GRE

GRE vs IELTS: What's the difference and which test is right for you?

By Edvoy• Last updated: Mar 28, 2024
GRE vs IELTS: What's the difference and which test is right for you?
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GRE and IELTS are two very different standardised tests that serve different purposes. GRE is primarily used for admission to graduate-level programs in the United States, while IELTS is used to assess English language proficiency for non-native speakers who are planning to study or work in English-speaking countries.

Understanding the differences between these two tests is crucial to determine which one to take, depending on your academic and professional goals.

GRE vs IELTS: Highlights

CriteriaIELTSGRE
PurposeEnglish language proficiency test for non-native English speakersStandardised test for graduate school admissions
Test SectionsListening, Reading, Writing, SpeakingVerbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Analytical Writing
Test FormatPaper-based or Computer-basedComputer-based
ScoringScored on a band scale from 0 to 9, with 0.5 incrementsVerbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scored on a scale from 130 to 170 in 1-point increments, Analytical Writing scored on a scale from 0 to 6 in 0.5 increments
ValidityValid for 2 years from the test dateValid for 5 years from the test date
Purpose-specific VersionsAcademic and General Training (for different purposes such as academic study or immigration)General Test (for most graduate programs) and Subject Tests (for specific subject areas)
Test AvailabilityOffered throughout the yearOffered year-round, but specific test dates may vary
Test Fees$185 to $325$205 to $255
Test DurationApproximately 2 hours and 45 minutesApproximately 3 hours and 45 minutes
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Difference between GRE and IELTS

The GRE and IELTS are both standardised tests that measure a student's academic and language proficiency.

1. Conducting body

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) is responsible for the administration of the GRE. ETS is a non-profit organisation that is recognized globally for creating standardised tests for educational purposes.  

On the other hand, IELTS is jointly owned by three organisations: the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English.

2. Exam Format

The GRE consists of three main sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. 

  • The Analytical Writing section includes two tasks: Analyze an Issue and Analyse an Argument.
  • The Verbal Reasoning section consists of two sections, each with 20 questions.
  • The Quantitative Reasoning section also consists of two sections, each with 20 questions.
  • There is an unscored research section that may be included in the test.

The IELTS has four main sections: 

  • The Listening and Reading sections are multiple-choice questions, while the Writing section includes two tasks, and the Speaking section is a face-to-face interview with an examiner.
  • The test measures the test taker's ability to understand spoken and written English, as well as their ability to communicate effectively in spoken and written English.

Topics to know more about Exam Pattern for GRE and IELTS

3. Skills Tested

The GRE tests a range of skills related to verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing.

  • The Verbal Reasoning section assesses the test taker's ability to analyse and evaluate written material, understand and draw conclusions from it, and recognize relationships among concepts and words.
  • The Quantitative Reasoning section tests the test taker's ability to understand, interpret, and analyse quantitative information, and solve problems using mathematical concepts.
  • The Analytical Writing section tests the test taker's ability to present complex ideas in a clear, concise, and well-organised manner.

The IELTS tests the test taker's ability to understand and communicate effectively in English.

  • The Listening section assesses the test taker's ability to understand spoken English, while the Reading section tests their ability to understand written English.
  • The Writing section includes two tasks, one of which is to write an essay, and the other is to respond to a task or problem in a letter or report.
  • The Speaking section assesses the test taker's ability to communicate effectively in spoken English, including pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

4. Score Validity

The GRE is scored on a scale of 130-170 for both the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections, in one-point increments.

  • The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0-6, in half-point increments. The scores of the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections are added together to get a total score, which ranges from 260-340. 
  • The scores of the GRE are valid for five years, and the score report includes the test-taker's total score and scores of individual sections. 

The score report also includes percentile ranks, which indicate the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than the test-taker.

The IELTS exam is scored on a scale of 0-9, in half-point increments, for each section.

  • The scores of the four sections are averaged to get an overall score, which ranges from 0-9. The score report includes the test-takers' overall score and scores of individual sections.
  • The score report also includes a band score, which indicates the test-taker's proficiency level in English. 
  • The scores of the IELTS exam are valid for two years, and the score report includes the test-taker's overall score, scores of individual sections, and the band score.

