What is the GMAT®?
What you need to know about the test content, scores, test availability, and sections
About the GMAT
The Graduate Management Admission Test, aka the GMAT, is a multiple-choice, computer-based and computer-adaptive standardized exam that is used globally for admission to graduate management / business programs (such as MBA programs).
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 your 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 is likely to have a direct, positive impact on your business school application.
What is on the GMAT?
While the GMAT does test facts and rules, including grammar as well as quantitative concepts in arithmetic, algebra, statistics, and geometry, the exam is first and foremost a test of your critical thinking skills. It tests your ability to analyze and evaluate quant and verbal material, think logically, and solve problems under time-limited conditions. Knowing how to reason through and analyze information efficiently 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, as you will during your MBA coursework.
The content on the GMAT is broken down into four scored test sections, each of which is scored separately. Two of the sections, Quant and Verbal, are also combined to generate your Total score:
GMAT test takers are able to choose the order in which they take GMAT test sections. You will choose your section order at the test center, just before you begin your test. There are three orders you will be able to choose from:
- Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal
- Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
- Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
Approximately half of test takers choose to start with the Quant section (order #3) and around one-third choose to start with the Verbal section (order #2), because the Quant and Verbal sections are generally the two most important sections for your admissions chances.
The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA or Essay) section of the GMAT is scored separately from 0 to 6 in half-point increments. The Integrated Reasoning (IR) section is scored from 1 to 8 in one-point increments. The Quantitative (Quant) and Verbal sections each have an official scaled score of 0–60, but in practice only the scores 6 to 51 are used. Your Quant and Verbal scores are also combined to generate your Total score, which is given on a 200–800 scale in 10-point increments. The Total score is the score that a majority of business schools care most about.
The mean Total score is typically in the 560 to 570 range. The mean Verbal score is typically in the high 20s and the mean Quant score is typically in the high 30s or low 40s. The mean IR score and the mean Essay score are both typically in the 4 to 5 range. See below for more on how the GMAT is scored.
Number of questions
Number of minutes to complete Quant
31 total questions
13–14 Data Sufficiency questions
6 to 51
The GMAT Quant section is designed to test your knowledge of math, including number properties, algebra, statistics, and geometry. It also tests you on your ability to think logically about math concepts. The GMAT Quant section consists of two problem types:
Data Sufficiency (DS) problems consist of a question stem and two statements of data. DS problems are really logic problems at heart. You’re not asked to solve for a mathematical answer; rather, your task is to determine whether the statements provide enough information such that someone could solve the problem.
Problem Solving (PS) is a classic standardized test problem type. You'll be presented with a question stem and five possible answer choices and you’ll be asked to solve for a value or an algebraic expression.
Number of Questions
Number of minutes to complete Verbal
36 total problems
12-14 Reading Comprehension
9-10 Critical Reasoning
12-13 Sentence Correction
6 to 51
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 problem types in this section:
Critical Reasoning (CR) problems test the skills involved in making and evaluating arguments, as well as in formulating a plan of action. You will be presented with a short argument or a series of statements and a question relating to that information. You might be asked to find an assumption or conclusion, to strengthen or weaken an argument, or to evaluate a conclusion or resolve a discrepancy.
In GMAT Sentence Correction (SC), 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 original sentence may be correct or it may contain one or more errors, and some of the answer choices could introduce new errors.
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. Reading comprehension (RC) tests your critical reading skills, including, your ability to summarize the main idea, articulate ideas stated in the text, make inferences based on information in the text, and analyze the logical structure of a passage.
Integrated Reasoning (IR)
Number of questions
Number of minutes to complete IR
12 multi-part problems total
Multi-Source Reasoning (typically 3)
Table Analysis (typically 2)
Graphics Interpretation (typically 3-4)
Two-Part Analysis (typically 3-4)
1 to 8
The Integrated Reasoning (IR) section tests a combination of quant and verbal skills together. The IR section covers the same quantitative concepts as the Quant section but uses different problem types that can marry quant concepts with verbal skills, such as reading comprehension and logical analysis. In addition, the IR section tests you on your ability to interpret and analyze graphs and tables.
Unlike the problems in other sections of the test, IR problems will deliberately provide you with more information than you need—sometimes quite a bit more. Part of the task on IR is to wade through a lot of data and pick out the precise pieces of information that you need in order to solve. These problem types mimic the kind of analysis you will have to do on case studies in business school.
There are four problem types on the IR section:
Multi-Source Reasoning (MSR) prompts present you with two or three tabs of information, including text and often including tables or other visuals. You’ll typically need to solve three separate problems based on this information (similar to a Reading Comprehension passage). MSR problems can come in the form of standard 5-answer multiple choice or in the form of Either-Or statements (e.g. True or False). If a problem is in Either-Or form, you will have to answer three such statements in order to complete that problem.
Table Analysis prompts present you with a table, typically with something like 4 to 8 columns and 8 to 25 rows of data, and you’ll be expected to solve one problem based on that table. The table is interactive: You’ll be able to sort by any of the column headers. The problems will always come in the form of Either-Or statements (e.g. True or False) and you will have to answer three such statements in order to complete that one problem.
Graph problems will present you with some kind of visual—possibly a classic one, such as a pie chart or bar graph, or possibly something more unusual, such as an organizational chart, a genetic map, or something that the test writers created just for the test. Your task is to understand how the visual works and what information it’s presenting. Graph questions come in the form of one or two sentences with two blanks; you’ll fill in the two blanks via choices from drop-down menus.
