The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a really useful tool in American universities (as well as in another 110 countries) to choose students for further study in business management programmes (at business schools, those doing business management masters, going to a Graduate business school, or enrolling on MBA programs, etc.).

This means that, if you wish to study across the pond, you may need to consider taking this exam if you are keen to enrol on any of the above courses. The website clarifies that:

"About two-thirds of the 1,900+ graduate business schools around the world require GMAT scores for admission, although an increasing number of schools accept GRE General Test scores as an alternative to GMAT scores. Schools that do not require GMAT scores nevertheless welcome GMAT scores to help access an applicant's qualifications.

NOTE: Schools that do not require GMAT or GRE scores generally have relatively lenient admission standards and/or are located outside North America."

So, are you a business school student wanting to make the most of university exchanges so you can live in the United States, particularly in a northern state? If so, you'll probably want to know a bit more about this test and why you need to sit the GMAT to prove your level in English and get past the MBA admissions process!

What is GMAT?

The GMAT is a standardised test in English set up by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

The GMAT score range is between 200 (the lowest score) and 800 (top marks).

A score of 550 is usually enough to go to a “smaller” university while you’ll generally need somewhere between 650 and 700 if you’re hoping to get into Harvard!

The test is designed so that half the candidates get over 500 and the other half get below 500 so that means there isn’t an objective good mark. Universities can decide what score they require and you're graded on a curve. It’s definitely not the typical exam you’d take in an English class, with a set in stone pass rate and incremental groups of scores.

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Who Designs The GMAT Test?

Wondering who is responsible for creating this wonderful test that comes between you and your future?

Well, the GMAT is developed by GMAC (aka the Graduate Management Admission Council). It is this board which determines which set of skills the GMAT should focus on and how it should measure them. While GMAC initiates the core aspects of assessment, another organisation develops the questions, administers the test, and collects and reports test scores to the relevant schools on their behalf.

How Is The GMAT Test Structured?

You'll have to display critical thinking and strong analysis throughout the test as a whole, but there are four distinct parts or sections to the GMAT test. Each section will be scored separately but then two of those separate scores will additionally be combined in order to determine your composite score.

The four sections are:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Integrated Reasoning
  • Quantitative
  • Verbal

The four sections don't necessarily need to be taken consecutively, test takers are given the option to choose which order they complete them in and must make their decision at the test centre right before they take their test.

The Analytical Writing Assessment section of the GMAT is scored separately from the rest with a score between 0 to 6 available, rising in 0.5 increments. The Integrated Reasoning section is also scored separately but this time on a 1–8 scale, and going up in full one-point stages. The Quantitative and Verbal sections each have a scaled score of 0–60. The two are then combined to generate a score on the 200–800 scale, going up in 10-point increments. It's these scores in the hundreds that you're probably most familiar with. Your score on this scale reflects how difficult you found your set of questions using a special GMAC algorithm.

The mean score for the Verbal section is 27, while the mean score for Quantitative is 39. The mean is 4.4 for Analytical Writing and is 4.2 for Integrated Reasoning.

The score that MBA programs will be most concerned with for the purposes of admission is your combined Verbal and Quantitative scores. Here, the GMAT applies its algorithm and converts the two combined scores into the 200–800 scale, where the mean score is 552. This, hopefully, gives you an indication of what is a poor and what is an excellent score.

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The GMAT Test

The all-important English test is a computer adaptive test (CAT), so the first questions are somewhat difficult and then, if you answer those correctly, the difficulty begins to increase. If, however, you get some wrong answers at this early stage, the questions thereafter will decrease in difficulty. It sounds a bit odd but the idea is to try to push you as hard as possible. Quite simply, you test your ability and set yourself up for a bigger challenge if you're capable of achieving greater things.

Here's a bit more information about the individual sections and what they are intended to test you on...

Analytical Writing Section

The Analytical Writing Assessment, otherwise known as the Essay Section, has the purpose of testing your writing skills. Papers are marked by both a computer and a human and then the average score is taken to make your final score. This helps business schools to discover your written communication skills.

The task is presented as a brief argument in the form of a paragraph which you must critique. The examiners aren't expecting you to offer your own point of view or opinions on the topic being discussed, they simply want to see how you respond to the writer's own argument - how it sounds, how it has been backed up (i.e. the use of evidence, if any) and how they've reasoned their response.

The human examiner is looking out for the ability to analyse various aspects of the argument created, put your findings down on paper logically and thoughtfully and to make concise connections between your own points. All elements of writing come into play here, not just the obvious things like punctuation and spelling.

Integrated Reasoning Section

The Integrated Reasoning section is the part of the GMAT exam that measures how well you integrate and interpret data to solve complex problems.

As a prospective business student, your potential teachers want to see how innovative you would be in a fast-paced and quickly advancing business world. They want to see that you are someone who can take in lots of data yet still remain level-headed and make appropriate, if not correct, decisions for your company.

