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GRE vs. MAT: Which one is the test for you?

Posted by Anne Chaconas on Jul 26, 2012 10:00:00 AM

When researching graduate school programs, some students discover that the program of their choice will accept scores from either the GRE or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Because the two tests are very different, you may find that taking one test is more advantageous for you.

What are the differences between the GRE and the MAT? Is one better or easier than the other? Which one should you use?

The MAT, unlike most other exams, has only one question type—analogies. The analogy questions on the MAT test an extremely broad range of topics and concepts including geography, history, vocabulary, art, science, math, modern events, sequence of letters and words, literature, and grammar. Students with a well-rounded humanities background tend to do well on the MAT, but the MAT’s wide subject range can be intimidating and lend a degree of uncertainty to your test performance.

Here is a sample MAT question:


(a) painting
(b) architecture
(c) design
(d) dance

The correct answer is (a) because the composer BACH is associated with MUSIC in the same way that MONET is associated with (a) PAINTING. Overall, this question is considered to be on the easier end of the MAT spectrum.

The MAT is a paper format exam that features 120 questions administered in a 60 minute time period. Thus, you must work very quickly to complete all of the questions. MAT scores are reported in 3 ways:

    1. The raw score (the number of questions answered correctly);
    2. Percentile score in relation to other test takers in your intended major; and
    3. Percentile score in relation to all MAT takers.

In contrast, the GRE is a longer test with a wider variety of questions types. The GRE is composed of three different scored sections which test students on their math, verbal, and writing ability:

  • The Quantitative section of the GRE focuses on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and word problems, and is comprised of multiple-choice, quantitative comparison, and numeric entry questions.

  • The Verbal section of the GRE consists of Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence questions, which test your ability to understand longer sections of text, and understand word meanings in the context of a sentence or passage. Like the questions on the MAT, the sentence-based questions on the GRE do test students’ vocabulary skills to a certain degree, but provide significantly more context for deciphering the meaning of challenging/unfamiliar words.

  • The Analytical Writing section of the GRE provides two essay prompts; one prompt asks the student to analyze an issue and the other asks the student to take a position on an issue and present an argument for that position.

Overall, although the MAT and GRE both have a verbal element, they are very different tests. The most important factor in deciding whether to take the GRE or MAT is determining which exam will produce the higher score for you.

If you have the choice of taking one test or the other, keep these considerations in mind:

  • Are you a good writer or strong in math? If so, the GRE may be better test for you.

  • Are you weak at trivia, especially trivia that can be difficult and require knowledge of a variety of disciplines? If so, avoid the MAT.

  • Do you become easily fatigued when testing? Since the MAT is considerably shorter than the GRE, the MAT might produce a better result.

  • Are you applying to programs that only require proficiency in one specific area? The GRE is probably the better test since it reports individual Verbal, Quantitative, and Writing scores.

  • Would you like an organized study plan and the option of live classes and tutoring if needed? If so, the GRE is the far better choice since there are very few options for MAT preparation beyond a few books on the market. For the GRE, on the other hand, there are many choices, including live preparation courses and tutoring.

Regardless of whether you decide to take the GRE or MAT, contact each school to which you intend to apply for information on admissions requirements. You may find that one of the tests gives you an edge that you can use to your advantage!

Topics: Admissions Tip of the Week, Grad School Admissions

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