Guide to the GMAT
You've heard the acronym, and maybe you are scared of it, but don't be. The Graduate Management Admission Test, more commonly known as the GMAT, is the admission exam that's required to get into business school and MBA programs. It has been around for more than 60 years, and it's widely considered the gold standard. While this exam can be challenging indeed, there are numerous strategies available for you to prepare for it. With a bit of preparation and planning, it's possible to get the score that you want and need to get into the business school of your choice.
What is a Good Score?
According to the official GMAT website, total GMAT scores range from 200 to 800. The majority, or two-thirds, of those taking the GMAT score between 400 and 600. The verbal and quantitative scores range from 0 to 60. So, now that we know that the highest-possible score is 800, what makes a good score? The answer always depends on the school you are trying to get into.
Below is a look at the average GMAT scores of accepted applicants for a variety of business schools. It's important to keep in mind that the average GMAT score will vary by school, so be sure to contact the schools of your choice to see what score they expect from successful applicants.
Public or Private?
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
The University of Texas at Austin
University of Nevada, Reno
Timeline for Studying
You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to study for the GMAT so you can prepare for each section of the test and feel relaxed when the time for the exam arrives. Below is a sample timeline of the typical steps needed to prepare for taking the GMAT. Be sure to adjust the timeline to fit your needs, based on how well you know the material and how much time you have to dedicate to studying.
Month 1: Usually in March
First thing’s first: you have to register for the test, which you can do here. Be sure to check the application deadlines of the schools you are applying to so you can gauge when you need to take the exam. Register for the GMAT as early as possible, as popular exam days may fill up fast. The cost to register for the exam is currently $250, as of September 2016. To register, you must go to the official website and create an account.
Month 1: Usually in March
Become familiar with the exam overview, format and question types so you know what to expect and can prepare accordingly. This is easy to do, as all this information is available online and in our handy guide below.
Month 1: Usually in March
Before you even start studying, learning where your personal baseline is will help you develop a study plan. A practice test can help you learn your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the GMAT. Based on your score, you’ll know which sections you may need to study more and be able to judge how much study time you’ll need to dedicate.
Month 1: Usually in March
For instance, if your lowest scores where on quantitative and integrated reasoning, strive to spend at least a few hours a week on these sections. The actual time you need to spend is, of course, highly specific to your skills and situation.
Month 2: Usually in April
Many students like taking formal prep classes, such as those offered by Kaplan, but not everyone wants to pay additional costs. Consider joining a study group or forming your own. Study with people who have similar study habits. Working one-on-one with a tutor on specific areas is also a good option for those who work best with individualized instruction.
Month 2: Usually in April
It may help to study from various books and resources. This will give you different explanations and examples, some of which may make more sense to you and better help you understand the material. At the end of this article, there is a list of study resources that may be helpful as you prep for the GMAT.
Month 3: Usually in May
Now that you’ve focused on your two weakest areas, based on your initial practice exam, it’s time to start studying your two strongest areas.
Month 4: Usually in May
While some students may want to take multiple practice exams throughout the course of studying for the GMAT, students should at least take a second practice exam. This will help you gauge your progress, as you can compare your scores with those you received from your first practice exam. You can use this information to fine-tune the rest of your study time. For instance, if verbal is still your weakest area and you only improved a few points, be sure to dedicate a significant portion of time to this section in the next month.
Month 4: Usually in June
It’s time to take the test, and you should feel well-prepared if you have followed a detailed study plan. Remember not to cram: Taking a test can be compared to running a marathon, and you don’t want to show up at the starting line, or the testing center, exhausted and spent. Give your brain time to rest, and resist the urge to do last-minute test preparation.
On the big day, make sure you have a plan to be as relaxed and prepared as possible. Here's a quick list of things that might be helpful:
- Eat a proper meal before your exam. This is not the time to skip a meal. Your brain needs all the nourishment it can get, so eat a balanced and light meal.
- Get to the testing center ahead of time. It's much better to sit there for 20 minutes and take deep breaths than to run late.
- Know where you are going. Today shouldn't be the first time that you head to the testing center. Put your mind at ease by knowing where you are going. Make sure you know where to park or how far the testing center is from public transportation.
- Bring what you need. There are some very specific rules about what you can bring into the exam room, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the testing center guidelines in your area. You have to bring a current government-issued ID, and most testing centers supply a locker for you to store your personal items.
