GRE vs. MCAT: The Complete Breakdown

November 29, 2023


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 11/29/23

Are you trying to decide between the GRE and the MCAT for med school?? This breakdown will give you all the detailed answers you’ve been looking for!

After college, there are many paths one can take to develop themselves further. Some get a job and pursue a career, while others continue down the road of higher education. 

In continuing their studies, individuals often hope to garner more knowledge and skills; the latter is often the case for medical students who go to medical school in pursuit of a career in medicine.

There are two standardized tests that many applicants may be required to take to get into med school. One is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and the other is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). 

Many find it challenging to figure out which of the two is the right option for them. This article will break down both of these tests and take a deep dive into the difference between the two. This will give you a better picture of which test you should take based on your goals, plans, and circumstances.

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GRE vs. MCAT: Subject Matter

The GRE is a standardized, computer-delivered test created and administered by the Educational Testing Service, also known as the ETS. The GRE assesses a student’s academic readiness for graduate school or higher educational institutions. Many graduate programs require applicants to take the GRE. 

Meanwhile, the MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination that tests your skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and application of knowledge and concepts in various subjects, such as biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, social sciences, and more. 

The following sections will break down the contents of each test.

MCAT Test Content

The MCAT is composed of the following five sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems Section
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems Section
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section
  • Scientific Inquiry & Reasoning Skills
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Section

The first three sections test knowledge and understanding of topics and concepts, while the latter two test integrating and applying skills and knowledge.

MCAT test content
Source: AMCAS

As you can see, the MCAT subject matter is specific to foundational scientific concepts required for first-year medical students to succeed. 

GRE Test Content

In comparison to the MCAT, the GRE covers three main sections:

  • Analytical Writing
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

Each of these sections is broken down as follows:

Subjects Tasks
Analytical Writing Write one essay
Articulate complex arguments and discussion points clearly and coherently
Support ideas effectively with relevant reasons and examples
Proper grammar usage and other English language communication skills
Verbal Reasoning Analyze, reason and interpret text and data
Summarize texts and identifying key points
Perceiving author’s intent with accuracy
Deduce definitions of individual words according to the context
Understanding relationships between words, sentences, and paragraphs within a body of text.
Quantitative Reasoning Comprehend and analyze numerical and mathematical data
Demonstrate a good understanding and application of:
Basic arithmetic
Geometry concepts and operations
Mathematical models
Mathematical reasoning and problem-solving
*Questions in this section are of equivalent difficulty to high school mathematics.

In comparison to the MCAT, the GRE covers general skills that assess one’s capacity for comprehension and critical thinking, making it less specialized for medical students.

MCAT vs. GRE: Test Conditions

Now that we’ve gone through the test content let’s take a look at the test conditions for both MCAT and GRE. Here is everything you need to know about taking the test.

GRE Test Conditions

The GRE test is completed entirely on a computer. You can either take the test at home or at a designated test center. The test content is identical regardless of where you choose to take your test. The total time allotment for the GRE is about two hours, not including the short breaks that are given in between sections.

GRE at Home Testing

To take the GRE at home, you must have a desktop computer that meets the requirements. Your computer must have the suitable operating software, access to an internet connection, and hardware that allows monitoring and communication with the proctor.

You’ll also be required to take the GRE in a room that meets environmental requirements as per ETS. You will be under the supervision of a proctor. Ensure you do a technical check-up before test day to resolve any technical issues.  

On the day of your test, ensure your internet is running well and all applications unrelated to testing are shut off. You will not be allowed to bring any items other than the following:

  • The computer that you will take the test with
  • Acceptable ID
  • Cellphone or hand-held mirror for check-in

Before you start your exam, you’ll have to check-in. Your proctor will go through all the steps to prepare you for your exam then you may complete your test. 

During the test, the proctor will monitor you via video camera and your computer screen to ensure you follow all testing procedures. Make sure you can be seen on camera by the proctor. Any suspicious movements may invalidate your test.

GRE at a Test Center

Taking the GRE at a test center would mean taking the test at a pre-designated place. In this case, you must be able to reach your designated test center on the right date and time. 

You must adhere to test regulations and policies. On your test day, you must also go through a series of procedures before you can begin your test, so familiarize yourself with the regulations and procedures before test day. 

Similar to taking your GRE at home, you won’t be able to bring any personal belongings besides your ID and a face mask.

MCAT Test Conditions

Unlike the GRE, the MCAT can only be taken at a test center, in a quiet room with minimal distractions and interference. If you require accommodations due to any health conditions, make sure you make your accessibility needs clear when registering for the MCAT. 

