GRE Newsletter Signup

Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter


GRE vs TOEFL. Should you take both?

What’s the difference between the GRE and the TOEFL? Which exam should you take?

If you’re dreaming of pursuing a graduate degree at a university abroad, chances are you’ve heard the terms “GRE” and “TOEFL” thrown around quite often. These standardized tests are key components of many graduate school applications, especially for international students. While both tests are often required for admissions to universities and colleges, they serve different purposes. In this blog post, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between the GRE and the TOEFL to help you understand which test you need to take and how to prepare for it. Your GRE vs TOEFL question will be answered by the time you have read this blog.

Are there any similarities between GRE and TOEFL?

There are some similarities between the GRE and the TOEFL. Understanding the similarities can help us better understand why test-takers think that the two tests are the same or are interchangeable when they are not always so.

Common Goal: Both the GRE and TOEFL serve as tools for universities to assess your readiness for graduate-level studies. Universities in English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, use these scores, along with other parts of your application, to gauge your academic potential. Some universities require both scores in order to evaluate your graduate program readiness. Some business schools and law schools use either the GRE score or the TOEFL score to make the same evaluation.

Test Administrator: Both the GRE and the TOEFL are administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a non-profit organization that develops and administers standardized tests worldwide. ETS is known for its rigorous testing standards and security measures to ensure fair and reliable test results.

Registering for the GRE and the TOEFL: Because the administrator for the GRE exam and the TOEFL exam are the same organization, ETS, the registration for the two tests follows a similar process. An account needs to be created on the official website – The same account can be used to register for both the tests. The exam fees for the GRE and the TOEFL need to be paid and a test date chosen through the website. 

Test Duration: In terms of duration, the GRE test is just under 2 hours – clocking in at 1 hour and 58 minutes. The test used to be longer but the new shorter GRE was introduced in September 2023 in order to make the GRE test more test-taker friendly. So props to that.

The TOEFL is not that different. Also clocking in at just under 2 hours, the TOEFL is 1 hour and 56 minutes minutes long, just 2 minutes shorter than the GRE. Therefore, in terms of the stamina it takes for a test-taker to stay focused, it will probably be about the same for the two tests.

GRE vs TOEFL – What then are the differences between them?

You will find that there are actually significant differences between TOEFL and GRE in terms of syllabus and specific application of the two graduate level tests.

Evaluated Skills: The primary difference between the GRE and the TOEFL lies in their purpose. The GRE (full form: Graduate Record Examination) is designed to measure a candidate’s verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills, which are considered essential for success in graduate-level studies. On the other hand, the TOEFL (full form: Test of English as a Foreign Language) assesses a non-native English speaker’s ability to use and understand English in an academic setting. TOEFL is a focused English Language Proficiency test for Non-Native speakers.

GRE Syllabus:

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) syllabus focuses on skills you’ve likely honed throughout your undergraduate studies. The GRE general test comprises three sections. It tests the following:

Verbal Reasoning: Your ability to analyze, comprehend, and draw conclusions from complex written materials.
Quantitative Reasoning: Your mathematical skills, including problem-solving, data interpretation, and basic concepts in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
Analytical Writing (GRE AWA) : Your ability to articulate complex ideas thoughtfully, provide supporting evidence, and demonstrate a clear command of written English.

For a detailed breakdown of the GRE syllabus, check out our blog post here

TOEFL Syllabus and TOEFL exam Sections

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is designed specifically for non-native English speakers. The TOEFL syllabus measures your ability to understand and use English effectively in an academic setting. The TOEFL IBT comprises the following four sections. It evaluates:

Reading: This section evaluates your ability to read and understand academic texts, including vocabulary, main ideas, and specific details.
Listening: This section tests your ability to understand spoken English in academic settings, such as lectures and discussions.
Speaking: This section assesses your ability to speak English fluently and coherently on a variety of topics.
Writing: This section measures your ability to write in English, including grammar, vocabulary, and the organization of ideas.

Essentially, the TOEFL does not test Quantitative reasoning skills. There is some overlap between the GRE syllabus and the TOEFL syllabus. For example, if you are preparing for the GRE exam, then you can apply the strategies learned in GRE Verbal Reasoning and GRE Analytical Writing Assessment for the TOEFL Reading and the TOEFL Writing Sections.

However, you will need to prepare separately for the GRE Quant section, and you will also have to prepare separately for the TOEFL Listening and the TOEFL Speaking sections of the test. 

Test Pattern: The GRE and the TOEFL have different number of sections. For example, in the GRE syllabus, there are verbal reasoning and GRE quantitative reasoning sections. Each of these concept areas are tested twice – with two sections each for GRE Quant and GRE Verbal. The test is also adaptive with your performance in the first section determining the difficulty level of the second GRE verbal section. The same system is applied for the GRE Quant section.

However, in the TOEFL, the test is not adaptive and your performance in one section does not determine the difficulty level of the next section. The four tested concept areas – Reading, Listening, Writing, and Speaking have one section each. 

Scoring System: The scoring scale given is different for the GRE exam and the TOEFL exam as well.

GRE exam scores range from 260 to 340 points with GRE Quant and GRE Verbal contributing equally to the final test score. There is equal weightage given to the two sections and each contributes from 130 to 170 points to the final score. The AWA or the essay writing task in the GRE does not count toward the GRE total score. The writing task is evaluated on a separate scale with scores ranging from 0 to 6 and is given to test-takers as an independent score. 

