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GRE vs. GMAT: Which is Better for You?

January 17, 2020

Consider the following: 

The number of boxes in a warehouse can be divided evenly into 6 equal shipments by boat or 27 equal shipments by truck. What is the smallest number of boxes that could be in the warehouse?

(A) 27

(B) 33

(C) 54

(D) 81

(E) 162

This Least Common Multiple question from the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) might make your spine tingle a little, but hopefully not too much. It's the same type of question that thousands of test-takers see as they take the entrance exam that could either open the doors of opportunity or send them back to the books to study more. 

An entrance exam such as the GMAT or the Graduate Records Exam (GRE) is required for almost every graduate program in the United States, but the type of accepted exam varies from program to program. For example, ISU graduate programs accept both the GMAT and the GRE on the admissions application. Since both are accepted, you may have wondered which one you should take! While the answer to that question should depend on your goals and the requirements of your intended program, you will need to know some details about these choices in order to make an informed decision. 

By the way, the correct answer to the question above is E. 

Entrance Exams

Graduate program admissions boards use entrance exam scores to judge whether an applicant has had satisfactory preparation in the areas of critical thinking, verbal and quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Combined with other application materials such as the statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, writing samples, and undergraduate GPA, the entrance exam scores help the admissions board evaluate how well a candidate will perform in a specific program. 

The application for a graduate business program at ISU is no different; scores from either the GRE or GMAT are accepted as part of the application, with a minimum score requirement. Applicants who score above the minimum demonstrate that they are prepared with the reasoning skills necessary to be successful in an ISU graduate business program. 

What is the GRE?

The GRE, the Graduate Records Examination, is the world's most widely accepted graduate program entrance exam. It is used to evaluate applicants to all types of programs from business to engineering, social science, and education. Costing $205, the GRE can be taken at verified testing centers (which can be found at and is usually taken as a computer-based exam. Scores are valid for five years after taking the test. There are five sections of the exam, the total lasting about 4 hours. These sections will be covered in more detail below.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is the Graduate Management Admissions Test and is a graduate entrance exam used to evaluate candidates specifically for graduate business programs. Because of its specificity to business (including accounting, economics, and finance), the test covers similar material to the GRE but within the applied business setting. Costing $250, the GMAT is taken at verified testing centers which can be scheduled at There are 4 major sections, the total test lasting about four hours.  

Which one should I take?

If you are serious about attending a graduate business program, chances are that you have already looked at the application requirements for the programs you have considered. If the GRE and GMAT are both listed as acceptable entrance exams, then what next? The following points may help your decision, along with this really handy infographic:


  • What program do you want to attend?


If you are sure that you want to attend a business school, the GMAT will show your commitment to business programs and may open doors to a wider range of business schools to which you can apply; however, "74 percent of business schools said they had no preference between the two exams. This includes some of the country’s most prestigious business schools, such as Harvard Business School, Yale School of Management, and Stanford Graduate School of Business, who have made it a point to specifically state that they view the two exams equally" ( Another source indicated that 90 percent of business schools in the US accept both the GMAT and the GRE. So if all of your prospective programs accept both exams, then choose the one that will showcase your strengths in the best way!

If you are not yet sure about attending a business program, or think that you may pursue a more interdisciplinary degree, the GRE may be a better option. As few non-business programs will accept the GMAT, taking the GRE will keep your options open in case you decide to pursue studies in a different subject in the future. 

For a complete list of which graduate schools accept the GRE or GMAT, see a complete listing here: 





  • What is your background? 


Because the GRE is used to test applicants for a wide range of disciplines, the context of the test is agnostic to the test-taker's background. For this reason, the questions will feel similar to other standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT taken for undergraduate admissions. On the other hand, as the GMAT is specifically designed for prospective students of graduate business programs, many questions on the GMAT contain a business orientation and context. For example, the GRE may ask a question like this to evaluate knowledge of percent increase/decrease: "By what percent did the number of students in the school decrease from 2010 to 2011?"  A similar question may be asked this way on the GMAT: "The profits of QRS Company rose 10% from March to April, then dropped 20% from April to May, then rose 50% from May to June. What was the percent increase for the whole quarter, from March to June?" Because of this business orientation, you may prefer the GMAT if you studied business as an undergraduate or if you have business experience. Conversely, you may prefer the GRE if you think more theoretically than practically, or more as a scientist-practitioner than a businessperson. 


