The Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT, is a required admissions test for for most business graduate schools and MBA programs. First administered in 1953, the test is administered by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). A computer-adaptive test, much like the GRE, the GMAT software and questions are developed by ACT inc., who also create the ACT test, and the test is administered through Pearson VUE, a major testing and accreditation firm.
Though business schools treat their minimum score requirements as secrets, as they do the role that the test plays in admissions, most schools do publish their average scores and, as with most admissions tests, the more prestigious the college, the higher the average score.
Much like the GRE, and unlike the ACT and SAT, there is a great deal of confusion about the test as it is not a pencil in paper test but a computer-adaptive test, meaning that it is taken on a computer and the machine adjusts the questions and their difficulty based upon previous answers. This means that potential graduate students, many of whom have been away from the classroom for many years, have to not only prepare to take a test, but a very different one than what they have seen before.
Because of the nature of the test, there are many who believe that the test can not be truly prepared for and that, beyond brushing up on basic skills, there isn’t much that one can do to get ready.
Fortunately, though the questions themselves may not be predictable, the topics that will be asked about are. By understanding the structure of the GMAT and preparing for the types of questions asked, students can improve their scores greatly. As with the GRE, they are free from deadlines and restrictions, meaning they have as long to prepare as they feel they need.
This, in turn, gives examinees a much needed upper-hand in preparing for the GMAT and getting the score they want.
The Basics of the GMAT
Despite the addition of ACT Inc and Pearson VUE in 2005, the test itself has remained largely unchanged over the years. The current version of the GMAT consists of three different portions, each designed to assess different skills needed in a business college:
1. Analytical Writing Assessment: The analytical writing assessment consists of two separate short writing assignments, the analysis of an issue and the analysis of an argument. Examinees have 30 minutes to complete each assignment.
2. Qualitative Section: The qualitative section consists of 37 multiple choice questions to be answered in 75 minutes. There are two types of questions, problem solving questions, which have students answer arithmetic, geometry and algebra problems, and data sufficiency questions, where the examinee is given a question plus two related statements and must determine if either, both or none of the statements are adequate to answer the question.
3. Verbal Section: The verbal section consists of 41 multiple choice questions that must be answered in in 75 minutes. There are three types of questions in this section, reading comprehension, where students answer questions about passages they just read, critical reasoning, which are basic logic questions, and sentence correction, which requires examinees to correct underlined portions of sentences.
In addition to the graded questions, most GMAT tests also contain experimental questions that are not graded but are used to measure the effectiveness of the question for future exams. However, these questions are not identified during the exam process so it is important to treat every question the same.
As a computer adaptive test, the first few questions will be used to gauge the test takers overall skill and the rest of the questions will refine the difficulty level, honing in on the actual score. Every test, even in the same lab, will be slightly different. Also, due to the nature of the test, there no way to skip a question, even for a moment, or go back to fix a mistake. Also, unlike many standardized tests, there is a penalty for not completing as unanswered questions do more harm than incorrect answers.
The Verbal and Qualitative portions of the test are graded on a scale of 0-60 in 1 point increments and the analytical writing assessment is scored on a scale of 0-6 with half point increments. The total score, which is the scaled combination of the two multiple choice questions, is measured somewhere between 200-800 in 10-point increments.
Due to the dynamic nature of the GMAT, preparing for the test is difficult. However, many different programs have been created that promise to help test takers hone their skills and, hopefully, improve their scores.
Preparing for the GMAT
Preparing for the GMAT is less about memorization of questions and more about understanding the types of knowledge needed to do well, the kinds of questions that will be asked and how to deal with the dynamic nature of the GMAT. To that end, there are several great resources online to help you build your test-taking skills.
Official GRE Preparation: Once you have registered to take the GMAT, you can download a copy of GMAC’s GMATPrep software, which simulates the process of taking the GMAT, to help students familiarize themselves with how the software works, and asks practice questions from each section of the test. GMAC also offers articles and guides for all of the sections of the GMAC as well the opportunity to purchase three paper tests for practice.
Yahoo! Education: Yahoo! has partnered with Kaplan to create a test preparation section, that includes practice questions for each of the sections of the GMAT, including all of the multiple choice question types and general strategies for the GMAT as well as guides on dealing with computer adaptive testing. This resource is completely free.
AdmissionsConsultants: AdmissionsConsultants has a large, free guide containing practice questions and helpful guides to all of the sections of the GMAT. They also provide general test-taking tips and strategies. They also have a blog on GMAT and business school-related issues and a variety of professional services to help potential students get admitted into the school they want.
BusinessWeek: BusinessWeek, provides a series of free and in-depth articles on preparing for the GMAT, detailing strategies for all of the different questions types. They also provide information about additional paid resources and links to practice questions.
Kaplan: Kaplan also provides many paid resources for helping students study for the GMAT. Their options range from short online courses, to math-intensive courses for students that need to brush up on those skills, online classrooms and private tutoring.
Though these resources can help students obtain a better score, the dynamic nature of the GMAT does make it a difficult test to study for. The main goal of these, or any preparation services, is to ensure that examinees were recently exposed to the right kind of information and they are not surprised by the nature of the test. If one feels prepared for the test, they likely are.
Retaking the GMAT
Students are allowed to select up to five schools or GMAT programs to send their scores to with every test and may send their scores to other schools for an additional fee. However, every GMAT they have taken in the past five years is also sent, meaning that, weaker scores will be sent alongside with stronger ones.
There is no way to choose which score set is sent, other than waiting five years to retake the test.
The GMAT, compared to standardized tests most students took earlier, is a very different process and requires a very different set of skills to do well. Where paper tests can largely be planned for and the information needed practically memorized in many cases, the GMAT and the GRE both require students be prepared to think on their feet and adapt to ever-increasingly difficult questions.
Fortunately, there is no reason to be surprised by what is on the GMAT. The topics and kinds of questions are well known and thoroughly understood. Though the test may be going through some severe changes in the coming years, the current exam has been taken millions of times and is well understood.
Though the questions change, the topics of focus haven’t and with that edge, students can prepare for the test, no matter how adaptive it may be.