Okay. Well, so is there a pro? Like, is one test easier than the other? Are there pros to taking one test compared to the other?

Orion: I’m so glad you asked that question because that’s really what we’re talking about here. Which one should I take? And I’m going to tell you that if you want to apply to business school, you should be taking the GRE.

Davis: Okay, why?

Orion: Well, I’m a GRE test prep company, so take what I say with a grain of salt. But I’m going to make, I think, a pretty strong case for why you should take the GRE over the GMAT. First of all, I believe that the GRE is a slightly easier test than the GMAT. Okay, I don’t think that the GRE is a walk in the park by any means. So even though the GRE is more generalized in terms of the knowledge base you’re tested on, and the GMAT

Davis: Is the GMAT more focused just on business practice?

Orion: Oh, no. Okay, let me walk that back a little bit. So the GMAT, like the GRE, is also an aptitude test, which means it doesn’t test specific knowledge. It’s not like the GMAT is testing your knowledge about loans or interest points, you know, things that are specific to the practice of business or management, etc. It’s very, very similar in terms of the content assessed to the GRE. The overlap, for example, in the quantitative sections of both tests is probably around 90%.

Davis: Wow. Okay.

Orion: Yeah. So they have far more in common than they have not in common. So, they’re both very similar aptitude tests. That said, I do believe that the GRE is slightly easier than the GMAT. And the reason for that is the GRE has fewer questions that involve the use of logic. Okay, so there is a test question on the GMAT called data sufficiency, which can be very, very difficult for many students to attend to. Because besides knowing the quantitative facts and knowing the little test prep hacks, you also have to be able to use logic on the spot to deduce the answer. So we’re putting an extra challenge on that type of question that doesn’t usually exist on the GRE. In fact, there are like less than 3% of questions on the GRE that involve some form of logic versus, you know, up to 40% on the GMAT.

Davis: So, the GMAT is slightly harder because you take the same material and you add this logical component to the question.

Orion: Exactly.

Davis: So if you had like, whatever, five, six types of questions that you could reliably practice on the GRE, you’re just adding a whole other set of types of questions.

Orion: Yes, this type of question, the data sufficiency, doesn’t exist on the GRE, but it does exist on the GMAT. I think that because of that, the quantitative section of the GMAT is significantly harder than the quantitative section on the GRE. There’s a second good reason why the GRE is a better test because the GMAT is good just for business school, the GRE is good for business school, and like everything else. So unless you want to become either a lawyer or a medical doctor, and you’re going to a post-secondary education, you’re going to be taking the GRE. So if you want to apply to like a dual degree program, like an MBA/MPP, Master of Public Policy, or an MBA/MFA, or something like that, you’re going to be taking either both tests for both of those programs, which, like I said, is not a very good idea.

When you take the GRE for both, you see, or if you’re like, I’m not sure if I want to go to business school in three or five years, I might want to go to business school, but I might also want to go to a master’s in psychology program, or I want to get my teaching certificate, etc. If you take the GMAT now, you kind of get locked into certain admissions pathways that you don’t with the GRE, so the GRE allows you to keep your options open when applying to grad school.

Davis: Do they, do each test have a similar time? Like an expiration date on each one?

Orion: Yeah, I think both are five years, five years. And a lot of people that I’ve worked with take the GRE right out of undergrad, it’s kind of like, you know, when you’re doing the dishes and your hands are already wet and soapy, and your wife just gives you another one to do, you know, it’s like, “Ah, I’m already doing tests, and I’m already studying things. So like, what’s one more test right now?” And I think that’s often a good idea. They’re already in study mode, they take the GRE, and that score is good for five years. So even if they want to take three to four years to get professional experience, which is a really excellent idea when applying for business school, they already have a score in their back pocket, based back from when they were active students.

The third reason why I recommend the GRE over the GMAT is probably the most important reason, which is that I’ve done some research on the top 15 ranked business programs in the country. So like, Harvard Business School, GSB at Stanford, Haas at Berkeley, etc. And I’ve collected data on the median percentile scores of successful applicants in all these programs for both the GMAT and the GRE. So these business schools are very good at publishing this kind of post-mortem data on their entering classes. And what I discovered is that, in pretty much any given year, in the last five years, you have to score higher on the GMAT to be as competitive at that program relative to the GRE by a difference of nine percentile points, which is huge. That is huge. That means that you can score a full nine percentile points lower on the GRE and remain just as competitive at those top business programs relative to the GMAT. And that’s without having to master that harder logic-based test.

It’s an easier test. It’s more widely applicable. And you don’t have to do as well on it to be as competitive at top programs relative to the GMAT.

Davis: Was there, just to kind of play the other side, any reason that the GMAT would be more beneficial?

Orion: I mean, not that I can think of. It’s even more expensive.

Davis: Oh, no way. And what about the time? Is it similar in terms of its time commitment, in terms of the length of the actual test?

Orion: Yeah, I think that both tests are around four hours. I mean, the GMAT is just a little bit more expensive, not a lot, but it is a little bit more. Both tests are about four hours. You’re going to take probably between two and four months to prepare for the exam, because they test very similar content. But the main kicker for me is that you don’t have to perform as well on the GRE to remain competitive for the top business programs. And that is hugely important because, as we talked about in the previous episode, one of the main reasons why these standardized tests exist at all is to give grad programs a legally defensible way to reject otherwise qualified applicants. And if you’re beneath the median for their successful applicants, then that’s already a liability. And the whole point of this is to dodge this bullet so that we can get the rest of our application in front of the committee so that they can see, hey, we’re a good fit. Remember, people get in because of goodness of fit.

Davis: That’s right. That’s right. Well, that’s super informative.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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