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GMAT 19 min read

Step-by-Step Guide for the GMAT

UniSearch
UniSearchAuthor
Jul 20, 2022Date Published
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GMAT
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Are you gearing up to apply for a graduate business school? Looking into how to sit and score for the GMAT is a step in the right direction! Business schools have used GMAT test scores for years to select the best candidates for their programs. In fact, the GMAT is custom-built to predict prospective students’ potential to thrive in the world’s best graduate business programs! Sitting for the GMAT also creates opportunities for you to find programs that best match your skill set and strengths. So, let’s get right into it – what exactly is the GMAT and how does it work?

What is the GMAT Used For?

The GMAC – the Graduate Management Admission Council – conducts the GMAT exam across 650 centres in over 115 countries. Leading graduate business programs in the US and around the world are part of this council. And this means that the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is purpose-built by these business schools to select the right candidates for their programs. The test evaluates your critical and reasoning skills and abilities as a prospective graduate business student. For over 60 years, universities have used GMAT scores as valid predictors of a student’s potential. As you can guess, good GMAT scores may be your winning ticket into the business program you’re aiming for!

GMAT’s Personalised Program Recommendations

High GMAT scores adding weight to your application isn’t the only perk of the test. Once you sit for the test, you can use GMAT’s My Recommendations option to find programs and schools matching your performance. This could lead to you discovering opportunities you didn’t find during your research! By connecting you to programs that fit your skills and strengths, you might find the business course where you have the highest chances of success.

 

Through the My Recommendations option, you can also check out how your scores compare to others targeting similar programs. Your competitive rating will fall under one of the following:

  • Excellent
  • Above Average
  • Average
  • Low

 

This gives you an idea of how suitable your scores are for a specific program and in turn, helps you predict your chances of getting into your target business school. By knowing before applying where you stand, you can work to strengthen your application or retake the GMAT to have a solid chance for admission!

Should I Sit for the GMAT or the GRE?

The GMAT vs GRE question crops up a lot for students investigating graduate programs. The simple rule of thumb here is that if you’re applying for a graduate business school, the GMAT is the test to go for. While the GRE is an aptitude test for graduate programs in general, the GMAT is specifically for graduate business schools. The contents and questions of the test assess the skills and abilities MBA programs and Master’s in business programs look out for. 

 

Remember, the GMAT is the industry standard for graduate business schools. This means that even when programs accept GRE scores, they are likely to look up GRE to GMAT conversion to get an idea of your suitability for the program. And even then, because the GMAT test is so specific in terms of what it’s looking for, it’s likely a candidate with strong GMAT scores will have better chances of admission into a postgraduate business program. 

 

To put things into perspective, here are some statistics for you. Over 7,000 programs for the MBA and Master’s programs at over 2,300 schools use GMAT scores during admissions screening. In comparison, only 6% of graduate business programs use the GRE. If you’re looking into non-business graduate programs, the GRE may be the right test for you. But if you’re applying to a business school, the GMAT exam is the right answer.

What Does the GMAT Exam Assess?

This test, clocking in at three hours and seven minutes, has four distinct sections:

  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning 
  • Integrated Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing Assessment

 

Here’s a quick overview of the exam structure!

 

GMAT Exam Section
Description
Questions
Duration
Quantitative Reasoning
Measures problem solving and data insufficiency
31 multiple-choice questions
62 minutes
Verbal Reasoning
Assesses reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction skills
36 multiple-choice questions
65 minutes
Integrated Reasoning 
Measures skills involved in analysis and synthesis of information
12 questions, several of which require multiple answers
30 minutes
Analytical Writing Assessment
Assesses your ability to analyse an argument in writing
1 question
30 minutes

 

Now, let’s break these sections down one by one so you have a clearer idea of what to expect in the exam room.

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning section has two types of questions. These questions evaluate your ability in mathematical and quantitative problem-solving and how well you can interpret graphical information. You’ll need some basic mathematical know-how in algebra, geometry, etc. to get through these questions. While you can’t use a calculator for this section, you don’t have to worry about them being too hard. The problems you have to solve for the test are more to evaluate your logical reasoning and analytical skills, rather than mathematical genius. 

 

The two types of questions you’ll run into are as follows:

  • Problem-solving – multiple-choice questions where you use logic and analytical thinking to solve the problem and select the best answer
  • Data insufficiency – you’ll see a question and two statements. Using your mathematical skill, knowledge from everyday life, and the information in those two statements, you will decide if there’s enough available information to answer the question

Verbal Reasoning

This section evaluates your ability with written information. It measures: 

  • how well you can read and grasp the text
  • how well you can analyse and evaluate the text
  • your ability to review and revise text so it can get ideas across effectively 

 

The section has 36 multiple choice questions grouped under three question types:


  • Reading Comprehension:

These questions look at how well you read and grasp the meaning of written text and relationships between ideas, infer information, and your ability to follow quantitative concepts as they develop.