- Don't cram. Now is not the time to get some last-minute studying done. Be confident in your skills and use the last few minutes to think positive and to energize yourself for the exam. If you can, listen to some music on your way to the testing center. Choose music that inspires you and that makes you feel confident.
What is on the GMAT Test?
The GMAT is a registered trademark of the Graduate Management Admission Council. The exam is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), meaning that it adapts to the test taker's skill level as the exam is progressing. This means that after a student answers a question, the difficulty of the next question depends on if they answered the previous question correctly. The exam is given on desktop computers at testing centers. The test consists of four sections: analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative and verbal.
Number of Questions
Analytical Writing Assessment
Analytical Writing Assessment
This section, known as AWA, consists of one topic, and test takers have 30 minutes to complete it. The Analytical Writing Assessment measures your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas in a clear and concise manner. Students are given an argument and asked to analyze the reasoning behind it to provide a critique of the argument. Keep in mind that you are not being asked for your own opinion on this subject. Essays are scored independently a total of two times, and the average of the two scores is taken. Scores for the AWA range from 0 to 6.
This section evaluates the test-taker’s ability to do the following:
- Think critically
- Analyze an argument
- Write clearly
- Use well-structured ideas and arguments to support or refute an argument
- Use evidence to support a conclusion
- Present ideas on how the argument can be made stronger
- Familiarize yourself (again!) with the organizational framework for writing clear and precise essays. Remember what you learned about essays in terms of stating your thesis, having four or five paragraphs, and a conclusion? While there’s no one foolproof answer, it’s good to develop a template that you can then use for your writing.
- Read essays that have received high scores. Some of these are readily available online for free, while others you have to pay for.
- Practice your ability to think critically. Write essays and have them evaluated in your study group for clarity and accuracy.
Introduced in 2012, the Integrated Reasoning section is a relatively new addition to the GMAT. The idea behind this section is to evaluate your ability to properly analyze data that is presented in a variety of formats. These are skills that are critical in today's business world, which is becoming increasingly more data-driven. This section consists of 12 questions and there is no partial credit.
In this section, you will be tested on your ability to do the following:
- critically interpret information presented in a variety of formats, including charts, graphs and tables
- analyze complex information
- discern relationships between two entities
- evaluate trade-offs
- solve simultaneous equations
There are four types of questions on the integrated reasoning section:
- Multi-source reasoning
This question type requires the reading of a narrative. There will be a variety of tabs on the screen that display different data. You will use this information to determine which data is needed in order to answer the question.
- Graphics interpretation
You will be presented with a graph that contains data and will be asked a question about that information.
- Two-part analysis
This is a question with a two-part solution, and you will be shown possible answers in a table that has a column for each part.
- Table analysis
This type of question will have you answer yes/no, true/false, inferable/not inferable about a data set that is presented to you in a table, which you have to sort to determine if certain conditions are being met. You will select one answer for each statement.
- For multi-source reasoning questions, prepare by increasing your reading of high-level texts that require analysis. Just like all sections, this section is timed, so the faster you can read and absorb the information, the better. Increase your speed by reading as much as possible.
- For graphics interpretation, study by training your brain to process information that's presented in graphics form. Work on understanding the problem before trying to answer the question. Ask yourself: Did I understand the question?
- For the two-part analysis, prepare by taking as many practice exams as possible to get your mind used to data presented in this particular way. Train yourself to answer each question.
- For table analysis, try analyzing tables in business publications and asking yourself questions about it.
- For the entire section, stay calm and collected to make sure you understand both the information that’s been presented to you and the possible answers. Rethink your calculation and your reasoning to double-check that it makes sense. Don’t get nervous, and give yourself the time to start over if the strategy you are using is not working. Don’t skip any questions, but instead answer all of them to the best of your abilities.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need high-level math skills for the Quantitative portion of the exam. According to the official GMAT site, "the mathematics needed to understand and solve the questions in this section of the GMAT exam are no greater than what is usually taught in secondary school classes." This section measures your ability to analyze data that is being presented and your capacity to draw conclusions from that data. There are 37 questions in this section.
The Quantitative portion of the exam measures your ability to do the following:
- Apply analytical knowledge of basic math
- Identify what information you need to solve a problem
- Use math skills learned in school (up to high school), including data analysis, geometry, algebra and arithmetic, to solve problems using a quantitative approach
The Quantitative section of the GMAT consists of two question types:
- Data sufficiency
These problems are presented in the format of two statements and a question, and your job is to determine whether the data that has been presented to you is sufficient to answer the question. You will use your math skills and your everyday skills to solve these problems.
