*Updated June 13, 2020
The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is a computer-based only standardized test required for admission to graduate business programs all around the world. Similar to other standardized tests, the GMAT gives schools a common measure to compare thousands of applicants with various backgrounds and experiences.
If you’re considering taking the GMAT, here’s what you should know.
1. When do I take the GMAT?
Except for the holidays, you can take the GMAT any day all year long. Just remember you can take the GMAT once every 16 days up to five times within any continuous 12-month period, and up to eight times in total.
You need to register online or by phone in advance because walk-in registrations are not accepted. Visit MBA.com to register.
2. How much is the GMAT?
The test fee varies based on the location of the test center. The fee for locations within the United States is $275, which includes sending score reports to a maximum of five recipients.
Although test-takers cannot request for fee waivers directly, they can receive waivers through schools. GMAC, the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which owns and administers the GMAT, allows schools to give out up to 10 fee waivers within a year to both enrolled students and prospective candidates with economic disadvantage.
As test-takers, there are mainly two different ways to receive fee waivers.
- From your undergraduate university: Some schools offer GMAT fee waivers to current students or recent graduates. Ask your school’s Financial Aid Office to learn more.
- From graduate business programs: Schools offer GMAT fee waivers to prospective students. You don’t need to have attended the school as an undergraduate to request a fee waiver from that school. You just need to be a candidate.
3. Where can I find free GMAT prep courses?
The GMAC offers official, free test prep tools, such as two full-length practice tests and comprehensive math reviews. This is the most realistic GMAT prep software you can use.
For other unofficial prep tools, the Princeton Review offers free practice tests online or under realistic testing conditions in nearby classrooms.
Kaplan also offers two types of free practice tests online, self-proctored and instructor-proctored. While the self-proctored test gives your score and answer explanations for you to look at them by yourself, the instructor-proctored test gives your score and a one-on-one time with a GMAT instructor to explain your answers online.
Additionally, PrepScholar, which guarantees its students a 60+ point improvement on their next GMAT, offers free resources, such as GMAT books, GMAT lessons and GMAT videos.
4. What is the test format?
The GMAT tests your verbal, math, writing and ability to read data. Lasting 3 ½ hours, the entire exam consists of four sections. You can choose the order of the sections at the test center. There are three options.
- Writing → Integrated Reasoning → Math → Verbal
- Verbal → Math → Integrated Reasoning → Writing
- Math → Verbal → Integrated Reasoning → Writing
The math section — officially called the “Quantitative Reasoning” — consists of 31 multiple-choice questions and lasts 62 minutes, giving you two minutes per question. Note that calculators are NOT allowed.
The verbal section — officially called the “Verbal Reasoning” — consists of 36 multiple-choice questions and lasts 65 minutes, giving you about 1.8 minutes per question.
The Integrated Reasoning section consists of 12 multiple-choice questions, most of which require multiple answers, and lasts 30 minutes, giving you 2.5 minutes per question. This section tests your ability to read data presented in various charts, graphs and tables. Of the 12 questions, two to four can be experimental. Calculators are provided.
The writing section — officially called the “Analytical Writing Assessment” — consists of one essay and lasts 30 minutes. Here, you are given an argument and must analyze and critique the argument’s logic rather than take a side.
Taking breaks is optional. If you choose to, you can take two eight-minute breaks after each hour.
5. What is a computer-adaptive test?
Both the verbal and math sections of the GMAT are computer-adaptive, meaning the computer adapts to your performance as you’re taking the test. In the beginning, the computer assumes that you have an average score and gives you questions of medium difficulty. As you answer them correctly, the computer serves up more difficult questions. As you answer them incorrectly, the computer serves up easier questions. According to GMAC, the tailored approach has many advantages, including the possibility of shortening testing time and decreasing the likelihood of error.
6. How is the GMAT scored?
All four sections are scored separately. Both the math and verbal sections are scored on a 0-60 scale in one-point increments. The Integrated Reasoning section is scored on a 1-8 scale in one-point increments. The writing section is scored on a 0-6 scale in half-point increments.
Evaluated by two readers, one human and one computer, the writing section takes the average of the two scores, rounded to the nearest half-point in your final score. If the scores from two readers differ significantly, another human reader grades your essay.
