Should you take the GMAT or GRE?

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Test takers taking the GRE.Standardized tests are fixtures of college admissions, including at the graduate level. Whereas undergrad applicants usually take the SAT or the ACT, students seeking a master’s degree or higher will typically sit for the GRE or a more specialized test such as the GMAT or MCAT. For admission to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program like the healthcare-focused track at the George Washington University (GW), you have the option to take either the GRE or the GMAT. Which one should you choose?

GMAT versus GRE breakdown: What you need to know

Both the GMAT and the GRE are computerized tests, with scores that their takers can electronically forward to designated schools for review. While the GMAT has a long historical association with business school admissions in particular, the GRE has become a viable alternative in recent years. Let’s look at a few key details of each test and why you might want to consider taking it.


Created in the 1950s, the GMAT originally contained only two segments — one each on verbal and quantitative. Its verbal content, which initially included questions on antonyms and analogies, were eventually revised to be friendlier to non-native English speakers, who now account for a significant portion of all GMAT test takers. Compared to the GRE, its quantitative reasoning section is widely considered more difficult.

In the 1990s, the test added its Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section, which includes an essay, and a computer adaptive test (CAT) format, both of which remain in place today. An integrated reasoning (IR) component debuted in 2012. The IR segment consists of 12 questions covering table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning and multi-part analysis. Due to its CAT format, every GMAT exam is unique, with questions based on the taker’s previous answers.

As of 2019, the test had the following structure:

  • A 62-minute quantitative section.
  • A 65-minute verbal section.
  • A 30-minute AWA section with one required essay.
  • A 30-minute IR section.

The GMAT follows a composite scoring format in a range of 10-point increments from 200 to 800. Both the AWA and IR sections are scored separately from the others. An AWA essay is evaluated in a range from 1 (deficient) to 6 (outstanding), while responses to the test’s 12 IR questions are rated along a similar scale from 1 to 8.

You might want to take the GMAT if:

The business school you’re applying to publishes its GMAT ranges.

This is usually a good sign that the school values this particular test and is deeply familiar with what a score might indicate about an applicant.

You are sure about going to business school.

Unlike the GRE, the GMAT’s acceptance is largely limited to MBA programs, meaning that you should be set on going to business school before investing the time and energy to prepare.

Your prospective MBA program doesn’t accept the GRE.
It’s increasingly common for MBA programs such as the GW HCMBA to accept either test, but you might find that some schools require one or the other (usually the GMAT).


The Graduate Record Examinations debuted in 1936 and have been a fixture of graduate admissions ever since. It has some broad similarities to the GMAT, along with some major differences. Like the GMAT, it includes a verbal and quantitative reasoning section, along with some required essay writing, all offered within a CAT format. In some parts of the world, the GRE is also available as a paper test.

The verbal section features questions on text completion, reading comprehension and sentence equivalence. It no longer includes antonym or analogy questions. The quantitative section tests the taker’s knowledge of high school mathematics. The analytical writing components requires two essays, the first on a topic chosen from a pool and the second in the form of a critique of a given argument’s logic, including recommendations for its improvement.

As of 2019, the test had the following structure:

  • A 60-minute analytical writing section (30 minutes per essay).
  • Two 30-minute verbal reasoning sections.
  • Two 35-minute quantitative reasoning sections.
  • A 30-35 minute experimental section that can be either verbal or quantitative.

The experimental section consists of questions that do not actually count toward your score and are instead designed for internal evaluation by ETS, the makers of the test. However, they are indistinguishable from real questions while taking the test, so it’s important to give them your full attention and attempt to give the right answer.

The verbal and quantitative sections each have a score in the range of 130 to 170, divided by 1-point increments. It’s possible to get a 170 despite answering a few questions wrong. The writing section follows a scale from 0 to 6 with half-point increments.

You might want to consider the GRE if:
You want to keep your options open
The GRE is more widely accepted than the GMAT. In addition to business schools, many graduate education institutions accept GRE scores and use them for admissions evaluations. As a result, the GRE can be useful if you plan to apply to more than just MBA programs. Its scores are valid for five years after the test date.

You want more straightforward quantitative questions
The GRE isn’t easier per se than the GMAT, but it tends to have less complicated quantitative questions. Plus, you get a calculator to help you along the way (this isn’t available on the GMAT).

How the GMAT and GRE prepare you for an MBA

Both tests have been built with a business school audience in mind. The mix of quantitative, verbal and writing skills they evaluate are crucial competencies for anyone seeking advanced opportunities in healthcare. Being an administrator, consultant or other healthcare leader entails knowing how to do everything from understanding a profit and loss statement to leading an organization-wide conference call. Good scores on either the GMAT or GRE can indicate ability to excel at these tasks and many others.

To learn more about the online healthcare MBA admissions process, visit the main admissions page or take a look at the program overview page today.

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