When intending to obtain a master's degree one will quickly come across the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Understanding which one you need to take and whether you have a choice between the two can depend on your intentions. This article will make it clear when you don't have a choice and what your preference may be if you do have a choice.

GMAT

Why take the GMAT?

The first thing to understand is that the GMAT is only for those pursuing an MBA or certain economics programs, so if you're planning on pursuing a non-business related master's degree you would not take the GMAT. Many business schools prefer the GMAT over the GRE (unofficially), therefore, taking GMAT is definitely the way to go if you are absolutely committed to attending business schools.

From an employment perspective many investment banks and recruiters will also review GMAT scores, and generally won't consider GRE scores seriously.

Structure of the GMAT

The GMAT is a four section exam:
  • 30-minute analytic section
  • 30-minute integrated reasoning section
  • 75-minute quantitative (math) section
  • 75-minute verbal section
The math section of the GMAT is considered by many to be excruciatingly difficult and when combined with the other sections preparation for the GMAT can take a significant amount of time. The grading curve is very difficult and getting a score in the top percentile is considered nearly impossible.

GRE

Why take the GRE?

If you are pursuing a non-business master's degree then you would take the GRE, as those programs would not generally accept the GMAT. Some people who want to attend business school will still consider the GRE for several reasons:
  • They're not 100% sure they will get into a business school and having results to use elsewhere as a backup is useful
  • The GRE is generally easier to prepare for and doesn't require months of preparation
  • The grading curve is easier and getting a high percentile result is more attainable
  • Students who struggle with math but have strong writing and verbal skills will likely score higher on the GRE

Structure of the GRE

The GRE is a six section exam:
  • 75-minute analytic section with two essays
  • 30-minute verbal section (twice)
  • 35-minute quantitative (math) section (twice)
  • 30-minute experimental section (math or verbal)
Students who struggle with writing and vocabulary can struggle with the GRE with the emphasis that it has on those concepts. Many international students who have English as a second language will be more inclined to take the GMAT as a result.

So which exam should I take?

The only time this decision is applicable is when you are planning on attending a business school. Considering the preference of schools and employers for the GMAT that should naturally be your default choice when selecting between the GMAT vs. the GRE. However, if you know that your math skills will sink your score regardless of the studying you would do, then you would want to lean towards the GRE. The GMAT is a very difficult exam and if you're not prepared to spend months preparing for it you would likely be inclined to take the GRE instead. The preparation can take 100's of hours in order to be fully prepared so it's not a small undertaking to commit to this route.