Understanding and Preparing for the GMAT
What is the GMAT?
The Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT, tests student preparedness for graduate school programs. The test is administered by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), which is among the world's leading nonprofit organizations specializing in graduate student development. Since its inception in 1954, the GMAT has emerged as the most widely accepted assessment tool among universities in over 114 countries for graduate-level business and management education.
Rather than testing skills in traditional academic subjects, the GMAT evaluates student capabilities needed in business and management, including problem-solving, critical reasoning, logic, analytical writing, and data sufficiency. Submitting GMAT scores is a requirement for admission into most MBA and some PhD programs in the United States, Canada, and Europe. All candidates with undergraduate experience who are interested in a graduate program in business should consider taking the GMAT as part of the application process.
Though unusual, a small percentage of colleges and universities do not require applicants to submit GMAT scores. Many of these schools offer online degrees promoting a limited or accelerated MBA program online, intending to attract applicants who have professional business experience. Generally though, GMAT scores are still required for both traditional and online MBA programs.
Though administered by a different institution, the GRE General Test assesses similar skills as the GMAT. The GRE is also widely accepted by many MBA programs as an indicator of a student's analytical writing, critical thinking, and verbal and quantitative reasoning skills. MBA programs will typically accept either GMAT or GRE scores, and will not require both for admission. Unlike the GMAT, the GRE tests different subjects by section, and it is often a better option for students pursuing a graduate degree in a subject other than business.
GRE vs. GMAT
Purpose: To assess broad critical thinking and reasoning skills at the graduate level
Structure: Consists of four sections:
- Analytical Writing (two 30-minute essays)
- Verbal Reasoning (two 30-minute subsections)
- Quantitative Reasoning (two 35-minute subsections)
- Experimental Section (two 30-35-minute math or verbal subsections)
Time: 3.5 hours (paper) or 3.75 hours (computer)
Scoring: Verbal and Quantitative sections scored from 130 to 170 in 1-point increments
Purpose: To assess critical thinking and reasoning skills specific to business and management at the graduate level
Structure: Consists of four sections:
- Analytical Section (one 30-minute essays)
- Integrated Reasoning (30-minutes)
- Quantitative Section (75 minutes)
- Verbal Section (75 minutes)
Time: 3.5 hours (computer)
Scoring: Scored in 10-point increments; Composite score ranges from 200 to 800
Online Business Schools that Don't Require the GMAT
While the GMAT is a staple of many graduate business program applications, some schools do not require the test. If you want to earn an MBA and do not want to take the GMAT or GRE, you can apply to any of the following accredited schools:
The GMAT evaluates mental agility, reasoning ability and critical thinking under pressure. The nature of the GMAT is not to test your familiarity with business or management-specific skills, but rather to demonstrate your potential for the level of mental aptitude and intelligence required among business and management professionals in the world today. Strong GMAT scores enhance your MBA application by demonstrating your capacity for applying a critical eye to complex writing,
along with quantitative and verbal concepts.
Though the GMAC has revised and improved the GMAT over time, the basic structure of the test remains the same. The categories were developed to assess the academic potential of all students irrespective of their educational background and geographic location. As the most widely accepted test for the MBA and other management-oriented graduate programs, GMAT scores are the universal standard for admissions into business programs at most accredited colleges and universities worldwide. Here is a breakdown of the four sections:
- Integrated Reasoning: Questions in this section ask students to analyze conclusive, assumptive, and evidence-based written arguments. Students are required to read a brief excerpt and apply logical reasoning and critical reading skills to select the most conclusive answer among several choices.
- Quantitative: The quantitative section assesses a student's ability to understand and use multiple mathematical principles simultaneously. Questions here are multiple choice; the most challenging questions include complex mathematical concepts and require a high level of quantitative reasoning abilities.
- Verbal: This section demonstrates how effectively a student can present and interpret language. Through multiple choice questions, students are asked to complete or correct sentences and interpret ideas using proper sentence structure.
- Analytical Writing Assessment: This section presents the student with a writing prompt; the student will be asked to apply critical thinking skills and argue the validity of the particular passage or statement that is provided.
