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In recent years, a number of business schools have begun accepting the GRE in place of the GMAT. Most prospective students still end up taking the GMAT, as the number of GRE-accepting schools is still rather small.

If you are only planning on applying to one or two schools, though, and all of your choices accept the GRE, it's worth considering which test is the best one for you to take.

GMAT and GRE Difficulty

It isn't that one test is harder than the other: the exams are very different. Further, even it turned out that one was more difficult, I would imagine that business schools would evaluate applicants accordingly.

The most dramatic difference between the tests is the nature of the content on the Verbal section. While the GRE has Reading Comprehension questions that are very similar to those you encounter on the GMAT, the rest of the section is more like that of the SAT. Expect lots of vocabulary on items such as antonyms and analogies.

For various reasons (most of them technical and unimportant), it is easier to score near the top of the Math range on the GRE, and more difficult to crack the upper echelon on the Verbal.

Breaking Down GRE Math

I've been thinking a lot about this topic lately because I've just completed work on Total GRE Math. Most of the math content on the GRE is similar to that of the GMAT: plenty of algebra, geometry, and statistics. The GMAT contains more number properties and sets, while the GRE favors geometry and arithmetic.

Most dramatic, though, are some question types themselves. Instead of Data Sufficiency, every GRE Math section has several "Quantitative Comparison" questions. These have two columns, and your goal is to determine which column represents the larger amount. As an unfamiliar question type, it isn't nearly as challenging as Data Sufficiency.

The GRE also contains quite a bit of data analysis. The GMAT has a graph or chart here and there, but the GRE takes it to a different level. Every math section has a graph (or set of graphs) followed by five questions based on those graphs. It's a little different that what you work on to prepare for the GMAT, but I don't think it's as difficult.

Validity Testing

If you talk to someone from the GMAC about the two tests, there's one topic they are bound to bring up eventually: validity tests. Part of the idea behind admissions tests of any kind is that they tell schools which students is best suited for an MBA program.

With enough data, you can see just how well a test does. Compare test scores to some pre-set measure of accomplishment--say, b-school GPA--and check out the correlation. The GMAC is very protective of its turf, so it has aggressively pursued that data. The GMAT seems to be better at predicting b-school success than is the GRE.

This shouldn't come as a surprise: The GMAT was designed for business school, while the GRE is used for just about every other type of graduate school. It is more than a little odd that some engineers and some prospective fine arts students are all taking the same test. It stands to reason that such a test can't be all that great for all of its purposes.


If you've taken the GRE for other purposes, that's great. It might be acceptable as part of an application to your b-school of choice, and it's certainly good practice for the GMAT itself.

That said, I never recommend that prospective MBA students take the GRE, even when they are only applying to schools that accept it. From the perspective of test construction and consistency, the GMAT is the "better" exam, and it has much more to say about your likely success in business school.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Math

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Quant section. It's "far and away the best study material available," including over 300 realistic practice questions and more than 500 exercises!
Click to read more.