5. Exam Duration

The GRE takes approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete, including one 10-minute break between sections. 

  • The Analytical Writing section takes 60 minutes to complete, and the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections take 35 minutes each.
  • The unscored research section may add 30-35 minutes to the test. 

The IELTS takes about two hours and 45 minutes to complete, with the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections completed back-to-back, with no breaks. 

  • The Speaking section is conducted separately, either on the same day or within a week of the other sections.
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6. Exam Fee

The cost of taking the GRE varies depending on the location but generally ranges from $205 to $255. There may be additional fees for services such as score reporting, sending additional score reports, and rescheduling or cancelling the test.

The cost of taking the IELTS exam also varies depending on the location, but generally ranges from $185 to $325. There may be additional fees for services such as score reporting, sending additional score reports, and rescheduling or cancelling the test.

7. Eligibility criteria

There are no specific eligibility criteria for taking the GRE. However, individual universities or programs may have their requirements regarding minimum educational qualifications and prerequisites.
There are no formal eligibility criteria for the IELTS exam. It is open to all individuals who need to demonstrate English language proficiency for academic or immigration purposes.

8. Difficulty level

The GRE is known to be a challenging exam, particularly in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections. The questions are designed to test critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving skills.
The difficulty level of the IELTS varies based on the candidate's proficiency in the English language. The Listening and Reading sections typically involve the comprehension of various accents and complex texts. The Writing and Speaking sections require effective communication and organisation of ideas.

9. Number of attempts

There are no specific limits on the number of attempts for the GRE. Candidates can retake the GRE as many times as they wish. However, there is a restriction on the frequency of attempts, with a minimum gap of 21 days between consecutive attempts.
There are no limitations on the number of attempts for the IELTS. Candidates can retake the exam as many times as needed to achieve their desired band score. There is no waiting period between attempts.

10. Acceptance

The GRE is widely accepted by universities and educational institutions worldwide for admissions into various graduate programs, including business, engineering, sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
The IELTS is recognized and accepted by numerous academic institutions, professional organisations, and governments globally as proof of English language proficiency. It is commonly required for admission to universities and colleges, as well as for immigration purposes.
 

Also read: IELTS Exam Dates

GRE or IELTS? Which one to take?

Choosing between the GRE and IELTS exams depends on several factors such as academic goals, language proficiency, and the specific requirements of the universities or programs being applied to. Below are some considerations to help determine which test is right for you:

1. Academic goals

If your goal is to apply to a graduate program in the United States, then the GRE is likely the right choice for you. The GRE is widely accepted by universities in the United States and is specifically designed to evaluate a test-taker's academic potential in graduate-level studies.

If your academic goal is to apply to a university outside of the United States, then the IELTS exam may be the right choice for you. The IELTS exam is an international English language proficiency test that is widely accepted by universities around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

2. Language proficiency

If English is not your first language and you are not confident in your English language skills, then taking the IELTS exam may be a better choice for you. The IELTS exam is specifically designed to evaluate a test-taker's proficiency in English, while the GRE assumes that the test-taker has a high level of English language proficiency.

3. Specific program requirements

It is important to review the specific requirements of the universities or programs you are applying to in order to determine which exam is the right choice for you. Some programs may require a specific exam or have minimum score requirements for admission.

While the GRE and IELTS exams share some similarities, they are different in many ways. The GRE is designed to evaluate a test-taker's academic potential in graduate-level studies, while the IELTS exam evaluates a test-taker's proficiency in English. It is important for test-takers to understand the differences between the two exams and choose the exam that best suits their needs and academic goals.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the purpose of the GRE and IELTS exams?

The GRE is designed to evaluate a test-taker's academic potential in graduate-level studies, while the IELTS exam evaluates a test-taker's proficiency in English.

Who administers the GRE and IELTS exams?

The GRE is administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), while the IELTS exam is jointly administered by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English.

How are the GRE and IELTS exams scored?

The GRE is scored on a scale of 130-170 for the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections and 0-6 for the analytical writing section. The IELTS exam is scored on a scale of 1-9 for each section, with the overall score being an average of the four sections.

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