To most graduate business programs, the most important score is the overall, or composite, GMAT score, a combined score of only the math and verbal sections that ranges from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments.
Since the two sections are computer-adaptive, your score is determined by an algorithm that calculates your ability level based not only on how many questions you got right, but also on the difficulty level of the questions you answered.
Just because the overall GMAT score is made of only math and verbal scores, do not think schools won’t look at your writing or Integrated Reasoning scores. Although every school has its own priorities, it has access to your scores for all four sections. Significantly lower scores in writing or Integrated Reasoning could lead schools to question your ability.
GMAT scores are valid for five years, and you can only request the writing section to be rescored.
7. What is considered a good GMAT score?
According to GMAC, the average score for the overall GMAT score is 561.27.
But for the most exact estimate, you need to check with your programs directly. What is considered a good score for program A may not even come close to what is considered a good score for program B.
Especially for those who must juggle GMAT along with other work, it is helpful to know how much effort and time you should put into preparing for the exam.
Here are some important questions you should keep in mind before you start your research.
- What GMAT scores do I need to be accepted? You need to have a target score, so you can figure out how much work you need to put in for the GMAT. If the school doesn’t give you a cutoff score, you can check out the admission data in the Princeton Review’s business school profiles to find out the average scores for last year’s incoming class for your schools.
- Will you look at all parts of my GMAT score? While some programs value math scores higher, others value verbal scores higher. Know in advance to which subjects you need to put more effort in.
- Are GMAT scores used for anything else? Some schools may use your scores for course placement or scholarship consideration, in which case, you may want to score higher than just the cutoff score.
- How important is my first GMAT score? If you’re planning to take the GMAT multiple times, it would be good to know in advance how much your school values that first score. If they don’t mind multiple scores, but just the highest score, you can relax a bit on your first test. If not, you need to prepare thoroughly for that first test.
8. When do I receive my scores?
After your exam at the test center, you’ll receive the unofficial score, excluding the essay score. After viewing, you have the option to keep or cancel your score. The official score, including the essay score, will be available within 20 days after the test date.
Even if you accepted your scores on the test date, you can still cancel them online within 72 hours of your scheduled exam time for a $25 fee.
If you’re preparing to take the GMAT multiple times, you can also purchase an enhanced score report for $30 either before or after your exam. This report explains in more detail about your performance on the exam, where you excelled and where you lacked. This can help you better prepare for the next exam.
9. How do I send my scores to schools?
On the test date, you can select up to five score recipients. Once you have made your selections, you cannot change them. Depending on the school’s preference, GMAC will send your scores electronically or by mail.
Even after the test date, you can still report your score to additional schools for $35 per each by either logging into your account on MBA.com or calling GMAT customer service. Your score will be sent within seven calendar days.
10. What are some tips and strategies?
Although every test-taker starts off on different levels and conditions, here are some general tips and strategies applicable to all.
- Practice on your computer. Although many standardized tests are now delivered electronically, some people just think better with actual paper. But, with the GMAT, you don’t have a choice. So, practice reading long passages online and clicking the right answers.
- Time yourself. The GMAT doesn’t let you skip or return to previous questions. Also, you get points off for unanswered questions. So, while you want to take enough time for each question, maybe a bit more for difficult ones, to prevent careless mistakes, you also want to be fast enough to answer all questions in each section in time.
- Study more than 120 hours, at least. According to Kaplan, test-takers who scored in the 90th percentile or higher typically studied more than 120 hours for the exam. Of course, 120 is not the magic number. How you study is often more important than how long you study. However, it’s helpful to know that a good score in the GMAT is neither an overnight success nor a mission impossible.
- Finally, sleep well the night before the test. After spending time, effort and money on the exam, the last thing you’d want to happen on the test date is to crash in sleep. If you’ve done your work, you’ll do just fine. Allow yourself some sleep before the big day.
By now, you know that GMAT is a very important factor to getting into a good graduate business program. However, you should also know that it is just one out of many other factors, such as previous work experience, personal statement and undergraduate GPA (grade point average). Make sure that the GMAT is a part of the entire process, not the whole process!
Hyeyeun Jeon is from South Korea and a graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in Professional Writing and International Relations. She is passionate about non-fiction storytelling. She loves reading, watching, writing and producing stories about extraordinary lives of everyday people.