GMAT Exam Prep Resource Guide

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What is the GMAT?

The graduate management admissions test, or GMAT, is an exam taken by students who plan to pursue a graduate-level degree in business. Whether you’re going for a Master in Business Administration (MBA), master’s degree in management or marketing, or pursuing a master’s in banking or finance, taking the GMAT is a requirement for many schools just like the SAT/ACT was required for admission to the school where you obtained your undergraduate degree and the LSAT is required for those who want to go to law school. While some schools are changing this, the leading graduate business schools still expect to receive your GMAT exam score, as it was created to be a graduate business school assessment to enable business schools to find the best possible students. The GMAT exam is used to measure student’s reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and quantitative skills. On exam day, you'll solve questions from an online question bank with a varying difficulty level using quantitative and verbal reasoning using both complex and foundational concepts. Because this can have a huge impact on your higher education journey, it's best to start out by taking a diagnostic test to figure out your focus areas and what kind of test taking strategies you should use as this can help you improve performance on GMAT exam day. You can also use the GMAT official guide and many other GMAT prep guides, which offer key concepts, verbal review, quantitative review chapters, detailed answer explanations, practice questions, the chance to have access to comprehensive practice online for the test using the GMAT exam structure or even a mobile app, and more. MBA program requirements for exceptional communication skills and the ability to compute and analyze mathematical data makes it an important part of the application process, and acceptance into your dream school can hinge on your score. Because of this, it’s highly recommended that you spend time studying for the exam.

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Why Take the GMAT?

Attaining a bachelor’s degree in business, economics, accounting, or another business-related area is enough to get an entry-level position in a similar field. You might even attain a low-level management position but, to actually climb the corporate ladder and achieve management status, an advanced degree might be required. For some, that advanced degree could be an online MBA. For accountants, it could be an MBA or becoming a CPA. Regardless of the desired result, to get there, a potential graduate student will likely have to take the GMAT exam, the entrance exam created by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which is an association of leading graduate business schools, as this is a requirement for many business-related graduate programs and is considered important within the graduate management education industry. The full name of the test is the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT exam, and it covers fundamental skills and key concepts so that test takers can prove that they are capable. There are some business master's programs that do not require students to take the GMAT and some that accept the GRE, but for the most exclusive MBA programs from the bigger universities, the GMAT exam is a requirement. The test includes sections that cover integrated reasoning, critical reasoning, reading comprehension, and even an analytical writing assessment. There are multiple choice questions with a varying difficulty level depending on how you answer questions, verbal and quantitative sections, and an essay that you will have to complete on test day.

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How Important Is the GMAT for Business School Admission?

If you plan to attend a graduate school that holds regional accreditation, then your GMAT score is often a mandatory part of your application - you can choose where to send your score when you are planning to take your GMAT exam. Schools with national accreditation may or may not require it, but many do because it is a tangible score of your abilities just as much as your school transcripts are. Of all the graduate school requirements, submitting a GMAT score is high on the list. A student with a high undergraduate GPA, stellar essay, and excellent references may still only gain provisional acceptance into many business schools without a GMAT score. You’ll want to carefully read the admission requirements for your desired school and, if the GMAT exam is necessary, make plans to take the exam within the required time frame, with plenty of time beforehand to review practice questions, either from an online question bank or past GMAT exam questions.

Important Questions and Answers

When you choose to take the GMAT is up to you, but most people in undergraduate programs that plan to take the exam end up taking it during their last year in school. You should register at least six months before your desired exam date to ensure you can get the location and dates you want. Many students opt to register a year in advance and take the extra time to study and prepare.There are plenty of ways to study. The Graduate Management Admissions Council even offers official practice questions, an online question bank, timed practice tests based on past GMAT exams, the chance to create custome practice sets, and more before you ever enter a testing center. Here is the process to take the GMAT:
  • Register for the exam. You can do this in several ways:
    • Phone
    • Fax
    • Postal Mail
    • Email
  • Sign up for the exam on You’ll need to complete the following:
    • Create an account on
    • Once your account has been created and verified click on “Register”
    • Provide the information requested:
      • Name
      • Address
      • Email address
      • Country of residence
      • Phone number
      • Native language
      • Date of birth
      • Gender
      • Preferred language for correspondence
    • If you choose to provide the optional information, you’ll answer the following:
      • Highest level of education attended
      • The institution from which you got your degree
      • Month and year of graduation or expected graduation
      • Undergraduate major or primary field of study
      • Undergraduate secondary field of study
      • Overall undergraduate GPA (GPA conversion table is provided)
    • Additional information about graduate school plans, why you want to attend, your work history, and other information will be requested.
    • You can now register for the GMAT exam. Choose the location and dates that you prefer and select at least one alternate location and date. will try to accommodate your first choice but in the event that’s not possible your second choice will be selected.
    • Pay for the GMAT exam. The exam costs $250 and is payable through credit or debit card. If you choose to register by mail, you’ll need to print out the application packets, fill it out, and include a check or money order for the full amount of the registration fee. You can also include your credit or debit card number if you prefer to pay that way.
    • Then you’ll mail the entire packet to:
      • Pearson VUE
      • Attention: GMAT Program
      • PO Box 581907, Minneapolis, MN 55458-1907, USA
You can take the GMAT once every 16 days, but no more than five times in a rolling 12-month period. There’s also a lifetime limit of eight attempts. You should choose a testing date and time that matches your circadian rhythm. For example, if you’re a morning person, taking the exam at 8 am is ideal, not so much if you dread getting up early in the morning. On the flip side, if you thrive in the afternoon and evening, picking a testing time that is later in the day is good, but those who start to wind down as the sun sets should avoid late testing hours. This is why registering early is important, you have a better chance of getting a testing day and time that is most suited to your needs. If you have to reschedule your exam, there is a $60 rescheduling fee. You can use the same process to reschedule as you used when you scheduled initially. Another option if you are planning on retaking the GMAT is to take the slimmed down GMAT exam.

