What Is the GMAT?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what the GMAT is, how to qualify to take it, how to prepare to take it, and what to expect when you sit for it right here in Canada.

[Featured image] A learner in a brown shirt and glasses studies for the GMAT on a desk with a laptop computer, a smartphone, and a book.

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.

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a standardized entrance exam used for business school—schools will often require it as part of your application to Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. The exam, administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), measures analytical and critical thinking skills 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 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 Assessment1 essay30 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’ll write an analytical essay reviewing and critiquing an argument’s reasoning. Arguments pertain to various general interest topics, so you don’t have to be well-versed in any one topic. Instead, you will receive a score based on how well you evaluated the argument’s reason and evidence, supported your ideas, and organized your response. 

Integrated Reasoning

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

  • 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 to spot discrepancies and determine conclusions based on the information provided.

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

  • 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 many multiple-choice questions to test your problem-solving ability and ability to choose the best answer based on your reasoning. 

Verbal Reasoning

In this section, you will have 65 minutes to answer 36 questions measuring your understanding of the English language, analytical skills, and critical reading ability. You can expect three types of questions: 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 and whether a sentence correctly expresses an idea.

Section order

Before you begin your GMAT exam, you can choose the order you’d like to take the four sections. There are three possibilities. If you don’t pick one of the options, you can expect to complete the first option. The three options are:

  1. Analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal

  2. Verbal, quantitative, integrated reasoning, analytical writing assessment

  3. Quantitative, verbal, integrated reasoning, analytical writing assessment

Test centres vs. online exam

You can schedule your GMAT exam at an onsite facility or take it online from home, as long as you have the appropriate software. Deciding where to take your GMAT depends on your preferences. If you like a testing facility's imposed silence and structure, that might be the best option. However, if you prefer taking the test from the comfort of your home, that might be your best option.

In-person testing is available seven days a week, and you can book it up to six months in advance. At-home testing is available whenever you are. Either method allows you to take the exam up to five times within 12 months.

GMAT cost

The fee to take the GMAT exam at a testing centre is 275 USD [2]. You may encounter additional fees for enhanced score reports.

If you take the test online, the fee is 300 USD [2]. The biggest difference is you can decide which schools will receive your scores after you learn how you did.

You may need to pay additional fees if you need to change the location or reschedule your test.

Eligibility requirements

You must be at least 18 to take the GMAT, though candidates between 13 and 17 can take the exam with a legal guardian’s written permission [3]. Most people who take the exam are doing so to pursue their MBA. While the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) may list no specific educational requirements, most candidates already hold a bachelor's degree.

How GMAT scoring works

You will receive a score for each of the four GMAT sections you complete. You will also receive a Total GMAT Score between 200 and 800, composed of your verbal and quantitative reasoning scores  [4]. Altogether, you will get five scores from your GMAT exam.

Here’s how each section is scored [4]:

  • 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 for four of the five sections. The Analytical Writing Assessment score will not be available as an unofficial score but will appear on your official score. You’ll have two minutes to accept or cancel these scores. It’s better to come prepared knowing which minimum score you’re willing to accept or whether you’d prefer to wait and retake the exam another time. You can retake the GMAT once every 16 calendar days and five times within 12 months.

If you fail to decide, your scores will automatically be cancelled. Your official scores should be ready within 20 calendar days of the test date. GMAT scores are valid for five years and available for reporting up to 10 years.

Benefits of taking the GMAT

Business schools worldwide use the GMAT for admission to MBA and other business master’s degree programs. There are many benefits associated with taking the GMAT:

  • A strong score can improve your chances of acceptance into top business schools by showing your readiness to begin graduate-level work. About 2,400 business schools accept GMAT scores for admission to over 7,700 programs [5].

  • Many educational institutions offer scholarships to those applicants with high GMAT scores.

  • A good GMAT score can also be a factor in your post-MBA job position and salary. Recruiters and consulting firms are looking at GMAT scores when vetting candidates. If your score is 710 or above, you should include it on your resume [6].

  • You may improve several skills. When you’re studying for the GMAT exam, you’re constantly testing your logical, analytical, reasoning, and problem-solving skills, which can help you strengthen these important areas.

How to prepare for the GMAT

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

  • Give yourself enough time. Begin studying for the GMAT at least six months before you need to start applying to MBA programs.

  • Use GMAT study resources. There are many 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. Several online courses will help you prepare for the GMAT. The Math for MBA and GMAT Prep, available on Coursera, can help you brush up on many of the skills you’ll need to excel on the exam.

Explore more with Coursera

Earn your MBA online with the iMBA from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business. The 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.

Article sources


e-GMAT. “GMAT vs CAT: Key differences on eligibility, syllabus, format, difficulty, validity, https://e-gmat.com/blogs/gmat-vs-cat-differences/.” Accessed February 16, 2023.

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