GMAT Test Preparation Guide

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Preparing for the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) requires intensive study and concentration. Over 2,000 schools use the GMAT exam, including 7,000 MBA and master’s programs.

Applicants can apply to graduate business school after earning a bachelor’s degree in business or another field. Graduate admission counselors review academic performance and GMAT scores to understand the strengths of prospective students.

Over 2,000 schools use the GMAT exam, including 7,000 MBA and master’s programs.

Preparation for the GMAT is challenging. The exam tips outlined below can make studying easier for students. Using practice exams and other study methods may increase a test taker’s chances of earning high GMAT scores.

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What Is the GMAT?

Graduate business schools use the GMAT to help assess a prospective student’s academic readiness for graduate-level study. The GMAT is conducted on a computer, usually in a testing center.

Many graduate business programs require applicants to take the GMAT. Basic arithmetic, algebra, data analysis, and grammar make up the exam’s content. The test measures a student’s ability to think analytically and understand complex data.

Admissions officials at graduate business schools consider exam scores, academic records, work experience, and supporting application materials when determining the best students for each program.

Test takers begin the exam process at least six months before the test date. Two or three months of dedicated study time usually proves adequate, but individual test takers determine a personalized study timeline. Strong preparation strategies include taking practice tests and setting aside time to study exam questions.

Students must also ensure there is ample time to take the exam and receive test scores before graduate school application due dates.

GMAT vs. GRE: What's the difference?

How to Register

Students register for the GMAT online. Exam officials recommend test takers schedule an exam two to three months before a preferred test date. Testing occurs every day, several times a day, which provides students with many opportunities to take the exam.

Business school candidates can take the GMAT two times. Each exam costs $250, which includes the price of sending scores to five schools. Students should take the GMAT around five months before the application deadline to allow enough time for a retake.

Test takers can reference the GMAT Handbook when registering and preparing for the exam.

Learn what else applying to college entails:

What Is Involved in a College Application? What Colleges Are Looking For in a Successful Applicant Online Master's Degree and Program Guide

What Does the GMAT Look Like?

The GMAT includes four sections, outlined in the table below. Students can choose from three options for the exam section order, beginning with analytical writing assessment, verbal reasoning, or quantitative reasoning.

On exam day, testers receive two optional eight-minute breaks. The exam takes three and half hours to complete, including the two breaks.

The first question on the verbal or quantitative section starts at medium difficulty. After that, the exam adjusts the question difficulty based on the test taker’s correct and incorrect answers. Testers may not skip, return to, or change answers to questions once answers are submitted.

GMAT Exam Structure

Section Format Time
Analytical Writing Assessment Essay 30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning Multiple Choice 30 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning Multiple Choice 62 minutes
Verbal Reasoning Multiple Choice 65 minutes

Analytical Writing Assessment

The analytical writing assessment (AWA) tests a student’s essay writing and grammar skills. Test takers receive a writing prompt and craft an essay response within the allotted 30-minute timeframe. The topics usually relate to business, but testers can receive topics on a variety of other subjects. GMAT essays require 4-5 paragraphs.

Skills

Students exhibit analytic reasoning skills by examining the argument presented in the question. Test takers receive scores based on how well answers support or disprove the question’s argument.

AWA is graded by a machine algorithm and trained human graders. Students can find sample questions in practice exam workbooks and online. Preparation involves practicing organizing and writing a cohesive essay in the permitted time frame.

Here is a sample question students might encounter on the GMAT.


In this section, you will be asked to write a critique of the argument presented. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject. Specifically,

  • Evaluate the argument and plan a response before you begin writing
  • Organize your ideas and develop them fully
  • Provide relevant supporting reasons and examples

The following appeared in the editorial section of a monthly business news magazine:

“Most companies would agree that as the risk of physical injury occurring on the job increases, the wages paid to employees should also increase. Hence it makes financial sense for employers to make the workplace safer: they could thus reduce their payroll expenses and save money.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion, be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.

You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

Source: mba.com

Tips

A common mistake by test takers is writing a personal opinion to argue for or against the topic in the question. The AWA reviewers want candidates to write a critique of the argument in the prompt. Test takers should focus on examining the validity of the argument then explaining its missteps.

A test taker usually answers the question by revealing flaws in the argument. AWA questions almost always rely on assumptive conclusions without proper evidence. Tester takers locate and explain the flaws in AWA answers.

