GMAT Prep & Success for Students Smart GMAT Preparation Can Mean Admissions Success

Meet the Expert

Dana Bearer Associate Director of Graduate, Transfer and Adult Admission Read bio

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Shannon Lee Read bio

The GMAT is the gold standard of exams for those who look forward to entering business school. Because it is so important, especially for those who want to get into the more competitive programs, a great deal of anxiety can set in as a person considers how to best study for the GMAT, best pacing options as they take the test, and what to do when they see their test scores. We’ll look at preparing for the GMAT, different strategies that can help, and where to find even more information to ease the worry about crushing the GMAT.

Understanding the GMAT

Thinking about taking the GMAT? Here are the basics:

  • What is the purpose of the GMAT?

    The clue is in the name: The Graduate Management Admissions Test. It is a test used by many graduate schools as part of their admissions requirements. It is especially important to business schools.

  • Who should take the GMAT?

    Anyone who intends to enter an MBA program or other graduate program that focuses on business should consider the GMAT. Though the GMAT is a must for the vast majority of business schools across the nation, sometimes other individuals will choose to take the test, such as those who want to go to graduate school for accounting, management and the like.

  • Why is the GMAT required for admission?

    The GMAT is seen as a good measure of the likelihood of success for graduate school. Though the GMAT is only one part of what makes a great admissions packet, it is important in that it presents an applicant’s critical thinking and aptitude for in-depth reasoning.

  • When is the GMAT administered?

    The GMAT is available year-round on certain dates. Those dates vary depending upon the test center.

  • Where can I take the GMAT?

    The GMAT is administered at test centers across the country; often these locations are on or near university campuses. This is an in-person test that cannot be taken online, so finding a nearby test center is a must.

  • How is the GMAT taken?

    The GMAT is taken entirely on computer. Since it’s a long test—over three hours—it might be advantageous for applicants to take all their practice tests online, so they can get accustomed to sitting in front of the computer for a long stretch.

  • Do all graduate programs require the GMAT for admission?

    Some programs don’t require the GMAT; for instance, Babson College’s MBA program doesn’t require the GMAT, while University of North Carolina offers a GMAT waiver for MBA students with seven or more years of full-time work experience. In some schools, such as Murray State University, students can apply with either the GMAT or the GRE.

It is advisable to consult with the particular program coordinator to confirm that the GMAT is required. Many programs will waive the requirement based on undergraduate GPA and/or work experience.
Dana Bearer

Test Composition & Timing

As of 2018, the GMAT has made some big changes. These include less time to complete the quantitative and verbal exam sections, which shaves off 30 minutes. The total exam will now take three and a half hours to complete. Here’s the breakdown of what that means for each section.

Section Duration in Minutes Number of Questions Brief Overview and Examples
Analytical writing assignment 30 minutes 1 Though there is only one argumentative analysis question, it offers a great deal of information for the reviewer, including strength of argument development, organization, control of the English language, use of reasons and examples and overall expression of ideas.
Integrated reasoning 30 minutes 12 These questions require the test taker to look at a wide variety of factors and information from various sources to provide a well-reasoned response. Expect to see statistics presented in graphs, charts and the like.
Quantitative 62 minutes 31 This section includes multiple-choice math problems that require more in-depth evaluation of the data presented to come up with the best answer available.
Verbal 65 minutes 36 These questions have a strong focus on reading comprehension, and specifically gauge how well a student evaluates certain arguments to come to the best conclusion.

GMAT Waiver.

The cost for taking the GMAT can be prohibitive; that’s why some schools offer GMAT waivers. Students might be eligible for a waiver if they are very recent alumni or currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. Some schools might provide waivers on the basis of financial need. And still others provide waivers based on professional experience. To figure out whether waivers are available, check with your current institution or the graduate program you plan to attend.

Preparing for the GMAT: Tips & Practice Exams

For many students, the GMAT is quite a difficult test. That’s why strong GMAT preparation is a must to get the highest score possible. These tips and study guides can help.

As always, a good night’s sleep and healthy breakfast is always recommended on test day, as the exam requires some level of focus and stamina.
Dana Bearer

Top Tips for Test Prep:

  • Look at the answer choices for clues to how to proceed. With some questions, eliminating the wrong answers is easy. Do that first, then look back at the question with only the remaining answers in mind. This can help save time.

  • If a question is especially challenging, look up the answer on an online forum such as Beat the GMAT or the GMAT Club Forum. These forums often include breakdowns of questions that were tough for others; if the question isn’t listed, start an account and list it yourself!

  • Spend no more than two and a half minutes on each question. Longer than that means running out of time; this can have a negative effect on the final score. Practice questions that take longer than two minutes should go to the aforementioned forums.

