What Is the GMAT?

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The GMAT is a standardized test often used for business school admissions. Learn about the format, how scoring works, and how to prepare for the GMAT to decide if this exam is right for you.

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The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a standardized exam often used for admission to graduate business schools and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. The exam, administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), measures analytical and critical thinking skills that are commonly necessary for success in graduate business programs.

Admissions committees typically use these exam scores to gauge your preparedness for graduate-level coursework. Although it's just one piece of the MBA admission process (and it's not always required), with a good GMAT score, you may stand out academically and qualify for merit-based scholarships.

In this article, we'll discuss what you can expect from the GMAT and offer some tips for preparing for this entrance exam.

GMAT sections

The GMAT is divided into four sections—analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. The exam takes a total of three hours and seven minutes, with two optional eight-minute breaks.

Here's a quick breakdown of each section:

SectionNumber of questionsTotal timeScore range
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)1 question30 minutes0-6 points
Integrated Reasoning12 questions30 minutes1-8 points
Quantitative Reasoning31 questions62 minutes6-51 points
Verbal Reasoning36 questions65 minutes6-51 points

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

In this section, you have 30 minutes to analyze an argument. You will be expected to write an analytical essay that involves reviewing and critiquing an argument’s reasoning. Arguments pertain to a variety of general interest topics, so you don’t have to be well-versed in any one topic. Instead, you will be scored on how well you evaluate the argument’s reason and evidence, support your own ideas, and organize your response. 

Integrated Reasoning

In this section, you have 30 minutes to complete 12 questions that measure your ability to use data for solving problems, though many of those main questions include additional questions. You can expect four main types of questions, including graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning, two-part analysis, and table analysis questions. You are allowed to use a calculator. 

  • Graphics interpretation: Measures your ability to read and understand data presented on graphs, especially when it comes to making inferences from such data. 

  • Multi-source reasoning: Measures your ability to read multiple sources in order to spot discrepancies and determine conclusions based on the information provided. 

  • Two-part analysis: Measures your ability to solve complex verbal and quantitative problems.  

  • Table analysis: Measures your ability to read and analyze a table of data, like a spreadsheet.  

Quantitative Reasoning

In this section, you will have 62 minutes to complete 31 questions that measure your ability to reason mathematically, solve quantitative problems, and understand graphic data. You can expect to see a lot of multiple-choice questions aimed at testing your ability to solve problems and choose the best answer based on your reasoning. 

Verbal Reasoning

In this section, you will have 65 minutes to answer 36 questions that measure your understanding of the English language, analytical skills, and ability to read critically. You can expect three types of questions, including reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence corrections. While these questions are multiple-choice, they will still draw on your ability to think critically, consider the evidence and draw conclusions. 

  • Reading comprehension: Measures your ability to read passages and make inferences based on information, context, and logical relationships.

  • Critical reasoning: Measures your ability to read short passages containing an argument and then evaluate the argument based on certain parameters.    

  • Sentence corrections: Measures your ability to identify correct grammatical usage in a sentence, as well as whether a sentence correctly expresses an idea.  

How GMAT scoring works

The GMAT is a computer-adaptative test, meaning the difficulty level of the questions adjusts to your performance as you answer each question. Correct answers will yield more difficult questions, while incorrect answers will generate easier questions. Ultimately, your score will reflect the difficultly level of your questions.

You will receive a score for each of the four GMAT sections you complete. You will also receive a Total GMAT Score, ranging between 200 and 800, that’s composed of your verbal and quantitative reasoning scores. Altogether, you will get five scores pertaining to your GMAT exam. 

Here’s how each section is scored: 

  • Analytical Writing Assessment: 0-6

  • Integrated Reasoning: 1-8

  • Verbal Reasoning: 6-51

  • Quantitative Reasoning: 6-51

  • Total GMAT Score: 200-800

Right after you complete the test, you’ll receive an unofficial score. Your official scores should be ready within 20 calendar days of the test date. GMAT scores are valid for five years and are available for reporting for up to 10 years.

What is a good GMAT score?

Upon receiving your unofficial test scores, you’ll have two minutes to accept or cancel these scores. If you fail to decide, your scores will automatically be canceled. It’s better to come prepared knowing which minimum score you’re willing to accept for yourself, or whether you’d prefer to wait and retake the exam another time. You can retake the GMAT once every 16 calendar days, for a total of five times within 12 months. 

Learn more about what makes a good GMAT score and how to find your goal score.


Where to take the GMAT

With the GMAT, you have the option of scheduling your test at an onsite facility or taking the exam online from home, as long as you have the appropriate software. Deciding where to take your GMAT depends upon your preferences. If you like the imposed quiet and structure of a testing facility, then that might be the best option for you. However, if you prefer taking the test from the comfort of your home, then that might be the best option. 

In-person testing is available seven days a week and can be booked up to six months in advance, while at-home testing is available whenever you are. With either method, you are allowed to take the exam up to five times within a 12-month period.

GMAT cost 

The fee to take the GMAT exam at a testing center is $275 and includes the option to send your scores to up to five schools. You may encounter additional fees for enhanced score reports. If you take the test online, the fee is $250, and again includes the option to send your scores to up for five schools. The biggest difference is that you can decide which schools will receive your scores after you learn how you did. 

In both instances, if you need to change the location or reschedule your test, you may need to pay additional fees.

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How to prepare for the GMAT

Preparation is essential to your success on the GMAT. Luckily, there are several ways to prepare for the exam:

  • Give yourself enough time. It is recommended to begin studying for the GMAT at least six months before you need to begin applying to MBA programs.

  • Use GMAT study resources. There are a number of excellent resources when it comes to studying for the GMAT. Whether you borrow books from the library, download study guides, or try online practice exams, you have several options.

  • Focus on each section. Although it may be tempting to jump around and learn a little about each section, it’s beneficial to plan your studying in a more focused manner. Tackle one section at a time. 

  • Take an online GMAT prep course. There are several online courses that will help you prepare for the GMAT. Emory University's Math for MBA and GMAT Prep course, available on Coursera, can help you brush up on many of the skills you’ll need to do well on the exam. 

Explore further with Coursera

Earn your MBA online from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business. The iMBA program is competitively ranked and features more flexibility to help you learn on your own time. In the meantime, take an open course from the University of Illinois or Macquarie University to see if an MBA is right for you.

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