- Problem solving
These questions will present you with some data, and you will use basic math skills to select the correct answer among five answers.
For this section, there’s really only one way to prepare: You have to put in the hard work to study and complete practice problems. If your math skills are not quite up to par, you may want to hire a tutor to target specific areas, take a prep course or join a study group that has members who are strong in this area.
That said, don’t be intimidated. It’s more than likely that you already have the skills that you need to answer these questions, but you have to train yourself to answer these questions in the particular format in which they are presented. You might not have seen this format in a few years, perhaps since high school.
The Verbal section of the GMAT is designed to test the skills needed to interact with written material. This includes your ability to read, comprehend, analyze and manipulate written language. There are 41 questions on this section of the exam.
The GMAT is an exam that truly evaluates abilities one uses in everyday business situations, and the Verbal section is no exception. This section measures the ability to do the following:
- Read and comprehend written material
- Evaluate arguments presented in written form
- Determine which arguments are correct and which are incorrect
- Evaluate the writer’s intent
- Understand material written at high register
- Infer meaning from incomplete information
- Understand and identify correct English-language grammar and syntax
- Recognize incorrect usage of grammar and stynax
The Verbal section of the GMAT presents three different types of questions:
- Reading comprehension
You will read a passage and answer questions based on that passage.
- Critical reasoning
These questions measure the reasoning skills used to build or evaluate an argument. After reading a passage, you will select the best answer.
- Sentence correction
These questions are mostly about grammar and your ability to recognize when it's not being used correctly. You will be presented with a few sentences that feature an underlined portion and asked to choose an answer that makes the sentence grammatically correct.
- For the reading comprehension questions, prepare by reading high-level material and asking yourself tricky questions about what you've read (for instance, what would logically follow this passage?). It also helps to read a lot, as you will do better if you are a fast, but thorough reader who can absorb information quickly.
- For the sentence correction questions, you might want to brush up on grammar, syntax, tenses, etc., and read as much as you can so you can identify correct usage.
You might be afraid of the GMAT, but again, you don't have to be. It is just a test, albeit an important one. It tests skills you generally already have, and it does not test specific business knowledge. Rather, it focuses on your quantitative and verbal skills. I've taken it, and I did quite well on it, so I am happy to share some of my study tips with you. Please keep in mind that we all have different study habits and that what worked for me may not work for you. That said, here are my top test-taking tips.
- Get familiar with the software. There is nothing worse than getting to the exam and not being familiar with the software, how it's set up, where to click, etc. Given that the exam is entirely electronic, you need to be able to replicate the test situations as much as you can so you will be relaxed come exam day. Most GMAT books come with a CD or a link to electronic practice material. I did a few of those and felt a lot better knowing that I knew what to expect.
- Time yourself. For me, it was very important to know how long I was taking in each section. That helped me identify my weaker areas (the quantitative section) and my strengths (the verbal section). It also allowed me to allocate my time better. I always felt comfortable with the writing assessment, but I wasn't a very fast typist. Because of this, I spent some time trying to become a faster typist to save time during the exam.
- Spend a certain amount of time studying each day. I added a reminder to my (very busy) calendar that said "GMAT studying" and put it on repeat for every weekday for a few months. It kept me honest and focused, and regardless of what I was doing, when the reminder came up, I'd start studying. I had four reminders throughout the day to allow myself to break study time down into manageable chunks of thirty minutes each.
- Focus on one section during a study session. It helped me to stay focused on one section per study session, instead of bouncing back and forth between sections. With four short study sessions each day, I structured my study plan to focus my first study session on my weakest section to get it out of the way early in the morning when I was fresh.
- Keep yourself honest. Studying on your own is hard, and I didn't have the benefit of a study group when I took the exam. I relied on my then-boyfriend (now husband) to keep me honest. He'd check in with me during the day to see if I had done my studying, and if I had not, he'd sit down with me in the evening rather than head out to dinner and a movie.
- Increase your vocabulary. This is essential for both the verbal section and the analytical writing assignment. There's only one way to increase your vocabulary: by reading and then memorizing words. I made this fun by reading high-level literature and world-class newspapers (such as The New York Times), marking up the text and looking up words I didn't know. This worked better for me then memorizing words on notecards without any context.
