GMAT vs. GRE: A test prep expert explains the key differences

If you’re planning on applying for an MBA program, there’s a very good chance you’ll have to take a GMAT or GRE test. What is the GMAT vs. GRE? Where are they used and how do they compare? To find out, we spoke to test prep expert and co-founder of Apex GMAT, Mike Diamond.

In short

What is the GMAT?

The first and more widely-known of the two MBA admissions tests is the GMAT exam. It has been the gold-standard business school admissions test for more than 50 years. It is also used for most MBA applications. To learn more, we spoke to the co-founder of Apex GMAT, Mike Diamond. Mike helps MBA applicants all over the world ace their GMAT. He outlined the test’s main components for us.

“The GMAT is a psychometric exam which is there to measure one’s cognitive ability,” he tells MBAGRADSCHOOLS. “At a deeper level, the GMAT is a test of decision-making and operating efficiently under pressure – both the pressure of being in an exam and time pressure.” (01:16)

“While, ostensibly, the subject matter is quantitative information and the ability to read and understand English, these are really baseline subjects that they expect everyone to have been exposed to in school,” he adds. “What the test is actually going after is your fluency, flexibility, critical thinking skills, and creative problem-solving skills which are necessary to perform well under that time constraint.” (01:38)

What is the GRE?

The GRE is an alternative to the GMAT that has gained in popularity in recent years – though it was actually founded before the GMAT. 

“Many graduate schools use the GRE as their admissions test,” says Mike. “Recently, more and more business schools have started accepting the GRE in addition to the GMAT as part of their admissions requirements.” (02:37)

Fundamentally, the GRE is a similar test to the GMAT. It’s also a psychometric exam, testing your problem-solving ability, critical thinking, and quantitative skills.

Mike explains, “The GRE consists of multiple question types and is scored in each section from 130 to 170. To achieve a decent score, which would roughly be in the 70th percentile, you’re looking for 155+ in the verbal and 160+ in the quantitative. However, if you’re looking for really top performance then you want to be in the upper 160s for quantitative and verbal.” (02:57)

GMAT vs. GRE: Similarities & differences

One key difference between the GMAT and GRE is their structure. Mike says the length and quantity of the sections on each exam differ slightly, and that the problems they present are also slightly different.

“The GRE has much shorter sections, whereas the GMAT has fewer, but longer, sections. They also present different types of problems. On the GRE, you’ve got multiple-choice problem-solving, fill in the blank, [and] quantitative comparison. On the GMAT, it’s multiple-choice problem-solving and data sufficiency.” (03:42)

A smaller, but still notable, difference between the two tests lies in the GRE’s vocabulary section. This asks the test-taker to demonstrate their understanding of the flow of a sentence by filling in a blank – like in these examples. Mike believes these questions expose a bias in the GRE.

“These problems tend to favor native English speakers or speakers of Indo-European languages – specifically Romance languages. It’s easier for these speakers to figure out a word’s Latin and Greek roots,” he says. (05:23)

There is also a perception that the quantitative sections of the GRE are easier than those in the GMAT. However, Mike doesn’t believe this is the case.

“What’s less recognized is that data sufficiency on the GMAT and quantitative comparison on the GRE really are the same type of problem, and both rely on the same cognitive skills. Frankly, most of the preparation we do here can be applied to the GMAT or GRE,” he reveals. (04:07)

Is the GMAT or GRE right for you?

If you’re just starting the MBA application process, it can be difficult to know whether the GMAT or GRE is best for you. After all, it’s perhaps only something you can truly know after fully researching them and perhaps doing a mock test. However, Mike offers some general words of advice to help you decide.

“Ultimately, when making a decision, you should focus on where you’re most comfortable and also which exam has the best chance of highlighting your strengths and skills,” he says. (05:49)

“The GMAT is the one which is more widely recognized, and if you can perform above the average score of the programs you’re applying to, I would strongly recommend going for the GMAT,” he adds. “If you’re not up to the par in terms of average GMAT score, the GRE can sometimes be an alternative. The trouble with making this decision is that when people have to decide between a GMAT and GRE, they haven’t prepared yet, so can’t anticipate which is the better fit.” (07:35)

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