You must complete check-in and a series of preparation steps before beginning your testing. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations for MCAT testing prior to the testing day, and bring everything you need to take the test. For the MCAT, you’ll be able to take the following without prior approval: 

  • Valid photo ID
  • A notebook and a marker (provided on-site)
  • Storage key (provided on-site)
  • Foam or earplugs (provided on-site)

AMCAS also has a list of items that test-takers can bring without approval. These items are primarily for anyone who might need medical and physical aids. These items will be inspected by staff before you enter the exam room. These items are as follows: 

  • Medications such as an EpiPen, Insulin Pen, or Glucagon pen; cough drops, eye drops, glucose tablets, inhalers, nasal sprays, and pills such as Tylenol or aspirin.
  • Physical aids include bandages, braces or casts, eye patches, hearing aids, a pillow or cushion, and a medical footstool.

MCAT test centers have many options for accommodations if needed for test-takers. Individuals with cognitive, psychological, medical, or any other conditions may request extra testing time or extra breaks depending on their needs.

GRE vs. MCAT: Career Paths

Taking the GRE and MCAT can offer a variety of rewarding career paths for you. The following sections will go over different graduate school options depending on which test you choose to take.


People who take the GRE pursue advanced education degrees such as a Master’s degree. As the GRE assesses general academic skills, it is suitable for various degrees and subsequent career choices. Taking the GRE can open up doors to attending graduate school in fields other than medicine, such as business or law. If you’re unsure if going to medical school is your next step after college, taking your GRE might be a more flexible option.

Getting an advanced degree with a GRE can open up many rewarding career paths. There are many promising positions for individuals with a graduate-level education. Depending on which route you take, you’ll have bright opportunities in fields such as health services, finance, STEM, education, business, law, and of course, medicine. 

Taking the GRE is especially suitable for those interested in pursuing a master's, specialized master's in business, MBA, JD, or doctoral degree. The GRE is ultimately a less specialized test for those hoping to get into Medical school, but it is an entirely viable option.


In contrast to the GRE, MCAT is much more specialized for medical degrees and career paths. The MCAT is specifically designed to evaluate medical school applicants. Therefore, if you’re dead set on becoming a practicing doctor, taking the MCAT would be your best bet.

With this said, some medical schools don’t require the MCAT for admission. While some schools will accept the GRE, it’s essential to do your research to ensure that you make the right choice depending on your dream school.


After the GRE and the MCAT, you might still have some questions. This section will cover some frequently asked questions you might still have!  

1. Do Med Schools Accept the GRE?

Yes, some medical schools accept the GRE. The GRE is a suitable test for many degrees and programs of graduate level or higher. In fact, many medical schools require GRE as a part of the application process. 

2. Can the MCAT Substitute for the GRE?

Depending on the medical school you’re hoping to get into, taking the GRE instead of the MCAT might be an option. However, most medical schools favor the MCAT and make the GRE an optional exam for prospective students. 

So make sure you pay close attention and understand the application requirements for the program you’re applying to. 

3. Which Test Is Harder?

The GRE and MCAT are exams requiring a lot of preparation time. The GRE test content is more about general reasoning, analysis, comprehension, and critical thinking. In contrast, the MCAT is geared toward assessing the foundational scientific knowledge and skills required for first-year medical students. 

Because MCAT tests much more specific concepts and skills, the MCAT will require a more focused study. It is ultimately more challenging in terms of subject matter. However, both GRE and MCAT are challenging in their own ways and require a significant amount of time for preparation. 

4. When Should I Take the MCAT or GRE?

You should take both tests when you feel confident and adequately prepared. You should also ensure that you take them with enough time before medical school application deadlines so you can apply on time! 

5. How Long are GRE and MCAT Scores Valid?

GRE scores are valid for five years following your test date.

MCAT scores are less consistent. The validity of MCAT scores depend on the specific school. But in general, MCAT test scores that are three to five years old are accepted.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the differences between the GRE and the MCAT, you’ll have an idea of each test’s content, conditions, and potential career paths. The GRE is broader and more general, and the MCAT is more specialized in medical studies. 

Which exam you should take is ultimately dependent on your plans, goals, and requirements for your medical school of choice.

Regardless of which test you take, either can provide many enriching and rewarding paths during and beyond graduate school. Whichever you pick, you should always give it your best shot and prepare for it as well as you can. 

Whether it’s through building the best MCAT study schedule or finding a tutor for the GRE, your efforts will be well worth the blood, sweat, and tears!

Best of luck!

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