GRE vs SAT – What are similarities and differences

Both the GRE and the SAT are exams that test your skills in math, reading, and writing. However, when considering the GRE vs SAT we find noticeable differences that all students should keep in mind when preparing for either one or the other.

Students that have done the SAT and are now thinking of furthering their academic career by taking a GRE should not be misled by the thought that it’s the same exam or simply a harder version of it.

While some things students have learned from their SAT can be translated into preparing the GRE, other aspects may not be at all similar. Being aware of the differences and getting familiar with the exam would definitely help you get the highest possible GRE score.

With that objective in mind, here we will walk you through the similarities and differences between these two very useful and popular tests that may unlock the doors to achieving your academic goals in the future.

The Similarity GRE and SAT

For those students that have already done the SAT and are glad this rite of passage is behind them, we have some news. Accessing a graduate program very often requires preparing for another exam: the GRE. But, what is the GRE like? Is the GRE harder than the SAT?

We are here to answer all your questions about the GRE, the SAT, and how they may be similar or different.

First of all, it’s worth mentioning that the SAT and the GRE are two different and separate exams and the results in the first do not guarantee good results in the second one.

Most people wonder about the GRE difficulty, and a common question it is: is GRE harder than SAT? is the GRE difficult? is the SAT difficult? Well, it’s not easy to say because by the time students take the GRE they have gone through four years of college, taking more complex classes and doing assignments that are more difficult than your standard high school work. All of this prepares students to overcome the challenges the GRE represents.

What is similar in GRE and SAT:

  • SAT and the GRE are assessing reading, writing, and math,
  • wrong answers are not penalized,
  • both almost 100% multiple-choice (except for writing),
  • both tests offer several mock exams that students can use to practice,
  • analytical writing section expects from you to give opinions

Mainly the fact that both the SAT and the GRE are broad-based tests meant to assess your reading, writing, and math skills. They complement your level of education, so for the SAT, you need to use what you’d normally know at a high school level, while for the GRE, more academic college-level content is required.

In both tests, wrong answers don’t push you backward in terms of scores.

Also, both tests are almost 100% multiple-choice, obviously not considering the writing section where students should write essays following clear academic standards.

When it comes to content, we can see similarities in the type of questions that are there to test your logic, analytic, and reasoning skills. Obviously, for the GRE content, the questions are more complex and sophisticated than for the SAT.

The analytical writing section in both tests expects you to give opinions and justify those using solid arguments. The ability to back up your statements is present in both tests, though the expectations are different in each of them.

Finally, both tests offer several mock exams that students can use to practice while they are preparing to take the SAT or the GRE.

The Difference between GRE vs SAT

We have already established that the GRE and the SAT are different exams, now we are going to discuss their differences in terms of structure, sections, expectations, delivery methods, scores, and costs. Hopefully, a better comprehension of both these exams will help you prepare with more confidence and be able to reach your academic goals with more ease.

Understanding the differences between these two exams will also help you be more successful and prepared, with the ultimate goal of obtaining the maximum possible score. Being aware of these differences will help you to better prepare for the GRE.

What are the differences between the SAT and the GRE?

  • GRE is more flexible in terms of when to take it,
  • SAT is more stressful (future defining) – limited tries,
  • GRE can be done every 21 days up to 5 times in a year,
  • writing part is optional in SAT,
  • GRE can be done on a computer,
  • GRE is much more expensive,
  • different test structure,
  • completely different scoring system

One of the main differences between the SAT and the GRE is that the latter is much more flexible in terms of when to take it and how many times to do so.

It’s well-known the stress students go through when preparing, booking, and doing their SAT. It’s an important exam that defines their future and it should not be taken lightly. To be able to take the SAT students must book their spot with a lot of anticipation as there are only around seven dates a year the test can be done. There is also a limit regarding how many times the test can be taken if the score is not up to their expectations.

On the other hand, GRE offers a different level of flexibility that many students would probably appreciate. Not only you can book your place just a few days before the exam date, keeping in mind availability, you can also apply for a computer-based test that can be done every 21 days and up to 5 times in a period of 365 days. This means that you can wait until you are feeling ready and prepared to register to do the exam, maximizing your chances of success.

What seems just a bureaucratic difference, may actually have an important impact on how students prepare and, especially, on how they deal with the stress during the time leading towards their exam date.

We will discuss other differences in detail, but it’s worth pointing out that in the SAT the writing part is optional, but… this is not the case in the GRE! Do not skip this part thinking it’s not compulsory, get some practice, and prepare before taking the exam, that way even if the writing part is not your strong suit, you can do it successfully.

While talking about the writing, the GRE includes two essay tasks, one of which is very similar to the SAT writing part. In this section, students have to identify the logical flaws in the text. The other writing task is more challenging, but it is thought in a way that if you do a lot of practice during your college years, you should be fine.

The Purpose of the Test

SAT is required to enter undergraduate studies, the GRE is taken by those applying to a master’s or a doctorate

In terms of purpose, there is a big difference between the GRE and the SAT.

While the SAT is required to enter undergraduate studies, the GRE is taken by those applying to a master’s or a doctorate. This represents a big difference in the type of students taking the test: in the case of the SAT is mostly junior and senior high school students; on the other hand, the GRE is aimed at college students that aspire to be admitted into grad education.

Even if the GRE is the most popular test to access higher education programs, the use of this exam depends on the type of course you are hoping to enter. Most grad programs in science, humanities, and social sciences base their admission on your GRE score. However, other courses, such as law or medicine, will require other types of exams for their admission process.

