GMAT vs GRE: Which is Right for You?

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Since more than 1,200 MBA programs now accept GMAT scores or GRE scores from applicants, it’s important for prospective business school students to explore their options before committing to a test. The value of the GMAT vs GRE exam is not always easy to navigate for test takers.

Read on to learn more about how the GMAT and the GRE exam compare with each other, and which option is right for your profile.

Quick Comparison

The GMAT and the GRE have some similarities in terms of content and function, but below, you’ll find some of the superficial differences between the GMAT and the GRE.

Length2 hours 15 minutes1 hour 58 minutes
SectionsVerbal Reasoning
Quantitative Reasoning
Data Insights
Analytical Writing
Verbal, Quantitative
Accepted ByAll Graduate Business SchoolsMost Graduate Programs, including Business Schools
Designed to TestHigher-order thinking predictive of success within MBA program and into business careerUnderstanding of verbal and quantitative content, which can be relevant to graduate programs
Average Scores (general)*Top 10%: 715; Median: 546.01Top 10%: 162 V, 167 Q; Median: 151 V, 153 Q
DifficultyQuestion-Level Adaptive (difficulty of next question is determined by your performance in the question before)Section-Level Adaptive (difficulty of second section is determined by your performance in the first section)
*Average scores refer to the average score across all GMAT and GRE takers, not specific to the top MBA programs. For further commentary on the average GMAT and GRE scores at top MBA programs, please see below.

GMAT vs GRE: Content and Section Differences

In terms of exam structure and content, there is a certain amount of overlap between the two exams. At a glance, both exams contain three sections—a verbal section, a quantitative section, and a third section specific to each exam (Data Insights for the GMAT and Analytical Writing Assessment for the GRE).

Further, within these sections, some content reappears across both exams. For instance:

  • Reading comprehension appears on both the GMAT and the GRE (verbal)
  • Problem solving appears on both the GMAT and the GRE (quant)
  • Both exams require data interpretation (in Data Insights for the GMAT and in quant for the GRE)

However, the exams also vary in several ways:

  • The chief differences between the GMAT and the GRE include the different sections that make up the exam
    • The GMAT contains a Data Insights section which does not appear on the GRE
    • The GRE contains an Analytical Writing Assessment task which does not appear on the GMAT
  • While both exams evaluate the test taker’s understanding of certain verbal and math principles, there is a variety of question types used across exams that

Deep Dive on the GMAT

The GMAT is a standardized test that assesses the quantitative, verbal, and reasoning skills applicants need for business school. GMAT questions are designed to measure specific abilities related to higher-order thinking, as well as your ability to apply problem-solving techniques in a timely fashion. The GMAT is administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council and is the leading entrance exam required by business schools around the world.

The GMAT comprises three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and data insights.

Structure and Content

The GMAT exam is divided into three major sections:

  1. The Quantitative section assesses your capacity to evaluate and draw conclusions based on data. It is made up of problem-solving questions.
  2. The GMAT Verbal section consists of reading comprehension and critical reasoning, testing your “ability to read and understand written material, to evaluate arguments and to correct written material to conform to standard written English.” 
  3. The New Data Insights section tests your ability to “read and interpret data in multiple formats, including tables and graphs.”

You can learn more about each GMAT question type by reviewing our Official GMAT Practice Problems.

GMAT student studying through the night.
Studying for the GMAT can be time-consuming without a strategic preparation plan.


According to Chris Kane, Head of Test Prep at Menlo Coaching, the GMAT’s Verbal section is a primary point of divergence between the GMAT and the GRE, at least on the content side. “The critical reasoning and reading comprehension sections are more comprehensive and better made on the GMAT.”


While the quantitative portion of the GMAT is certainly challenging, the questions overall are based on relatively simple underlying math content. Instead of creating difficulty with questions that require memorized formulae or high-level math concepts, the question writers rely on abstract presentation, critical thinking, and data sufficiency. 

This means that people with strong math backgrounds may not perform as well on the quantitative side of the GMAT as on that of the GRE without first learning how to attack this unique type of difficulty.

