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In-Depth Guide to the GMAT


The GMAT isn’t an intelligence test, nor does it measure business skills or knowledge. The GMAT is an exam which assesses analytical writing and problem-solving aptitude, as well as data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills that are indispensable to business and management success.

When beginning to study for the GMAT, it can seem overwhelming. The language used by test makers isn’t reflective of the common vernacular, but it’s important to immerse yourself in advanced standardized testing linguistics, because the test’s wording, and much of the information helping you prepare for it is presented this way. Data gathered in 2014 shows that 56% of those who took the GMAT spent 51 or more hours studying for it. The quality of the time spent studying is of course more important than total hours, but there is a documented correlation between time spent on the test and scoring. For example, in 2014, those who scored 700 or higher studied for 121 hours on average. So if getting a top score is important to you, plan to spend efficient, consistent time preparing.

The test is offered in many locations, and can be taken once every 16 days. It can be taken no more than five times in a 12-month period. To schedule a test, go here. Remember to time your test so that you can submit your scores to the school of your choice in time for its application deadline.

As of 2015, the GMAT offers the choice to cancel your scores without it staining your record. Essentially, schools will never know you took the test if you feel you didn’t perform up to snuff. But that’s not going to happen, so long as you prepare properly. Think of it as a contingency plan. The fee to reinstate a cancelled score is $50 (additional $10 fee will apply if reinstated by phone).

It costs $250 to take the test, and $28 for every school you want to send the results to. If that sounds steep, consider this: According to 2014 PayScale data, MBAs, on average, earned a median of $1,771,000 20 years post-graduation. “An MBA in general will earn you about half a million more than a BA; an MBA from a top 50 school will get you yet another half a million more.”


The two main sections of the GMAT, Quantitative and Verbal, are computer-adaptive. This means that as you take the test, questions will be selected for you based on how you performed on previous questions. Your score is partially dependent on how difficult the questions you received were, and how correct your answers were on easy, intermediate and difficult questions.


The test is broken into four sections:


Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA):

In this section, you’ll be presented with an argument and have 30 minutes to agree or disagree with it. Whether you argue in support or against the test’s prompt is immaterial. You will have 30 minutes to complete this section, and be graded from 0 to 6 in half point intervals by a person at GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council), as well as a computerized system evaluating over 50 structural and linguistic features which include organization of ideas, syntactic variety, and topical analysis. The AWA grade isn’t part of the total overall score, which is derived from the Verbal and Quantitative sections. Your AWA grade will depend on the following:

What’s being tested:

  • The overall quality of your ideas about the argument presented
  • Your overall ability to organize, develop, and express those ideas
  • The relevant supporting reasons and examples you used
  • Your ability to control the elements of standard written English


Integrated Reasoning:

The IR section is the newest section of the GMAT, created in 2012. As with the AWA, this section won’t be part of your total overall GMAT score. That doesn’t mean it isn’t essential. What it does mean is that there’s far less data, grading experience and expectations for performance on this section. Essentially, a poor score is less damaging than with other sections, but a good one can impress: a survey of 740 management faculty worldwide said the skills tested in this section are important for today’s incoming students. This section consists of 12 questions which often consist of multiple parts. Your final score in this section will be between 1-8, in full point intervals, and will depend on your overall ability to handle table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning, and two-part analysis. In the table analysis section, test takers are presented with a spreadsheet, which has to be analyzed. Each question will have several statements with yes/no or true/false options. There are graphics interpretation questions which test your ability to understand information presented graphically. Each question has fill-in-the-blank statements with multiple choices that make the statements accurate. Multi-source reasoning questions come with two to three sources of information presented on tabbed pages. Test takers click on the tabs and inspect the relevant information. You’ll find a combination of text, charts, and tables to answer either traditional multiple-choice or yes/no, true/false questions. Two-part analysis questions involve two components for a solution. Test takers will have to choose in a table format which answers correspond to each component. Possible answers are given in a table format with a column for each component and rows with possible options. This section tests your ability to do intermediate algebra, make decisive decisions and balance conflicting needs. Like the AWA, you’ll have 30 minutes to complete it.



