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Understanding the GMAT

Established in 1953, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is the standard entrance exam for roughly 6,000 management programs at more than 2,100 business schools worldwide. This comprehensive guide will cover registration, testing procedures, scores, and other essential information pertaining to the GMAT.

Why GMAT Scores Matter

Created and developed by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), the GMAT is is the only standardized test designed by management professionals for business school programs. The test is widely considered to be one of the most accurate and objective indicators of potential success in business administration, finance, and management programs. The test is currently offered at more than 600 testing centers in 114 different countries.

The GMAT’s content draws on business school curriculum, academic research, and feedback from management program faculty. The exam has four individual sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, qualitative, and verbal. Most experts agree that students should aspire to place within the top 80% of their target school’s median GMAT scores. Like other standardized tests, the GMAT requires rigorous preparation in the weeks leading up to the test date. Students can enhance their score by learning about the exam’s format and studying sample questions in all four categories.

GMAT Registration

How: In order to register for the GMAT, you will need to create an account. After agreeing to the terms of use, you’ll be asked to add the following personal details:

  • Residential or mailing address
  • Current phone number
  • Date of birth
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Country of citizenship
  • Native (first) language
  • Undergraduate college/university
  • Date of college/university graduation and undergraduate major field
  • Cumulative undergraduate grade point average (GPA)
  • Level of work experience, past job titles and industries of employment
  • Military status

Once the background information is complete, you’ll be asked to answer a few questions about your graduate degree and career plans.

  • Month and year you plan to begin your graduate program
  • Region of the world where you would like to study (three maximum answers)
  • Type of graduate degree you would like to pursue (MBA, Master of Finance, et al)
  • Type of educational delivery you prefer (classroom, online, hybrid, etc.)
  • Planned enrollment status (part- or full-time)
  • Whether or not you plan to work during your graduate studies
  • Planned areas of concentration
  • Post-graduation career path and industry

After these details have been added and your profile has been saved, you can choose a testing venue and schedule a date for your GMAT exam. If you identify as disabled, then you may be eligible for certain accommodations on the day of your exam. If you are under the age of 18, your parents must complete the official GMAT consent form.

Where and When: Once you’ve completed your profile, you will be allowed to select a testing location and exam date. Those who wish to take the GMAT as soon as possible and are willing to travel may be able to sit for the exam at an out-of-state testing venue.

Deadlines for business school admissions will vary, so there is no set date on which you should schedule your GMAT exam. Depending on the testing venue, exams may be offered in the morning or afternoon, and on any day of the week from Monday to Saturday. Before selecting an exam date, you should consult with officials at all of your target schools before registering for the GMAT to ensure your exam aligns with their admissions timetable., the official website of the GMAT, allows you to enter your current location and browse exam dates at the nearest testing centers; dates will vary by location.

Fees: Once you’ve completed your profile and scheduled a date for your GMAT exam, you’ll be asked to pay a $250 one-time testing fee. However, fee waivers for the exam are available for low-income students. The GMAC offers business schools up to 10 waivers per calendar year; each school must provide a detailed outline of student eligibility criteria in order to receive the waivers. You can learn more about waiver opportunities by contacting your target schools prior to registration.

Retaking the Exam: You may retake the GMAT after 16 days have elapsed from your last testing date, but you are limited to five exams per calendar (12-month) year. Each subsequent exam will incur a $250 testing fee. Economically disadvantaged students who used a fee waiver for their initial test may also receive a waiver if they retake the test; however, their eligibility for additional waivers will be at the discretion of business school providing the waivers. Please note that anyone who receives a perfect score of 800 will not be allowed to retake the exam for five years.

What to Expect on GMAT Test Day

Exam Breakdown

The GMAT exam uses computer adaptive model that evaluates the test-taker’s level of critical thinking and tailors the exam to their skills and abilities. Your performance on each question of the exam will essentially determine the types of questions that come next — so if the test feels like it’s getting harder, then that means you are performing relatively well. The program will continue to present increasingly difficult questions until you are unable to answer them.

The test takes approximately 3 ½ hours, although individuals are given a four hour period in which to take the exam, including two optional breaks. The GMAT is a computer-based exam.