There are four different types of questions in the Integrated Reasoning Section (descriptions courtesy of the MBA website). These are:

  • Multi-Source Reasoning

"Measures your ability to examine data from multiple sources text passages, tables, graphics, or some combination of the three—and to analyze each source of data carefully to answer multiple questions. Some questions will require you to recognize discrepancies among different sources of data. Others will ask you to draw inferences, and still others may require you to determine whether data is relevant."

  • Table Analysis

"Measures your ability sort and analyze a table of data, similar to a spreadsheet, in order to determine what information is relevant or meets certain conditions."

  • Graphics Interpretation

"Measures your ability to interpret the information presented in a graph or other graphical image (scatter plot, x/y graph, bar chart, pie chart, or statistical curve distribution) to discern relationships, and make inferences."

  • Two-Part Analysis.

"Measures your ability to solve complex problems. They could be quantitative, verbal, or some combination of both. The format is intentionally versatile to cover a wide range of content. Your ability to evaluate trade-offs, solve simultaneous equations, and discern relationships between two entities is measured."

All of the questions involve both quantitative and verbal reasoning, either independently or in combination. In this section, many questions require more than one response which is quite unique in this test. You will be allowed to use an online, digital calculator with basic mathematical functions to answer the questions. Because of the specific nature of this section, no half points can be given, not even for working out or for almost reaching the correct answer. Questions must be answered correctly or no point is awarded.

Quantitative Section

The Quantitative section of the GMAT is designed to test your analytical knowledge of basic math concepts, such as arithmetic, algebra, number properties and geometry. There are two question types:

  • Data Sufficiency

These questions or prompts consist of a question and two statements of data. You are tasked with deciding whether the statements provide sufficient data to answer the given question or not. The reason for this is to check if you can quickly identify what level of information you would need to solve the proposed problem and to sensibly and thoughtfully eliminate irrelevant answer choices.

  • Problem Solving

Problem Solving is a standardised multiple choice test question type, whereby you'll be faced with a question and five possible answer choices. Problem Solving questions use school-level maths along with more complicated mathematical concepts to test your critical thinking skills.

Verbal Section

The Verbal section of the exam is there to test your command of standard written English, how well you can analyse arguments, and your ability to read critically. There are three question types in this section:

  • Critical Reasoning

Critical Reasoning questions test your ability to make and evaluate arguments, as well as formulate a POA or plan of action. You will be presented with either a short argument or a series of statements plus a question relating to it. The key to success in this section is to understand the structure of arguments and provide a logical analysis of the connections between evidence and conclusions.

  • Sentence Correction

Here, you will usually face long sentences, with a part, or all, of the sentence underlined. You will be asked to settle on the best version of the highlighted section, choosing from the original or four alternatives. The sentence could already be correct or it could have one, two or three errors.

  • Reading Comprehension

These reading questions test your critical reading skills. The aim of these questions is to see how well you can summarise the main idea, make inferences in response to information in a text, analyse the flow and structure of a passage, and deduce the author's tone and attitude about a topic. You will be presented with an academic passage on a topic related to one of the following: business, biological science, social science, or physical science and asked three to four questions about the text.

How long is the GMAT?

For specific details on how long each section lasts, see the table below:

SectionTime (mins)
Analytical Writing Assessment30
Integrated Writing Assessment30
Optional breaks16
Total Approx. GMAT Test203

How Long does it take to Prepare for GMAT?

The time you’ll need for your GMAT preparation will depend on the score you’re aiming for, your level of English (in order to answer the questions in the verbal section), and your level in maths (in order to answer the questions in the quantitative section).

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What books do I need for the GMAT?
If you're serious, you'll need a whole stack of books! (Source: GMAT Club)

The GMAT’s difficultly doesn’t come from the difficulty of the questions (since the questions in the quantitative questions are of a secondary school or sixth form level) but rather from the speed at which you have to answer the questions (less than two minutes per question) and how well you answer them (given that the test is adaptive). In order to get a good score in the GMAT, you’ll need to study the GMAT itself in order to:

  • Learn the methodology: can you quickly identify incorrect answers? How do you choose between two answers if you’re not sure?
  • Acquire the necessary linguistic and mathematical skills required.
  • Have the time revise past papers (or “cram” as the bad kids would say) in order to improve your speed when it comes to answering the questions correctly.

To improve your chances of success, start preparing for the GMAT around a year before you're going to take your test. In fact, revising for the GMAT at the last minute is highly discouraged. If you aren't familiar with the exam's format, you're basically wasting your time and your money.

The MBA website confirms that "most candidates report a minimum eight-week study timeline if they are somewhat familiar with the underlying GMAT exam content. But, you are the best judge of how much time you need to prepare."