  • Vocabulary or Grammar?


Which of these two questions do you prefer?

GRE Text Completion: 

Tentative, fearful even, his first forays into the theatrical arts were hardly __________.

  1. Unheralded
  2. Auspicious
  3. Restrained
  4. Unpropitious
  5. Satisfactory

GMAT Sentence Correction: 

Major League Baseball policy prohibits use of anabolic steroids, HGH, and no illegal drugs.

  1. and no
  2. and any
  3. or no
  4. or any
  5. or anything that would be an 

You may have noticed that the first question emphasizes vocabulary, while the second emphasizes grammar. These are typical characteristics of the respective exams, so which did you prefer? Those with a strong vocabulary may prefer the GRE, while the GRE caters to strong editors. If neither one stands out to you, then which would you rather study: vocabulary or grammar? Some people prepare for the GRE by studying Latin roots, learning new words each day, and by reading complex literature. If that's not your cup of tea, you may prefer studying for the GMAT by making a grammar primer your daily fare. 

And by the way, the answer to the first question is B, and the second is D.


  • To Calculate or Not To Calculate


Take a stab at these questions: 

GRE Quantitative Comparison:

 The average (arithmetic mean) high temperature for x days is 70 degrees. The addition of one day with a high temperature of 75 degrees increases the average to 71 degrees.  If Quantity A = x and Quantity B = 5, which of the following statements are true?

(A) Quantity A is greater. 

(B) Quantity B is greater. 

(C) The two quantities are equal. 

(D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

GMAT Data Sufficiency:

If Ed’s annual salary is $360,000 what is Rick’s annual salary?

(1) The sum of Rick’s annual salary and Jim’s annual salary is equal to Ed’s annual salary.

(2) The sum of Rick’s annual salary and Ed’s annual salary is equal to twice Jim’s annual salary.

A) Statement 1 ALONE is sufficient to answer the question, but statement 2 alone is NOT sufficient.

B) Statement 2 ALONE is sufficient to answer the question, but statement 1 alone is NOT sufficient.

C) BOTH statements 1 and 2 TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.

D) Each statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question.

E) Statement 1 and 2 TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question.

You might see why you would not want to take either of these exams without some significant study time; these are not your average math questions. You probably noticed that they are not asking for any value or calculation, but instead if the information given is sufficient to determine what the true value is. 

Most experts say that the quantitative reasoning section on the GMAT is more difficult than on the GRE. From the Princeton Review, "In general, the GMAT suits those who have strong quantitative and analytical skills, who also excel at interpreting data presented in charts, tables, and text to solve complex problems" ( If you prefer to approach problems and tasks from a very analytical perspective, then the GMAT might be for you. If you choose the GMAT, remember that the math section does not allow a calculator, so you may want to dust off those mental calculation skills.

While the GRE math section is more straightforward and allows a calculator, both sections test similar concepts and require advance preparation. The Economist reports that "ultimately, the GRE and GMAT have more in common than they have differences. To succeed at either, you'll need mastery of essential math—algebra, arithmetic, geometry, data analysis—as well as reading and critical reasoning skills and efficient test-taking strategies."


And in case you were wondering, the answer to these two questions are B and C. 


One thing can be certain; no matter which exam you choose to take, you will want to develop a study strategy that allows you to get the score you need. While not all programs require minimum scores, some will post the median score for the current cohort to give you an idea of the scores that are expected for admission. Take a practice test to determine your base score and to get your feet wet, then start practicing! These two links are for completely free practice tests. There are many out there, and some will even give a breakdown of how you scored and where you should focus your time for practicing. 



ISU has many resources to help students prepare for these exams: 

  1. ISU’s Student Success Center provides GRE prep classes and materials. Here is the link to the Student Success Center’s GRE Information:
  2. The Oboler Library has many resources for the GRE and GMAT including books and ebooks.  The librarians at the Oboler Library can be very helpful.
  3. The Idaho LearningExpress Library is open to all Idaho Residents and provides free on-line practice tests with tutorials:

GMAT Practice Test 1:

GMAT Practice Test 2:

  1. Olympus Test Prep has partnered with ISU and offers a discount to our students.  They have also provided links to some information and free videos. For more information on these discounts and free videos, contact Gail Hunt in the College of Business Student Services Office (BA 510).