So, when we are thinking about the SAT vs GRE, we need to keep in mind that they are no equivalent exams and will have very different outcomes.

Some people believe that the GRE is more challenging, but is the GRE difficult? Well, as a test, it sets the minimum standards to do a master’s or doctorate, but with thorough preparation, you should be able to get a good score and consequently strengthen your chances to enter the grad program you’re interested in.

Test Frequency and Availability

We have already briefly mentioned the frequency and availability of both exams as one of those aspects that may impact students and how they prepare for the exam, as well as how stressful the time before the exam date may be.

SAT can only be taken once a month from the beginning of October to December and then in March, May, June, and August.

Since the SAT is a paper-based delivered test, it is not available all year round. The SAT can only be taken once a month from the beginning of October to December and then in March, May, June, and August.

This restrictive availability creates some strain and students usually have to book well in advance their seats to take the exam.

GRE can be taken all through the year in many different locations around the world.

Completely different from the SAT, the GRE can be taken all through the year in many different locations around the world. Being a computer-based test, it is convenient and easy to book, even just a few days before the exam date, subject to availability.

With the GRE, students can take the test 5 times in a year with at least 21 days between one test and the other. The test is available all year round in many different countries.

Computer vs Paper based

Another big difference between the SAT and the GRE is the way these tests are delivered.

Some people have asked what’s better either doing the GRE computer vs paper-based. The truth is that most of the time the GRE is done on the computer. This makes it dynamic and easy to take in different dates and countries, as we mentioned, the GRE is much more flexible as an exam, compared to the SAT.

So there is no real choice for the GRE paper vs computer-based. Most of the time students cannot decide if they prefer paper vs computer GRE, the first option is reserved only for those doing the test in countries where it is not possible to do it on the computer.

The SAT, on the other hand, is done exclusively on paper. At the moment, it is only available as a paper-delivered test, though there have been rumors that in the future it may change and become more technological.

The last thing we should mention is that with the GRE as a computer-based test, the delivery is more adaptive, which means that the second part of the exam will be different depending on how well the student performed on the first part. Therefore, to get the best possible score, students should do their very best at the beginning of the test.

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The Cost

Since the purpose of both tests is completely different and their sections and delivery also quite diverse, it’s no surprise that the prices of either the SAT and the GRE are rather opposite. GRE is much more expensive than the SAT.

The price of the SAT is either $46 or $60, depending on students wanting to do the optional writing part or not. The GRE costs significantly more at a rate of $205.

Also, the cost of the score reports is different: the SAT costs $12, while the GRE costs $27 per score recipient.

Test Structure

Even though the SAT and the GRE cover the same general topics: math, reading, and writing; the way these sections are presented is completely different.

The structure of both tests is quite different. In the SAT each section appears only once and always in the same order. It starts with the reading, continues with the writing and language part, which is followed by the math sections (with the part without calculator first and with calculator after), to end always with the essay task if students decide to do it.

As seen from the structure of the SAT, we can say that it’s a very predictable test.

The GRE is presented in a very different way. It does always start with the writing part (the two essay tasks). But afterward, the structure of the exam is completely random. The two verbal sections may be first or may be mixed with the quantitative parts. Even the unscored section will be randomly present in the test (though the research section will always be at the end).


While both tests assess basically the same skills, the sections in each exam have different names and require different skills to complete successfully.

The SAT has four different parts, including an optional essay that not everyone decides to do. The compulsory sections are reading, writing and language, and math.

There is a particular order in which students have to do the different sections: the first one is reading, followed by writing and language, and then math, and finally the essay (if applicable).

Sometimes we may find that when talking about the SAT people mention 5 sections. This is because the math part can be separated into two: one part can be done using a calculator, and the other part doesn’t allow this. These two sections are scored together, so we can count them as one too.

The sections in the GRE are only three and are called: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Each part is divided into several tasks: the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning are separated into two sections each, while the writing includes two compulsory essays.

For the GRE, there is a fourth section that is an unscored experimental or maybe a research section (it could be maybe an extra Verbal or Quant section; it usually includes 20 questions and it should be done in 35 minutes top).

Students should be aware that the unscored experimental sections are not specified in the test and it may appear in different sections at not specific moment, while the research section will always be by the end of the test and will be mentioned clearly what it is.


Another big difference between the SAT and the GRE is the way both tests are scored. They use completely different scales and present their results in their own way.

On the SAT, there is an overall score for both Math sections. The scale, in this case, goes from 200 to 800. On the other hand, the SAT verbal score, meaning the Reading and Writing and Language get also an overall score with another scale that also goes from 200 to 800. Finally, all the scores are combined to produce the total SAT score that goes from 400 to 1600 (in increments of 10 points).

The GRE is scored following a completely different system. There is a common scale from 130 to 170 for the Verbal and Quantitative Section, but the results are usually presented as separate parts and not as a combined result. The GRE math sections are scored similarly.

When talking about the writing part, both tests use different scales and present the results as separated from the rest of the test. But while on the SAT the score goes from 2 to 8 points for each category (there are three parts, writing, analysis, and reading, so the maximum points would be 3 times 8); the GRE uses points from 0 to 6 with half increments to assess the writing part.

As you can see, the scales each of these exams use, and the way they present results is rather different. The way the institutions you are applying to read these results depends on you doing either the SAT or the GRE, and they may have different standards. The most important thing is to remember you cannot translate SAT scores into GRE scores, or do a GRE to SAT conversion.

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