GMAT vs. GRE: Which Should I Take?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jul 30, 2021

Your guide to standardized tests for business school

A smiling business school student in a striped dress stands in a library with her phone in her hand.

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized test used for admissions at many graduate schools in North America, including business and law schools. The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is used exclusively for business school admissions. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each exam and why you might decide to take one test over the other to elevate your graduate program application.

Differences between the GRE and GMAT

The biggest difference between the GRE and GMAT is the scope of the test for admissions—the GRE is accepted for most graduate programs (including business and law schools) while the GMAT is more oriented for business school applicants. Beyond that, each test has a different format with different types of questions, testing policies, and options for sending your scores to schools.

What is the GRE?

The GRE, administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is used as an admissions consideration at thousands of graduate schools, including business and law schools. The exam is designed to evaluate your verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills.

Length: 3 hours and 45 minutes (one optional 10-minute break following the third section)

Cost (US): $205 (includes free score delivery to up to four schools)

Location: Online or at a testing center

Scores good for: Five years

You can retake the GRE up to five times in any 12-month rolling period (once every 21 days). If you take the test more than once, you can choose which scores get sent to the schools to which you’re applying. 

Test format: The GRE comprises three scored portions, as well as a possible unscored or experimental section. The Analytical Writing section will always come first, but you won’t know the order of the remaining sections or which section is unscored.

  • Analytical Writing: This section has two separately-timed, 30-minute writing tasks. You’ll be asked to construct your own argument on an issue and evaluate someone else’s argument on an issue. This section is scored from zero to six in half-point increments.

  • Verbal Reasoning: The Verbal Reasoning test comprises two 30-minute sections with 20 questions each. You’ll encounter three types of questions in this section: reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. You can get a score of 130 to 170 in one-point increments.

  • Quantitative Reasoning: This portion of the exam, designed to test your basic math skills, features two 35-minute sections with 20 questions each. Questions might be multiple choice with one or several answers, numeric entry questions, or quantitative comparison questions. Topics include arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. You can get a score of 130 to 170 in one-point increments.

Test features: During the test, you can use an on-screen calculator during the Quantitative Reasoning section. You can move backward and forward through each section, change your answers, and mark questions for “Review” if you’d like to return to them later.

If you’re currently unemployed or can demonstrate financial need, you may qualify for a fee reduction on the GRE. This program also includes free access to select test prep materials from ETS.


What is the GMAT?

The GMAT, administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), is an entrance exam widely used for admission to business schools and MBA programs. The exam measures reasoning and critical thinking skills meant to demonstrate an ability to succeed in top graduate business programs.

Length: 3 hours and 30 minutes (two optional 8-minute breaks) in person; 3 hours (optional 5-minute break) online

Cost (US): $275 in person (includes free score delivery to up to five schools); $250 online (includes unlimited score delivery)

Location: Online or at a testing center

Scores good for: Five years

You can retake the GMAT at a testing center up to five times in a rolling 12-month period (no more than eight times total). For the GMAT online exam, you can retest once.

Test format: The GMAT format depends on whether you’re taking the test at a testing center or online. The in-person version comprises four sections, and you can choose to order the sections in one of three ways to best fit your strengths and testing style.

  • Analytical Writing: This section of the exam asks you to analyze and write a critique of a given argument in one 30-minute writing task. It is scored from zero to six points in half-point increments.

  • Integrated Reasoning: The Integrated Reasoning section (not found on the GRE) is designed to measure your ability to use data to solve complex problems. This portion includes one 30-minute section with 12 questions (mostly multiple choice). You’ll be asked to examine and analyze data from multiple sources, including tables and graphs, as well as solve both quantitative and verbal problems. The score ranges from one to eight in one-point increments. 

  • Quantitative Reasoning: This 62-minute section has 31 multiple-choice questions. Questions include quantitative problems and “Data Sufficiency” problems, which ask you to determine whether you have enough data to answer a given question. You can earn six to 51 points in one-point increments.

  • Verbal Reasoning: The Verbal Reasoning section lasts 65 minutes and contains 36 questions designed to test your ability to read, understand, and evaluate written materials. The three types of questions you’ll encounter include reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. This is scored from six to 51 points in one-point increments.

Test features: You can use a basic online calculator during the Integrated Reasoning section only. For the Quantitative Reasoning segment, you’re permitted to use a white board (at-home testing) or a provided laminated notebook with dry erase markers (testing center) to work through problems. During the GMAT, you cannot skip and return to questions or change your answers.

As of May 2021, you also get your unofficial scores immediately when taking the GMAT online.

What is a computer-adaptive test?