Now we’re into the classic meat of the GMAT, and where the standard 200-800 score received is in part derived. There are 37 questions in this section will measure your grasp of algebra, geometry and arithmetic, as well as interpret and analyze data in math problem-solving. You will not have access to a calculator for this portion of the test. Quantitative is divided into two parts, problem solving and data sufficiency. Problem solving questions are classic math problems that test your ability to think quantitatively and solve problems from this perspective. Data sufficiency questions test your aptitude for understanding and analyzing math problems. What’s most important here is the ability to recognize what information is pertinent, which doesn’t apply, and be able to know when there isn’t enough information to solve a problem. You’ll have 75 minutes to finish.



The verbal section, like the Quantitative, is more important than the first two sections in calculating your 200-800 score, the major indicator of success on the GMAT. That score is calculated on a bell curve, regressing towards a mean score around 545. This section will test your reading comprehension, critical reasoning and ability to correct/improve sentences, in 41 questions. Reading comprehension passages will be between a paragraph to several paragraphs long, and test your ability to obtain and analyze written information. Critical reasoning questions will test your ability to draw concise conclusions based on information presented. They will try to trip you up by giving you options that assume more than you’ve been given, or contain incorrect analysis. Make sure you don’t interpret further than you’ve been informed. Sentence correction questions will test your ability to make minor grammatical corrections that improve the sentence yet maintain its original intent. You’ll have 75 minutes to complete this section.


Resource Links:

Let’s get to studying. There are amazing, free resources online that will help you get ready for the test. Target your problem areas, but make sure to brush up on your strengths as well:

1) Sample AWA question and a top-ranking answer. Mimicking the structure of your essay, how you convey your arguments and the syntax here will be key

2) Here’s a link to some Integrated Reasoning sample questions on Magoosh, which has collected a good deal of practice questions for all sections of the GMAT. Their IR questions do a great job of showing how flexible the format of this section can be.

3) You can take two free sample GMAT tests just for signing up for the GMAT Club. Also, you can take more practice tests here for free on any US holiday! As practice GMAT tests go, these are very challenging.

4) A diverse, comprehensive list of practice Critical Reasoning questions ranked by difficulty.

5) A practice test that focuses on Sentence Correction Questions, one of the most strenuous, demanding and deceptive portions of the test. Even people who are extremely confident in their grammar recognition/correction should be sure to spend time here.

6) GMAT itself offers 90 free questions with explanations, and two free practice tests as well.

7) Here you’ll find one of the only GMAT practice tests that allows you to pause the test, and it’s free! It also allows you to compare how long it took you to complete a question as compared to other users.

8) Over 100 downloadable/printable concept flashcards prepared by Manhattan GMAT tutors.

9) 300 subject and strategy-based, user-created flashcards. Flashcards are a great way to get started studying when you don’t feel like doing it.

10) For learners who prefer to watch/listen in order to learn, there’s a comprehensive, incredible video series on the GMAT here.

11) And finally, the holy grail of GMAT information. Here you have myriad resources, sample tests and guides all collected in one place with a format very familiar to any torrent user.


Big Picture Strategies:

  1. Think like the test maker. The GMAT isn’t a test of advanced grammar, or math. It’s a test of comprehension, and the ability to distill and communicate information in an easily digestible, accurate form that will help make decisions and solve business problems. When you’re taking it, don’t trip yourself up going too deep. Always ask yourself, what is the simplest, most efficient way to communicate what I need to, whether it’s through writing or multiple choice.
  2. Look at the answers before the question. The GMAT is designed to trip you up, by obscuring information, presenting it strangely, and playing on your assumptions. But the answers themselves sometimes contain clues to help you see through the sleight of hand in the questions, and get you to approach the question already thinking about the different options you have to choose from.
  3. Always answer the question at hand. Sometimes, the options given contain accurate statements, but aren’t the exact response that the question calls for. Check the answers, then read the question and phrase it more succinctly in your mind. That’ll be a helpful tool for preparing or answering questions on this test or any other.
  4. Spend extra time on Data Sufficiency questions. If you’ve taken standardized tests before, most of the question types you’ll find on the GMAT are familiar. But Data Sufficiency will play tricks on you, and it takes a while to understand just how the format of the question preys upon the test taker. So make sure to prioritize studying for this section above others.