Logo for the GMAT TestThe Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is a standardized test developed by the Graduate Management Admissions Council specifically to help evaluate business school applicants. It is one of the standard criteria for admission to MBA programs, although some business schools have recently begun to accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as an alternative.  However, since the GMAT generally has a more difficult Math section and less vocabulary-intensive Verbal section than the GRE, many schools prefer the GMAT as an indicator of business acumen.

While graduate programs generally do not require a particular score for acceptance, most students admitted to the top business schools often score in the 80th percentile or above. To learn more about the GMAT scoring system, click here.

Test Mechanics and Scoring

A basic understanding of the GMAT’s mechanics is vital to success on the exam. The GMAT is a computer-adaptive standardized test, which means that the computer adjusts the difficulty of each question after each answer. The more questions you answer correctly, the harder the questions become. The more questions you answer incorrectly, the easier they become. The computer also allows for mistakes and lucky guesses, so you should feel consistently challenged by the questions. Because the test adapts to each answer you give, you cannot change an answer you have already entered. This means that a successful test-taker will answer each question as carefully as possible, while also proceeding through the exam at a reasonable rate and finishing each section on time.

However, because test-takers receive no score penalty for wrong answers, it also makes sense to guess any question you honestly cannot figure out. Keep these basic facts in mind as you prepare, and you will not feel rattled on the test day if the questions gradually become more difficult. Odd as it may sound, this will actually indicate you are doing well.

Which Skills are Tested?

The GMAT is broken into three sections: Analytical Writing , Quantitative and Verbal. The Analytical Writing Assessment tests your ability to construct and deconstruct arguments, as well as your capacity to express your thoughts in writing. The Quantitative section tests a variety of mathematical skills, but generally challenges test-takers to think conceptually rather than to perform complex computations. The Verbal section tests reading comprehension, the ability to reason verbally, and knowledge of grammar and diction.

While the test uses a variety of methods to test a broad set of skills, success does not require advanced education or specialization in a particular area. A solid undergraduate education will cover all of the concepts the GMAT tests, and preparation for the test itself will reveal that most questions require little more than thoughtful applications of familiar concepts.

Preparing for the GMAT

Though the GMAT consists of different sections which test distinct skills, all three sections also test another set of skills which you can leverage to increase your score on the entire exam: standardized test-taking. By understanding the mechanics of the exam, familiarizing yourself with the question types, and developing strategies for coping with the influences of time and stress on your behavior, applicantscan enhance the likelihood of increasing their scores. Because of their personalities, educational backgrounds and previous testing experience, many students will already have good test-taking skills. But understanding the unique mechanics and question types you will encounter on the GMAT (such as the “data sufficiency” question-type developed exclusively for this exam) is worth the extra effort.  In addition to the materials available directly from GMAC, numerous GMAT preparation books and classes are available from the major test preparation companies. Recently, start-ups such as GMAT Pill and Magoosh have also begun offering innovative online test preparation materials and courses for a fraction of the price.

Learn more about how to prepare for the GMAT.

On Test Day

No matter how well you prepare, sitting down to take a three-and-a-half-hour test that costs $250 and plays a significant role in your graduate school application can be an intimidating experience. In order to do well on the exam, you will need to control your anxiety rather than allowing it to overwhelm you. If at all possible, you should conclude your studying 24 hours before the test and clear the day of other important or potentially distracting business. Kaplan advises students to get a good night’s sleep and avoid coffee before any major standardized test. (Under stressful exam conditions,the body energizes itself naturally with adrenaline, a natural hormone which caffeine interferes with.) [Kaplan New GRE Premier 2011-2012, p. 493] Make sure to eat a healthy meal before the test, and arrive early enough to clear security and complete your paperwork. Finally, remember all of the hard work and success that has brought you to this day. You would not be applying to MBA programs in the first place if you did not believe you possessed the skills necessary to pass the GMAT.

For more tips on how to succeed on test day, click here.