The following outlines the details of each test section:
Analytical Writing Assessment
- Number and type (written/multiple choice) of Questions: One Essay
- Time: 30 minutes
- GMAT Scoring: 0-6
- What is Measured: Argument analysis skills
- Number and type (written/multiple choice) of Questions: 12 multiple choice questions
- Time: 30 minutes
- GMAT Scoring: 1-8
- What is Measured: Reasoning skills, interpretation of graphics, analysis of tables
- Number and type (written/multiple choice) of Questions: 37 multiple choice questions
- Time: 75 minutes
- GMAT Scoring: 0-60
- What is Measured: Problem-solving, data sufficiency skills
- Number and type (written/multiple choice) of Questions: 41 multiple choice questions
- Time: 75 minutes
- GMAT Scoring: 0-60
- What is Measured: Critical reasoning, reading comprehension skills
GMAT Sample Questions
Sample GMAT questions from each section of the test are readily available online on the GMAT website. Though each section has its own distinct format, the following questions are characteristic of examples found on popular practice tests and study guides online:
Before the GMAT
The most important step in preparing for the GMAT is creating a plan. Just as you would for any important life event, you'll want to be fully prepared for the test. To avoid the stress of "cramming," be sure to study early and to have a number of target schools in mind. On test day, you will be allowed to send GMAT results automatically to five schools of your choice, and you are expected to come prepared with this information. You should also research each school's GMAT student averages and score requirements for admittance. Once you have narrowed your choice and pinned down program details, you can begin preparing for the GMAT.
Develop a Study Plan
Developing a study plan for the GMAT is an integral part of your preparation. Just as learning is different for everyone, so too is test preparation. While the GMAC recommends studying for about 50 hours prior to the test, there are a variety of study plans to accommodate all learning styles and schedules. If you are not sure which GMAT study plan would work best for you, try to avoid becoming stressed or frustrated; students preparing for the exam will find no shortage of resources to help them. Experts suggests adhering to the following advice to find your best study habits:
- Be patient with the preparation process and with yourself
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
- Pace yourself
- Adjust your study habits as you become comfortable with more and more information
It is a good idea to allow extra time for any GMAT study plan, even those designed around an accelerated format, in order to address any potential delays you may encounter with a particular section or subject. The following are just some of the most popular study plans that have proven effective among GMAT test-takers:
Preparing for the GMAT
Students preparing for the GMAT have a wealth of support resources available to them. Below, we have listed some of the most popular study guides and tutoring services. We have also highlighted effective practice tests and GMAT study tips.
GMAT Study Materials
GMAT 2016 Official Guide Bundle
This set of three official study guides, produced by the GMAC, includes a general guide book and volumes that will help you prepare for the quantitative and verbal sections. The guides include retired questions from previous GMAT exams, with exclusive online access to customized practice test options. Students may also watch videos and learn tips from officials who created the GMAT. Buy new from Amazon for $46.13; Customer-rated 4.5 out of 5 stars
Kaplan GMAT Premier 2016 with Practice Test
This set of multimedia study materials from Kaplan includes a book, DVD, and online and mobile-ready access for a full year. The guide includes six full-length practice tests with more than 1,200 detailed practice questions spanning all GMAT sections. Buy new for $25.86; Customer-rated 4 out of 5 stars
Cracking the GMAT Premium with Practice Test
The Princeton Review's guide offers six computer-adaptive practice tests – the most of their kind available among study guides today. This option also includes student access to the Premium Portal, with diagnostic exams, video tutorials, and multi-week study plans. Buy new for $28.55; Customer-rated 4.5 out of 5 stars
Ace the GMAT
This guide by Brandon Royal is designed around a plan to master all sections of the GMAT in just 40 days. The book helps students learn to recognize and solve the seven major problem types typically embedded in the verbal section of the GMAT. Buy new for $34.95; Customer-rated 5 out of 5 stars
McGraw-Hill Education 10 GMAT Practice Tests
This is the only book to offer 10 full-length practice tests together in one volume. Offering an answer key with in-depth explanations of all questions on the practice tests, the book mimics the exact content, structure, and level of difficulty as the official GMAT. Buy new for $12.54; Customer-rated 3 out of 5 stars
Manhattan Prep Complete GMAT Strategy Guide Set
This set by Manhattan Prep offers the latest in GMAT strategies, adapted to address recent changes to the test. The guide provides comprehensive explanations to sample questions and answers in all test sections, drafted by educators with GMAT scores in the 99th-percentile. Buy new for $144.00; Customer-rated 4.5 out of 5 stars
Tutors and Courses
Some students find that a personalized approach is key to preparing for the GMAT. Whether online or in-person, tutoring and study courses offer an interactive approach to GMAT preparation. Below are some of the most popular guided study programs:
The Princeton Review
The Princeton Review offers one-on-one private tutoring for GMAT students. The GMAT test-prep package includes 22 hours of instruction, and can also be customized according to individual student needs. The package provides 10 full-length computer-adaptive practice tests and comes with a money-back guarantee if your scores do not improve. Services start at $2,970.00.
