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What is the GMAT Exam and What Should You Know?

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If you're a graduate business degree hopeful, you've likely heard about the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

The GMAT exam is the premier business school admission test used to help thousands of graduate business programs make critical admissions decisions. The GMAT helps you prove your commitment to and eligibility for the MBA or business master’s degree you're applying to by demonstrating your problem-solving abilities and critical reasoning skills.

Submitting a strong GMAT score means a higher chance of acceptance and may also result in a scholarship offer to your chosen school.

Here’s everything you should know about the GMAT:

Why does the GMAT matter?

Business schools value the GMAT because it’s an indicator of a candidate's work ethic and readiness for a program.

As a standardized test, the GMAT exam helps business schools compare candidates from different backgrounds and regions, which is why most schools favor the GMAT over other tests.

As a globally recognized test, your GMAT score puts you on a level playing field with candidates from around the world for programs in any of 110 countries. It also allows you to compete fairly against other candidates with widely varying academic and professional backgrounds.

In a Kaplan/Manhattan Prep survey, 88% of business schools said that submitting a competitive admissions exam score will help your application. Business school admissions officers also explained why they still favor the GMAT:

  • ‘A good GMAT score shows us that prospective students are willing to invest time to prepare for the MBA and that they have the baseline knowledge to begin.’
  • ‘Our scholarships are based on GPA, GMAT score, and interview experience, so strong GMAT scores have a very important impact on admissions and scholarship offers.’

How does the GMAT work?

GMAT questions are based on the mathematic concepts and English-language skills you would have learned in high school. For example, you may be required to use arithmetic or elementary algebra as part of the test. The GMAT does not evaluate your job skills, motivation or interpersonal skills. It is also not designed to test your command of the English language.

You already have what it takes to achieve a good result on the GMAT. It’s essential that you understand that preparation is crucial.

GMAT is not impossibly challenging. However, it may be difficult to get a good, balanced score that truly represents your abilities without knowing what to expect by reviewing practice questions and preparing for the test conditions.

While the English and mathematics involved are not especially difficult, the GMAT is measuring your ability to reason and make complex judgments using critical thinking, analysis of information, and problem solving under timed conditions.

The GMAT has a maximum score of 805 and a minimum of 205. It lasts up to 2 hours and 15 minutes and consists of 3 sections that you can take in any order.

What is the GMAT exam structure?

1. Quantitative Reasoning

The GMAT quant section determines mathematical ability and numerical literacy. This section of the exam tests your ability to reason, solve problems. It measures the skills you will use in quantitative-based subjects such as finance, accounting and managerial statistics.

The questions in this section are problem solving questions, and require common knowledge of concepts related to arithmetic and elementary algebra.

2. Verbal Reasoning

GMAT verbal evaluates reading comprehension and critical reasoning. You will be assessed on your ability to comprehend and draw inferences from written material and to evaluate arguments.

 This section features a mixture of two types of multiple-choice questions:

  • Reading comprehension passages of up to 350 words are followed by a set of questions testing your ability to interpret the text, to draw inferences from it, and to identify logical relationships between elements of the content.
  • Critical reasoning measuring your ability to draw conclusions from short arguments.

3. Data Insights

This tests candidates' ability to read and interpret data in multiple formats, including table analysis and graphic interpretation.

This part of the GMAT exam is designed to mimic today’s business world that demands managers synthesize data from multiple sources to identify patterns, make decisions and solve business problems.

There are 20 multiple response questions in the Data Insights section using five different question formats:

  • Multi-source reasoning using data from multiple sources, you answer multiple choice or yes/no and true/false questions
  • Table analysis using a sortable table containing numeric data, you must determine if a set of statements are true or false
  • Graphic interpretation using a chart or graph, you find or extrapolate a value to complete fill-in-the-blank statements from a drop-down list
  • Two-part analysis using quantitative and/or verbal information, you must weigh trade-offs and make decisions with more than one variable. Possible answers are presented in a table and you should choose the correct options.
  • Data sufficiency asks you to analyze a quantitative problem, recognize which data is relevant, and determine at what point there is enough data to solve the problem.

What is computer adaptive testing

The GMAT is more than just a computerized version of a written test, it is computer adaptive. This means it automatically adapts the question you see in the above sections based on a real-time assessment of your performance as you are taking the test.