After the Test
Now pat yourself on the back: You've done it! Go home and get some rest. Immediately after finishing the exam you can see your unofficial score, which includes the scores for all exam sections besides the analytical writing assessment, which needs to be manually graded. Within 20 calendar days of the exam date, you will be able to access your official score. At this time your official score will also be available to the five schools that you selected before the exam. You can retake the GMAT once every 16 calendar days and no more than five times in a 12-month period.
To help you prepare for the GMAT, here's a list of study resources that you might find helpful. Keep in mind that there are numerous study guides and books out there and this is just a small selection.
- After registering on the official GMAT website, you will have access to free practice tests, test advice and other prep materials. It's free for registered users, and this is the place to start your GMAT journey. There are also additional materials for sale. In addition, there's a helpful video in which test takers explain how they used the official GMAT study materials to prepare for the exam.
- There are many useful YouTube videos on preparing for the GMAT, and here are three of the best ones. They last about 30 minutes each.
GMAT Mastery Part 1
GMAT Mastery Part 2
GMAT Mastery Part 3
- One of the most prominent GMAT study books is the McGraw-Hill Education GMAT 2017, which is available on Amazon and other sites. Even though a book might seem old-fashioned, this is a solid study option that comes with practice exams. Also, you even get access to an app that tracks your study time. The Premium Practice App lets you take full practice tests on your tablet or smartphone.
- If you sign up for GMAT Club, one practice test is free. Other practice tests are available for a fee.
- The Economist offers a free seven-day trial of their GMAT study materials and access to tutors. Also, with a paid subscription they actually guarantee that you will increase your score by 70 points or they will give your money back.
- You can try five free GMAT Interact lessons and sit in on a free live class at Manhattan Prep. There is also a study app, a blog, GMAT tutorials, practice tests and challenge problems.
- Check out the (mostly free) GMAT prep YouTube videos from VeritasPrep GMAT.
- For students who want to prepare for the exam in just one month, the free How to Ace the GMAT in 1 Month eBook may be a helpful resource. This eBook is designed to be paired with the paid GMAT Pill prep course.
GMAT Preparation Tips and Strategies, Graduate Management Admission Council, Accessed July 2016, http://www.mba.com/us/the-gmat-exam/prepare-for-the-gmat-exam/test-prep-advice/gmat-preparation-tips-and-strategies.aspx
GMAT Mastery Party 1, Dominate the GMAT, Accessed July 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DA_p7ESidA
GMAT Mastery Party 2, Dominate the GMAT, Accessed July 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtdiSSJ1E_U
GMAT Mastery Party 3, Dominate the GMAT, Accessed July 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eZ_2IW9UAY
GMAT Country-Specific Test Center Regulations, Graduate Management Admission Council, Accessed July 2016, http://www.mba.com/us/the-gmat-exam/prepare-for-the-gmat-exam/plan-for-test-day/view-country-specific-test-center-regulations.aspx
GMAT Exam Policies, Graduate Management Admission Council, Accessed July 2016, http://www.mba.com/us/frequently-asked-questions/gmat-exam-policies.aspx
GMAT Exam Format and Timing, Graduate Management Admission Council, Accessed July 2016, http://www.mba.com/us/the-gmat-exam/gmat-exam-format-timing.aspx
GMAT Integrated Reasoning Sample Question Types, Graduate Management Admission Council, Accessed July 2016, http://www.mba.com/us/the-gmat-exam/gmat-exam-format-timing/integrated-reasoning/ir-sample-question-types.aspx
Understand Your GMAT Score Report, Graduate Management Admission Council, Accessed July 2016, http://www.mba.com/us/the-gmat-exam/gmat-exam-scores/your-score-report/understand-your-gmat-score-report.aspx
Admissions, Class Profile, Harvard Business School, Accessed July 2016, http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/class-profile/Pages/default.aspx
Class Profile, UCLA Anderson School of Management, Accessed July 2016, http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/degrees/mba-program/admissions/class-profile
Class Profile, The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, Accessed July 2016, https://www.mccombs.utexas.edu/MBA/Full-Time/Admissions/Class-Profile
New Students Admitted, The College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno, Accessed July 2016, http://www.unr.edu/business/degree-programs/business-administration/campus-mba/student-profile