Manhattan Prep offers four GMAT prep options: Interact GMAT Course and Live GMAT Course for flexible group study, and Private Tutoring and GMAT Boot Camp for more personalized and intensive prep services. The last three of those packages are offered online and in-person. Prices range from $549.00 – $2,650.00.
Veritas Prep instructors are among the most experienced in their field, and all instructors tested in the 99th-percentile on the GMAT. Veritas offers a suite of customizable package; popular packages range from 12-hour to 36-hour courses, available both online and in-person. Prices range from $2,950.00 – $6,950.00.
GMAT tutors at Kaplan provide a realistic simulation of test day, allowing students to take a practice test at an actual GMAT testing facility. Offering promo-code discounts and affordable pricing, Kaplan plans include self-paced, live online, in-person, or private tutoring options. Prices range from $699.00 – $2,599.00.
GMAT test prep services at TestMasters are designed around bundled packages, offering a range of hourly, 10-hour, 25-hour, and 60-hour sessions. Students may select the timeframe and format that works best for them. TestMasters provides tutoring over the phone, online, and in-person. Prices range from $100.00 – $4,750.00.
Next Step Test Prep
Next Step employs only experienced instructors with top GMAT scores, and has worked closely with test-takers to develop new strategies for successful test preparation. Popular tutoring packages range from 16 to 40 hours of one-on-one instruction; customized packages are also available. Prices start at $1,499.00.
GMAT Practice Tests
The importance of taking at least one practice test cannot be overstated. A practice test introduces you to the format of the exam and can teach you to budget your time on each section. GMAT timing is critical for your performance, so be sure to practice in real-time settings. Whether or not you are using a study guide or a tutor to help you prepare, there are a variety of GMAT practice tests readily available online. Below, we listed a few of the most common GMAT practice tests:
Kaplan Free GMAT Practice Test
This free test can be taken as a self-proctored or instructor-proctored exam online. All questions are designed to mimic those on an actual GMAT, but with optional live interactive feedback and analysis. Unlike some practice tests, this version features a complete Integrated Reasoning section.
Veritas Prep Free GMAT Practice Test
Veritas Prep strives to provide questions similar to those found on actual GMAT tests. Once students have taken this free test, they have the option to purchase six additional practice exams for $49.
The Princeton Review Free GMAT Practice Test
The Princeton Review offers a simple, straightforward approach to familiarizing yourself with the format of test. It contains all of the must-read GMAT information and the practice exam features the kind of questions students can expect to encounter, and helps students prepare for the time restrictions imposed.
Registering for the GMAT
The GMAT is available throughout the year at hundreds of locations around the world. It is better to register sooner rather than later. Typically, students can find a test date within one month of their initial registration online, and registering early allows you to take the test multiple times. On the official GMAT website, test-takers can search for test locations nearby, and pay the required fee. Though the regular price is $250, some schools offer GMAT fee waivers. Contact your school's admissions department or MBA counselor for individual waiver information.
Before GMAT Test Day
Get a good night's sleep: Our bodies and minds need deep sleep to recharge each night. Getting a good night's rest will ensure that you are optimally alert before your test.
