The GMAT is a computer adaptive test (CAT), which is more than just a digital version of a written exam. A CAT adapts to your performance as you’re taking the test. When you begin each category, the computer assumes you have an average score and gives you a question of medium difficulty. As you answer correctly, it generates more difficult questions. As you answer incorrectly, it serves up the easier variety.
The algorithm calculates your score as you go based not just on what you got right or wrong, but also on the difficulty level of the question. Because each answer directly affects the next question, the CAT does not allow you to go back to questions you’ve already answered. Once you’ve confirmed your answer, that’s it.
The GMAT format includes four sections that are scored separately. Quantitative and Verbal are scored between 200 and 800. The Integrated Reasoning section is scored on a scale of 1-8, and the Analytical Writing Assessment is hand-graded on a scale of 0-6 in .5 increments.
The GMAT Quantitative section tests your knowledge of basic math like arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, as well as your analytical abilities. Hence, there’s a strong logic element in GMAT math. The Quantitative section lasts 62 minutes and consists of 31 questions of two types: Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving.
Data Sufficiency questions come with two statements of data, and it’s your job to determine whether the statements provide sufficient data to answer the question. This question type requires you to quickly identify pertinent information and efficiently eliminate answer choices.
Problem Solving questions on the GMAT present you with five possible answer choices that test high school math skills. If you haven’t looked at high school math in awhile, you’ll want to brush up. The key here is to clearly understand the questions and avoid answer traps.
The GMAT Verbal section tests your command of standard written English, your skill in analyzing arguments, and your ability to read critically. The section lasts 65 minutes and consists of 36 questions of three types: Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction, and Reading Comprehension.
Critical Reasoning asks you to break down a short argument into pieces and answer questions related to it. It examines your argument skills: how to make them, evaluate them, and formulate a plan of action. This section is notorious for tricky wording, so read carefully. It will test your ability to:
- Understand the argument’s structure
- Identify the conclusion
- Determine what evidence exists to support the conclusion
- Determine what assumptions are made to jump from evidence to conclusion
Sentence Correction questions present you with a sentence with a portion underlined, followed by five answer choices. Using your knowledge of standard written English, you then choose the option that fits best within the sentence. Keep in mind that the sentences often test more than one grammar point.
Reading Comprehension questions present scholarly passages in the topics of business or science (social, biological, physical) and then ask three or four questions about each passage, testing your critical reading skills and 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
- Deduce the author’s tone and attitude about a topic
In 2012, a new Integrated Reasoning (IR) section was added to the GMAT format. It includes four new, multi-step question types that measure your ability to evaluate information presented from multiple sources in different formats.
The Analytical Writing Assessment presents a brief argument similar to a statement you would find in a verbal critical reasoning question. Your task is to write an essay that critiques the structure of the argument and explains how persuasive it is. Don’t try to present your own point of view on the topic; instead, offer a critique of the author’s approach, considering:
- What’s the conclusion?
- What evidence is used to support the conclusion?
- What assumptions does the writer make in moving from evidence to conclusion?
- Is the argument persuasive?
- What would make it stronger? Weaker?