What Does it Measure?

The GMAT measures a student’s ability to compute mathematical problems and comprehend and convey analytical information in written and verbal form. In other words, MBA programs want to make sure their students can do the computations that people with an MBA will be expected to perform, as well as understand what the computations mean well enough to convey this information to others be it in written form or verbally. The exam consists of four sections that are used to measure those skills and the questions you answer are chosen using an algorithm called computer adaptive testing, or CAT. This means the test adjusts its questions based on the ability a test taker demonstrates while taking the exam. The highest possible score on the GMAT is 800.

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Sections of the GMAT

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

In this section, you will be given an argument based on a business topic, issue, or process. You will have 30 minutes to critique the argument and then defend or refute the argument. The essay is used to measure your analytical abilities as well as your capacity to convey a compelling, well-thought-out argument regarding an issue. For scoring purposes, the lowest score possible is zero and the highest is six, with increments of 0.5. Here is an example of an AWA exam statement, which you would need to critique on its argument: The following appeared as part of an article in a trade magazine: “During a recent trial period in which government inspections at selected meat-processing plants were more frequent, the number of bacteria in samples of processed chicken decreased by 50 percent on average from the previous year’s level. If the government were to institute more frequent inspections, the incidence of stomach and intestinal infections throughout the country could thus be cut in half. In the meantime, consumers of Excel Meats should be safe from infection because Excel’s main processing plant has shown more improvement in eliminating bacterial contamination than any other plant cited in the government report.”

Integrated Reasoning (IR)

The IR section of the exam measures your ability to evaluate information. It consists of 12 questions that are a combination of written information, figures, charts, and graphs. You must demonstrate that you understand what the information means. You’ll have 30 minutes to complete this section and scores range from a low of 1 to a high of 8. Examples of questions that might be included in this section include data table analysis, two-part analysis, and multi-point reasoning.

Quantitative Analysis

This is one of the longer sections of the exam. It’s 31 questions and you’ll have 62 minutes to complete the section. The QA section measures your ability to analyze data. You’ll be provided with data and a scenario. Your responses to questions will be based on the data and scenario. This section is CAT, so as you answer questions, the difficulty level of each question might change based on your previous answer. Scoring ranges from 0 to 60. Here’s an example question from the QA section: Each employee of a certain company is in either Department X or Department Y, and there are more than twice as many employees in Department X as in Department Y. The average (arithmetic mean) salary is $25,000 for the employees in Department X and $35,000 for the employees in Department Y. Which of the following amounts could be the average salary for all of the employees of the company? Indicate all such amounts.
  • $26,000
  • $28,000
  • $29,000
  • $30,000
  • $31,000
  • $32,000
  • $34,000

Verbal Analysis

The verbal section is 36 questions that must be completed in 65 minutes. The section measures your ability to correct sentences, your comprehension skills, and your ability to glean meaning from what you read. Scores range from a low of 0 to a high of 60. Here’s an example question from this section: The capacity of embryonic stem cells to develop into most types of human tissue, which makes them potentially valuable for medical applications, but the genetic program that underlies this quality is not yet known.
  • tissue, which makes them
  • tissue makes them
  • tissues, which make them
  • tissue, making them
  • tissue make it

How the GMAT is Scored

Each section is scored separately and then the four scores are combined for a comprehensive score. The scoring is proprietary, and GMAC doesn’t release a lot of information on the scoring algorithm. It is also difficult to calculate a score because a question’s worth is based on its difficulty in comparison to other questions asked and answered because of the computer adaptive testing patterns. What we do know is that there is no pass/fail mechanism. There also is no penalty for guessing an answer; actually, it’s encouraged. You’ll receive section scores (as detailed above), a comprehensive score, and percentile scores. Each school values each section and score differently, so there’s no definitive way of knowing what an “acceptable” score actually is except to talk to your prospective school and check what they say is an acceptable score, but aiming for at least a cumulative score of between 550 and 600 is ideal.

