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What Is the GMAT?

What you need to know about the GMAT, GMAT scores, GMAT test availability, and the GMAT sections

About the GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, is an important part of the business school application process. The GMAT is a multiple-choice, computer-based and computer-adaptive standardized exam that is often required for admission to graduate business programs (MBA) globally.

The GMAT is developed and administered by testmaker GMAC to provide business schools with common measures of applicants’ preparedness for graduate-level academic work. Business school admission committees look at your GMAT score, along with work experience, academic record, and supporting materials, to assess your readiness for the rigors of an MBA program.

What’s the takeaway? A high score on the GMAT will have a direct, positive impact on your business school application.

What is on the GMAT?

The GMAT exam measures your command of basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, multi-source data analysis, and grammar. More importantly, it measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material, think critically, and solve problems. The GMAT is first and foremost a test of your critical thinking skills. Knowing how to reason through and analyze information is the key to a great GMAT score.

What are the GMAT sections?

The GMAT contains four distinct section types, although you’ll use the same critical thinking and analysis skills throughout the test, just like you will during your MBA coursework.

The content on the GMAT is broken down into four scored test sections, two of which are scored separately, and two of which are scored separately but are also combined to generate your composite score:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Integrated Reasoning
  • Quantitative
  • Verbal

As of July 11, 2017, GMAT test takers will be able to choose the order in which they take GMAT test sections. You will choose your section order at the test center following the computer tutorial and just before you begin your test. There are three orders you will be able to choose from:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative, Verbal
  2. Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
  3. Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

The Analytical Writing Assessment section of the GMAT is scored separately from 0 to 6 in half-point increments. The Integrated Reasoning section is also scored separately on 1–8 scale, in one-point increments. The Quantitative and Verbal sections each have a scaled score of 0–60. They are then combined to generate a score on the 200–800 scale, with 10-point increments, you’re probably most familiar with. Your score on the 200–800 scale, in 10-point increments, reflects the level of difficulty of the questions you answered correctly using a proprietary GMAC algorithm.

The mean score for Verbal is 27, while the mean score for Quantitative is 39. The mean is 4.4 for Analytical Writing and 4.2 for Integrated Reasoning. The score that MBA programs weigh most heavily for admission is your combined Verbal and Quantitative scores. Here, the GMAT applies its algorithm to your Verbal and Quantitative scores, converting them to the familiar 200–800 scale, where the mean score is 552. See more on how the GMAT is scored below.

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

Number of questions Minutes to complete Chem/Phys Score range
One timed task: “Analysis of an Argument” 30 minutes 0 to 6

The Analytical Writing Assessment, or “essay” section, helps business schools analyze your writing skills. It is scored separately, and your AWA score is not used to generate your 200–800 point score. Essays are scored by a human grader and a computer grading system, and the two scores are averaged for your final score. If the ratings differ significantly, then another human reads and scores your essay.

For your writing task, you’ll be presented with a brief argument similar to a paragraph you would find in a Critical Reasoning question on the Verbal section. You are not asked to present your own point of view on the topic; instead you’re tasked with critiquing the author's argument, analyzing the soundness of the author’s evidence and reasoning.

When scoring this section, essay graders are looking for whether you can clearly identify and insightfully analyze parts of the argument, develop and organize your ideas thoughtfully and logically, and connect your statements with clear transitions.

Integrated Reasoning (IR)

Number of questions Minutes to complete Chem/Phys Score range
Multi-Source Reasoning questions
Graphics Interpretation questions
Two-Part Analysis questions
Table Analysis questions
12 total questions (many with multiple parts)
30 minutes 1 to 8

The Integrated Reasoning section tests your ability to solve complex problems using data from multiple sources. Integrated Reasoning questions are designed to resemble problems you will encounter in business school and in your career. To receive credit for a answering a multi-part question correctly, you’ll need to correctly answer all parts. There is no partial credit. You receive a separate IR score from 1 to 8, and this score does not count toward your 200–800 score. On the Integrated Reasoning section, you will see four question types:

Graphics Interpretation

This question type tests your ability to use visual data (presented in graphs, diagrams, or other visual formats). Look at the answer choices when deciding your approach, because sometimes you do not need to calculate a value very exactly.