  • Keep calm and test on. “Learning to complete sections in the allotted time by using online test prep is very helpful,” says Dana Bearer, associate director of graduate, transfer and adult admissions at Clarion University. “Students must remain calm as they progress and pace themselves through the challenging questions.”

  • Read all passages very carefully. Keep in mind that there will usually be three or four questions per passage; by focusing only on what the first question asks about, it’s possible to completely miss what matters for questions two, three and four. Read passages in their entirety—don’t skim!

  • “Familiarizing oneself with charts and graphs, and learning to interpret data is important preparation, as well,” says Bearer. Some of this visual information can be confusing at first, so taking a look at a variety of charts and graphs before the test can help test-takers quickly zero in on what the visual points represent.

Like preparing for many standardized tests, there is anxiety and fear of the unknown. GMAT preparation is no exception as there is a lot riding on the score.
Dana Bearer

GMAT Practice Exams & Study Guides

GMAT study guides range from free to expensive, simple to complex. These study guides should provide strong insight into the exam, including the kinds of questions asked, how to approach each section, how to best pace the test and more. No matter the choice of study guide, students should look for realistic test questions and comprehensive answer explanations.

“A misconception is that the GMAT is similar to the SAT/ACT and therefore, no preparation is necessary,” Bearer says. “The GMAT is different from the SAT/ACT and assesses different knowledge and levels of expertise, so test prep is highly recommended.”

Here are several practice exams and resources that can make studying for the GMAT much easier:

  • Complete GMAT Strategy Guide – Manhattan Prep.

    Written by instructors who scored at least in the 99th percentile on the test, this is a wildly popular study program. Students can expect to dive deep into the GMAT questions through sample tests, specific section information and more.

  • GMAT Official Guide.

    Created by the Graduate Management Admission Council, this bundled guide (books and online help) is a definitive study guide, complete with test questions, answers, explanations and tips to help test-takers make the most of their score. It’s updated every year, so be sure to get the most recent version—although older versions can certainly be helpful.

  • Kaplan GMAT Verbal Workbook.

    Test verbal and writing skills with this workbook, part of the Kaplan line of GMAT preparation books and guides. This is a very good book for those just beginning their GMAT preparation and getting ready to take the test for the first time.

  • PowerScore GMAT Critical Reasoning Bible.

    This book focuses solely on the critical reasoning areas of the GMAT, with explanations on how to read the sections, improve accuracy and increase scores on any question that requires in-depth analysis.

  • Total GMAT Math.

    With over 300 practice questions, this is a great guide to help those with anxiety over the math portion of the GMAT. This book is designed for those that have a strong basic grasp of algebra and need a little boost to get their scores a bit higher.

  • Veritas Prep Complete GMAT Course Set.

    This set includes 15 guides, online resources with hundreds of test questions, one full-length test to take on the computer, and loads of tips and tricks to make the most of the test.

Scoring the GMAT

That depends upon whether the GMAT score helps a student get into the school of their choice. For some schools, a 600 is considered low—which can get interesting, considering that the average score in 2018 was 556.04, according to Prep Scholar. For top-tier business schools, the average GMAT score among incoming students is above 720. However, keep in mind that the GMAT score is just one piece of the admissions puzzle; GPA, experience and other factors also play a role.

GMAT scoring takes into account how the computer scores the test taker, as well as the human scoring on the analytical section. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment:

    The essay is scored by the computer and by a human reader. The score is an average of those two scores. It will range from 0.0 to 6.0, in 0.5 increments.

  • Integrated Reasoning:

    This score is based on the number of questions answered correctly. For questions with multiple parts, each part must be answered correctly in order to be a correct answer for the total question. The score ranges from 1–8, in increments of 1.

  • Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning:

    This score is based on the number of questions answered, the number of answers that were correct, and the difficulty of the questions answered. The score will range from 6–51, in increments of 1.

  • Total Score:

    The number is based on the test-takers calculated performance before the quantitative and verbal reasoning scores are figured in. Scores will range from 200–800, in increments of 10. Keep in mind that the standard error of measurement is between 30–40 points.

When the test-taker completes the exam, they will be shown their unofficial score. They will then have two minutes to choose to keep the score or to cancel it. Cancellation means schools will not receive the score and the official score will not be sent out. If a test-taker chooses to keep their score, official score reports should be available within three weeks of the test date. Test takers will receive a notice via email when those results are available.

An applicant can take the GMAT once every 16 calendar days, but no more than five times in one calendar year. The GMAT can be taken no more than eight times total. Keep in mind that if a waiver was used to pay for the GMAT, that waiver might not be available if the applicant chooses to retake the test.

