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How Hard is the GMAT Exam?

Students Studying at Work Table

If you’re applying to business school, taking the GMAT can be daunting and some candidates are fearful of the difficulty level of the test.

However, as the leading standardized admission test for business schools, the GMAT is an important way for schools to compare candidates from a wide range of professional, academic, and geographic backgrounds without bias.

Scoring well on your GMAT test will boost your chances of admission, helping you get into your top choice business schools. And by dedicating some time and effort to preparing for the GMAT, you can do exactly that.

Also keep in mind, that many business schools and universities offer scholarships to their graduate business students, on the basis of need, diversity or merit. A good GMAT score is often part of the qualification criteria for scholarships and bursaries, which should be applied for early in the admissions cycle.

Is the GMAT harder than the GRE?

The GMAT and GRE are both widely accepted standardized exams for business school admissions globally. Each exam tests a candidate’s suitability for the program they are applying to.

There’s no easier answer to whether the GMAT or GRE is easier or harder. How hard the test is for you depends on your previous experience and educational background.

While the GMAT requires prep on the Quant side, the GRE may be harder for candidates who are less strong on the verbal side or struggle with topics like geometry.

To assess how hard the GMAT or GRE might be for you, and to understand which test to choose, it helps to understand the differences between the GMAT and the GRE.

Both the GMAT and GRE have sections to test Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. While the GRE has a longer Analytical Writing assessment, the GMAT exam reduced this section and introduced the Integrated Reasoning section, which was designed to prepare students for the data-rich business world and the demands of making decisions based on multiple sources of data.

While the GRE is designed to evaluate candidates across various graduate disciplines, the GMAT exam is specifically designed for business schools.

Experts agree that the GMAT’s quant-focused nature makes it a more precise measure of a candidate’s ability to handle an analytical business school program.

“The correlation between a student’s GMAT score and first-year performance in business school is well-established, and stronger than with the GRE,” says Chris Kane, head of test prep at Menlo Coaching.  

“The GMAT exam is known to be more rigorous quantitatively, so it predicts a student’s success on the data-driven MBA coursework optimally,” agrees Stacy Blackman, founder of MBA admissions consultancy Stacy Blackman Consulting.

What does the GMAT assess?

Graduate business programs want to know you have the capability and aptitude to do well on their programs, which the GMAT seeks to prove.

“By preparing for the GMAT exam, a candidate is sharpening skillsets needed to hit the ground running in their first semester,” says Scott Edinburgh, founder of Personal MBA Coach.

All four sections of the GMAT evaluate specific skills that are crucial to doing well on the MBA.

“Business schools require a standardized measure to evaluate an applicant’s readiness for critical thinking, communication, and the ability to analyze data, understand arguments, and present ideas in a cohesive way,” says Susan Berishaj, founder of Sia Sia Admissions.

She adds that while business schools are looking for an overall competitive score, most are focused on the quant aspect as they anticipate the challenge of teaching difficult data and analysis to incoming students.

How hard is GMAT, really?

Your success on the GMAT depends largely on how much time you are willing to spend preparing for it. Time spent studying for the exam will be pay off later as it prepares you for the MBA or business masters.

Two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600 out of a possible 800. Researching the range of GMAT scores at your top schools will help you understand what to aim for. The GMAT score ranges at top business schools, like Harvard and Wharton for example, are between 620 to 790.

The GMAT difficulty level varies for each candidate but spending time preparing will undoubtedly reduce it. For many candidates, the difficulty of the GMAT is not in the content itself but, as with many other tests, the timing and pressure of an exam setting.

“I feel like the GMAT is more about time management rather than difficulty of content. The computer adaptive nature of the exam pushed me to excel in trying to manage time, being intuitive, and making sure I was able to complete all questions,” says Sanjana Sahal, Full Time MBA student at Imperial College Business School.

Candidates have 3 hours and 7 minutes to complete all sections of the GMAT exam, excluding two optional 8-minute breaks. This is whether you take the test online or at one of the Person Vue test centers across the world.

“For me the difficulty came from time pressure. You have to get used to abandoning questions if you think you won’t be able to answer them in time,” says Rowan Canter, an MBA student at ESMT Berlin.

How to prepare for the GMAT?

If you’re worried about the GMAT difficulty level, preparing well in advance will give you the best possible chance of scoring well.

There are many resources that can help you prepare for each section of the GMAT and building a study plan will ensure you stay on top of everything. You can also access the FREE GMAT™ starter kit which includes practice exams 1 & 2.

Ying Lui, Global MBA student at ESSEC Business School, says she bought the GMAT Official Guide and trained daily using online testing resources.

As much as preparing for the content of the exam is important, mastering GMAT timing will also give you the best chance of acing the exam.

“Where I’ve seen the highest success is from clients who follow a regimented study plan, took a test-prep course to help them understand the concepts, and hired a tutor for weekly sessions to address specific weaknesses,” says admissions consultant Susan.

In her experience, it takes three months on average for candidates to prepare for the GMAT and achieve their desired score.

Acing the GMAT is all about learning the best practices for you and giving yourself enough time to cover revision for all sections of the exam.

Developing a study plan

Your study plan should help you stay on track week in week out as you progress through the material. GMAT preparation plans can range from a couple of weeks to many months, with test takers studying anywhere up to 10 hours per day.

One method for constructing your plan is to plot your typical week, highlighting the time slots that you have available for study.

With an estimate of how much time you can commit to study each week, you can then calculate how many weeks of study you need.

 

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