Avoid studying in the evening: Fight the urge to "cram" or over-study for the test the night before. If you have studied properly leading up to the test, overworking your brain at the last minute will actually overload it! Studying the evening before can also increase anxiety and insecurity about the test, undermining all of the knowledge you developed.
Eat a healthy meal: Make sure your diet is full of "brain fuel" before the test. Take care of your mind and body as if you were an athlete preparing for a marathon. Try to eat whole grains and fresh produce; avoid caffeine, sugar, and fatty foods.
Plan your trip to the testing centerâ¦ And don't be late! Don't wait until the morning of your exam to plan your route to the testing center. Mapping out your trip and the time it will take you to arrive ahead of time is key to eliminating unnecessary stress and anxiety. Give yourself plenty of extra time to get to the testing facility, in case you run into traffic. Aim to arrive 30 minutes early to avoid rushing around before the test. If you are more than 15 minutes late, you may not be admitted and you might lose your registration fee.
GMAT Test Day
To Dos on the Day of the Test
There are strict rules governing what you can and cannot bring to the GMAT testing facility. You will only be allowed scratch paper in the testing room; any personal belongings must be placed in a storage locker before you take the exam. Below, we've provided a guide of what you should bring to the GMAT, and what you can leave at home:
WHAT TO BRING
- Personal identification:
- Government-issued driver license
- Government-issued national/state/province identity card
- International travel passport OR Military ID card
- A list of graduate programs that should receive your GMAT scores. (Note: you may NOT bring this list into testing room)
- Your appointment confirmation letter or email from Pearson VUE. (Note: you may still take the test as long as you have a scheduled appointment if you do not have this documentation.)
WHAT NOT TO BRING
- Mobile phones or other communication devices
- Notes or notecards
- Scratch paper
- Watches, stop watches, watch alarms
- Personal data assistants (PDAs)
- Beepers, pagers
- Photographic devices
- Stereos, radios
- Any electronic devices that could aid testing
- Books, pamphlets
- Dictionaries, translators, thesauri
- Pens or other writing tools
- Rulers or measuring devices
- Weapons, including but not limited to knives, firearms or anything that could be used as a weapon (includes conceal and carry permit-holders and off-duty law enforcement)
Strategies and Tips for GMAT Test Day
- Eat a healthy breakfast the morning of your test. Remember, you need a meal with nutrition and sustenance to last through the duration of the exam. While you will have the opportunity to snack during optional breaks, you are not permitted to bring food or drinks with you into the classroom.
- Understand how much time you have and try to pace yourself during the test. Manhattan Prep recommends the "neutral" approach in each timed section: don't answer questions too quickly, but don't lag behind either.
- You should understand the penalties involved in leaving an answer blank versus guessing the answer. Your odds of guessing the correct answer vary by section. In the quantitative section, where you can usually whittle your answer to two or three reasonable choices, you are better off guessing. In the Verbal section, blank answers do not count as much towards your overall score, so leaving questions blank is not as problematic.
- No cell phone use or communication devices may be used at the testing facility, including during breaks. Plan ahead by telling any family or friends who may try to reach you that you will be unavailable.
Finishing the Test
Immediately after you finish the test, you will receive an unofficial score report with your total GMAT score. By accepting your scores, you allow the GMAT to submit your scores to the schools you selected earlier in the day. Be careful: this is your only opportunity to cancel your scores. If you cancel your scores at this time but then change your mind, you may contact GMAT within 60 days to reinstate your score; if you do so, you will be assessed a $100 fee.
After the Test
Your GMAT Score and What to do Next
Test-takers receive their score immediately following the GMAT. Within 20 days of the exam, you will also be emailed a link to your Official Score Report. This includes the photo of you on test day at the testing facility, along with other background information (including your phone number, school, GPA, and intended area of graduate study). Your GMAT scores remain valid for five years after taking the test.
