Everything Students Should Know About the GMAT Exam


The Graduate Management Admission Test, more commonly known as the GMAT, is a computer-based examination used to measure skills important to the study of management. Schools with graduate-level management programs use GMAT test scores to compare applicants and make admissions decisions. Because the GMAT is an international test with objective assessment criteria, it tends to predict academic success better than grade point average, which can vary based on a school’s policies and business curriculum. More than 1,600 schools require or accept GMAT scores from applicants, so preparing for the test is important. The right preparation strategy can raise a student’s score enough to make a difference between being accepted to a program and being rejected or waitlisted.

History of the Exam
In 1953, representatives from several colleges, including Harvard and Columbia, met to discuss the creation of a standardized entrance examination for business school. They met with representatives from the Educational Testing Service, the same company that administers the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and created The Admission Test for Graduate Study in Business. More than 4,200 people took the ATGSB in 1954.

In 1976, the Graduate Management Admissions Council changed the name of the exam to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Representatives of the GMAC use test data to modify questions and determine when content changes are needed. The length of the test has also changed several times, with the exam lasting as little as two hours and 25 minutes to as long as four hours. The GMAT is now available in more than 80 countries.



How the Test is Given
The GMAT has four sections and lasts a total of three and a half hours. The Analytical Writing Assessment takes 30 minutes and asks test takers to complete an essay critiquing a brief argument that is presented. This is the only part of the test that is not multiple-choice. Next, the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section, which was added in 2012, has 12 questions. Test takers have 30 minutes to answer four types of questions: Table Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, Multi-Source Reasoning, and Two-Part Analysis. The IR section is multiple-choice, but is not computer-adaptive.

Test takers have 75 minutes to complete the Verbal section of the test, which has 41 questions covering Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension. The Quantitative section contains 37 Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency questions. This section also takes 75 minutes to complete.

The computer-based sections (Verbal and Quantitative) use a computer-adaptive format, which means it adjusts the difficulty of the questions to each person’s skill level. The computer displays a question of medium difficulty at the beginning of each multiple-choice section of the test. It scores the test taker’s answer and uses the information to determine which question to display next. If someone answers a question correctly, the next question is likely to be more difficult. The computer is likely to display an easier question after someone has answered a question incorrectly. Computer-adaptive tests score each question individually, so test takers cannot change their answers or return to previous questions.

Every official GMAT exam has experimental questions mixed in with the actual test questions, but there is no way to know which items are being tested. This is why it is so important for students to do their best on every question. A student’s GMAT score is based on the number of questions completed, the difficulty level of each question, and whether the given answers were correct or incorrect.



Preparing for the GMAT
The GMAT measures skills developed over time, so cramming for the test is not likely to increase a student’s score. However, taking practice tests and reviewing exam prep guides will help students learn strategies for answering difficult questions. There is a significant penalty for failing to complete any section of the GMAT, so it is also important to develop pacing skills. Taking several practice tests will help students learn how to pace themselves as they complete each section of the exam.

The Quantitative section of the GMAT includes questions related to inequalities, least common factors, greatest common multipliers, common multiples, linear equations, and other mathematical concepts. Practicing these problems many times is the best way to develop the skills needed to do well on this section of the test. In some cases, it is possible to eliminate one or more of the answers based on the information found in the question. If a problem includes the phrase “positive integer,” for example, the student can eliminate any answer choice with a negative number.

The Verbal section of the test contains several different types of questions. Becoming familiar with each type will make it easier to avoid common mistakes and eliminate red herrings. Although the GMAT uses basic business terms such as profit and revenue, there is no need to spend time learning hundreds of definitions. The test does not assume any previous knowledge, so study time is better spent learning test-taking strategies. One of the most common questions in the verbal section relates to finding the main idea of a passage. Students should practice reading complex passages (such as New York Times newspaper articles) and identifying their purpose to get the most points possible on this section of the exam.

The Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT has four fairly unique questions formats. Becoming familiar with each question type will make it easier to avoid mistakes on the actual test. Time management is especially important for this section because there is no partial credit. If a student misses one part of a question, the entire question is marked wrong. Taking several practice exams will make it easier to determine how much time to spend on each question. Some Integrated Reasoning questions will have accompanying graphs, so it is also important to practice using graphs to gather and interpret data.

By Scott Shrum