Multi-Source Reasoning

Here you’re being tested on your ability to synthesize multiple sources of data (2–3 tabbed pages containing text, graphs, or tables). To tackle these questions efficiently, create a brief outline of the main points on your noteboard (as you would for a Reading Comprehension passage) and return to the tabs only as needed to research details to answer individual questions.

Table Analysis

This question type tests your ability to interpret data in spreadsheets. A sort function allows you to sort data by one column at a time. Use this function as needed to visualize trends in the data.

Two-Part Analysis

These questions contain two separate components that must work together in the given scenario. You’ll pick one answer from one column and another answer from another column. These questions can require both quantitative and verbal skills.

Quantitative

Number of questions Minutes to complete Chem/Phys Score range
17–18 Data Sufficiency questions
19–20 Problem Solving questions
37 total questions
75 minutes 0 to 60

The GMAT Quantitative section is designed to test your content and analytical knowledge of basic math concepts, including arithmetic and number properties, algebra, and geometry. The section consists of two question types:

Data Sufficiency

Data Sufficiency questions consist of a question and two statements of data. Your task is to determine whether the statements provide sufficient data to answer the question. This question type requires you to quickly identify what information you would need to solve the problem and to efficiently eliminate answer choices.

Problem Solving

Problem Solving is a classic standardized test question type. You'll be presented with a question and five possible answer choices. Problem Solving questions use high school–level math up to algebra and plane geometry to test your critical thinking skills.

Verbal

Number of questions Minutes to complete Chem/Phys Score range
14 Reading Comprehension questions (approx.)
11 Critical Reasoning questions (approx.)
16 Sentence Correction questions (approx.)
41 total questions
75 minutes 0 to 60

The GMAT Verbal section is designed to test your command of standard written English, your skill in analyzing arguments, and your ability to read critically. You will see three question types in this section:

Critical Reasoning

Critical Reasoning questions test the skills involved in making and evaluating arguments, as well as formulating a plan of action. You will be presented with a short argument or a series of statements and a question relating to it. Succeeding on Critical Reasoning questions requires understanding the structure of arguments and rigorous logical analysis of the connections between evidence and conclusions.

Sentence Correction

In GMAT Sentence Correction, you will typically face long and involved sentences. A part—or all—of the sentence will be underlined, and you will be asked to find the best version of the underlined section out of the original or one of four alternatives. The sentence may contain no errors, or it may contain one, two, or more errors.

Reading Comprehension

These questions test your critical reading skills, more specifically, your ability to summarize the main idea, differentiate between ideas stated specifically and those implied by the author, make inferences based on information in a text, analyze the logical structure of a passage, and deduce the author's tone and attitude about a topic. You will be presented with an academic reading passage on a topic related to business, social science, biological science, or physical science and asked 3–4 questions about that text.

How is the GMAT scored?

The GMAT is a Computer-Adaptive Test, or CAT. On the GMAT, the CAT actually adapts to your performance as you're taking the test.

When you begin the GMAT, the computer assumes you have an average score and gives you a question of medium difficulty. As you answer questions correctly, the computer serves up more difficult questions and increases its estimate of your ability. And vice versa, as you answer incorrectly, the computer serves up easier questions and decreases its estimate of your ability. Your score is determined by an algorithm that calculates your ability level based not only on what you got right or wrong but also on the difficulty level of the questions you answered.

GMAC’s algorithm that determines your 200 to 800 score is often misunderstood, and there are many myths surrounding “cracking” the algorithm. The best way to “beat” the algorithm is to be prepared. However, because the adaptive nature of the test doesn’t allow for “skipping” questions, you will need to pace yourself and strike a balance between spending valuable time answering difficult questions correctly and possibly running out of time before you finished the test. There are significant penalties for leaving questions unanswered at the end of the exam.

