What is the GMAT?
Chances are if you’re considering applying for an MBA, you’ve probably heard a fair amount about the GMAT already.
Let’s cut to the chase – this is not the easiest exam.
With more than 200,000 applicants taking the exam annually, and only 6% scoring over 720 – the score required for many top business schools – we can start to get a sense that this test can be troublesome for some.
That being said, with the right guidance, preparation, and test-taking strategy, you don’t need to let fear of the GMAT put you off from pursuing your goals.
GMAT: The Basics
So what is the GMAT, exactly?
The Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT, forms a key part of the admissions process for graduate-level business degrees, such as a Master’s of Business Administration, or MBA.
As a part of the business school admissions process, it focuses on testing a wide range of skills, including mathematics, critical thinking, and language skills.
The test is taken over a period of a little over 3 hours, is scored out of a total of 800 points, and is both standardized and computer adaptive.
What does this mean? Well, the fact that the GMAT is standardized means that all test-takers are given questions from the same “set”, and that all tests are graded consistently. The fact that it is computer adaptive means that the test adapts the difficulty level of the questions depending on your performance.
Do I need to take the GMAT?
The answer varies depending on which school you are applying to, and whether or not you have already taken the GRE.
What’s the GRE you might ask? Well, we’ll get into that.
If you’re applying for an MBA or another business-related program at a graduate level, then you may have the option to take either the GRE or the GMAT, although some business schools will require you to take the GMAT. Other schools might not require either test, although as a general rule these may not be the most prestigious institutions.
What’s the difference between the GRE and the GMAT?
While the GMAT is specifically designed to test applicants applying to graduate-level business programs, the GRE is designed to test applicants applying to a broad range of graduate-level programs.
For example, many programs in the life sciences, social sciences, mathematics, or humanities may require applicants to complete the GRE.
The GRE exam includes 3 sections:
- Analytical writing
- Verbal reasoning
- Quantitative reasoning
As a general rule of thumb, if you are unsure whether an MBA is the right program for you, then taking the GRE rather than the GMAT might be a wise move. If you are set on an MBA, then it’s worth doing some research as to whether your school/s require the GRE, the GMAT, or accept either.
In addition, considerations such as test timings, individual strengths, and any requirements for financial aid or scholarships should also be taken into account.
Recently, as a result of the disruption associated with the Covid-10 pandemic, many institutions are updating their examination requirements, with many providing the option for an exam waiver. It is worth checking with your school/s of choice to check out their specific requirements.
For a list of 100 schools offering a GMAT/GRE waiver for their MBA programs in 2021, you can consult the following website.
Can I retake the GMAT?
The good news is that you can take the GMAT up to 5 times in one year, and up to 8 times across your lifetime.
While not everyone will want or need to retake, a retake can be a great option if you feel you didn’t perform to your full potential on the day. Policies can vary from school to school, however, so it may be worth consulting your school directly before choosing this option.
When do I need to take the GMAT?
You would usually take the GMAT in the year prior to starting your graduate program, or the year in which you make your application.
It can help to make sure you register for the GMAT with more than enough time to take the test and have the scores be sent to your schools.
It can take up to 20 calendar days for your results to be sent on, and you may want to leave enough time for a retake, so it may be wise to plan ahead.
How hard is the GMAT?
So you’ve made it to test day – what can you expect?
The GMAT has 4 main sections, and it can be helpful to try and time these correctly so as to avoid missing out any questions – as doing so can negatively impact your score.
The four sections are:
- Analytical Writing (30 mins): This is the essay section of the GMAT that assesses your writing ability by asking you to critique a written argument.
- Integrated Reasoning (30 mins): This section has a series of multi-part questions based on the analysis of data.
- Quantitative Reasoning (62 mins): This is the math section of the GMAT, and includes 31 data sufficiency and problem solving questions relating to arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.
- Verbal Reasoning (65 mins): This section involves 36 questions relating to critical reasoning, sentence correction, and reading comprehension skills.
How is the GMAT scored?