 

The passages for Reading Comprehension span topics including social sciences, humanities, physical and biological sciences, business-related disciplines, and so on. The questions are not going to look at your knowledge about these topics, but rather the reading comprehension skills you show through your answers. Each passage features questions asking you to infer information, interpret the text, or apply what you read to another context. 


  • Critical Reasoning

These questions look at your ability to make and evaluate arguments and put together a plan of action. You’ll get a short reading passage, usually of around a hundred words. This text will, typically, come with a question that asks you to point out which of the five given answer choices:

  • strengthens/weakens the argument
  • explains the flaw of the argument
  • validates/invalidates the argument


  • Sentence Correction

These questions evaluate two dimensions of your language proficiency:

  • Correct expression – sentences that have sound grammar and structure
  • Effective expression – sentences that effectively get across ideas and relationships with clarity, conciseness, and proper grammar

For each question, you will see parts or all of the sentence underlined. You then have to choose the answer that creates the most effective sentence, looking at grammar, choice of words, and the structure of the sentence.

Integrated Reasoning

The questions in this section look at how well you can synthesise information you get in different formats from different sources. As a student of a graduate business program, strong integrated reasoning skills set you apart as a promising leader within the field. This section looks at, for example, your ability to interpret information given in graphs, numbers, or text, or a combination of all three. It looks at how well you can pick out relevant information and evaluate data from a bunch of sources. Importantly, it looks at how well you can synthesise this information together to draw meaningful conclusions, grasp interrelated concepts, and apply this to solving complex, interconnected problems.

 

Because the section looks at how you integrate information in different formats and sources, the section has four question types testing both quantitative and verbal reasoning. Questions may have more than one response! For this section, you’ll have an online calculator to help with your answers!

Here are the four types of questions you can expect:
    • Multi-Source Reasoning – you’ll see data in a range of formats, in text, tables, or graphics, and in some cases a combination of all three. You will need to analyse each data source to answer questions that measure your ability to analyse and evaluate information from different sources. For these questions, you may have to pinpoint inconsistencies, infer information, or decide whether the information is relevant
  • Table Analysis – tests your ability to sort and analyse tabular data. You’ll need to pick out relevant information or information that fits specific criteria. 
  • Graphics Interpretation – looks at your ability to understand information in graphs, e.g., bar and pie charts, x/y graphs or scatter plot graphs, etc. These questions test whether you’re able to infer information or pinpoint relationships and correlations within the data
  • Two-Part Analysis – looks at how well you can combine quantitative and/or verbal reasoning to solve complex problems. You may have to solve simultaneous equations, look at trade-offs, examine the relationship between two variables or entities, etc.

Analytical Writing Assessment

This involves a single writing task, in essay form. You’ll read through a given argument and analyse the reasoning behind it. This argument could cover a range of topics, including business-related ones. Don’t worry – you don’t need to study up on these topics. The section evaluates your ability to write critically and analytically about the given topic. You’ll examine how valid or credible the line of reasoning is, using evidence to back up your points. It’s a good idea to give yourself a few minutes before you begin writing, to get your ideas together first. And rather than writing until the last minute, leave yourself some time to review and tighten up your piece near the end!

How to Prepare for the GMAT

Now, that exam format breakdown might be making you a little nervous. Presented like this, it can seem like a very demanding challenge. Since this is a test at graduate-entry level, it’s certainly more challenging than admissions tests you took for undergraduate programs. But that doesn’t mean scoring well for the test is impossible! With the right GMAT preparation strategies, you can secure an impressive score during your first sitting. And remember, the choice to take the test and do well in it is another indicator to your target schools that you’re a driven, motivated, and hardworking individual who’s serious about getting into a postgraduate business program!

 

So, how do you go about getting test-ready for the GMAT? Here are some resources to check out!

Interactive GMAT Exam Tutorial

This free tutorial is a handy introduction for test-takers getting ready to take the exam. Before test day, you get a good look at what the test will actually look and feel like. Knowing the structure, the look of the test screen, and how to navigate it helps you feel more prepared. You won’t lose precious minutes trying to get used to the test format for the first time in the exam room!

