The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, must be taken if you intend to get a Master’s in Business Administration, or MBA. It is a standardized test and does not give you a passing or failing grade. Instead, different colleges require different minimum scores to be admitted into their MBA programs. This is why most students aim for a specific score instead of just concentrating on passing the exam. Thus, read on to uncover the full test prep guide to crack the exam and answer the question “How hard is the GMAT?” once and for all.
What Is the GMAT?
The GMAT exam consists of four different sections: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and integrated reasoning. It is commonly used to assess individuals who wish to go to graduate school in business administration, and the highest score you can get is 800. On average, students take about 3.5 hours to complete the exam. The average score is between 565 and 575, but again, many graduate schools require more than an average score to be accepted into their programs.
People wishing to apply to graduate school are usually required to take either the GMAT or the GRE, or Graduate Record Examination. The two exams are written very differently, so you cannot compare one to the other. Furthermore, the Graduate Management Admission Council recommends that schools accepting graduate students take a holistic approach to admittance, which means they should take other things into consideration besides the students’ test scores.
Much like other standardized tests, the GMAT can be considered difficult or average, depending on how well-prepared you are for it. Even though the average GMAT score is 565–575, some graduate schools require a score of 700 or higher to get in, while others will accept a score within the average range to let you into their program. The smart thing to do is to check with a few of the schools you intend to apply to so that you can set a goal for yourself when you take the GMAT test.
The good news about diagnostic tests such as this one is that there are GMAT practice tests and even classes (including GMAT preparation online courses) that teach you how to improve your score. In fact, GMAT test takers should take advantage of both of these options in order to raise their scores and make them as high as possible.
Prospective students applying for graduate school should definitely build in significant time (months) to practice the more difficult questions on the test, honing the critical reasoning and problem solving skills required to achieve a top score, and do so with a realistic time limit to closely mimic the actual testing experience. A super high score may practically guarantee admission into the graduate school you are interested in, but it all starts with setting a goal for yourself, then working hard to achieve that goal, which may require a personalized study plan, as each student will likely have specific strengths and weaknesses on each section of the exam.
What Can You Do to Ace the GMAT?
Believe it or not, there are things you can do to increase your odds of getting a good final score on your Graduate Management Admissions Test. Below are a few of those things:
- Learn the Ins and Outs of the Test
The more you know about the GMAT and how it is set up, the better you’ll do on it. You can buy software that gives you mock tests to prepare you for the exam, which is usually some sort of computer-adaptive test that makes it easier to familiarize yourself with the types of questions they’ll ask. Take a look at the pacing and even the visuals contained in the GMAT, along with the types of questions they’ll ask. This is the first step in making sure you’re comfortable with the format of the GMAT.
- Take the Practice Tests
The practice tests that are available are very similar to the real test, but you can do them without the time pressure you’ll feel when taking the real test. This means you can relax a little and concentrate solely on the questions at hand. The more of these practice tests you take, the more prepared you’ll be for the actual test day itself. The questions are so similar that you’ll feel a lot more comfortable when you sit down to take the real GMAT.
- Determine Your Overall Ability on the Basics
If you have any gaps in any subject areas and feel like you’re lacking in them, it’s a good idea to go back and fill in those gaps so that all four areas will be a little easier on you. Remember that grammar, math, and reading comprehension are essential to learning before taking the GMAT, and don’t assume that what you learned in high school (or even on pre-college standardized tests) will be enough.
The difficulty level of the questions is harder than it was on the SAT or ACT, so make sure you know how to do geometry and algebra to pass the math section. You don’t necessarily need to have taken the highest level of college math courses to ace the GMAT, but you do need to familiarize yourself with the math skills required for this specific test, as you may encounter harder questions than expected if you simply rely on the math topics from your general academic classes to tackle the test.