Next we will explore the formats and some sample questions from the four core sections of the GMAT exam. Sample questions have been taken directly from the GMAT exam guide.

Analytical Writing

The first section is designed to measure your ability to write clearly, think critically and form cohesive arguments.

You’ll be given 30 minutes to craft an essay responding to an argument-based writing prompt; your essay should critically evaluate the content of the prompt and offer suggestions for improving the logic of the argument. Your essay should be three to five paragraphs in length. GMAT scorers will grade the essay based on the quality of your critical analysis, the strength of your counterargument(s) and your ability to communicate in writing.

Sample question: “Most companies would agree that as the risk of physical injury occurring on the job increases, the wages paid to employees should also increase. Hence it makes financial sense for employers to make the workplace safer: they could thus reduce their payroll expenses and save money.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.

You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.


Integrated Reasoning

Added to the GMAT exam in 2012, the Integrated Reasoning section measures your ability to evaluate and interpret information and data using graphs, datasets and other formats. The section consists of 12 different questions, and you’ll be given 30 minutes to complete all of them. Some questions are delivered in a multiple-choice or ‘yes or no’ format; others require you to fill in data tables by clicking boxes with your mouse.

Sample question: This problem has a two-part solution. Possible answers will be presented in a table with a column for each part.

The Quasi JX is a new car model. Under ideal driving conditions, the Quasi JX’s fuel economy is E kilometers per liter (E km/l) when its driving speed is constant at S kilometers per hour (S km/h).

In terms of the variables S and E, select the expression that represents the number of liters of fuel used in 1 hour of driving under ideal driving conditions at a constant speed S, and select the expression that represents the number of liters of fuel used in a 60 km drive under ideal driving conditions at a constant speed S. Make only two selections, one in each column.




The third section of the GMAT focuses on core concepts of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. You will have 75 minutes to complete all the questions in the Quantitative section. You are not allowed to use a calculator at any time.

There are 37 questions in the Quantitative section, and they are into two categories. The first 20-24 questions deal with ‘data sufficiency’; you’ll be given a mathematical question accompanied by some data, and then asked to determine whether or not you’ve been given enough information to answer the question. The last 13-17 questions involve ‘problem solving’, and are delivered in a multiple-choice format; you’ll be given a mathematical expression, and then asked to select the best of five possible answers.

Sample question: If u > t, r > q, s > t, and t > r, which of the following must be true?

  1. u > s
  2. s > q
  3. u > r
  • I only
  • II only
  • III only
  • I and II
  • II and III



The final section of the GMAT exam is devoted to reading, writing and language skills. The section consists of 41 different questions, and you’ll have 75 minutes to complete all of them.

The Verbal section is divided into three core areas. The first 14 questions deal with reading comprehension, and follow a multiple-choice format. You’ll be given several reading prompts; each passage is accompanied by at least one question asking you to identify the main idea, tone or other details about the reading. The next 11 questions (also multiple-choice) are designed to evaluate your critical reasoning skills. For each question, you’ll be given a statement and asked to choose the best of five possible answers. The final 16 questions will ask you to read sentences and correct them for grammar, word choice, sentence structure and other qualities.

Sample question: The cost of producing radios in Country Q is ten percent less than the cost of producing radios in Country Y. Even after transportation fees and tariff charges are added, it is still cheaper for a company to import radios from Country Q to Country Y than to produce radios in Country Y.

The statements above, if true, best support which of the following assertions?

  • Labor costs in Country Q are ten percent below those in Country Y.
  • Importing radios from Country Q to Country Y will eliminate ten percent of the manufacturing jobs in Country Y.
  • The tariff on a radio imported from Country Q to Country Y is less than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Y.
  • The fee for transporting a radio from Country Q to Country Y is more than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Q.
  • It takes ten percent less time to manufacture a radio in Country Q than it does in Country Y.


What to Bring

On exam day, test-takers must bring valid identification and the appointment confirmation letter or email from PearsonVUE. These items will be necessary to get into the testing center at your designated time. suggests that students bring along their list of target schools that will receive a score report, although the list cannot be taken into the test with them.

