In part one of our guide to the GMAT and GRE, we discussed the purpose of these standardised tests for business school admission, as well as the differences in test structure and individual components. 

In this article, we will go deeper into the main sections of each test and give you some examples of what to expect and what skills you will need to master the GMAT or GRE.


GMAT vs. GRE: Verbal

If we had to sum up the key difference between the two V sections, it would be that the GRE seems more focused on vocabulary than the GMAT. The easiest way to visualise this is by looking at two question types present in the GRE: Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence.

GRE test question

GRE test question

Figure 2: Sample GRE Verbal Questions of Text Completion (above) and Sentence Equivalence (below) types.

As you can see, these questions often require knowledge of rather unusual words.

When was the last time you used “providential” or “ameliorated” in a conversation?

Answering these questions will require that you know the meaning of many unique words, with less focus on how you construct a sentence with them.

For example, in the Text Completion example, you need to know which word is synonymous with “success” for Blank (i), and synonymous with “prone to violence” for Blank (ii).

In the Sentence Equivalence example, you need to figure out what meaning fits best in the blank and choose two words from the six choices which mean the same (D. “exacerbated” and F. “worsened”).

On the other hand, the GMAT focuses more on grammar, or the ability to understand written arguments.

GMAT Test question

Figure 3: Sample GMAT Verbal Question of Sentence Correction type.

The example above requires knowledge of the grammatical rules of the English language, to the extent that you can compose a sentence that obeys these rules and minimises ambiguity. The words used in GMAT questions are more commonly used and easier to understand than in some GRE questions. 

If you are an English native speaker, many of the GMAT Sentence Correction questions may boil down to what “sounds right” to you: many native speakers take grammatical rules for granted and are less aware of technicalities in sentence construction than adult learners of English. This might result in you doing well for these questions without really understanding why.

If you are not an English native speaker, it could depend then on your native tongue. Anecdotally, native speakers of Germanic/Romanic languages (e.g.: German, Dutch, French) seem to have an easier time learning English grammar, while native speakers of Asian languages (e.g.: Chinese, Japanese, Korean) may find it easier to absorb vocabulary via rote learning.

Regardless, reading as widely as possible is a proven method for improving your skills in general for either test.

Journals such as the Financial Times or other reputable formal publications tend to write in the styles that are favoured by the GMAT and GRE, so being exposed to such writing will naturally improve your ability to understand and construct such sentences.

Specifically for the GRE, there are many recommended word lists online that you can pick up. Personally, we recommend a slow-and-steady approach. Some computer operating systems have an in-built “word of the day” function which you should take advantage of.

Set yourself a target of learning three new words every day – words that you have never come across whose meanings are new to you. We have found this to be an effective and relatively painless way of expanding our vocabulary.

GMAT vs GRE Verbal

GMAT vs GRE: Quantitative

To us, the main difference between the GMAT and GRE Q sections is that the GRE requires slightly “harder” math skills, with a little more focus on precision and computation.

One indicator of this is that the GRE provides an on-screen calculator for its Q section, whereas the GMAT does not. We personally felt that a calculator during the GRE would have been very helpful (we did not realise one was provided), whereas during the GMAT it really was not necessary.

One important takeaway is that being exposed to numbers in your work/studies is not always a sure way to become adept at these Q sections.

For example, some finance professionals handle numbers and equations all the time, but many of them still struggle with the Q section. Our guess is that such exposure typically involves plugging numbers into equations or applying well-known equations (IRR, WACC, various ratios) to situations, but the Q sections demand additional skills.

In the GMAT, one important skill is the ability to think and reason logically: if I know this quantity x, based on these assumptions, what does it tell me about quantity y? This line of thinking does not always require the computation of what x is, which is why calculators in the GMAT are not very necessary.

Strangely enough, we have found that playing logic games such as Sudoku have been helpful.

Also, since the GMAT usually only requires rough calculations, being adept with basic mental arithmetic can help you save time and work on questions faster. This means being comfortable with ballpark calculations: if you see 503×157 for instance, approximate it to 500×160=80,000. This is usually good enough for most purposes within the GMAT.

On the other hand, the GRE places more emphasis on mathematical knowledge, such as Cartesian coordinates, geometry, manipulating algebraic equations, and so on. If most of that was gibberish to you, be prepared to put in a little revision time!

GRE Quantitative question

Figure 4: Sample GRE Quantitative Question of Numerical Entry type

A typical GRE Q question like the one above may test straightforward computation skills. Because the question demands a precise answer instead of providing choices, candidates are forced to calculate the answer. 

GMAT Quantitative question

Figure 5: Sample GMAT Quantitative Question of Data Sufficiency type.

On the other hand, this GMAT question illustrates that the actual calculation is not important. Instead, you need to assess the information given.

In the example above, knowing that commission is 6% and the dollar amount of selling price minus commission gives you all the data needed to compute the selling price. Also, knowing that the selling price was 250% of the original price makes it easy to compute the selling price. At no point are you required to do the computation, merely to figure out if you can.

The examples above illustrate the somewhat different skills tested by the GMAT and GRE.

This is not to say that the GMAT requires no computation at all, or that the GRE does not require any logical thinking! There is simply some emphasis one way or the other but both tests are ultimately designed to test a similar range of skills.

GMAT vs GRE Analytical Writing

GMAT vs. GRE: Analytical Writing 

In the AW section, test takers are required to write out a response to a given question. For the GMAT, candidates are usually asked to analyse and evaluate an argument.

This means you will have to read an excerpt from an article, identify the argument or claim being made, and apply critical thinking skills to assess if the argument is well-reasoned or not. Note that this is not the same as saying if you agree with the stance of the argument or not.

In the GRE, candidates will write two essays, one of which will be very similar to the GMAT question type stated above, which in GRE lingo is “Analyse an Argument”.

The other essay type, known as “Analyse an Issue”, requires you to take a stand on a particular issue and construct a well-reasoned argument to support your stand. Simply speaking, in the first essay type you are called upon to critique an argument; in the second essay type you are tasked to compose one of your own.

The key skills needed here are a reasonable level of proficiency in English as well as critical thinking. This means that you need to know how to identify an argument, spot its premises, assumptions, claims, and so on. 


So, what does all this mean for you? In part three of our series, we will give you some suggestions as well as a five-step plan to prepare and ace your chosen test. 

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