Since business schools started accepting GRE scores for admissions, prospective students are now faced with a choice—what standardized test do I take?
Each student arrives at an answer in her own way. It’s not as simple as a straight head comparison—GRE versus GMAT. That said, it does help to know the similarities and differences between the two tests before making a decision.
Both tests have Reading Comprehension questions, requiring students to read through a passage and answer questions, such as main idea, structure, tone, author’s purpose, and inferences.
Since the revisions to the GRE, the two tests have questions that test a student’s ability to deal with arguments. The GRE has only a few of these question types whereas the GMAT has a sizeable number of these questions, about ⅓ of the verbal section. But both ask students to do similar things with an argument: strengthen or weaken the argument, choose a conclusion, evaluate the argument, or find a conclusion.
The GRE and GMAT ask students to analyze an argument containing flaws. Students have 30 minutes to analyze the logic and reasoning of the argument, explain why the conclusion is weak, and suggest ways to improve the argument.
Both tests contain “typical” standardized test math questions. These are the types of word problems and logical reasoning questions that students see in high school—but obviously more difficult. Both tests provide five answer choices and cover arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
Both tests are computer-based, although a paper version of the GRE does exist. Unless you are taking the GRE outside of the U.S. and Europe, you’ll take a computer-based test. The rest of you will take the test a paper-based test. Everyone who takes the GMAT takes it on a computer.
The GRE has a second essay—Analyze an Issue. Students are given a prompt on a contemporary topic and are asked to form an opinion about the topic and support their opinion with reasons and examples.
Quantitative Comparison is a unique question type to the GRE. Students are given two columns with accompanying information and they must determine if one column is bigger, if they are equal, or if there is not enough information to know which is bigger.
Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence are core questions to the GRE Verbal section. Basically, these questions are fill-in the blank sentences that test a student’s vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. Students need a rich vocabulary and discerning eye for the intended meaning of a sentence based on structural and semantic clues.
Both tests are adaptive; the GRE adapts section-to-section. After a student works through the first verbal and first math section, the subsequent sections will populate with questions based on the previous performance in the first sections.
In the Quantitative section, Data Sufficiency questions contain two statements, and students need to decide which statement provides sufficient information to solve the problem. Sometimes one statement works, sometimes both statements are needed, and sometimes there is not enough information to solve the problem.
Where the GRE emphasizes vocabulary, the GMAT emphasizes grammar and style in Sentence Correction questions. Each question contains a sentence with all or part of it underlined. Students must decide if the sentence is fine as is, or if one of four options is a better formulation of the idea in the sentence.
The GRE and GMAT used to be exactly the same when it came to the writing section until recently. The GMAT removed the Issue essay and introduced Integrated Reasoning. This section tests students’ ability to reason and make conclusions about data and information presented in multiple formats—emails, announcements, tables, diagrams, charts, and graphs.
The GMAT, like the GRE, is adaptive, but on a more granular level. The test adapts question-to-question, so that the difficulty level is constantly changing based on whether the student answered the previous question correctly or not.
Finally, the GMAT is more expensive, making prep materials and classes more expensive. This becomes more important too when you consider that many students take these tests more than once.
What Really Matters
Now that you have a better idea of what is similar and what is different between the tests, it’s time to figure out what test to take. The best way to decide is by taking a complete practice test for the GRE and GMAT. You can download the GRE’s free software, PowerPrep II Software, and the GMAT’s free software, GMAT Prep.
Whichever test you do better on, that’s the test you prepare for and take. Use a GMAT/GRE score conversion chart to compare your performance on each test since they have their own scoring systems.