What Is the GMAT?


Updated July 1, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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The GMAT is the most widely accepted admissions test for business schools. Discover what the test looks like and how best to prepare for it.

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The Graduate Management Admission Test, better known as the GMAT, is a central component of the admissions process for graduate business programs. Accepted at over 2,400 business schools across the globe, the GMAT tests students' problem-solving and reasoning abilities and helps determine their suitability for MBA and other graduate-level business programs.

In this guide, we take a deep dive into the GMAT, highlighting what the test entails, why you should take it, and how to prepare for it. We also provide some helpful tips and resources to make sure you make the most of your time on test day.

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Why Is the Graduate Management Admission Test Important?

A coalition of nine business schools first developed the GMAT in 1953 to streamline admissions. Today, many of the best online MBA programs and business schools rely on the GMAT to assist with admissions decisions.

Scores from this test provide insight about applicants' skills in the following areas:

  • Advanced reasoning
  • Rationale and problem-solving
  • Data interpretation
  • Time management
  • Reading comprehension

Even though some business schools offer testing alternatives, you can submit GMAT scores to any college or university. A strong performance on the GMAT can sway admissions decisions and lead to scholarships.

For more than 70 years, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has overseen and updated the test. In 2023, they launched the 11th edition of the GMAT — the focus edition.

What Is on the GMAT?

The GMAT comprises three sections: quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and data insights. Each section has a time limit of 45 minutes and features between 20 and 23 questions. The sections test your ability to apply business-relevant skills to real-world business situations and contexts.

In total, the GMAT features 64 questions and a 135-minute time limit. You can complete the three sections in any order, and you can also take an optional 10-minute break after completing one of the sections.

Here's a breakdown of the GMAT sections:

Components of the GMAT Exam
Exam Section Skills Tested Number of Questions Time Limit
Quantitative Reasoning Problem-solving, algebra, arithmetic, logic, and analysis 21 problem-solving questions 45 minutes
Verbal Reasoning Reading comprehension, critical reasoning, argument evaluation and formulation 23 reading comprehension and critical reasoning questions 45 minutes
Data Insights Verbal reasoning; digital literacy; and data analysis, interpretation, and application 20 data sufficiency, multi-source reasoning, table analysis, graphics interpretation, and two-part analysis questions 45 minutes
Source: BLS

Quantitative Reasoning

In this section, you use logic, reasoning, and concepts from algebra and arithmetic to solve 21 math-based problems in a 45-minute period. While you can't use a calculator, the questions focus more on your analytical process than your math skills.

Verbal Reasoning

This section asks you to read and understand passages, including the ideas, structure, and conclusions of these readings. You must then answer questions that demonstrate your comprehension or your ability to make and evaluate arguments about the passages' content. Most of the reading selections feature fewer than 100 words and require no specialized knowledge of the passage topics.

Data Insights

In this section, you must use data literacy and analysis skills to answer questions about business situations. You need to evaluate different types of information to determine which conclusions you can draw from the data. You will encounter several data types and sources in this section, and you can use an on-screen calculator if needed.

Do You Have to Take the GMAT?

While a growing number of business schools have introduced admissions pathways with no GMAT requirements, many programs still ask for GMAT scores as part of the application. Some schools offer GMAT waivers or test-optional policies to make the application process more accessible. Other institutions may value undergraduate grades and professional experience more than test scores.

Strong test scores can improve your business school application. Each section has equal weight in the overall score, but some business schools may value certain sections more than others.

Scores on the most recent version of the GMAT now range from 205 to 805, instead of 200-800 like older versions of the exam. Because the focus edition of the test uses scores from three sections to create a composite score instead of just two sections like previous editions of the exam, scores do not directly correlate between versions. Test-takers can use their percentile rankings to understand how their scores compare to historical averages.

How to Prepare for Taking the GMAT

Your GMAT scores can impact your business school application, so you should prepare accordingly. You can take the test year round at testing centers around the globe. Before you schedule the GMAT and pay your $275-$300 testing fee, consider the following preparation tips:

Learn the Sections

Understand how each section's questions work and what skills you need to succeed in each portion of the exam. This research will help you identify the areas you need to work on so you can develop a study plan.

Get a Starter Kit

Order a free GMAT official starter kit from GMAC. This package contains two practice exams, more than 70 sample questions, and a guided review. You can also buy official study guides and practice question bundles.

Refresh Your Fundamentals

Every section of the test relies on fundamental knowledge and abilities, such as algebra, reading comprehension, and data literacy. Brush up on your skills in these core areas to make sure you haven't forgotten anything and can perform the basic functions required on the exam.

Take Practice Tests

Taking practice tests can help you get comfortable with GMAT material and refine your time management and organization skills. You can use these exams to simulate testing conditions and identify problem areas.

Analyze Your Errors

A close review of your mistakes on practice exams can help you turn weaknesses into strengths. Learn where you went wrong and make a note of the question type. Look for trends in the questions you get wrong and give those styles of question extra attention.

Register for the Test

You typically receive your official GMAT score 3-5 days after testing, and you cannot send scores to schools until after this score is available. Consequently, make sure you take the test far enough in advance that you can send scores before your application deadlines. When registering, think about the time of day when you think and work best and whether you would prefer to take the exam online or at a testing center. In-person exams cost $275, while online tests are $300.

Visit the official GMAT site to register and pay your testing fees.

More Resources for Online MBA Students

Preparing for the GMAT: Study Guide

Preparing for the GMAT: Study Guide

The Best GMAT Test Prep Courses

The Best GMAT Test Prep Courses

MBA Requirements

MBA Requirements

More Frequently Asked Questions About the GMAT

Is the GMAT just for MBA programs?

While most people connect the GMAT with MBA programs, business schools use the test for admission into many business-related programs. According to GMAC, more than 7,700 programs across 2,400 business schools accept GMAT scores.

How hard is the GMAT?

The GMAT is a challenging graduate-level exam that tests your reasoning and time management skills. Adequately preparing for the test can help you succeed when you take the GMAT.

How long does the GMAT take?

You have up to two hours and 15 minutes to complete the GMAT — 45 minutes for each of the three sections. Unanswered questions do result in score penalties, so manage your time appropriately.

How much does the GMAT cost?

GMAT pricing varies by location, but in the United States, in-person tests cost $275 and online tests cost $300. You must also pay fees for retesting, cancellations, and additional score reports. If you choose not to take the GMAT, consider an affordable MBA with no GMAT requirements.

What is a good score on the GMAT?

Every school has its own GMAT standards, so consult each program on your list to understand their score expectations. Historically, examinees aimed for a score of 700, but under the new GMAT format, this correlates to a score of 645. This score puts you in the 89th percentile for performance, making your score competitive at many business schools, including the top institutions in the country. A score of 605 puts you in the 75th percentile.

Can I retake the GMAT?

Yes, you can retake the GMAT up to five times per year, and eight times total in your life. However, you must wait at least 16 days between test dates. Under the new GMAT format, scores are not sent automatically to institutions. Once you receive your official score report, you decide which schools, if any, to send your scores to.

Page last reviewed June 13, 2024.

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