GMAT Official Starter Kit + Practice Exams (1 & 2)

This one’s another free resource and a great starting point for first-time test-takers. The kit comes with 90 GMAT sample questions from past exams, as well as two full GMAT exams to get you familiar with the format and difficulty level. Since these practice exams use the same scoring algorithm as the actual GMAT, you get a good idea of how you’d perform in the real thing. Plus, practising lets you pinpoint the areas you need to work more on. Test questions adapt to the difficulty level as your performance improves, so you can work up to your target score rather than feeling like you tripped into the deep end. The kit includes items like time management reports, to help you pace yourself and work within the time slots of each section. You can also purchase other GMAT Practice Exams to polish your skills and walk into that exam room with confidence!

GMAT Official Quantitative Practice

Worried your math skills have become a little rusty? Why not lean into the practice for the Quantitative Reasoning section with this test kit? This resource includes three official quizzes with 24 questions each, giving you a taste of the actual exam format. Questions come with detailed answer explanations from the test creators, so you learn exactly how to answer to score best! By taking each quiz within an hour, you get a complete breakdown of your performance for this section, including strength indicators. And it all comes complete with a predictive score range for the actual test as well as how your score fares against other test takers!

GMAT Official IR Practice

This kit comes with 72 questions from previous GMAT exams for the Integrated Reasoning section! If you’ve done any of the GMAT Practice Exams, you already know where your weaknesses. Using this tool to practice helps you pinpoint and hone in on those weaknesses to improve your performance! This resource lets you chart your progress as you practice, alongside tools to help you manage your time during the testing.

GMAT Official AWA Practice

Polish up your Analytical Writing Assessment scores with this comprehensive resource! The practice kit comes with four essay prompts – you can attempt each prompt twice! You get your scores in real-time, with feedback on how to improve from the test-makers themselves. Through this kit you learn exactly how you perform and how you can improve across:

  • Argument analysis
  • Supporting reason critiques
  • Response organisation
  • Language mastery

With this practice tool, you can learn how to put your critical and analytical writing abilities under the spotlight within a time limit!

Other Resources

The options above are, of course, not the only resources on offer by the makers of GMAT. It’s a good idea to browse the variety of resources available from both mba.com and elsewhere! UniSearch, for instance, offers a library of written and video guides, practice papers, workshops, online courses, and more for admissions exams like the GMAT

Sitting for the GMAT

Now that we’ve covered the format and the prep, how do you actually sit for the GMAT? Well, for starters, you need to choose where you want to take the exam. The GMAT registration process begins with you opening an account on mba.com. Once logged in, you can use your GMAT handbook to figure out the application timelines for the programs you want to apply for. This gives you an idea of the right time for GMAT test dates. All exams take place at Pearson VUE test centres around the globe. So, before registering, we recommend looking into the centres with available seats near you! 

 

And if you find you can’t get to a test centre, don’t worry – you can sit the GMAT at home, too! Here’s what to expect depending on your chosen test location:

Test Centre

If you book a test at a centre, you need to verify your identity when you arrive. The check-in process involves providing:

  • Current and valid proof of your identity
  • Palm vein scan
  • Digital signature
  • Digital photograph (taken on-site)

 

Since the GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, you will sit at a computer to complete the exam. The exam centre will be a quiet, secure, and distraction-free location! Every test-taker has their own workstation and proctors will be present to oversee each session. 

At Home

To sit the test at home, you need to: 

  • Make sure before the exam that your device meets the GMAT’s system requirements. You can run the System Test before registering and booking your exam! We recommend doing this first – if your device doesn’t meet requirements, it gives you time to consider an alternative or secure a different desktop or laptop
  • Be present for the check-in process up to 15 minutes before your appointment time
  • Keep your workspace clean of materials like notes, paper, stationery, mobile phones, bags, books, etc. You can bring a clear bottle of water and a physical whiteboard for note-making during your exam. If you bring the latter, you need to show the proctor monitoring you via webcam the front and back of your whiteboard. You will need to show your proctor the whiteboard before the exam begins, during breaks, and before the exam ends
  • If you choose to use the online whiteboard option, practice using this feature through the GMAT practice tests or their online whiteboard practice tool
  • Before you begin the exam, you have to show the proctor monitoring you a 360-degree scan of your room using your webcam. The proctor may ask you to remove items from your workspace or the room before beginning the test
  • As with the in-person exam, you have the option to take two eight-minute breaks. You can use the restroom during this time. Note that if you move off-camera at any point other than your breaks, your proctor will end the exam session. Be sure to come back on time from your break or it’ll eat into the time you have for the next section!

