While the GRE and the SAT both measure reading, writing and mathematical skills, there are a number of key differences between the two tests. The most significant difference is how the tests are used. The GRE is required for admission to most graduate schools, while the SAT is used when applying to undergraduate schools. If you have already taken the SAT, you’ll certainly be familiar with some aspects of the GRE, but knowing what distinguishes the GRE is essential to performing well on the test.
The GRE is available in computer-based and paper-based formats. The computer-based tests are administered on a continuous basis throughout the year in most parts of the world, and the paper-based tests are offered up to three times a year. In contrast, the SAT is only offered in a written format and is administered seven times a year in the U.S. and six times a year in many international locations. The total test time for both the computer-based GRE and the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes; the paper-based GRE generally takes about three hours and 30 minutes.
Sections of the Tests
The GRE has three main sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing. Similarly, the SAT is divided into Critical Reading, Mathematics and Writing sections. On the SAT, the essay is followed by three Math sections, three Critical Reading sections and two multiple-choice Writing sections. The GRE also begins with the Analytical Writing section, but it includes two essays that involve analyzing an issue and analyzing an argument. The following sections include two on Verbal Reasoning and two on Quantitative Reasoning. On the computer-based test, the difficulty level of the questions is adjusted depending on how well you answer previous questions. An additional section does not count toward your score and is used to try out possible questions for future tests.
The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE includes reading comprehension questions, sentence completions and sentence equivalence questions. The collective goal of these questions is to assess how well you analyze written material, recognize relationships among different parts of sentences and construct relationships among words and concepts. Similarly, the SAT Critical Reading contains multiple-choice reading comprehension questions and sentence completions containing one or two blanks. However, there are no sentence equivalence questions on the SAT.
The math sections of both tests cover basic mathematical skills in the areas of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis. Both tests also include multiple-choice questions and questions that require you to write in your answer, but in addition, the GRE has quantitative comparison questions testing your ability to determine the relationship between two different quantities.
The writing sections of the two tests differ in that the GRE includes two written tasks asking you to write essays responding to an opinion about an issue and evaluating the soundness of an argument while the SAT requires one essay along with multiple-choice grammar questions. In these questions, you need to find sentence errors, choose the best version of a piece of writing and improve paragraphs.
The GRE Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored from 130 to 170 in 1-point increments, while the Analytical Writing section is scored from 0 to 6 in half point increments. GRE scores are valid for five years. The three sections of the SAT are scored on a scale of 200 to 800, and the essay is read by two readers who independently score it from 1 to 6; those two scores are then added for a final score of 2 to 12. The essay score is factored into your overall writing score and accounts for about 30 percent of your total score while the multiple choice questions count for about 70 percent of the score.
Based in New York City, Kristine Jannuzzi covers arts and culture, food, wine and education. Her articles have been published in “Listen: Life with Classical Music” magazine, “NYU Alumni Magazine” and online. Jannuzzi holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and music theory/history from New York University.