For the Analytical Writing Assessment, your essay receives a score from one human reader and a computerized program, using a holistic 6-point scale. The Integrated Reasoning section is not adaptive, but as with the Quantitative and Verbal sections, you cannot leave questions unanswered or return to previous questions. The IR section is scored on a 1 to 8 scale.

You will receive your unofficial GMAT score immediately following the test, when you will have the option to keep or cancel your score.

What is a good GMAT score?

When considering your GMAT score goal, it’s always a good idea to look at the mean or average GMAT score of admitted applicants to the MBA programs you’re considering applying to. This will give you a good baseline

The Quantitative and Verbal sections of the GMAT are each scored from 0 to 60, with the mean score for Quantitative at 39 and the mean score for Verbal at 27. The score business schools and MBA programs pay the most attention to is the combined 200–800 score scale, where the mean score is 552.

You can use the tables below to see the relationship between scaled scores and the test-takers achieving them:

Percentile Total GMAT Score*
Top 10% of all test takers 710
Top 25% of all test takers 650
Top 50% of all test takers 580
Below 50th percentile of all test takers 570

* Based on the performance of GMAT test takers between 2013 and 2015

Students admitted to the most competitive MBA programs have average scores in the 710 range, putting them in the 90th percentile or higher. If you’re considering applying to one of these programs, you’ll need to target 710 or higher on the GMAT to be a strong applicant.

How hard is the GMAT?

There are several aspects of the GMAT that make it a tough test. First, the unique computer-adaptive format of the GMAT means that you will not be able to skip a hard question and come back to it later; you must pick an answer and move on. At the same time, you’re rewarded not only for correct answers but also for correct answers to high-level questions. All this means that you have to both answer difficult questions and do it quickly. In addition, you’ll see question types and formats that you’ve likely never seen in your academic career.

The GMAT is a challenging exam, but it’s a skills-based test, and that’s very good news. Why? Because the skills tested on the GMAT are skills you can (and will) learn.

How long is the GMAT?

On Test Day, you can expect to sit for the exam just over 3.5 hours, including test-taking time and optional breaks. Note that this time does not include your check-in time at the testing center. It is recommended that you arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes before your exam.

GMAT Section Time
Analytical Writing Assessment 30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning 30 minutes
Quantitative 75 minutes
Verbal 75 minutes
Optional Breaks (Total) 16 minutes
Total Approximate Time 3 hours, 46 minutes

When is the GMAT offered?

TThe GMAT is administered year-round at Pearson VUE centers. You can full list of testing centers and seat availability on the GMAT official site here.

It is highly recommended that you register for your preferred GMAT test date early so you can select a test date that will allow enough time for GMAT to process your scores and send them to the MBA programs you’ll be applying to. This can take up to 20 calendar days. During popular testing times, seats in Pearson VUE testing centers can be limited. You can take the GMAT once every 16 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days) and up to eight total times.

You can register for the GMAT online here. For GMAT-related questions, you can find contact information for GMAC here.

When to take the GMAT

Because MBA and other business programs have a wide range of application deadlines, you’ll want to research your programs of interest ahead of time and ensure that your GMAT score can be reported in time for your earliest deadline. Your GMAT score is good for five years.

Keep in mind that many MBA programs accept applications in “rounds” that can end as early as September for Round 1 at highly competitive programs and can go as late as the following April or May for Round 3 or even Round 4.

You’ll want to devote 1–3 months to studying for the GMAT. GMAT test takers who score in the 90th percentile or higher typically study more than 120 hours for the exam.

How much does it cost to take the GMAT?

The cost to take the GMAT is $250 and includes sending score reports to up to five programs of your choice. It’s important that you choose the right time to take the GMAT—and the right test prep—for you, so you don’t have to pay the fee more than once.