Why not look into testing your English proficiency with Cambridge English exams?

How to Revise for the GMAT?

Like previously stated, preparing for your GMAT exam involves three things: learning the exam technique, acquiring skills, and quickly revising to succeed. Here’s some advice for when you decide to study for your GMAT.

  • Plan one or several hourly slots each week dedicated to studying for the GMAT in order to avoid procrastination and get ahead with your studies, even if your schedule is full. This is not an exam you can take lightly.

The more you prepare for your GMAT, the more chance you’ll have of getting a high score (see below).

Quick tip: time yourself when you revise since you need to quickly answer every question in order to finish the exam within the time limit.

What to Revise for the GMAT?

Already planned when and where you might revise? What days you might have half an hour here or there and others when you have a full day to dedicate to furthering your education? That's great! Now, let's look at what exactly you should spend your time revising and using which resources.

  • Subscribe to English-language magazines (like Time) a year before sitting the GMAT in order to expand your cultural awareness, enrich your English vocabulary, and familiarise yourself with English idiomatic expressions. Make a habit of reading documents in English whenever you can, wherever you can.
  • If your English is weak, buy a small grammar book, study basic conjugations, like the present simple, past simple, and present perfect, etc., online, and prepositions. 10 to 15 minutes a day (every day) is enough to progress quickly. Make sure your understanding of these concepts is flawless by the time you sit the exam.
  • Look for specialised GMAT preparation books or GMAT study guides to help with your test preparation. These are often full of useful study tips that will help you with your test-taking techniques. Again, the GMAT isn't like any other exam you've ever taken, make sure you know what to expect!
  • Get GMAT practice tests to work on. Since the GMAT questions follow certain patterns, any GMAT test taker will get used to the exams and the questions with enough practice. Soon you'll be able to work out what kind of problem-solving is required when it comes to any question in a given exam.
  • Consider getting private tutorials as part of your GMAT prep. They'll be able to offer you a specialised GMAT prep course.

When it comes to maths, practice makes perfect. When it comes to test prep for the quantitative test, buy a GMAT practice test or past paper and go through the practice questions. Check your answers, see what GMAT scores you'd get and read the examiners’ notes if you’re wrong. If you’re unclear on some mathematical concepts, it's a good idea to dust off your textbooks from secondary school and sixth form. If you've unwisely binned your old textbooks, don't worry! Local book shops and online retailers will probably stock second-hand versions of the books you need so you needn't break the bank!

Revising past papers allows you to discover your strengths and weaknesses, to work more effectively, gain linguistic and mathematical skills, and quickly, thanks to seeing the same types of questions and answers again and again, get better.

How long does it take to prepare for the GMAT?
If you're going to pass the GMAT, you better prepare! (Source: DH Leonard Consulting)

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Resources for GMAT Preparation

Websites like Kaplan and The Economist offer incentives for GMAT students such as free sample questions with analysis of answers, or mini questionnaires to help you prepare but if you wish to opt for even more study resources then you can find a fair few revision tools to purchase online. Or consider online ESL classes.

The MBA website itself offers a mini MBA Questionnaire along with an 8-week study plan for prospective test-takers. The 8-week study plan can be downloaded directly from their website and it is suggested that revision be thought of at least 6 months in advance of taking the exam.

On Amazon, meanwhile, you can find tonnes of revision material on the several topics and subtopics of the GMAT exam, just like the following bundle which covers all you should need to know:

Hire a GMAT Tutor

Preparing for the GMAT is a long process; it can be difficult to stay motivated when it comes to studying for it.

In fact, learning to solve mathematical problems on your own is far from an easy task. Why not get in touch with a GMAT tutor or a special English tutor?

A private GLAT teacher can help you with English by:

  • Helping you create a revision programme that works with your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Motivating you when it comes to advancing with your revision.
  • Explaining the maths concepts that you don’t understand.
  • Teaching you the techniques needed to quickly answer questions while limiting the chance of you being wrong.

Expert advice for avoiding the GMAT’s trick questions.

While there isn’t a miracle solution when it comes to getting a good score in the GMAT, here’s some advice to help improve your chances on the day:

  • Read the statements carefully in order to avoid silly mistakes.
  • Work on a scrap piece of paper before answering the questions.
  • Keep an eye on the clock: it would be a real shame to not finish the GMAT because you took too long on a tricky question.
  • If a maths problem is too tricky, rather than trying to work through an equation, get rid of the obviously-wrong answers and “trial” the remaining answers.
  • In the sentence correction section, if you’re stuck between two options, choose the shortest.
  • In the reading comprehension section, read the questions before reading the text. This will allow you to actively and effectively read the text since you know what information you’re looking for.

If you have any questions or need any help preparing for the GMAT or English exams and tutorials, don’t hesitate to check out the tutors on Superprof.

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