GRE vs TOEFL: What’s the Difference Between These Exams?

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: March 23, 2022

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are two standardized tests used in the application process of academic programs.

I have assisted hundreds of students with both of these exams, and I wanted to share some helpful information about them.

TOEFL and GRE have a few similarities but are also different in many areas.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • The GRE and TOEFL both have language sections that test your ability to understand and use English.
  • The GRE is used in admissions to graduate schools and has a mathematical reasoning section, analytical writing section, and a verbal reasoning portion.
  • The TOEFL is used as part of the admissions process for non-native English speakers and focuses only on the use of the language in written and spoken form.

Differences Between the GRE and TOEFL:

teen using a piggy bank and a hand view of a person working

These two tests have several differences that are important to understand.

1. Purpose

Both exams assess the test takers’ English language proficiency, but they each serve a different purpose.

The TOEFL test is used mainly for non-native English speakers in university admissions or work visas in countries that require it.

The TOEFL tests your listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. TOEFL scores are most frequently used with non-native speakers applying to an undergraduate academic setting.

Graduate schools more commonly use GRE tests to assess general knowledge of undergraduate-level material in quantitative reasoning and language subjects, as well as an applicant's ability to think critically about what they've learned. It also judges the students’ analytical writing skills.

2. Content

The GRE General Test has a quantitative reasoning section. This math section covers arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis topics [1]. Since these do not explicitly test English language capability, the TOEFL does not have a similar section.

The TOEFL has English language listening and speaking components that are not on the GRE verbal reasoning section. Compared to the TOEFL, GRE tests are more focused on graduate-level reading comprehension and writing.

3. Cost

The GRE costs $205 at most locations, both inside and outside the United States. The prices in India and China are a little higher, but otherwise, the prices don’t vary much.

The TOEFL tests have a more variable price than the GRE. Depending on your location, the TOEFL test may cost as little as $180 and as much as $325, depending on the testing country's location.

4. Availability

The GRE General Test is available at test centers more than 20 times per month and can be taken through the at-home program every day of the week, at whatever time the student wants to schedule it.

The TOEFL has fewer available test dates than the GRE. However, it is offered over 60 times per year at test center locations. It can also be taken at home but has fewer opportunities than the GRE - only four test dates per week [2].

Similarities Between the GRE and TOEFL:

hand view of people studying with books

These two tests have the following similarities: 

1. Administrator

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers both the GRE and TOEFL and is responsible for sending the standardized test scores to schools.

2. Computer-Based Testing

The GRE test and the TOEFL are both administered on computers. Test-takers usually take the test at a testing center.

Alternatively, you can also take these tests at home on a personal computer. This flexibility has only existed since the onset of the pandemic but is a great way to help you find a time that fits your schedule to take your test.

3. Length

These exams, though not precisely equal in length, are very close. The GRE lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes, while the TOEFL is 3 hours and 30 minutes long. Your time in the test center will be a little longer for both because they give you a rest break as part of the exam.

4. Content

There are some similarities in the content of the exams - both require the writing of two essays. Additionally, you will have to read and answer questions about written passages on each.


Who Should Take the GRE?

If you are applying to a graduate program in North America, you will probably be required to take the GRE and submit your GRE scores as part of the application process.

It is essential for a test-taker to check with the desired graduate school which test to take.

Who Should Take the TOEFL?

You should take the TOEFL if you are a non-native English speaker applying to a school in an English-speaking country that requires it. This can be a high school, college, or graduate program.

Other reasons you may need to take the TOEFL would be as part of the immigration process, if you are looking to be licensed in a particular field, or for employment reasons.

Which Is Harder, the GRE or TOEFL?

The GRE is more challenging than the TOEFL for two reasons. Firstly, the GRE reading and writing sections are more difficult compared to the TOEFL. Secondly, the GRE has a math section, and the TOEFL does not.

The two areas where the TOEFL may be considered more difficult are the listening and speaking portions - only because the GRE does not have equivalent sections.

GRE and TOEFL - What’s the Difference?

Both the TOEFL and GRE are important exams you may have to take if you are trying to get into an English-speaking university or applying to a graduate school program in the United States.

However, that doesn't mean they both serve the same purpose - the GRE is for graduate admissions, and the TOEFL is for testing your English skills in a variety of scenarios. Make sure you take the test that will help you meet your specific goal.

Here you can check out our review of the best GRE prep courses as well as the best TOEFL prep courses.


  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/quantitative_reasoning/
  2. https://www.ets.org/toefl/test-takers/ibt/take/locations-dates/

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