The answer to this question is, on the surface, pretty simple. There is almost nothing in common between the GMAT and the TOEFL. Here’s a quick breakdown of the two tests to show what I mean:
- Analytical Writing Assignment: One essay about the weaknesses in an argument that you read
- Integrated Reasoning: Math-based questions on reading tables, charts, and diagrams
- Quantitative: Math
- Verbal: Reading comprehension multiple choice, grammar, critical reasoning
- Reading: Reading comprehension multiple choice
- Listening: Listening comprehension multiple choice
- Speaking: Open responses (speaking into a microphone), including summarizing recordings and text
- Writing: One essay summarizing a lecture, another essay explaining your opinion
So although two of the sections on each test are measure the same basic skills (verbal and writing), there are very few questions that are similar. In fact, the only part of either test that’s actually comparable is the reading comprehension.
Similarities and Differences in Reading Comprehension
Both the GMAT and the TOEFL focus on advanced, academic English. Neither test includes fiction, for example, and both are likely to include some text about science or history. However, that is the only real similarity between the two. In fact, the passages are written in a very different style between the two tests, and the questions are not very similar at all.
That’s because they have different goals. The GMAT wants to test your logical abilities and how well you can make concrete inferences from a text without assuming too much. In other words, your goal during GMAT reading comprehension is to understand the author’s purpose and show that you can use information from that text correctly to create your own conclusions.
The TOEFL, on the other hand, only wants you to understand the language. Very much of TOEFL reading comprehension relies on vocabulary. Even questions that are not directly about vocabulary require you to understand difficult sentence structures and idioms, but do not require you to analyze the information you read. You only need to understand it and recognize other sentences that give the same information.
Besides that, TOEFL reading passages, at around 700 words, are twice as long as “long” GMAT passages, which rarely pass 350 words, and there are many more questions per passage (12-14 on the TOEFL, 3-4 on the GMAT) so the strategies for answering questions are different.
Essays and Grammar
These two parts of the tests have some things in common, but only very little.
Basically, the GMAT tests grammar and written style extensively. The TOEFL doesn’t test grammar directly, but if you write and speak with correct grammar, then you’ll score better on those sections. However, the GMAT’s grammar is mostly very advanced and often extremely subtle. If you understand English grammar well enough to score well on GMAT sentence correction questions, you’ll probably be able to write well.
And finally, the GMAT and the TOEFL both require you to structure an essay well. Using transition phrases (such as “on the other hand,”) and advanced vocabulary helps on both tests. The GMAT essay is about much, much more than that—your logical analysis of an argument, specifically—but the fundamentals of good English writing apply to both tests.
So even if the question types are different between the two tests, improving your written grammar can help for both the GMAT and the TOEFL.