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How Long is Your Score Valid?

GMAT test scores are valid for five years. If you apply to business school after the five-year period, you’ll be required to take the exam again. Concepts in the business world often change and evolve and schools want to ensure that incoming students are aware of those changes. This is especially important for those who took the exam before 2012. The GMAT format has changed and another section has been included since then. So, to try and apply to graduate school with GMAT results that are no longer accurate is not possible, as the scores would not be made available after a specific time frame.

Will Business Schools See Your Cancelled Test Scores?

For the ability to compare, your canceled test scores will be visible to you. The scores can be reinstated up to 4 years and 11 months after the scores are populated. However, schools that receive your GMAT results will not be able to see your canceled scores.

Are Your Scores Good Enough?

In most cases, business schools are looking for a particular overall score. The average GMAT test taker scores a 552, which is in the 43rd percentile. More exclusive schools, such as the Wharton School and Harvard Business School, require GMAT scores above 700, which corresponds with the 89th percentile. So, as you can see, there is a wide range of acceptance depending on the school. Some schools look at individual section scores when deciding to offer acceptance. For example, if two applicants have identical overall test scores, but one applicant scored higher than the other in an area that is of specific importance to that school, the applicant with the higher score in the desired area would be chosen. When choosing a business school, make sure you are aware of any areas that are of particular importance to the school, and make sure you brush up on those areas. You might be able to get a better score on the GRE, which can help if the business school accepts the GRE. What are the differences between the GMAT and GRE?

Tips for Studying for the GMAT

One of the best ways you can prepare for taking the GMAT is by using the official study guides and taking mock tests. Before you begin studying, take a mock test to get a baseline. This will let you know which areas need the most attention. The mock test will also help you prepare for the types of questions you’ll find on the exam. Then, select the study guides that focus on the area where you need the most work. The average successful GMAT test taker (by successful we mean those who got their needed score for the school they wanted to attend), studied for almost a year before taking the GMAT. This is not an exam you’ll want to cram for, you should take the time to go over each section thoroughly. So, to summarize:
  • Choose a target score. It can be the score you need to get into the school you want to attend, or it can just be a score that you think is impressive.
  • Take a mock test for a baseline score.
  • Use a GMAT study guide to review the sections.
  • Retake the mock test after several weeks of studying.
  • Evaluate the areas where you are having issues to determine why.
  • Consider taking a prep course for additional help and resources.
  • Here is a link to the Official GMAT Study Guide.
  • Here is a link to the Official GMAT Practice Test Starter Kit.

Tips for Taking the GMAT

Here are a few tips for studying for the GMAT:
  • Set up a testing center - create a space with a desk, chair (preferably an uncomfortable one made of wood or plastic) and a scratchpad and pen. Each time you take the practice exam, you should use this setup, so you are comfortable in that type of environment.
  • Administer the practice test the same way the actual test will be administered. For example, use the allotted time for each section and take the breaks. Though optional, it’s a good idea to take the exact amount of time you’ll have in the actual test so that you’ll get a feel for how much time the entire testing process will take.
  • Study a little bit each day, not in huge chunks. Spending a bit of time each day studying a different section is better for memory.
  • When you go over your test results, see if there are patterns in regard to questions missed or what confused you. Since the practice tests include questions that are identical to the type on the test, finding your weak spots here is a great way to know where you need to start with your studies.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the GMAT?

In total, the GMAT should take around 3.5 hours. However, as you likely know, it is not one long test that you will have to sit completing for 3.5 hours straight. The analytical writing assessment and the integrated reasoning sections are 30 minutes long each. And the quantitative section and verbal section are just over 60 minutes each; 62 and 65 minutes, respectively.

What is a computer adaptive test (CAT)?

You may have heard that the GMAT is a computer adaptive test. This means that, depending on what answers you give, the computer will decide which questions will be asked next. That’s part of what makes the test so difficult. You can’t just study every question because there are many more questions available than what you are likely to see when you take the test. It’s impossible to just memorize them all. The test begins by giving you questions deemed to be of medium difficulty. If you do poorly with these questions, it will begin to give you easier questions, and if you do well it will move on to more complex questions. These questions are weighted, which means that, if someone would be able to pass by answering 50 difficult questions correctly, then you could not also pass by answering 50 easy questions correctly. Your score will be based on how many of each type of question you answered correctly.