If you’re considering business school, one of the first decisions to make is whether to prepare for the GRE or the GMAT. While the preferences of the admissions offices at your target schools should take precedence, there are many test-specific considerations as well. The tests vary substantially in terms of content, and this article will overview each test to help you make an informed decision for GMAT or GRE preparation.
GMAT vs GRE: Quantitative Sections Head-to-Head
The GRE and the GMAT take different approaches to measure candidates’ quantitative reasoning skills. The GMAT does not allow the use of a calculator on the quant section, but the GRE provides a built-in calculator for its quant sections. Some standard mental math proficiency is helpful on either test (you don’t want to have to use the GRE calculator every time you need to perform basic arithmetic operations), but if developing non-calculator proficiency is a big hurdle for you, put one check in the GRE column.
The GMAT and GRE quant sections cover almost the exact same content, but the balance of topics is different between the tests. The GMAT is heavily focused on algebra (whether pure notational algebra or word problems) and features more work/rate and speed/distance problems than the GRE, while the GRE mixes in more geometry and statistics. The GRE also requires knowledge of certain statistics topics that are lacking from the GMAT, like quartiles and normal distributions, but these topics can be learned easily and shouldn’t impact your decision.
Both tests have unique question types in their quantitative sections. On the GMAT, it’s data sufficiency; on the GRE, it’s quantitative comparisons. These questions represent a departure from the standard multiple choice model employed across virtually all standardized tests and usually require some extra practice from test-takers, but neither is necessarily more difficult or prep-time-consuming than the other.
Overall, most people who take both the GMAT and the GRE report that the GMAT has the harder quant section. And it is true that the GMAT problems tend to be a bit more complex than their GRE counterparts. Still, diligent preparation (especially with the help of an expert tutor) makes either quant section conquerable.
GMAT vs GRE: Verbal Sections Head-to Head
Here the GMAT and the GRE part ways. Both tests have reading comprehension in their verbal sections, with the passages and accompanying questions being largely the same in character and difficulty, but that is where the similarities end.
On GMAT verbal, reading comprehension questions account for only about ⅓ of the total, with critical reasoning and sentence correction making up the balance.
Critical reasoning questions are about recognizing the structure of an argument, especially its assumptions, and knowing how to strengthen, weaken, or complete it.
Sentence correction questions are a choice among five versions of the same sentence, only one of which is grammatically, idiomatically, and stylistically correct. In general, out of the 36 sections on the GMAT verbal reasoning section, about 10 are critical reasoning, about 12 are reading comprehension, and about 14 are sentence correction.
On each of the GRE’s two scored verbal reasoning sections, 10 of the 20 questions are reading comprehension, 6 are text completion, and 4 are sentence equivalence.
Text completion and sentence equivalence questions involve reading sentences and using context clues to fill in their blanks with the most appropriate words from the answer choice set. Where the GMAT requires English grammar knowledge for sentence correction, the GRE requires English vocabulary knowledge for text completion and sentence equivalence.
Generally, the learning of vocabulary for the GRE takes more prep time than the learning of grammar for GMAT sentence correction. Most English speakers with grammatical proficiency for GMAT sentence correction still need to liven up their vocabularies to get to the GRE level.
People who excel at memorizing lots of information – like the definitions of a few hundred words – will be well-suited to GRE verbal prep. People who struggle with memorization but like to think conceptually might be better suited to prepare for critical reasoning and sentence correction on the GMAT.
There is no verdict on which test has an easier or harder verbal section. The sections are too different for any such comparison to make sense. It all depends on your own personal strengths and weaknesses – both in terms of content knowledge and in terms of thinking/learning style.
GMAT vs GRE: Writing Sections Head-to-Head
The GRE writing portion, called Analytical Writing, comprises two thirty-minute tasks: analyze an issue and analyze an argument. The “analyze an issue” task requires you to take a position on a brief statement and to construct your own argument in support of your position. The “analyze an argument” task provides you with a short paragraph in which an author supports their own position on an issue.
For this task, you will not construct your own argument but critique the argument in the prompt, identifying the assumptions and facts upon which it relies for strength and validity.
The GMAT has only one thirty-minute writing portion, called the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), which is functionally identical to the GRE’s “analyze an argument” task.
Here the main difference is in the amount of time you have to spend writing. The GRE writing portion takes an hour and always comes before your quant and verbal sections, which can leave you feeling worn out while you still have almost three hours to go.
The GMAT writing portion is only half an hour and can be done after all other sections of your test. Still, the writing portion, while not altogether meaningless, is not mainly what these tests are about, so the difference in the “stamina factor” on this portion shouldn’t weigh heavily in your decision for one test or another.
GMAT vs GRE: Integrated Reasoning on the GMAT
The GMAT includes one section for which the GRE has no parallel: integrated reasoning. This thirty-minute, separately-scored section involves processing information from paragraphs, tables, and graphs in order to answer questions on the data.
The idea is for the section to integrate the quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning skills showcased independently on the other sections. If you develop these skills in the course of preparing for those sections, you’ll probably handle the integrated reasoning section without much difficulty.
It doesn’t require you to learn any additional content and essentially comes down to processing information fast enough, which comes with a bit of practice. Don’t let this scare you away from the GMAT.
Let’s review some key points in a helpful table:
|Unique GMAT prep challenges||Unique GRE prep challenges|
|learn non-calculator skills||master geometry and statistics|
|learn grammar for sentence correction||learn 100-500 vocab words|
|learn critical reasoning||build extra stamina (longer test)|
In the end, the choice may come down to (1) your current strengths and weaknesses and (2) the differences in your aptitude for learning the content/building the skills for each test. The aim of this article is not to steer you toward one test or the other, but to provide you with the information to help you take the right first step in choosing the right test for you.
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Contributor: Elijah Mize (Apex GRE Instructor)Read more