The TOEFL score encompasses all of the content areas – Each of reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the TOEFL is scored on a scale of 0 to 30. Then these four scores are added for a final score range of 0 to 120.

Exam Fees: The GRE exam fees for test-takers from India is Rs. 22,550. The fees for the TOEFL exam is a little less at Rs.16,900. Indian students who take both the tests, once each, will have to spend close to Rs.40,000.

Score Validity: The GRE General Test score is valid for five years. Graduate school aspirants can use the same score to apply to a graduate program even 2 or 3 years after taking the GRE exam. This is very handy for several test-takers. For example, Wizako’s students have written the GRE in the past while they are still in college. Some of them have used the score to apply for graduate programs one year later and the GRE score validity was still there. Others did not even apply a year later. Rather, these Wizako students worked for two years and, after gaining work experience, decided to apply to an MBA program with the same GRE score and the GRE validity was not an issue even then.

TOEFL scores are valid for two years. This still allows test-takers some freedom as to how long they can use the scores for but the GRE exam score validity is definitely longer and allows for more flexibility. 

At the end of the day,

The key difference between the GRE and TOEFL lies in their ultimate purpose:

GRE: Graduate School Gatekeeper: The GRE is a crucial requirement for most graduate programs, particularly in the sciences, engineering, and humanities. Your GRE score gives universities a sense of your preparedness for the rigorous coursework you’ll encounter at the graduate level. You can also submit your Business School Applications with a GRE score. 

TOEFL: Language Barrier Buster: The TOEFL is primarily required for students whose native language isn’t English. It demonstrates to universities that you have the English language skills to succeed in a classroom where English is the primary mode of instruction. In short, TOEFL is an English Language Proficiency test.

So, do I need to take the GRE? Or do I need to take the TOEFL?

Any graduate school aspirant will need to write the GRE as the test is a pre-requisite for applying to most graduate programs in North America, Europe, and even schools in Asia and Australia. Aspirants who are applying to business school graduate programs such as MBA and MiM programs will likely have the option of either taking the GRE exam or the GMAT exam.

The TOEFL is not a pre-requisite for all graduate school aspirants. Only non-native English speakers might be required to take the TOEFL and only when they are applying to graduate programs in countries where English is a native language. Use the following checklist to sort GRE vs TOEFL conundrum.

Or in other words, take the GRE if 

  1. You are applying for a graduate program 
  2. The program you are applying to is in North America, Europe, or selected graduate programs in Australia and Asia 
  3. You want to demonstrate to the admission directors of the program that you are applying to that you are a good fit

Take the TOEFL if

  1. You need to demonstrate your ability to communicate in the English language
  2. Your graduate program or even work opportunity requires TOEFL as a mandatory requirement

Note: In several graduate programs, TOEFL is not required if you can show through your college transcripts from your undergraduate program that the medium of instruction was English. 

Will Schools ask you to submit both GRE and TOEFL scores?

There are many schools that will waive the TOEFL if you can establish that your medium of instruction in the undergraduate program was English. Similarly, there are many graduate programs that will waive the GRE exam and GRE score requirement and offer admissions only based on the TOEFL score. However, programs that offer admissions based on only the TOEFL or on waiver of both scores may not be higher ranked schools.

When an aspirant applies only to lower ranked schools, there could be other hardships that the aspirant faces, after taking up the admission. For example, because the school is not top ranked, the alumni network could be weak and there might not be enough career support. Also, weaker alumni networks translate to fewer donations and lesser amount of money available for scholarships. Finally, the companies that recruit from these graduate programs and universities might not be able to sponsor work visas for the international students who are graduating from the school.

Therefore, it is always better to write the GRE. Taking the GRE exam opens many more doors than would have been unavailable to the aspirant before. With a good GRE score, the aspirant can apply to leading graduate programs in top-ranked schools and can then leverage the strong school name and alumni network for better career opportunities. Also, the students can become eligible to apply to scholarships that can then improve their ROI with the graduate program.

For all these reasons, taking the GRE exam is the best option for graduate school applicants. 

Should I prepare for the GRE and the TOEFL separately?

The answer to this question is both a yes and a no. Wizako’s experts recommend that you start your preparation for the two tests with the GRE. Why?

The GRE syllabus is wider than the TOEFL syllabus. If you start with the GRE, you will be learning more topics and at a slightly higher level of difficulty. This means that you can leverage the concepts learned in GRE Verbal and GRE Analytical Writing Assessment toward the TOEFL sections. Having completed the more extensive preparation required for the GRE, it will now feel easier for you to prepare for the listening and speaking sections of the TOEFL.

Again, remember that the GRE is more important for graduate school application than the TOEFL. This is another reason, we recommend that you prioritize your GRE prep and save TOEFL for later.

What do I do next?

  • Once you have taken the diagnostic, you will have a fair idea of what prep is needed from you for a 330+ GRE score. So get started with that first. You can use the free resources on this blog, and you can also attend a FREE GRE Quant and GRE Verbal class with Wizako. Just click on this link to schedule a class.

Now that you have begun exploring the GRE, do not lose that momentum and keep your prep going forward. The more consistent you are with your prep, the better you will score in the GRE exam and the better you will be able to use that prep to also ace the TOEFL exam. 

Share your love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay informed about all things GRE, subscribe now!