You’re Fooling Yourself: The GMAT is NOT the SAT!

StudentWhile a fair number of GMAT test takers study for and complete the exam a number of years into their professional career (the average age of a B-school applicant is 28, a good 6-7 years removed from their undergraduate graduation), you may be one of the ambitious few who is studying for the GMAT during, or immediately following, your undergraduate studies.

There are pros and cons to applying to business school entry straight out of undergraduate – your application lacks the core work experience that many of the higher-tier programs prefer, but unlike the competition, you have not only taken a standardized test in the past 6 years, but you are also (likely) still in the studying mindset and know (versus trying to remember) exactly what it takes to prepare for a difficult exam.

However, you may also fall into a common trap that many younger test takers find themselves in – you decide to tackle the GMAT like your old and recent friend, the SAT.

Now, are there similarities between the GMAT and SAT? Of course.

For starters, the SAT and GMAT are both multiple-choice standardized exams. The math section of the SAT covers arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, just like the quantitative section of the GMAT, with some overlap in statistics and probability. Both exams test a core, basic understanding of English grammar, and ask you to answer questions based on your comprehension of dry, somewhat complex reading passages. The SAT and GMAT also both require you write essays (although the essay on the SAT is now optional), and timing and pacing are issues on both exams, though perhaps more so on the GMAT.

But this is largely where the overlap ends. So, does that mean everything you know and prepped for the SAT should be thrown out the window?

Not necessarily, but it does require a fundamental shift in thinking. While applying your understanding of the Pythagorean Theorem, factorization, permutations, and arithmetic sequences from the SAT will certainly help you begin to tackle GMAT quantitative questions, there are key differences in what the GMAT is looking to assess versus the College Board, and with that, the strategy in tackling these questions should also be quite different.

Simply put, the GMAT is testing how you think, not what you know. This makes sense, when you think about what types of skills are required in business school and, eventually, in the management of business and people. GMAC doesn’t hide what the GMAT is looking to assess – in fact, goals of the GMAT’s assessment are clearly stated on its website:

The GMAT exam is designed to test skills that are highly important to business and management programs. It assesses analytical writing and problem-solving abilities, along with the data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills that are vital to real-world business and management success. In June 2012, the GMAT exam introduced Integrated Reasoning, a new section designed to measure a test taker’s ability to evaluate information presented in new formats and from multiple sources─skills necessary for management students to succeed in a technologically advanced and data-rich world.

To successfully show that you are a candidate worth considering, in your preparation for the exam, make sure you consider what the right strategy and approach will be. Strategy, strategy, strategy. You need to understand which rabbit holes the GMAT can take you down, what tricks not to fall for (especially via misdirection), and how identification of question types can best inform the next steps you take.

An additional, and really, really important point is to keep in mind is that the GMAT is a computer-adaptive exam, not a pen-and-paper test.

Computer-adaptive means that your answer selection dictates the difficulty level of the next question – stacking itself up to a very accurate assessment of how easily you are able to answer easy, medium, and hard questions. Computer-adaptive also means you are not able to skip around, or go back to questions… including the reading comprehension ones. Just like on any game show, you must select your final answer before moving on.

As a computer-adaptive test, the GMAT not only punishes pacing issues, but can be even more detrimental to those who rush and make careless mistakes in the beginning. To wage war against the CAT format, test takers must be careful and methodical in assessing and answering test questions correctly.

Bottom line: don’t treat the GMAT like the SAT, or assume that because you did well on the SAT, you will also do so on the GMAT (or, vice versa). Make sure you are aware of the components of the GMAT that are different and where the similarities between the two tests end.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And be sure to follow us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter!

By Ashley Triscuit, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston.