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If I Can Do It, So Can You: What’s Really on The GMAT Exam

Bethany Garner

Bethany Garner - BusinessBecause

Bethany Garner is a writer at BusinessBecause.com

Gesticulating Woman

Taking the GMAT Exam can be an intimidating prospect for business school candidates, but with the right preparation it doesn't need to be. In fact, nine in 10 test takers score higher on the GMAT than they expect to.

The GMAT is the only admissions test designed for business school admissions. Unlike the GRE, which is a more generalized test, the GMAT specifically measures the skills and knowledge you’ll need to thrive at business school.

For this reason, business schools usually admit far more GMAT takers /exams-and-exam-prep/gmat-exam/gmat-vs-gre than applicants who sit the GRE – and accepted students record a wide range of GMAT scores.

What’s really on the GMAT?

At its core, the GMAT tests your problem-solving abilities through multi-source data analysis, an analytical writing task, and arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and grammar problems.

The GMAT is made up of four sections:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment: an essay question that challenges you to think critically and succinctly communicate (30 minutes)
  2. Integrated Reasoning: a series of multiple-choice questions that measure your ability to analyze data and evaluate information across formats (30 minutes)
  3. Quantitative Reasoning: tests your ability to analyze data and draw conclusions with math and reasoning skills (62 minutes)
  4. Verbal Reasoning: examines your ability to read and understand written material, evaluate arguments, and make corrections in line with standard written English (65 minutes)

It’s common to be nervous about the math (or quant) side of the test – especially if you haven’t polished your skills recently. However, you don’t need to be a math whiz to score highly on the GMAT. The fundamental math skills you need to practice are around high-school level.

As a computer adaptive test, the questions you’re given on the GMAT are tailored to your ability. For each section, you start out with a medium difficulty question. If you get it right, you’re given a more challenging question; if you get it wrong, you’re given an easier question.

For this reason, you need to answer questions as they appear – there’s no option to skip a question or return to it later.

It takes three and a half hours to complete the GMAT, including two optional breaks.

At the end of the test, your score for each section will be added up, and you’ll get a total between 200 and 800. Scores in the 700 range are considered excellent.

Is the GMAT or the GRE more difficult?

The GMAT and GRE are similar in their difficulty levels, and many people find the GMAT easier.

The two exams test almost exactly the same math content, but when prepping for the GRE, you’re more likely to have to memorize formulae and operations, whereas the GMAT encourages logical problem-solving using a finite set of techniques.

According to Dmitry Farber,, a GMAT and GRE instructor for Manhattan Prep, even though test takers often worry about the GMAT quant section, their skills in this section usually develop quickly.

“Most students will do best by focusing on both sections [verbal and quant] equally. You may see a faster jump in quant as your dormant algebra skills kick back in. Verbal is often a longer-term investment,” he says.

For Smriti Khemani, a current MBA student at Emlyon Business School in France, the GMAT Quantitative section was less complex than expected. “I felt that questions are not too technical, hence don’t require mugging up formulas or rules,” she says.

Shany Machlev, an MBA student at Imperial College Business School, agrees.

“One part I found difficult in the beginning was data sufficiency [questions in the quant section]. It takes a while to shift your mind toward really tackling these questions, but once you do it’s like a game,” he recalls.

Dmitry adds that the GMAT has less of a focus on vocabulary than the GRE, which many candidates will find easier. “In the end, it’s best to choose the exam that plays best to your strengths such as grammar (GMAT) versus vocabulary (GRE),” he explains.

How can you get ahead in your GMAT prep?

Shany scored an impressive 720 on his GMAT. The key to his success? Studying a little more often.

“I preferred practicing small ‘bites’ every day instead of big chunks twice a week,” he explains. “I used to solve just a couple of questions every day as soon as I woke up – yes, even before having coffee or brushing my teeth! It made this kind of thinking second nature.”

Piyali Banerjee, a current MBA candidate at Manchester Alliance Business School, applied a similar technique to her studies, working her way through question banks and completing mock exams well in advance of the big day. In the end, her efforts paid off with a 740 GMAT score.

According to prep expert Dmitry, the key to a successful GMAT experience is learning to prioritize.

“Even at the 700 level, you can expect to miss almost half the quant and at least a quarter of the verbal, so it’s absolutely essential to get used to choosing your battles,” he explains. “As you study, value growth over correct answers.”

What are the long-term benefits of taking the GMAT?

Getting a good GMAT score also has career-boosting value long after admission to a business school.

In the MBA or master’s classroom, you’ll draw on many of the skills the GMAT requires you to practice – unsurprising since it’s designed especially for business school admissions.

Even after graduation, your GMAT score can come in handy. Employers in industries like consulting and finance often look at candidates’ GMAT scores as part of the recruitment process.

Plus, the GMAT is geared towards more real-world problems than the GRE, which business school employers don’t typically consider.

Because the GMAT tests your ability to perform complex quantitative and analytical tasks on the fly, a strong score is a good indication that you can keep up in fast-paced roles immediately after business school and long into the future.

Bethany Garner

Bethany Garner - BusinessBecause

Bethany Garner is an experienced writer at BusinessBecause.com, where she's credited with more than 200 articles covering everything from entrepreneurial stories to mental health at work.

She also oversees the BusinessBecause Applicant Question, which poses important admission questions to experts in the field, and regularly hosts webinars on various aspects of the business school experience.

Prior to joining BusinessBecause, Bethany honed her skills as a freelance writer, tackling a wide array of topics from petcare to car maintenance.

Bethany holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Glasgow, Scotland.