by: David Recine

To take the GRE or GMAT. For so many grad school hopefuls, that is the question. Both of these exams are widely accepted, with testing facilities available across the world. Both of these exams are required for certain graduate programs. So how do you answer the GRE vs. GMAT question? There are a few factors to consider.

Who requires the GRE?

The GRE is required for some—but not all—graduate programs. Graduate degree programs in fields that are heavy in math or science (informatics, economics, engineering, biology, etc…) are likely to require the GRE. Master’s and Doctoral degrees that are less focused on numbers or the hard sciences (education, English literature, history, and so on) are less likely to ask for a GRE score.

In general, you’re more likely to need a GRE score if you’re applying for a Doctoral program rather than a Master’s. And top ranked and schools are the most likely to require the GRE for admission into any graduate program, Master’s or Doctoral, hard science or humanities.

Who requires the GMAT?

The GMAT is strictly for business-related graduate programs. The exam is specifically geared toward business management, so Master’s and Doctoral programs in business administration most often require a GMAT score for admission.

Still, there are plenty of business administration programs that do not strictly require the GMAT. To give a couple of examples, Stanford University’s MBA program will accept either GMAT or GRE scores, and Babson College does not require the GMAT for its MBA.

GMAT vs. GRE: How hard is each test?

Exactly how hard you’ll find the GRE or GMAT depends a lot on your own personal skill sets. The tests are structured in a similar way. Both have an Analytical Writing component and sections for Verbal and Quantitative skills.

In terms of Verbal, the GRE is much more focused on vocabulary, with a lot of advanced academic words and phrases. In contrast, the GMAT Verbal section uses more common words and phrases, comparable to the language you’d see in a popular business publication such as Bloomberg or Forbes. But the GMAT is more rigorous when it comes to grammar, testing grammar knowledge at a high, complex level.

Where math is concerned, both exams have the same kinds of problems: arithmetic, algebra, data interpretation, and word problems. However, the GMAT tests these skill areas in a much more sophisticated way, with complex data sets that tie into real-world business contexts. Test-takers and test prep experts alike all agree that GMAT math is harder than the math on the GRE.

On the other hand, the GRE clearly has a more difficult essay section, because this exam requires two essays instead of just 1. GRE AWA requires an argument analysis essay and an issue analysis essay, while GMAT AWA only requires argument analysis.

The takeaway

Whether you should take the GRE or GMAT depends largely on what kind of grad degree you want, and at which school. Which test you can do best on, based on your skills in Quants, Verbal, and AWA, is also a very important factor. Other factors you may want to consider include test format, the fees for prep and testing, and so on.

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent.