GRE vs GMAT comparison: Which One Is Harder?

GRE v. GMAT Thinking about getting an MBA? Bet you already checked out schools and your company’s educational financing. Odds are the one thing keeping you from getting started is a graduate admissions exam. The good news is that you now can choose the exam that works best for you, but you still have consider GRE v. GMAT.

Princeton Review reports that most business graduate schools are accepting both the GRE and the GMAT. Make sure to double-check your university’s preferences. Here are some questions and prep courses that will help you move from being that person always thinking about graduate school to that terrific MBA student.

5. One degree or two?


Take time to learn how to navigate the MBA admissions process and select the right kind of MBA program for you. Educational counseling firm Clear Admit and the social network Beat the GMAT joined forces to create the course MBA Admission: How to Get into Business School. This course offers guidance on how to select the best school and the best program, how to market yourself, how to write admission essays, whom to ask for recommendations, how to plan your application schedule, and even what strategies are best if you are waitlisted.

MBA program administrators are partnering with other graduate departments on their campuses to create specialized dual or joint degrees. Vanderbilt University offers joint degrees from its law school and the Owen Graduate School of Management. Their graduates are especially well prepared to move through the law firm ranks into senior management. Stanford Graduate School of Business encourages its students to consider joint degrees in computer science, education, public policy, and environment resources, as well as a dual degree in medicine.  The computer science/MBA grads are uniquely equipped to lead IT companies while the environmental/MBA grads are the next global environmental managers. The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and Boston College offer dual MBA and masters of social worker degrees. Their graduates are prepared to head non-profit service organizations.

Once you know the kind of MBA you are seeking, you can better consider the best testing option. If you are seeking a dual degree, the GRE may be the best option. GMAT is still the gold standard for solo MBA degree programs, but the second graduate school is going to require the GRE. Taking two tests is going to drive up your costs considerably.

4. Just how scared are you of tests?

studentEvery professor, including me, will tell you that one of the best ways to reduce test anxiety is to be prepared. Invest in a test prep course. Prep books are good in a pinch or if you are on a remote Korean military base without internet, which is where I was when I took the GRE. Frankly, I got into graduate school despite my test scores, not because of them. I had a 4.0 GPA all the way through an excellent, highly competitive graduate school, so I should have done better on the GRE (no, I’m not bitter…much.) An online course would have helped loads because it would have guided me systematically through test preparation rather than the hit-or-miss review that I adopted for myself. I don’t like tests and that fact showed up in my scores.

You will do better on the test and be less anxious if you take an interactive, online class. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Magoosh offers two terrific classes: Introduction to the GRE and Introduction to the GMAT.  Each course teaches you how to pace yourself, when to skip questions, and when to guess. Knowing these basic strategies can mean literally up to a hundred points difference in your score.

GRE and GMAT test scores are considered viable for five years, so you probably won’t have to take the test a second time unless you want to improve your results. Knowing you only have to take one test one time helps reduce anxiety. However, you still have to take at least one. If you only are applying for MBA programs, then you are best off taking the GMAT. Business schools are more accustomed to it, even if they are admitting GRE scores now. But, if you are applying for different types of graduate programs, have a limited budget, or hate taking multiple tests, then you are okay still with just taking the GRE.

Relaxation strategies will help you maintain focus even when working complex tests. Experienced educator Paul Griffin leads a class Meditations In An Emergency: How To Conquer Test Anxiety, offering a step-by-step guide to deep breathing with a calm body, confident mind, and focused spirit.  Belly breathing sounds like a funny term, but it helps you center in on your body’s needs. Focusing on the oxygen coming into your lungs and expelling all that nasty tension seems like a much better strategy than panicking over a test question.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Sean Sullivan applies cutting edge brain science to systematic steps for detoxing life stress. The 21 Day Master Stress and Anxiety Program guides you into making a New Life Map so that you can achieve your goals, and for you, that means getting into graduate school. Understanding how those neuron pathways work, or as Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot says, “exercising the little grey cells,” enhances your ability to take control of your life.

3. How well do you read charts?

chartWe’re talking business charts, not eye charts. The GMAT folks introduced a question format that they call integrated reasoning.  Test takers evaluate and synthesize data from charts, tables, graphics, text, and numerical reports. You must identify relationships to solve complex, multi-step problems. On one hand, these are the kind of big data problems business managers are asked to solve routinely. On the other hand, these problems are really tough. Simply put, the GRE doesn’t include integrated reasoning questions.  You have to decide which plays to your strengths.

Rishabh Pugalia, founder of Excel Next, offers a course Excel Charts – Online Training, which will give you tools in being able to read everything from an exploded pie chart to an 80:20 stacked column chart. Don’t know a thermometer chart from a trendline? Pugalia gives you graph instruction and an ebook with guidance on how to create charts of your own. You also want to check out Finance: Ratios Analysis and Interpretation because it covers liquidity, solvency, activity, profitability, and valuation. Pugalia tells you how to calculate ratios, which is pretty important on the quantitative section on both tests.