This challenge relates to one of the fundamental traits of the GMAT: its reliance on “the con.”

The Con

The GMAT is famous for its recurring use of the “con”: a principle that is one of the central areas of focus within Menlo Coaching’s GMAT curriculum. 

The con is used by GMAT question writers to ensure that test takers engage with the full extent of their critical thinking abilities. That is, to consistently solve GMAT questions, students must learn to fully evaluate all possible answers and to accept solutions that may at first seem unlikely or counterintuitive.

The use of the con on the GMAT is not simply an exercise in test taking. “Spotting the con is a vital skill in business as well,” said Chris. “Business school applicants have to remember who they’re trying to differentiate themselves from: hard-working, creative, innovative, and at times cunning businessmen and businesswomen who are really good at spotting potential that no one else can see. When taking the GMAT, students must always remain vigilant, question-to-question, just as they will need to remain attentive in business school and in the marketplace. 

“This is also why the GMAT is so challenging. Three-quarters of the difficulty doesn’t come from knowledge. It comes from the con game.”

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The GMAT is delivered on the computer. What’s more, it is a question-adaptive test, which means the difficulty of each question is determined by your performance on the question that came before

That is, if you answer a question correctly, the next question will be slightly harder, and if you answered incorrectly, the next question will be slightly easier. 

Further, once you answer a question on the GMAT, you can’t go back to it. 

For test takers, this situation changes the question-to-question experience of the exam and the overall strategic approach. “If you’re doing well on the GMAT,” said Chris, “it’s a really frustrating experience, because everything is hard! And it’s made even harder by the strategy implications of a question-adaptive setup: you have to know when (and how) to guess on a problem and when you should spend extra time. You have to know how to attack not only the questions of the test but the test overall—and this makes for an added challenge in preparation.” 

Deep Dive on the GRE

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test for prospective graduate students. Created and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), the GRE tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing and critical thinking skills. All of the top US MBA programs accept GRE scores.

The GRE comprises three sections: analytical writing assessment, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.

Structure and Content

The GRE has three major sections: Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. The Analytical Writing section always comes first, but the Quant and Verbal sections could appear in any order after that.

  1. Analytical Writing consists of one Analyze an Issue task, which you’ll be given 30 minutes to answer.
  2. The Quantitative Reasoning section has 27 questions in total. You will have a total of 47 minutes to complete the Quant section of the exam.
    • Section One has 12 questions of average difficulty. You will be given 21 minutes to complete this section.
    • Section Two has 15 questions, the difficulty of which is determined by your performance in Section One. You will have 26 minutes to answer these questions.
  3. The Verbal Reasoning section also has 27 questions in total. You will have a total of 41 minutes to complete the Verbal section of the exam.
    • Section One has 12 questions of average difficulty. You will be given 18 minutes to complete this section.
    • Section Two has 15 questions, the difficulty of which is determined by your performance in Section One. You will have 21 minutes to answer these questions.

You can learn more about each GRE question type by reviewing Official GRE Practice Problems.


Compared to the GMAT, the GRE is more content-driven across the board. What does this mean? It means that the test taker is required to draw more from knowledge than from critical thinking to answer questions. 

For example, the GRE’s Verbal section is often said to be more difficult than the GMAT Verbal section. This is because the exam includes more challenging vocabulary and sentence equivalence exercises—and if you do not already know the definition of one of the vocabulary words, or you struggle to unlock the context of those words, you will not perform as well.


Similarly, the Quantitative component of the GRE is driven more by mathematical content than by abstract presentation. 

In this way, it’s “more of a math test”: there is no data sufficiency, less critical thinking, and more emphasis on knowledge of mathematical concepts. 

“You can almost think of it as more of a math test than a quantitative reasoning test,”  says Chris. “When you sit down to work through the GRE’s quant section, you’ll have more questions that will test whether or not you’ve memorized and understand a mathematical concept.  Whereas on the GMAT, you get quant questions that are wildly difficult not because they require content knowledge, but because they require advanced critical thinking and the ability to unlock abstract presentation.”