The GMAT is scored out of 800, based on the results of the quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning sections.
The analytical writing section is scored separately on a scale from 0-6, in increments of 0.5.
The integrated reasoning section is also scored separately, on a scale of 1-8.
What score do I need?
The score that you will need to gain admission to your school of choice will likely vary, depending on factors such as the level of prestige of your chosen school and the strength of the rest of your application.
For entry into a top-20 business school in the USA, a score of around 650 (73rd percentile) may keep you in the running.
For a top-10 school, you might be looking at needing closer to a score between 700-730 (88th-96th percentile).
If other parts of your application aren’t the strongest – for example you got a bad grade in a relevant class, or your statement of purpose isn’t top notch – then getting a high GMAT score may be one way to try and compensate for this.
What makes the GMAT so tough?
- It’s long – like, really long: 3 hours can be a long time to concentrate (even with those 2 optional 8-minute breaks!) so stamina can be key here. Pacing yourself can be a great way to make it through the 3-hour exam grind.
- The test format can throw you: If you don’t familiarize yourself with practice tests, some of the multi-step questions could throw you a curveball. Getting to grips with the timings and structure is a great way to prepare for the GMAT.
- It’s in English (potentially tricky if this isn’t your first language): While this may not be an issue for everyone, grammatical intricacies in the verbal section and structuring your argument in the analytical section can prove tough for those with English as a second language.
How can I best prepare for the GMAT?
If you haven’t been (completely) put off by this point, here are some top tips for acing your GMAT preparation and starting your MBA journey.
Top tips for acing the GMAT
Familiarize yourself with the test structure, timings, and content
The last thing you probably want to be spending precious seconds on in the exam is figuring out the questions! Making sure you know ahead of time what will come up and in what order is a great way to save time on exam day.
Develop a GMAT-specific study plan that includes each section
A plan can be a great tool. Actually following that plan? Probably even better. No matter how you aim to prepare for the GMAT, aim to do so both thoroughly and consistently to help set you in good stead for the test itself.
Laying out your plan in a manner that prioritizes the test areas that are your weakest can be a strategic and time-efficient method for making the most of your prep time. Taking a practice test fairly early on in your preparation can help you to identify which are your strongest and weakest areas, and allow you to fine-tune your plan.
Choose your GMAT prep materials with care
There are a lot of GMAT prep materials available, and not all are created equal. Before splurging on your test books, software, or workbooks, you may want to prioritize using materials marked as “GMAT Official”, and that are fairly recently published. Using up-to-date, accredited materials can help to ensure that your study time is put to best use, and you don’t waste time on non-relevant subject matter or out-of-date question types.
Use SMART goals to create targeted study goals
Creating SMART goals – goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound – can be a solid way to measure your study progress while preparing for the GMAT.
Examples of GMAT-related SMART goals might look like the following:
“I will spend 1 hour per day studying sentence correction during the first month of my preparation for the GMAT”
“I will complete 1 practice test per week, in test conditions, in the month leading up to sitting the GMAT”
Take practice tests (in test conditions)
Taking practice tests can be a great way to get that real-exam-feel to your revision sessions. Not only will this help you to get to grips with the structure of the exam, but it could even help lessen your nerves on the day. Taking these tests in exam conditions can also help to make sure you’re not over-relying on your notes.
Consider investing in a GMAT tutor
Depending on your study style, investing in a GMAT tutor can be a smart move. In addition to extensive knowledge on the exam format and what to expect, a tutor can help provide an unbiased assessment of your strengths and weaknesses in relation to the test, help with breaking down question types, and provide you with tried and tested test-taking strategies.
Manage your nerves on test day
Once you make it to exam day, managing your nerves may sound easier said than done! Making sure you get a good night’s sleep, fuel up, and focus your mind before you get started can help you to do your best under pressure.
Wrapping things up
We hope this has given you a better idea of what the GMAT is, why it can be tough, and how to overcome it.
For more info on the MBA admission process, or to get inspired with some success stories, check out Admissions Roadmap today.