Two-Part problems are very similar to standard 5-answer multiple choice problems, but they have one twist. Rather than answer one question with one answer, you’ll answer two questions. For example, a question might ask you to both strengthen and weaken an argument, or a question might ask you to find variable x and variable y. You’ll be given one possible set of 5 or 6 answer choices and choose an answer for each of the two parts of the question from that one set of answers.
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
Number of questions
Number of minutes to complete AWA
One: “Analysis of an Argument”
0 to 6 in half-point increments
The Analytical Writing Assessment, or Essay section, helps business schools analyze your writing skills. It is scored separately, and your Essay 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 evaluating 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.
How is the GMAT scored?
The GMAT is a Computer-Adaptive Test, or CAT. On the Quant and Verbal sections of the GMAT, the algorithm actually adapts to your performance as you're taking the test. As a result, everybody sees a different mix of problems while taking these sections.
When you begin the quant or verbal section, the computer starts you with a problem of medium difficulty. As you answer problems correctly, the computer serves up more difficult problems. And vice versa, as you answer incorrectly, the computer serves up easier problems. Because the test is problem-adaptive, you have to solve everything in the order given and you cannot return to problems you’ve already answered.
The algorithm that calculates your score is…counterintuitive. You can think of your score as the difficulty level that you were able to maintain all the way to the end of the section. Your difficulty level at the end of your section is essentially your score.
It’s possible—and even common—to do really well for the first two-thirds of the test but then to run out of time and have your score crash at the end. Your score will not be an average of your performance across the entire section nor will your score be a function of the number of problems you answered correctly. Rather, your score will be wherever you’re at when you finish the section, so it’s important to aim for a steady performance over the entire section.
For the Analytical Writing Assessment, your essay will be scored by one human reader and a computerized program. The Integrated Reasoning section is not adaptive, but as with the Quant and Verbal sections, you must solve the problems in order and you cannot return to previous questions.
You will receive your unofficial GMAT score immediately following the test.
What is a good GMAT score?
When considering your GMAT score goal, it’s always a good idea to look at the mean or median GMAT score of applicants admitted to the MBA programs to which you’re considering applying. This will give you a good baseline to target. Schools typically post either the mean or the median of the current class on their website.
A competitive score is one that is at or above that school’s posted median/mean score—you’re showing that you have done as well as or better than a significant percentage of those admitted to the school.
Many schools also post a range of scores for admitted students. If you are below the posted median/mean but still within the school’s range, then your GMAT score may not be a plus on your application, but it likely won’t keep you out. In that case, it will be important to have other parts of your application stand out and demonstrate your value to the school.
Top-10 MBA programs typically have mean or median scores in the 710 to 740 range. If you’re considering a top-10 program, set a goal of 710 or higher on the GMAT—but if you don’t achieve that level, you can still apply to the school. You’ll just need to take extra care on other parts of your application.
How hard is the GMAT?
There are several aspects of the GMAT that make it a tough test. First, the computer-adaptive format of the GMAT means that you will not be able to skip a hard problem and come back to it later; you must pick an answer and move on. This is hard to get used to psychologically. The reward, though, is that you can miss a decent percentage of problems and still get a good score. Most people answer only about 50% to 70% of the problems correctly, even when scoring in the low 700s!
In addition, as you do well, the test actually gets harder. In school, the more you studied, the easier the test felt. But the GMAT will feel hard no matter how much you’ve studied, because the test is literally getting harder as you answer problems correctly..
Finally, the GMAT is a time-limited exam. All this means that you have to both answer difficult questions and do so quickly.
The GMAT is definitely 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. And the act of getting ready for the GMAT is also going to get you ready to succeed in business school itself.
How long is the GMAT?
On Test Day, you can expect to sit for the exam just under 3.5 hours, including test-taking time and two optional breaks. The GMAT also allows 1.5x and 2x timing for those who meet the accommodations criteria. It is recommended that you arrive at the testing center at least 15 minutes before your exam.
Analytical Writing Assessment
Optional Breaks (Total)
Total Approximate Time
3 hours, 23 minutes
When is the GMAT offered?
The GMAT is administered year-round in two formats: in person at a testing center and online. Create an account on the official GMAT site to view a full list of testing centers and seat availability for both the testing center and online formats of the exam.
Most schools will accept your scores as long as you take the test by their application deadline date. It is highly recommended that you do your research, though. If a school requires your score to be officially processed by its deadline, then take the GMAT at least three weeks before your deadline.While score processing typically takes about a week, it can take up to 20 days.
During popular testing times, seats in testing centers can be limited; you’ll have a lot more flexibility taking the GMAT Online, which offers testing appointments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can take the GMAT up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days) and up to eight total times, regardless of testing format. Within one format, you must wait 16 days to retake the exam. For example, if you take the GMAT Online, you will need to wait 16 days before you take the GMAT Online again. There is no waiting period if you switch formats.
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 to ensure that your GMAT score can be reported in time for your earliest deadline. Keep two other data points in mind: Your GMAT score is good for five years and applications take quite a lot of time to complete. If possible, it’s a good idea to start studying for your exam at least a year and maybe two years before you want to apply.
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.
Most people spend about 2–5 months studying for the GMAT, depending on starting score and goal score. According to GMAC, 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?
In North America, the cost to take the GMAT is $275 and includes sending score reports to up to five programs of your choice. In most countries, the test fee is priced in US dollars, but in certain countries, it is priced in the local currency. You can look up the pricing in your country on the official GMAT web site.