What is the difference between the GMAT and the GRE? Essentially, the GMAT predicts how suitable a candidate is for a business school program, whereas the GRE does the same for graduate study programs. Both tests have been created for native English speakers, which means foreigners are at an immediate disadvantage, especially in the verbal sections. This is particularly true of the GRE.

The GMAT has for some time been the established test for getting into business schools. It measures verbal, mathematical and analytical skills that the candidate has developed in education and at work. It does not measure specific knowledge of business, job skills, or subjective qualities such as motivation, creativity, and interpersonal skills. Even if a test taker’s first language is not English, he or she may still perform well on the exam.

Most recently, Stanford and MIT have decided to accept GRE scores for their MBA programs in order to facilitate a move towards accepting younger business school candidates. How far this change will go remains to be seen, however it is likely that the GMAT will remain the test of choice for top MBA programs in the foreseeable future.

The GRE measures the extent to which undergraduate education has developed a student’s verbal and quantitative skills in abstract thinking. For non-native speakers, the GRE requires a far broader knowledge of vocabulary, writing skills and general subjects than the GMAT. Without good English and writing skills it is impossible to get a good score in the GRE. So, for non-fluent English speakers, our advice in this case is to stick with the GMAT.

More than just a GMAT score

Conversely, non-native English speakers hold trump cards other than high GMAT scores. In the UK candidates are likely to be at a disadvantage if they are white and British, even with a great GMAT score. Business schools are striving to diversify so applicants from countries that have recently joined the European Union, like Bulgaria and Romania, stand a good chance of being accepted, as do those from smaller Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The MBA is still relatively new in those countries with the QS World MBA Tour bringing top international business schools there for only a couple of years. If the schools are really interested in an applicant, and the whole application stands out as being “special”, the school might accept a lower GMAT score. Should these candidates be women, their chances increase three-fold.

Schools are also seeking to broaden their appeal to candidates from wider backgrounds. Candidates are still more commonly from management, finance or accounting backgrounds, but those who can be described as publishers, filmmakers, lawyers, theatre agents or graduates in law, medicine or literature are on top of the list for MBA admissions.

Difference between the GMAT and the GRE

The GRE requires you to do the arguing, whereas in the GMAT you analyze what has been argued. The style expected from GRE test readers is more abstract and draws from various sources and disciplines for examples or references, whereas it is more concrete and analytical for the GMAT.  Does a future manager actually have to be able to write his argument or does he just have to be able to recognize a good one?

This supports the suitability of the GRE for the more academically-minded student. Perhaps Stanford and MIT should be congratulated for their foresight in recognizing that future leaders may lie in waiting in academic circles.


The essential advice is to first ask the schools you are applying to which tests they will accept. Look closely at the GMAT and GRE tests and see how you feel about both of them. If you have taken the GRE and got a good score you can always ask the schools if they will consider it.

Remember, admissions look at the overall package – your test scores, essays, your background and your motivation. Applying for an MBA is not an overnight decision; it is a new start in your career, whether or not you are accepted.

It may take eight months to two years from the first thought about doing an MBA until acceptance. The MBA research process allows you to assess your career path to date. You might very well end up deciding an MBA is not for you!

If you decide to go ahead with your application, you know you have made the right decision and not just followed a spur of the moment whim. Good luck with your MBA application, whichever test you decide to take.

The MBA Center helps prospective MBA students enhance their chances of admission to business schools. It also works with MBA programs, assisting them in identifying and reaching qualified candidates for admission. Services include candidacy assessment, school selection, GMAT and TOEFL preparation, essay and resume editing, interview preparation and career orientation.