2. How good is your English?

englishNotice that question is different from asking whether you are a native speaker of English. Both tests are designed for native speakers, but the GRE puts a big emphasis on vocabulary, lots of vocabulary, and lots of advanced vocabulary. Do you know what laconic means? The GRE is not laconic. However, if you are a raconteur, you will have copious words at your command. If not, invest in vocabulary building activities. Average GRE vocabulary flashcard services offer 500 words; the good programs give you 1,500 words or more. Wolfgang Reibe teaches advanced recall in Improve your Memory NOW: Easy Techniques.

Often ESL learners have a better grasp of English grammar than native speakers. The GMAT places a greater emphasis on logic and grammar, which can help or hurt depending on your abilities. Make sure you know what a verbal means, what causes a sentence fragment, and why comma splices are a really bad idea. Saying ‘x is different than y‘ makes perfect sense when you say it out loud, but you will lose points on the GMAT unless you go with ‘x is different from y.’ Really.

One of the biggest challenges for non-native speakers is the phrasal verb. Those are the verbs that change meaning when a preposition is added, such as turning ‘work’ into ‘work out.’ Just think how much trouble you can get into if you don’t understand the meaning of ‘crack up’ or ‘hook up’ or ‘chill out.’ Oh, the possibilities for mischief mismanagement are endless.  Internationally recognized ESL guru Gabby Wallace teaches Focus on ESL Skills: Phrasal Verbs. She explains the multiple possible meanings of 40 phrasal verbs and includes four skill-building quizzes. Knowing the nuances dramatically can improve your understanding of test questions.

The GRE asks you to write two essays, compared with one essay in the GMAT. English Professor Amy Lynn Hess can help you out in her course Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing.  I write and teaching writing for a living. Lynn offers the kinds of skills I want my students to be able to use brilliantly. She teaches students pre-writing, outlining, offering valid evidence for supporting arguments, and editing quickly and effectively.

Bottom line: If you feel good about your English skills, then either test will work for you. If you have a great vocabulary but struggle with grammar, then go for the GRE. If you are not a native speaker, then the GMAT is probably your safer bet.

1. How do you feel about math…really?

algebra basicsYes, that was a feeling question about a math test and it was not an oxymoron. The answer to this question is the single most important on this list. Business schools want to know your strengths in math (or as the Brits say, maths).  The GRE and the GMAT approach math differently. The GRE asks you to manipulate numbers quickly. The GMAT asks you to approach word problems systematically.

Both tests require the basic same math skills and one online course can help you no matter which you choose: GRE and GMAT Math – So Easy a Child Could Do It. Corey Moore is a top- notch math tutor who helps students build confidence while gaining competence. He includes 70 sample problems complete with oral and written explanations on finding the best answer fast.

Oh, could I have used this course back in South Korea while I was prepping for the GRE. Math was not my strong suit, ever. I pored over that blasted prep book till the numbers blurred together. I can still smell the dusty, cheap newsprint pages. If only I had somebody to explain the basics rather than trying to dissect it all by myself. That feeling of helplessness stuck with me when I took the GRE on the army base. I taught English; everybody else taking the test was a soldier.  They visibly were more comfortable during the quantitative section while I was in a math-y fog. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do math — remember I got all As in grad school, including statistics; it was that I didn’t have the test taking skills to find the right answer quickly. And, quick calculations are what Moore offers as a key skill in his class. Take a prep course. You will make your life easier.

Moore offers another must-have GMAT prep course: GMAT Math – Data Sufficiency Made Easy. Data sufficiency is a major difference between the quantitative sections in the two tests. The GMAT asks test-takers to determine if they have enough information within a given problem to adequately answer the question. Here is an example:

What is the value of x?

1. The square of x is 81.

2. x(x-9)=0

A. Statement 1 is sufficient, but Statement 2 alone is not sufficient to answer the question.

B. Statement 2 is sufficient, but Statement 1 alone is not sufficient to answer the question.

C. Both statements taken together are sufficient to answer the question, but neither statement alone is sufficient.

D. Each statement alone is sufficient.

E. Statements 1 and 2 together are not sufficient, and additional data is needed to answer the question.

Please know that is a super-simplified question I made up myself. If data sufficiency makes your brain hurt, you may be safer sticking to the GRE, or check out what Moore can teach you.

Final answer

Both the GRE and GMAT testing companies let you take an online practice test for free.  If one score is fantastically higher, then that’s the test probably best for you. If the scores about the same, then consider your strengths based on your responses to the questions in this article. Bottom line: Take one of the tests. It’s the one thing stopping you from beginning the next phrase of your life. You are going to enjoy being a student again.

Other courses to consider:

Updated by Ginny Whitehouse