Like the GMAT, the GRE is delivered on the computer. Unlike the GMAT, the GRE is section-level adaptive rather than question-level adaptive. This means that your score on the first section of both Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning will affect the difficulty of the questions tested on the second section for each subject.

Unlike the GMAT, where each individual question determines the difficulty of the next question, on the GRE, your score on the entire section determines the difficulty of the next section on that subject. Plus, you can return to questions you’ve already answered within a section.

Strategy-wise, this gives you more flexibility in how you approach the test: rather than needing to carefully evaluate the risk and reward of guessing or spending more time on a question (as is the case on the GMAT), with the GRE, you can safely work through all the easier questions within a section and leave the more difficult problems for the end.

So…which is easier: GMAT or GRE?

There’s no easy answer to this question—and it’s worth considering whether it’s even the right question to ask. 

After all, performance on the GMAT vs GRE will be unique to each individual test taker, and it is impossible to say definitively if your test scores will be better or worse on a specific exam without more information. 

According to Chris, “The best—and only—way to figure out which test is going to be more difficult is to take an assessment: you need to do a run-through to get a feeling for each exam. It will always need to come down to the individual situation, as there are too many factors at play. And this brings up an important point that often leads people astray: just because you can earn a higher score on a GRE section you’re already familiar with does not mean you should decide to skip out on the GMAT.”

Let’s unpack this further. 

Content knowledge and GRE scores

While the GMAT and the GRE are each difficult in their own way, the content-driven nature of the GRE might allow someone with a strong background in mathematics or in language to perform well in the section that most relates to their field, and do so with less prep. 

In other words, a test taker with strong verbal abilities might sit down to the GRE and earn a higher verbal score when compared to their first attempt on the GMAT.

But it is important to note that this assumes a “cold turkey” approach to the test: someone who is coming to both tests without any prep work. 

This situation is possible because the GRE is so content-driven. If you’ve earned your Bachelor’s in English literature or mathematics, you likely already possess the knowledge needed to achieve high GRE scores —at least in the section relevant to your studies. 

The GMAT, by contrast, is not a test that lends itself well to a ‘cold turkey’ approach. 

“Most people who sit down to take the GMAT without any form of prep will perform poorly. The GMAT requires that test takers learn how to play the game—and it’s a weird game—but nonetheless something that can be learned. For example, I’ve seen PhDs in mathematics who, without any prep, did not (at first) perform as well on the GMAT as they did on the GRE. But this should not come as a surprise. You won’t perform well on the GMAT without some training ahead of time, and you shouldn’t discount the GMAT just because you can’t immediately perform well without study.”

Is the GMAT or GRE better for an MBA application?

When it comes to deciding between the GMAT vs GRE for your MBA application, it is important to note that the official stance of MBA programs is that both tests are considered equal.

This is underscored by the fact that the all-powerful U.S. News MBA ranking looks at both the GMAT and GRE test scores in evaluating a MBA programs.

Admissions committees at top business schools care deeply about their program’s ranking on this list, which we cover in great detail in our article on MBA rankings in general. And this fact means that the AdCom will be paying close attention to your score’s impact on the average incoming GMAT score or average incoming GRE score for your target program. 

Start with the GMAT

With all this said, it is true that we encourage most clients to start with the GMAT.

As we’ve already discussed, the GMAT was written exclusively for MBA graduate programs, and admissions officers trust what your GMAT score says about your likely performance during the first year. In this way, “it’s a better test for the highly specialized field of MBA admissions, and the people on the admissions committee know this.” 

We do not mean to imply that the GRE is not worth the time—our advice is to start with the GMAT. 

At the end of the day, a big consideration is what test scores you ultimately achieve.

If the best study methods have been used, prep has been consistent, expert help has been enlisted, and no improvement on the GMAT score is being made, then a student can consider switching to the GRE. 

One exception to this standard might be for a client who can achieve a competitive GRE score with very limited study. This is no doubt an appealing option, and would give the candidate more time to focus on other time-consuming aspects of their application.

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