- Don’t Be Careless
Mistakes can cost you a good score on your GMAT, so make sure you never just skim the questions. Read through them in their entirety so you understand exactly what they’re asking. Many students rush through the question, then just automatically go to the answer section, but this is not a good idea. Having said this, you should never spend too much time on any of the questions but, instead, go at a steady pace and move onto the next question if your mind draws a blank.
- Always Be Aware of Your Timing
Keep in mind that the GMAT is a timed test, and therefore, you’ll want to concentrate on your timing, which should start with your practice questions. Try to answer 20 questions in 30 minutes, then 20 questions in 20 minutes, and so on. Eventually, you should be able to answer the questions within a reasonable time frame. Those practice questions can help a lot with your timing because you can take them again and again until you’re comfortable with the results.
Why a Target Score Is So Important
Everyone knows that to meet goals, you need a specific plan, which includes planning out each section and the given time you’ll allot yourself in practice tests so you’re prepared to get a great GMAT score in the live testing environment at the test center. Additionally, when you shoot for a certain target combined score on the GMAT, it increases the odds that you’ll achieve that goal, as you’ll have been working towards the score in your practice tests. With enough hard work and concentration, you can reach that score and maybe even get a higher score than expected in the end.
No matter how naturally “smart” you are or how you may ace final exams in school with little outside studying, the GMAT is a much higher-stakes test and one on which you haven’t been prepped with months of class lectures subconsciously soaking into your brain ahead of exam day. In contrast, preparation is key to getting a great score on this type of test to achieve your maximum score.
Taking a Look at Each Section in More Detail
The difficulty of the GMAT comes down to how prepared you are. The more you study the format and take the practice exams, the easier the test will feel when you’re taking it. Remember that your analytical writing assessment will require some critical thinking, as will other sections of the test. The analytical writing sections have to be completed in 30 minutes, and they are considered important because, let’s face it, if you have an advanced degree, you’ll be expected to write well.
In the verbal reasoning sections, there are a total of 36 questions, and you’ll get 65 minutes to complete them. This means that you’ll have around 2 minutes for each question, so some time management skills are essential. In fact, you’ll experience time constraints throughout the GMAT since each section of the test is timed and has to be completed within a certain time frame.
In the quantitative section of the GMAT, you’re going to be tested on your reasoning and analyzing skills. The quant section consists of 31 questions, and you get 62 minutes to complete it, which works out to roughly 2 minutes per question. In the integrated reasoning section, you’ll be tested on higher-order reasoning skills. This includes analyzing data in graphs and charts, which means you’ll need both verbal and quantitative skills to succeed.
Practical Ways to Succeed on the GMAT
Most MBA programs require you to take the GMAT, and just the thought of taking this test can be nerve-wracking. On average, you’ll get approximately 2 minutes to complete each question on the four sections, and while that sounds like a lot of time, it really isn’t. The GMAT is difficult according to most of the people who take it, but since all of the top business schools require it, you have to accept that taking this test will be a necessity for you.
Don’t spend too much time worrying about the previous question but instead, concentrate only on the present question. Try to make a sentence correction if you’re writing out answers and you feel like you’ve messed up, but otherwise, just move forward with the next questions and sections. Once you get to the testing center, you’ll be nervous enough without worrying about the question you just completed. Work steadily but not too quickly, and thoroughly read through each question before answering it.
The GMAT is an important test and can make you nervous, but a lot of the questions test your basic skills, most of which are based on the knowledge you received in the right schools and even your work experience. The questions are mostly common sense, but that doesn’t mean all of them are easy. The best way to get a high total score is to prepare for the exam as much as possible by getting the software that allows you to take practice tests and to get as familiar as possible with the format of the test.
All in all, when answering the question of how hard is the GMAT, the truth is that the GMAT difficulty is relative based on your level of preparation, but with adequate experience studying all the different question types (and spending extra time mastering the concepts for those sections with a higher difficulty level), you can walk into the test feeling as prepared as possible, no matter what level of difficulty the test makers attempt to sneak into the live exam.