Both the GMAT and GRE exams use a technology called adaptive testing. The GMAT determines the difficulty of each question within a section by how you did on the previous question. If you answered correctly, the next question will be harder. If you got it wrong, the next question will be easier. Since the GRE allows you to change your answers, the exam adapts the difficulty of each section based on the one before.


Which is easier, GMAT or GRE?

Determining which test will be easier for you will depend on your academic strengths and testing style. 

The quantitative section on the GRE tends to be a bit easier than its GMAT counterpart (and you get to use a calculator). The GRE section typically has more geometry, while the GMAT has more logical reasoning questions. 

The GRE verbal section, on the other hand, tends to feature more difficult vocabulary than the GMAT. Many test-takers consider the GMAT verbal section to be slightly easier.

Should I take the GMAT or GRE?

It’s becoming more and more common for business schools to accept GRE scores as part of their admissions requirements. This means you can take the test that will best highlight your own academic strengths. Here are some things to consider as you make the decision that’s right for you.

Academic goals: If you’re considering different graduate programs or simply want to keep your options open, the GRE is accepted in a wider variety of degree programs. If you’re certain about business school, taking the GMAT is a way to demonstrate your commitment.

School requirements: Many schools accept either score, but it’s a good idea to verify admissions requirements ahead of time. If possible, speak to an admissions representative to ask whether they have a preference between the two tests.

Academic strengths: If your math skills tend to be stronger than your verbal skills, the GMAT might offer a better opportunity to show off those strengths. If you’re a strong writer, consider the GRE. Due to the vocabulary involved, the GRE can sometimes be more challenging for non-native English speakers.

Testing style: It’s normal to feel some nervousness before a test. If you like to skip around and go back over your answers, the GRE format allows you to do so. This might  give some test takers a greater sense of confidence. 

Practice exam performance: One excellent way to determine which test you’re best suited for is to take a practice test for each. Take them separately under circumstances as close to the real thing as possible. Once you take and score your exams, you’ll have a better idea of which you feel more comfortable with. 

Score reporting: If you take the GRE exam more than once, you can choose which scores you send to prospective schools. For the GMAT, schools receive all your scores. Many programs only consider the highest score. 

Career goals: Some companies, particularly investment and business consulting firms, ask for GMAT scores as part of the job application process. If you have certain target employers in mind, research these requirements ahead of time. Taking the GMAT before business school could spare you from having to take it during your job search.  

Executive Assessment: An alternative for working professionals

If you’re already a working professional, applying to business school can open up new job opportunities and earning potential. GMAC designed the Executive Assessment exam as an alternative to the GMAT for those with career experience.  Many business schools accept this exam, particularly for executive MBA applicants.

The exam is designed to be shorter and require less preparation. This makes it an attractive alternative if you’re already balancing the demands of a career and family.

Length: 90 minutes 

Cost (US): $350 (includes unlimited score delivery)

Location: Online or at a testing center

Scores good for: Five years

You can take the exam up to two times, and you choose which scores to send. 

Test format: The Executive Assessment has three sections: Integrated Reasoning (12 questions), Verbal Reasoning (14 questions), and Quantitative Reasoning (14 questions). Question types are similar to what you’d find on the GMAT. 

Test-optional colleges: The new norm?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced changes in the college admissions process, some colleges and universities started dropping standardized tests as a requirement. This trend has accelerated into 2021.

According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey of more than 100 business schools, 36 percent suspended the requirement for GMAT or GRE scores in the 2020-2021 admission cycle. Some 17 percent of surveyed schools are considering permanently removing these tests as an admission requirement. [1] More than half of the top 100 MBA programs in the US (as rated by business school news site Poets & Quants) are offering GRE and GMAT test waivers for 2022. Several have adopted permanent test-optional admissions. [2]

You may need to have a certain number of years of professional experience or meet a minimum GPA threshold to qualify for a test waiver. Each school has its own requirements.

Even if you’re applying to a test-optional school, you may want to consider taking an entrance exam anyway. High scores might help enhance your application. Should you choose to omit your GRE or GMAT scores, be sure to take extra care on the other elements of your application to make them shine.

Get started with Coursera

If your career goals include business school, consider a test-optional business degree from one of these top universities:

Article sources

1. Kaplan. "Kaplan Survey: Most MBA Programs Say They’ve Made the Application Process More Flexible, Suspended the GMAT®/GRE® Requirement, Amid COVID-Related Challenges," Accessed July 12, 2021.

2. Poets & Quants. "Another Top-25 B-School Goes Test-Optional For 2022," Accessed July 12, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jul 30, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Learn without limits