Your official score report also includes your percentile rank. For the GMAT, your total score is based on the Verbal and Quantitative sections; the Analytical Writing Assessment and Integrated Reasoning scores do not affect the total. Two-thirds of all GMAT test-takers average a total score between 400 and 600 out of a maximum of 800 points. Your score's percentile rank demonstrates the percentage of GMAT scores lower than yours in the most recent three-year period.
Retaking the GMAT
If you are not happy with your GMAT scores, you may retake the test up to five times within a 12-month period, but only once within a 30-day period. To retake the test, simply follow the instructions to register on the GMAC website and resubmit the registration fee. Remember: you may only cancel your scores immediately following the test at the testing facility. If you do not specify at that time that you want to cancel your scores, they will automatically be submitted to the list of schools you provided to the test administrators.
What is a good GMAT score?
This depends on which program you are interested in and your preferred school's admissions requirements. Though a "good" GMAT score is relative, on a scale of 200-800 for total overall score, two-thirds of students typically score between 400 and 600 overall.
What is the difference between the GRE and GMAT?
The GMAT is designed to test student capabilities and potential specifically for business and management graduate programs, while the GRE offers a broader test of graduate-level skills. In general, the GMAT is much more common for business students.
What does the GMAT measure?
The GMAT evaluates how well you use higher-order reasoning skills in various applications involving basic math, language, and writing skills. The test also requires critical thinking, complex judgement, analysis, and problem-solving skills.
When should I start studying?
With so many test dates throughout the year, students have the flexibility to approach the study process in their own way. Though individual preferences and studying styles vary between students, experts recommend at least three months of study time. Keep in mind that it will take three or four weeks for test results to reach your target schools.
How long are scores valid?
GMAT scores are valid up to five years from the date you took the test.
What is adaptive testing?
Adaptive testing uses computer-aided technology to customize the testing experience automatically based on a student's answers as the test progresses. If a student answers a difficult question incorrectly on the GMAT, the CAT will generate a less difficult next question, and vice-versa. Many practice tests now use this Computer-Aided Testing, or CAT system, to provide test-takers with a personalized study plan based on their strengths and weaknesses.
Should I retake the GMAT?
This depends on your reason for wanting to retake the exam. If you were distracted by an emergency on test day, for example, retaking the test may be a smart option for you. However, if you studied properly but were simply dissatisfied with your practice test results, it may not be worth the effort. Studies show that nearly 25% of second-time test-takers actually scored lower on their second attempt. Schools can see all of your GMAT scores from the last five years, and you may not want to risk a perceived "low score" becoming your top result after two or three tries.
What if I need to reschedule my test?
You may reschedule your exam online on the GMAT website, or call your regional office (also listed on MBA.com) to change your appointment by phone; there is a $10 phone surcharge. Scheduling changes made more than seven days before the scheduled exam require a fee of $50; changes made within seven days of the scheduled test time require a fee of $250. No changes can be made within 24 hours of the exam.
What if I am under 18 years of age?
GMAT test-takers who are under 18 must submit a consent/authorization form signed by their parent or legal guardian to GMATparentalconsent@pearson.com.
How much does the GMAT cost?
The cost to take the GMAT is $250, due online or via pay-by-mail at the time of registration.
Which schools require the GMAT?
Entry requirements vary from school to school, but the GMAT is widely accepted as a required assessment in most MBA programs, as well as other business and management programs in general. Many accounting and finance graduate programs also accept this test. Contact your schools of choice for details about their policies before registering for the GMAT.
How long is the GMAT?
The test is three and a half hours long. You have 60 minutes to write an essay, 75 minutes for reading comprehension, and 75 minutes for problem-solving skills.
Taking the Next Step
Many students already know where they want to attend school by the time they've scheduled the GMAT. But whether you've already picked a couple of target schools or are just beginning to search for the right program, it never hurts to learn more about the top programs in your chosen field.
Below, we've ranked the top departments in a variety of business fields. Whether you're interested in accounting, finance, or a related subject, our rankings will help you find the right school for your interests. As part of our rankings, we've weighed the academic quality and affordability of each school under our purview. Alongside these rankings, we've profiled these colleges in detail, covering each school's strengths and online platform. If you're still searching for the right fit, be sure to take a look at our rankings below.