Avoid using assumptions to explain errors in the question’s argument. Test takers should aim to use sound external evidence to support exam answers.

Integrated Reasoning

In the integrated reasoning section, test takers demonstrate the ability to solve complex problems using data. Examining large amounts of data to make important decisions is a central task for all business graduate school students.

Candidates encounter four types of questions in this section: multi-source reasoning, table analysis, graphics interpretation, and two-part analysis. This portion features a total of 12 questions. Candidates use online calculators supporting basic functions to help solve each question.

Skills

Test takers showcase skills in synthesizing, evaluating, organizing, and combining information to solve complex problems. The information for each question comes in the form of graphics, text, and numbers from multiple sources.

The multi-source reasoning portion examines the test taker’s ability to interpret data from various sources to answer questions correctly. The table analysis segment focuses on table data comprehension and application skills.

The graphics interpretation section measures aptitude in understanding graphic data. In the two-part analysis portion, test takers solve complex quantitative or verbal problems.

Tips

Integrated reasoning questions require test takers to recognize both the question’s big picture and minor details. Candidates must pay close attention to details like units of measurement. The exam may attempt to trick test takers by changing small details in the answers.

Candidates can prepare for this section by familiarizing themselves with data presentation and interpretation methods. Test takers may also practice using the computer calculator. During the exam, reviewing the available answers at the start of the question can offer guidance on how to solve the problem.

Quantitative Reasoning

The quantitative reasoning section measures the ability to solve quantitative problems and interpret graphic data. Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, and some geometry is required to complete the section’s 31 multiple-choice questions. Test takers have 62 minutes to complete the section.

Skills

The quantitative reasoning portion focuses on two skills: problem solving and data sufficiency. Both parts examine the candidate’s ability to solve complex questions using analytical skills. The problem-solving segment offers a simple question with five multiple-choice answers and requires basic math skills to solve.

Read a sample problem-solving question below:


On a 3-day fishing trip, 4 adults consumed food costing $60. For the same food costs per person per day, what would be the cost of food consumed by 7 adults during a 5-day fishing trip?

  1. $300
  2. $175
  3. $105
  4. $100
  5. $84

Answer: B. $175

Source: prepscholar.com

In the data sufficiency portion, candidates assess the information provided and determine if enough data is given to solve the problem. If enough data is present, test takers can solve the problem.

Read a sample data sufficiency question below.


Is the average (arithmetic mean) of x and y greater than 20?

  1. The average (arithmetic mean) of 2x and 2y is 48.
  2. x = 3y

  1. Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.
  2. Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.
  3. Both statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
  4. EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.
  5. Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient.

Answer: A. Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.

Source: prepscholar.com

The quantitative reasoning section tests how well candidates understand basic math principles. Test takers encounter simple arithmetic, decimals, percentages, exponents, multiples, and ratios in this segment.

Tips

Test takers can prepare for the quantitative reasoning section by practicing arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and word problem skills. Candidates should make sure to read each question carefully, especially the word problem questions.

During the exam, carefully consider the data and answers for each question to understand the expectations for how to solve the problem. For problem-solving questions, try eliminating the wrong answers in the beginning. This strategy reduces the total number of potential answers and decreases the complexity of the process.

In data sufficiency questions, avoid making assumptions of geometric figure quantities. Solving practice problems for both categories helps train test takers for the quantitative reasoning questions prior to exam day.

Verbal Reasoning

The verbal reasoning section of the GMAT measures aptitude in reading, comprehending, and correcting written material through 36 multiple-choice questions. Test takers must evaluate arguments and correct provided information to properly express the questions’ main idea. Grammar, comprehension, and critical thinking all come into play.

Skills

Three skills comprise the verbal reasoning section: reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction.

The reading comprehension portion tests the candidate’s ability to understand written information and concepts. Test takers interpret the content, arrive at reasonable conclusions, and project further context based on the initial interpretation.

Critical reasoning focuses on making and evaluating arguments. Test takers read short argumentative passages then select an answer formulated as statements designed to strengthen or weaken the passage. Test takers select one statement to prove or disprove the passage, depending on what the exam questions ask.

Sentence correction requires attention to grammar, word choice, and sentence structure. The section asks test takers to improve sentences to more effectively express an idea or relationship. Each question offers a sentence with an underlined section. Candidates rephrase the underlined portion.

Review the sample verbal reasoning question below.


