The format of the tests emphasize different skills.

Some graduate schools will tell you which admissions test to take. Others give you a choice. If you must decide whether to take the GRE or GMAT, it is worth your time to determine which test and format is a better match for you.

Even if you already know which standardized test you will take, you should be prepared for the number and types of questions you will face. Knowing the format is how you can get your very best score!

GRE Format

The GRE format will be slightly different depending on whether you complete it on a computer or by paper.

The computer-based GRE takes up to three hours—or more if an unscored “research” section is included at the end. The paper-based test can last nearly four hours.

Computer-based format

Section

Questions

Time

Analytical Writing

1 issue task

45 minutes

Analytical Writing

1 argument task

30 minutes

Verbal Reasoning

30

30 minutes

Quantitative Reasoning

28

45 minutes

Unscored Section

varies

varies

Research

varies

varies

Paper-based format

Analytical Writing

1 issue task

45 minutes

Analytical Writing

1 argument task

30 minutes

Verbal (2 sections)

38 per section

30 minutes per section

Quantitative (2 sections)

30 per section

30 minutes per section

Unscored Section

varies

30 minutes

The unscored section is unidentified, so be sure to do your very best throughout the entire test. You can’t be sure which section won’t count toward your final score!

If a research section is included on your computer-based test, it will be identified and will always be at the end of the test.

You can choose one of two topics for your writing issue task. You must use the one topic you receive for your argument task. The writing sections are always first on both tests, but the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections can appear in any order.

GMAT Format

Although the GMAT is for future business students, the test doesn’t examine your business skills. Instead, the format appears similar to the GRE.

Section

Questions

Time

Analytical Writing

1 issue task

30 minutes

Analytical Writing

1 argument task

30 minutes

Quantitative

37

75 minutes

Verbal

41

75 minutes

Is Your Test Computer-Adaptive?

The GMAT and computer-based GRE are both computer-adaptive tests. That means the computer will choose what questions you are asked based on your answer to the previous question.

For example, if you answer the first question correctly, you next will receive a more difficult question. If you answer the first question incorrectly, you will receive an easier question.

You must answer the questions in the order they are given. You cannot skip a question and answer it later.

Your score is based on several factors, including:

  • the total number of questions you answer.
  • the number of questions you answer correctly.
  • the questions’ level of difficulty.

Obviously, the paper-based GRE cannot be computer-adaptive.

If you are completing the paper format, be sure you answer all of the questions! Nothing is deducted from your score if you give a wrong answer. Remember: If you take this test, you also can return to a question in the section you are working on and change your answer.

Which Test Should You Take?

First of all, check with the graduate schools that you want to attend. They may tell you which one to take, depending on your course of study. Most people who plan to study business or management take the GMAT. Others are usually asked to take the GRE.

If your college gives you a choice, keep several things about the GMAT and GRE formats in mind. If you are superb at math, the GMAT might be for you. If you have an excellent English vocabulary, you might want to take the GRE.

If English is your second language, some people suggest you stick with the GMAT because of the GRE’s challenging vocabulary.

You can take GMAT and GRE sample tests if you are still unsure which test to take. Then you can determine which format you find easier and on which you are more likely to get the higher score.

Start Prepping!

No matter which you choose, be sure you prepare for the specific test you will take. The GRE and GMAT seem similar, but each has a different format. That is good news for you if you pick the test that highlights your areas of expertise!