After an average difficulty starting question, the questions vary in difficulty depending on the test taker's answers.

In the computer-adaptive format, if you answer a question right, a more challenging question appears next, and if your answer is wrong, an easier one appears.

The GMAT can be taken once every 16 calendar days and completed no more than five times in 12 months. You can choose to take the test online or find test centers around the world

 Why should I take the GMAT exam if it's not compulsory?

We highly recommend that you speak with the admissions team for your chosen program well ahead of the admissions deadline.

Even when the GMAT is not a compulsory part of the application process up front, admissions managers may still ask you to supply a score later in the process if your application is not as competitive as others in their applicant pool.

Also consider whether GMAT is required for your second or third choice programs if you are not able to secure a place on your first-choice program.

Register for the GMAT Now!

How much does the GMAT cost?

The GMAT exam at a test center generally costs $275, although prices vary depending on test center location.

How to prepare for the GMAT?

 How long does it take to prepare for the GMAT?

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the owner and administrator of the GMAT, candidates can achieve a competitive score in just six weeks.

Your goal is to reach a point where you are quickly and confidently able to focus on answering each question, rather than spending time decoding what is being asked. You also want to become confident in your approach to selecting your answers as second guessing yourself will cost you valuable time on exam day.

A commonly recommended approach is to focus your preparation on your problem areas. Make sure you also pay moderate attention to your stronger areas to ensure that you don’t lose easy marks by becoming complacent and making avoidable errors. Take full, scored practice exams regularly to benchmark your process and to identify areas of strength and weakness. Replicate actual test conditions as much as you can so you don’t use a calculator or refer to your notes.

There are many helpful study tools available to help in your preparation. The FREE GMAT™ Official Starter Kit is a sampler of 90 past exam questions and  two, full-length GMAT™ practice exams that match the real exam format, increase in difficulty, and help you manage your pacing.

GMAC also offers the GMAT Official Guide, which is the only study guide that features real GMAT™ questions from past exams offered by the makers of the exam.

What is a ‘good’ GMAT score?

Your score out of 805 is based on your performance in all three sections of the exam. When you receive your score out of 805, you will also receive a percentile, which indicates how you compare to other test takers.

The definition of a good GMAT score changes from business school to business school and candidate to candidate. Ultimately, a good GMAT score is one that gets you into your target program.

To work out what score to aim for, look at your desired program's average GMAT score and GMAT score range.

You typically want to aim for the class average score, but you can also get accepted with a lower score if other aspects of your application – like your essays, work experience, and interview performance – are strong.

What score are business schools looking for?

Most programs do not have an explicitly stated minimum GMAT score requirement. Instead, they tend to publish an average or a range of GMAT scores achieved by their most recent class. This can provide a useful benchmark; however, they are generally looking for candidates with a well-balanced set of scores across all sections.

Don’t rule out programs even if you haven't reached your target GMAT score, especially if it is close to the published range. Your GMAT score will be one part of your application, and you may have considerable strengths in other areas. Contact the admissions team for your chosen program to seek their guidance and be prepared to retake the exam.

How is the GMAT different to the GRE?

The critical difference between the GMAT and GRE is that the GMAT was created specifically for business schools, while the GRE is for a broader scope of graduate degrees. More than 7,700 business school programs worldwide accept the GMAT exam.

When should I take the GMAT? 

Check the admissions deadlines for your target programs well ahead of time and work back from there, accounting for how much time you need to prepare. We recommend preparing for the GMAT at least three to six months ahead of time to give yourself the chance to achieve the score you want, or to re‑take if you want to aim for a higher score.

Your GMAT score is valid for five years. If you are currently studying, preparing for the GMAT while you are still in an academic mindset can make your life significantly easier.

Register for the GMAT exam

You can take the GMAT exam in major cities and at almost any time of the year. The test is offered worldwide at Pearson VUE test centers approved by the Graduate Management Admission Council and also online.

You can register for the GMAT on mba.com.

 Ultimately, even where the GMAT is not required, taking the GMAT will put a candidate at an advantage, providing access to top business schools globally.

"The GMAT score is important for assessing a candidate's aptitude for being able to have a successful MBA experience,” Nora Colton, director of the University College London Global Business School for Health, explains.

 “The exam is designed to demonstrate essential critical thinking and reasoning skills that will be required in an MBA program and beyond.”

Register for the GMAT Now!