The GMAT exam is designed to measure your ability to think logically and to employ a wide range of skills, including the ability to write persuasively. It does not assess business competence or academic knowledge beyond some very basic mathematics and grammar. GMAT scores provide business school admissions staff with a standardised way to assess candidates. Admissions officers tend to rely most heavily on them when comparing applicants from a wide variety of different national and academic backgrounds.
The GMAT tests your aptitude through a range of multiple-choice questions, along with two essay-writing assignments.
The multiple-choice questions
The multiple-choice questions are now available in a computer-adaptive format in most parts of the world, and in the traditional paper-and-pencil version in other parts.
The electronic version adapts your answers to your performance. Therefore, if you correctly answer the first question, the next question will be more difficult; or, if you answer it incorrectly, the next question will be easier. As such, the exam can quickly determine your ability level.
The multiple-choice questions are of five types:
• problem solving – involving arithmetic, basic algebra and geometry
• data sufficiency – similar in scope to the ‘problem-solving’ questions, but more abstract
• reading comprehension – testing your ability to comprehend and analyse the logic, structure, and details of densely written materials
• critical reasoning – testing your ability to evaluate the evidence and logic used in short arguments or statements
• sentence correction – requiring you to recognise clear, concise, and correct sentences.
The problem-solving and data sufficiency questions are grouped together in the quantitative section of the exam; the other three question types are part of the verbal section.
The essay-writing assignments
For the written portion, you must write essays on each of two assigned topics. The essays are similar in nature: one is termed ‘analysis of an argument’, the other, ‘analysis of an issue’. In the first, you analyse how persuasively the author marshals the arguments and evidence in support of a position. In the second, you are asked for a more personal response to an issue, which you discuss.
Doing your homework
To prepare seriously for the GMAT, you can either use special preparatory books and online tutorials or spend some time taking preparatory classes/courses.
The advantages of self preparation are its lower cost and flexibility. Make sure you use several preparatory books and practise with old GMAT exams, which are available only from GMAC (www.gmac.com). Structure your study schedule carefully: for instance, spend two hours a night twice a week and six to eight hours on weekends for six to eight weeks before the exam. Having a study partner can also be very useful.
By contrast, preparatory classes/courses can help structure your studying, guide you through the material, offer you expert advice, and give you the opportunity to study and compare yourself with others.
Cost and any inconvenience is usually outweighed by the higher scores achieved. If you decide to take a preparatory class/course, shop around. There are a lot of good-quality courses available, so be sure that the one you choose meets your needs in terms on schedule, location, reputation, price, or other requirements you might have.
What your GMAT score means
You will receive four scores: three for your performance on the multiple-choice questions and one for your essay performance. At the end of the exam, you are given an unofficial score for the multiple-choice portion, but, approximately two weeks later, the four scores are officially sent to you and to your designated schools.
Your overall score on the multiple-choice section is reported on a scale of 200–800, and is also given as a ‘percentile ranking’. Top programmes tend to require scores in the mid-600s or higher, meaning that their students are typically in the top 5–10% of test-takers.
The other two scores for the multiple-choice section give percentile rankings for your verbal and quantitative (maths) skills.
The fourth score is based solely on the written portion of the exam, which is given on a scale of 0–6. Schools typically consider a 4.0 or 4.5 to be acceptable, and anything higher is regarded as a good performance. Although copies of the essays are also forwarded on, some schools only take the score into account.
If your first GMAT score isn’t enough for the program you desire, you may need to retake the exam. But, before making this decision, you should analyse your application and see where improvements might be made. Getting into a top program is also about marketing yourself, so your time might be better spend rewriting your application essays or enhancing other credentials/qualifications.
Many business program
s permit (or require) applicants to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) General Test instead of the GMAT. It is often the test of preference for academically orientated programs, such as economics, whereas pure business programs, such as marketing, more often prefer the GMAT.