 

Understanding Your GMAT Score

You have two sets of scores to consider – the overall score and individual section scores. The overall score falls within a range of 200 to 800 points, at increments of 10 points. While schools will often look at the total score, the section scores are important too since they paint a more detailed picture of your strengths and skills. Let’s take a look at the GMAT score chart:

 

Section 
Score Range (in 1-point increments)
Quantitative Reasoning
6-51
Verbal Reasoning
6-51
Integrated Reasoning
1-8
Analytical Writing Assessment
0-6

 

Unofficial Scores

Right after you finish your exam, you can see the total scores of four out of the five sections. Your Score Preview covers your performance in Quantitative, Verbal, and Integrated Reasoning. You also get a total score covering the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections. At the end of the exam, you have two minutes to accept or cancel your unofficial score. If you choose to cancel, you can still reinstate scores by logging into your mba.com account or by contacting customer service. You do, however, have to do this within four years and eleven months of your test date. 

 

Before cancelling, do take into account whether you have enough time to retake the GMAT before your program application! 

 

If you accept your unofficial scores, you get a hard copy of the report after your exam. Keeping the scores handy helps you figure out if you meet the requirements for your target business programs or whether you need to retake the GMAT. Note that you can’t use the Unofficial Score Report to apply for any programs.

Official Scores

You’ll get the Official Score Report within 7-20 days of sitting for the exam. An email will let you know that your scores are in, with instructions on how to get them. The report includes the preview scores you saw after your exam as well as the score for the Analytical Writing Assessment section. Since this section goes through both professional human raters as well as a machine algorithm, you don’t get this score right away. 

 

Our Final Thoughts on Sitting for the GMAT

GMAT scores add a lot of weight to your application for a graduate business program. It gives the admissions committee a good idea of your potential as a candidate for their programs! While the test isn’t a walk in the park, the pros of sitting for the test make the effort and time preparing completely worth it. Solid GMAT scores give you a clear competitive advantage, especially for programs that see a lot of applicants every year. Plus, taking the test lets you explore program options that match your performance and skills! This could introduce you to options that didn’t come up in your research but match exactly what you’re looking for. The My Recommendations option for GMAT test-takers also lets you see how your scores compare against those of applicants for similar programs. You get a good idea early on of your prospects of admissions success before going through with the application. And this is invaluable in helping you plan what to do next!

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long are my GMAT scores valid?

Your GMAT scores are valid for five years!

 

How long does it take to get my GMAT scores?

You can see your unofficial scores – covering the Quantitative, Verbal, and Integrated Reasoning sections – as soon as you finish the exam! You can’t use these scores to apply for university programs though. Typically, your Official Score Report is ready within seven business days. At times, it may take up to 20 days. You’ll get an email letting you know when your scores are in and how to access them!

 

How is the GMAT score calculated?

You get an overall score for the whole test as well as scores for the individual sections. The overall score will fall between 200 and 800 points, at increments of 10 points. The individual section score ranges are as follows:

 

Section 
Score Range (in 1-point increments)
Quantitative Reasoning
6-51
Verbal Reasoning
6-51
Integrated Reasoning
1-8
Analytical Writing Assessment
0-6

 

Right after you finish your exam, you get your unofficial scores for the Quantitative, Verbal, and Integrated Reasoning sections and a total score calculating your Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning scores. In your Official Score Report, which you get within 7-20 days, you get the scores for the full exam, including the Analytical Writing Assessment section. This essay goes through both a human rater as well as a machine algorithm. If there are any inconsistencies between the two scores, another human rater reviews it for fairness.

What is the GMAT highest score?

The highest possible score for the GMAT is 800.

What is a 700 on the GMAT?

A 700 or above score for the GMAT is an exceptionally good result! The highest-ranking schools will consider applicants with scores of 700 and above, particularly if your score falls within the 99th percentile – 760 and above.

Is getting a 700 on the GMAT hard?

“Hard” is…well, hard to define. What you might find easy could be tricky for someone else. To get a handle on how you’re likely to perform, we recommend trying out GMAT test samples and practice papers. GMAT has excellent free resources that emulate the look and feel of the actual test. Official practice questions, often from previous tests, run your answers through the same scoring algorithm as the actual exam. This means you get a pretty accurate picture of how you would score during the real thing! You can then pinpoint your strength and weakness areas and work up to your target score.

How much does the GMAT cost?

The fees for the exam vary depending on your location! Check out location-specific costs here

GMAT vs GRE for the MBA – which test should I go for?

The GMAT is specifically for prospective students in graduate business programs. So if you’re planning on applying for an MBA program, GMAT is the way to go. Around 7,000 MBA and Master’s programs accept GMAT scores. Meanwhile, only 6% of graduate business programs use GRE scores.


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