If the final score was lower than expected, there might have been extenuating factors that make that so. Nervousness and anxiety about the test can often affect performance, especially if it’s the first time taking the test. Misjudging the pacing and thus not completing all the questions is another common issue. Finally, struggling with certain areas of the GMAT is another good reason to consider taking the test again.

In many cases, the GMAT is not a primary factor in being admitted to a program, therefore students should relax and do their best.
Dana Bearer

GMAT Test Accommodations & for Students with Disabilities

  • Learning and cognitive disorders, such as dyslexia.
  • Physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or mobility impairments.
  • Sensory disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairments.
  • Psychological disabilities, such as severe anxiety.
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

The most common accommodations provide for GMAT test-takers include additional testing time, additional or extended breaks, someone reading the test to the test-taker and recording the responses, enlarged font or screen-reader software. Many other accommodations might be available on an individual basis.

It is important to remember that the accommodations must be reasonable, and must not give the person receiving them an advantage over any other test taker. For instance, someone with visual impairments might request enlarged font, which is perfectly reasonable; however, more time to complete the test might not be considered reasonable, as it could provide an advantage.

When registering for the GMAT, test-takers should complete a GMAT Exam Accommodation Request Form and provide documentation appropriate to the disability, such as a diagnosis and doctor’s statement. All documents should be sent in as early as possible, as it takes at least several weeks to respond to the request.

Disability Testing Resources for GMAT Exams

Registration and Fees for the GMAT

Registering and paying for the GMAT is a relatively easy process. Here’s how it works.

How to register. Applicants can register for the GMAT at mba.com. Keep in mind that it might take 48 hours after registration before an applicant can schedule their exam. By far the easiest way to complete registration is online, but it can also be done by phone, postal mail or fax. Please note that registering via phone requires an additional $10 fee.

Documents needed for registration. When registering, an applicant must include their name, date of birth, location and gender exactly as they appear on their primary form of identification, such as a driver’s license. That identification will be asked for at the test site and compared with the registration to help ensure the right applicant is taking the test.

Pro Tip: If the testing center is a military base or designated DoD, the applicant should have proper military identification by the test date in order to be admitted.

When to register. Unlike other graduate tests which are offered only four or five times each year, the GMAT is offered throughout the year. Test dates are on both weekdays and weekends, but keep in mind that weekend dates tend to fill up very quickly. Though applicants can register up to six months in advance, it’s recommended to register two or three months in advance. If an applicant will be requesting testing accommodations, it’s important to register as early as possible.

Determining the testing center. To determine the best testing center, applicants simply enter in their zip code on the GMAT website. This will give them a map of all the GMAT testing centers in their area. Of course, in most cases, students will want to choose the testing center closest to their home or school.

How much does it cost? The current cost of the GMAT is $250. It’s important to make choose the correct date, as rescheduling comes along with fees. The rescheduling fee more than seven days before the test appointment is $60; the fee for rescheduling within seven days of the test date is $250. Cancellations made more than seven days before the test date entitle the applicant to an $80 refund.

How do I pay for the GMAT? The fee can be paid with a major credit card or debit card, as well as cashier’s checks, money orders and personal checks. Those who pay with check or money order should add an additional 10 days for processing.

What if I can’t afford to pay? Those who cannot afford the GMAT fee might be able to obtain a waiver based on financial need. Waivers are provided by schools. Students can look into a waiver offered by their current school, or look for a waiver from the school they want to attend for graduate studies.

The primary indicator for success in a graduate program is the undergraduate transcript. A strong undergraduate GPA from a competitive school weighs more than a GMAT score in most instances. Secondarily, solid references from former professors and current employers weigh into a positive decision. The GMAT score is considered, however, not as a primary factor.
Dana Bearer

Additional Resources for Students Preparing for the GMAT

The more resources a test-taker has to prepare for the GMAT, the more confident they will feel on test day—and that confidence can translate into higher scores. Here’s a list of some of the best resources.

  • Beat the GMAT. This helpful resource is known as the “MBA Social Network.” It includes forums, blog posts on the best options for GMAT study, discounts on study courses and more.
  • GMAT Club. This website looks at a variety of business schools and what it takes to get in, provides a forum for discussion, offers free GMAT material and helps test-takers improve their score.
  • The GMAT Handbook. The official handbook for the GMAT, this publication offers a wealth of information on scoring, registration, what to expect during the test and much more.
  • GMAT Resources. These resources, available on the official GMAT website, provide test-takers with a handful of free practice tests and other options for improving their score.
  • Manhattan Prep. This popular study preparation course includes a variety of options, free resources, a no-commitment first class and the like.