What is the difference between the GMAT and GRE? Which entrance exam should business students take?

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In years past, students interested in pursuing an MBA would take the GMAT and submit scores to the business school of their choice. However, today, many business schools will accept the GRE or GMAT virtually interchangeably.

But what are vital the differences between the GMAT and GRE? What formats are these tests offered in? What can students expect within test sections?

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 global outbreak, the GMAT and GRE are giving students opportunities to take the test from home. These home adapted tests do have changes for the test takers, but since these changes seem to be temporary, let’s discuss the major differences in the traditional in-person tests.

Who is the test for?

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The GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, has been designed for potential graduate students planning to attend business school by enrolling in an MBA or similar program. It is used by admissions specialists to gauge a candidate’s competence in several academic areas vital within a program’s curriculum. The in-person GMAT test includes four sections: the Verbal section, the Quantitative section, the Integrated Reasoning section, and the Analytical Writing Assessment section. Test takers are given 30 minutes to take the Analytical Writing Assessment, and the three other sections consist of between 12 and 41 questions each. Besides the specific section scores, students achieve a composite score of between 200 and 800.  

The most substantial difference between the GRE and the GMAT is that the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, is an element of admissions for a wider variety of graduate school programs besides just business schools. The GRE consists of three major sections: Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning. Students can expect a total of 80 multiple choice questions as the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections consist of two twenty-question parts each. A 30-minute timed section rounds out the Analytical Writing section that houses two essays. GRE test-takers will also be responsible for a 20-question research section that exists as an aside to the test taker’s exam score. This research section will be either a Quantitative or Verbal, but students won’t be aware of which section the research section is until taking the test.

What are the formats?

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Test takers complete the GMAT by writing the essay responses and answering questions on the computer. It is an adaptive test. When business school candidates begin the Verbal and Quantitative sections, the first question they see in each section will be of medium difficulty. Once the student answers that question correctly, the next question presented will be slightly more complicated. If the student fills in a question incorrectly, the next question will be adjusted to a somewhat easier one. This process continues through the entire section for both Verbal and Quantitative. There is no going back to a question once it is answered on the GMAT. Adaptive testing is used as a technique on the GMAT to get more accurate scores by choosing specific questions with varying degrees of difficulty from a large pool of questions.

The GRE is also delivered as a section-level adaptive exam and is also taken on the computer. A student’s score on the first section of both Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning will directly affect the difficulty of the next batch of questions for the next section. Unlike the GMAT, which determines the complexity of each question within the section, on the GRE, a student’s score on the entire section actually determines the difficulty of the next section on that particular subject. GRE test takers can return to questions they have already answered within a section.

How do the verbal sections differ?

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The Verbal section of the GMAT tests one’s ability to comprehend written material, evaluate arguments on varying subjects, and identify and correct mistakes in written material. The three types of questions are Reading Comprehension, Critical Reading, and Sentence Correction. Reading Comprehension includes a passage to read and several questions on that passage. Included questions asking how to draw conclusions from the passage/analyze an argument. Critical Reading questions present a short passage and then a question requiring analysis and application information from the passage. Sentence Correction includes a sentence and five ways of wording that may be correct. These questions test grammar and proper communication skills.

The GRE’s Verbal Reasoning measures a test taker’s skills in analyzing and drawing conclusions from written sections, identifying main points, summarizing passages, and comprehending the meaning of words and sentences. Three contained categories are Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. Reading Comprehension includes a passage and big picture questions. Text Completion deals with a short passage containing one or more blanks and word choice options. Sentence Equivalence presents a single sentence with a blank and six answer choices. 

While some say there isn’t a substantial difference between the GMAT and GRE Verbal section, the GRE is still considered to have a more challenging Verbal section. It includes more challenging vocabulary words and reading passages, which can make it difficult for those who struggle in this area.

How do the quantitative sections differ?

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The Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning areas test an applicant’s math skills. There are two types of questions within the Quantitative section: Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Problem Solving questions include how to solve equations, interpret graphs, analyze data, or a mixture of all three. Data Sufficiency problems include a question followed by two statements. Students decide if one, both, neither, or either statement is sufficient to answer the question. The Integrated Reasoning section also tests quantitative skills. This section includes four question types: graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, multi-source reasoning, and table analysis. Each section tests how well one can analyze and interpret information to solve complex problems. Test takers have to be able to interpret data presented in graphics, text, and numbers, and find and analyze groupings of information to solve problems. Many problems are complex and have multiple parts, and students have to answer each part of the question correctly to be awarded points, which makes them more challenging.

The GRE’s Quantitative Reasoning section tests skills in the areas of Algebra, Arithmetic, Data Analysis, and Geometry. Most questions are multiple-choice. There are several numeric entry questions where students have to enter the correct answer instead of selecting from given choices. There are also a few multiple-choice Quantitative Comparison questions. For these questions, test takers are given two quantities and asked to determine if Quantity A is larger, Quantity B is larger, if the two quantities are equal, or if the relationship can’t be determined.

Quantitative sections in the GMAT are known as being more difficult than those of the GRE. The quantitative sections of both exams test similar subjects like data interpretation and equation solving.  Neither exam includes higher-level math subjects like calculus, so one can technically have only a high school math education and still perform well on the test.

How do the writing sections differ?

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The GMAT and GRE writing section’s significant difference is that the GMAT includes only one essay, and the GRE includes two. The GMAT’s Analytical Writing Assessment Section contains an essay prompt that test takers are given 30 minutes to complete. Students are given an argument to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Essayists aren’t encouraged to provide their own opinion on the issue but instead discuss the given view, what its fallacies are, and how it could be improved.

The GRE’s Analytical Writing consists of two essays with the descriptions of Analyze a Task and Analyze an Argument. Students have 30 minutes to write each of the two essays. The Analyze an Argument section is very similar to the GMAT essay. Test takers also have to critique an argument. For Analyze a Task, students are given an issue. They need to explain their stance and justify that stance with evidence.

Next Steps

To know which entrance exam a future business student should take, the student must first be aware of their choices during the application process. Some business schools have eliminated the GMAT requirement, and some allow waivers for professional experience or undergraduate GPAs. While some business schools strictly require GMAT scores, many business schools allow for GMAT or GRE scores.

Before choosing which test to take, students must first narrow down the programs they want to pursue and what application requirements they have. Next, students must understand the differences and nuances between the requirements and tests. The crux is deciding which test, with their particular knowledge and skills, will set them up for the best chance of acceptance? Careful consideration will allow future business students to hone in their money and time on their top priorities to gain acceptance to their desired business school.

Related Resources:

No-GMAT Online MBA Ranking

Best Online GMAT Prep Classes
Ultimate Guide to the GMAT
Are there free resources for the GMAT?

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