At the testing facility, the administrator will provide five noteboards. Do not erase notes on the board. These boards cannot be removed from the testing room and must be turned in when the testing period is over.

What to Leave at Home

There are several items not allowed in the exam. Do not bring any of the following:

  • Electronic devices
  • Calculators
  • Pens or other writing tools
  • Books (including a dictionary, thesaurus or other reference materials)
  • Measuring devices


Due to the competitive nature of business school admissions, a high GMAT score is an effective way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack. There are multiple ways to prepare for the GMAT, including self-directed study or GMAT preparation courses. This section will outline some of the best strategies you can use to prepare for the exam.

Self-Directed Study

Self-directed study may be the best GMAT prep method for individuals who are focused, self-disciplined and highly aware of their test-taking strengths and weaknesses. Some highly successful self-directed study books include:

The Graduate Management Admission Council also offers a variety of books and materials for people who choose the self-study option.

GMAT Prep Courses

Prep courses might be the best option for individuals who have been out of school for an extended period, or who struggle with subjects like English and/or mathematics. Prep courses allow students to learn in a classroom together, and this format provides opportunities for interaction and group study.

Some of the most reputable companies that provide GMAT test preparation courses include the following:

Strategies for Test-Day

When it comes to the big exam date, there are a few things you can do to reduce stress levels and enter the testing room with a clear head. Consider these tips:

The night/morning before the exam

  • Get at least seven or eight hours of sleep the night before the exam. Numerous studies have linked a good night’s sleep to cognitive performance and high standardized test scores.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast. A balanced meal will help you concentrate and remain focused until the end of the test.
  • Print out directions to the testing center the night before and plan to arrive for your exam at least 20 minutes early. If you have time, you should also travel to the testing center prior to your exam date and research alternate routes in case of traffic.

During the exam

  • Carefully read the directions for each question. Test-takers commonly choose an incorrect answer simply because they have skimmed over the directions and don’t understand what is specifically being asked of them.
  • Allow 3-4 guesses per section. Use the process of elimination to narrow down your options even further, and then choose the answer that seems like the best fit.
  • Keep an eye on the time. Answer questions as quickly as possible without rushing yourself.

How Scoring and Score Reports Work

Possible scores range from 200 to 800, although the analytical writing assessment and integrated reasoning sections are scored separately and do not count toward the test-taker’s final score. The majority of test-takers score between 400 and 600 on the exam; scores are based on the number of questions a test-taker finishes. A score of 551.94 is considered the mean score for all test-takers.

All four sections of the GMAT are scored differently:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment: This score is based on a single analysis of an argument essay. That essay is scored twice – once by a judge and once by an automated essay scoring program. These scores are typically close, but if the difference between the two is greater than one point, a third person will examine your analytical writing assessment.
  • Integrated Reasoning: The IR section scores in a range from 1 to 8, at single point intervals. Many problems have multiple questions that must be answered for credit. There is no partial credit for the integrated reasoning section.
  • Quantitative: This score ranges from 0 to 60, though most test-takers earn scores between 8 and 50.
  • Verbal: This section is also scored on a possible scale of 0 to 60, but most test-takers score within the range of 10 to 44.

Unofficial score reports are available the day of the exam, but these will not include your percentiles or your writing scores. It can take up to 20 days for Official Score Reports on each section to be delivered electronically or mailed through the postal service.

Schools identified before or on the day of your test will receive score reports within 20 days electronically or within 30 days by mail. If you add recipient schools after that date, they will receive reports within 6 to 8 weeks. Scores for the GMAT are valid for five years after the testing date. Please note: GMAT score from all of the exams you sit for in a five-year period will be available to the recipient schools you select.

Additional Resources

There are dozens of websites devoted to the format and structure of the GMAT, pre-test strategies and other aspects of the exam. These resources can be offer valuable tips and insights to supplement an exam study guide or group prep course. Click the links below for more information.

Video: How to Adapt to the GMAT's Adaptability

Brian Galvin, Veritas Prep's Director of Academic Programs, discusses exactly how the GMAT is adaptive, and how you should adjust your test-taking strategy accordingly.