The cost of producing radios in Country Q is ten percent less than the cost of producing radios in Country Y. Even after transportation fees and tariff charges are added, it is still cheaper for a company to import radios from Country Q to Country Y than to produce radios in Country Y.

The statements above, if true, best support which of the following assertions?

  1. Labor costs in Country Q are ten percent below those in Country Y.
  2. Importing radios from Country Q to Country Y will eliminate ten percent of the manufacturing jobs in Country Y.
  3. The tariff on a radio imported from Country Q to Country Y is less than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Y.
  4. The fee for transporting a radio from Country Q to Country Y is more than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Q.
  5. It takes ten percent less time to manufacture a radio in Country Q than it does in Country Y.

Answer: C. The tariff on a radio imported from Country Q to Country Y is less than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Y.

Source: mba.com

Tips

The verbal reasoning section has the most difficult questions. Only 1% of testers score above 45, with the highest possible score at 51. To score well, candidates should study the practice questions several months in advance of the test date.

During the exam, try simplifying or rephrasing the language to help improve comprehension. Only focus on the question being asked and ignore irrelevant information. Read through each answer option and use the process of elimination to remove wrong answers.

Identify whether the question models a strengthen, weaken, assumptive, or inference style. Understanding the question style assists test takers in determining the best answer.

GMAT Score Chart

Individual scores for GMAT sections can highlight an applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. Total GMAT scores range from 200 to 800. Two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600.

GMAT percentiles change every year. A percentile ranking represents the percentage of test takers each candidate scored higher than. The ranking is calculated based on all exam scores in the last three years.

Two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600.

Read through the score chart below for score averages in different exam sections.

GMAT Scoring

Section Score Range Average Score
Analytical Writing Assessment 0-6 4.43
Integrated Reasoning 1-8 4.6
Quantitative Reasoning 6-51 40.7
Verbal Reasoning 6-51 27.26
Total Score 200-800 568.21
Source: mba.com

Submitting Your GMAT Scores

Official GMAT scores become available within 20 days after the exam. On exam day, test takers choose five GMAT-accepting programs to send an official score report. If candidates opt to wait to send scores or want to send scores to more than five programs, they can order additional score reports for a fee.

GMAT scores remain valid for five years. If candidates take the exam more than once, the official score report will contain all scores. Test takers can accept or cancel their scores on test day at no cost or later for a fee. Only accepted scores are sent to programs.

Test takers can complete the exam once every 16 calendar days and no more than five times in one year or eight times during a lifetime.

GMAT Practice Tests

GMAT practice tests are the best way for students to improve test-taking skills and prepare for the exam. For the best outcome, treat practice exams exactly like the real test.

Candidates can access free and priced practice tests. The GMAT Handbook and GMAT Starter Kit offer plenty of tips to start preparing for the exam.

GMAT exam preparation offers test takers practice tests and GMAT study resources at a variety of prices.

Where to find GMAT practice tests:

Other Study Methods

Diverse study methods can help promote better GMAT outcomes. Flashcards and test books that explain test question mechanics may prove useful for some test takers.

Many of the same websites that offer practice tests also provide test prep courses. These courses offer a deep dive into GMAT questions and answers to help testers understand how to best solve problems.

Manhattan Prep GMAT, Ready4 GMAT, and Veritas GMAT Prep Course all offer apps to help candidates study from anywhere.

Choose a study app.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who needs to take the GMAT?

    Most graduate business programs around the world require GMAT scores as part of the admission process. Some schools might accept GRE test scores, but most ask for the GMAT.

  • What is a good GMAT score?

    A good GMAT total score is 550 – 640, with a quantitative subscore of 38-47, verbal subscore of 28-34, integrated reasoning score of 5-6, and an essay score of 4.5-5. These scores may be good enough when applying to most schools, but not highly competitive programs.

  • What is the most accurate GMAT practice test?

    The GMAT official starter kit includes two practice tests. Kaplan, Veritas, Manhattan Prep, and Princeton Review provide unofficial GMAT practice tests.

  • How long should you prepare for GMAT?

    The average test taker spends 3-6 months preparing for the exam. According to a Graduate Management Admission Council study, about 62% of test takers begin studying four or more weeks before the test date. Generally, those who studied more for the test scored higher.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Krystal Covington, MBA

Krystal Covington, MBA

Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships.

Covington founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills, and connect with other high-achieving women. Covington received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.

Krystal Covington is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.


Featured Image: PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

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