Taking the GMAT



About the GMAT Test

Business schools generally use the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) to assess the quality of applicants. It is a standardized computer-adaptive test (CAT) that is delivered in English. It is typically only used as one predictor of academic success among many. Different schools will place different levels of emphasis on this test.


The GMAT measures the basic verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that you have acquired and developed over an extended period of time in education, in work, and in life. The GMAT consists of 3 main parts:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment: Two 30 minute essays
  • Quantitative Section: One 75-minute, 37-question section
  • Verbal Section: One 75-minute, 41-question section

It is important to keep in mind that the GMAT does NOT assess any of the following:

  • Your job skills
  • Your business knowledge
  • Specific content from an undergraduate degree or other university work
  • Your abilities in specific subject areas
  • Any of your subjective qualities or skills such as motivation, creativity, or perseverance

What a CAT is and how it works 

The CAT software calculates your score based on the number of questions you answer correctly, the difficulty of the questions you answer, and the number of questions you complete. When you take the GMAT CAT, you'll begin each section with a medium-level question and an average score. If you answer the question correctly, the computer will raise your score and give you a harder question. If you answer the question incorrectly, your score will decrease and you'll be given an easier question. The process repeats for each question in the section, to arrive at your final score for that section.

The overall composite score for the GMAT ranges from 200 to 800 in increments of 10. It is based on the combination of Math and Verbal scores (with each section ranging from 0 to 60). Your AWA essays are graded on a scale of 0 to 6, each by a person and by a computer. These four scores are then averaged together and rounded to the nearest half point. The AWA score does not, however, count toward the composite score.

Analytical Writing: The GMAT begins with the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA). For the AWA, you will be given two separate writing tasks: Analysis of an Issue and Analysis of an Argument. For each, you will be provided with 30 minutes to compose an essay.

Quantitative: You are allowed an optional five-minute break, and then will have to continue with the Quantitative section. The 37 questions in this section fall into one of two categories - Data Sufficiency or Problem Solving. The maximum time allowed for this section is 75 minutes.

Verbal: Following the second optional five-minute break, the Verbal section begins, featuring three categories of questions: Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and SentenceGMAT test Correction. Once again, you are allowed a maximum of 75 minutes to complete the section.

For more detailed information on each section of the test, please visit www.mba.com. If you happen to be planning a few years in advance (bravo!), you might also want to watch a few videos on the integrated reasoning section that will be introduced in 2012.

Preparing for the GMAT

Prepare? Perhaps you are thinking that having gone through a barrage of standardized tests in your past and having completed a college education there should be no need to prepare. The answer is yes and no. First, it always is helpful to have practiced and know the form of a test before walking in the door so you spend less time deciphering directions and format and more time answering questions. Second, there are likely to be some questions (particularly in the math section) that look rather alien unless you are prepared. Most of us learned our basic Algebra and Geometry somewhere along the line, probably in high school. Sadly, some if not much of that information seems to have trickled out of our brains as we crammed them with other information in more recent years. As one test taker put it, "If you know Calculus but forgot fractions - you are in trouble!"

Resources: One good source to prepare for the GMAT is http://www.mba.com/mba/TaketheGMAT. The people at www.mba.com provide FREE test prep software that will help you prepare to take the GMAT and become familiar with the test format and questions. They also provide helpful test-taking strategies from those who know the test well.

If you are looking for some more advanced help, you can access a number of on-line test prep services. They generally offer various levels of test preparation including regular classes, online classes, and private tutoring that will help you to improve your test taking skills and prepare you for everything you will face on the GMAT. There are countless other resources available on the topic as well. Any bookstore you walk into should have several books available with practice exams and tips and advice for test takers. Do not be overwhelmed, but do take the time to prepare yourself so that you know what to expect going into the test. 

In all your preparations it is important to remember to leave yourself enough time before your application deadlines so that you can study and take the GMAT and allow time (up to four weeks) for the scores to arrive. While it would be unreasonable to expect testing to be fun, at least if you have taken time to prepare you should feel satisfied that you have worked hard and will do well on your test. And that is how you make a virtue of necessity. Good luck!


Check out: Business & MBA Graduate Programs

Photo by Nic McPhee

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