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GRE vs MCAT
Similarities, Differences & Which One to Take

Last Updated On: April 19, 2021

Applying to medical schools? Unlike most students, you then have a choice. You can take either MCAT or GRE, as both are used for admissions.

But which one is better—or easier? And which should you take?

To determine that, we’ll compare the two tests and list their key differences.

MCAT vs GRE: Introduction

MCAT and GRE logos with a student writing as background

The MCAT (The Medical College Admission Test) is the holy grail of testing for medical schools but isn’t accepted by other programs for grad students. [1]

The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is a more general test accepted by most graduate programs. [2]

MCAT and GRE: Overview of similarities

MCAT and GRE: Similarities
Standardized tests
Entrance exams
Computer-based

Both are standardized tests. This means all test-takers are given the same questions. Their answers are also evaluated using the same criteria.

Both are also used as entrance exams, i.e. committees use them to decide which students should get into their graduate school.

Lastly, the two exams are computer-based. They’ll be administered to you through a computer system and adapted according to your abilities—just like the GMAT.

MCAT and GRE: Overview of differences

MCAT and GRE: Differences
MCAT GRE
Administered by AAMC (American Association of Medical College) ETS (Educational Testing Service)
Test dates Offered around 30 times during the year (January-September) Offered year-round
Purpose Medical college admission test Graduate schools admission test
Subject areas
  1. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  2. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  3. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  4. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills)
  1. Quantitative Reasoning
  2. Verbal Reasoning
  3. Analytical Writing
Length 7 hours and 30 minutes 3 hours and 45 minutes
The validity of the scores 3 years 5 years
How many times you can retake the exam 3 times a year, 7 times in a lifetime 3 per year

While there are numerous differences between the MCAT and the GRE, the main difference is that the GRE is a general admission test that can be submitted to most schools.

The MCAT, however, is a better choice if you’re sure you want to become an MD (Doctor of Medicine), but isn’t considered valid for other master’s or PhD programs.

“Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.”

 

Anatole France

What’s a Good Score for MCAT and GRE?

A good MCAT score is 508 points for all four sections[3].

Since the GRE is split between three subject areas, you’ll also get three separate scores. Here’s what good GRE scores look like:

  • Writing section score - 4.0 
  • Verbal section score - 155
  • Quant section score - 156

Which Test Should You Take?

Classmates taking an exam

It depends on these four things:

1. The degree you want

Before you make your decision, consider the degree you want to earn.

The MCAT is valid only if you’re applying to a medical school, while the GRE can be used for any graduate school.

If you’re determined about pursuing a medical career and becoming an MD or DO, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take the MCAT

But, if you’re having second thoughts, take the GRE. You can use it to apply to more programs.

2. The test length 

The MCAT is almost twice as long as the GRE, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems - 1 hour, 35 minutes
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems - 1 hour, 35 minutes
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior - 1 hour, 35 minutes
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills - 1 hour, 30 minutes

Let’s see how the time’s divided on the GRE:

  • Quantitative Reasoning - two 35-minute sections
  • Verbal Reasoning - two 30-minute sections
  • Analytical Writing - 1 hour

The length of the MCAT is both an advantage and a disadvantage for test-takers.

While it gives you more time to think about the questions, it’s also draining and kills your focus. Which type of test-taker are you?

3. Your content knowledge and ability

While the two tests have some similarities—for example, they both evaluate your reading comprehension skills—there’s a big difference between their content:

  • The GRE evaluates your abilities and is similar to the SAT.
  • The MCAT tests your knowledge—which is partially why you don’t have to do any writing on the MCAT.

In both cases, you’ll have to brush up on your reading comprehension. But, if you’re taking the MCAT, you can mostly rely on your background knowledge.

4. The test dates

How much test prep do you need? Because you can take the GRE year-round, while the MCAT is only available from January to September.

You don’t want your test prep to be an unnecessarily stressful experience. You’ve already got enough to worry about—obtaining your master’s or PhD degree.

If you’re like most people, you learn better under stress-free circumstances, so make sure you have enough time to study by choosing an appropriate test date.

The Key Takeaway

Deciding which exam to take comes down to the school you want to attend and the career path you want to pursue. If you’re only applying to a medical school, take the MCAT. It shows the program that you have relevant knowledge and skills.

The GRE can serve the same purpose but is more general. It contains two sections that aren’t really relevant to a medical school: the analytical writing and the verbal sections.

However, many programs do treat the MCAT and the GRE as equals. Then the GRE might be a better option. It’s cheaper, shorter, and less difficult.

References:

  1. https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/taking-mcat-exam/
  2. https://www.ets.org/gre
  3. https://www.mcat-prep.com/mcat-scores

About the author

Jordan Coleman

Jordan Coleman

Jordan is a teacher who is in love with English literature and quality content. He uses his teaching experience to help both his own students and others around the world to improve their knowledge and self-confidence.

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