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Acing the GMAT


With the exception of maybe the admissions essays, the Graduate Management Admissions Test, affectionately called the GMAT, causes business school-bound professionals the most trepidation. Although each business school uses the GMAT differently in its admissions decisions, it is an important part of the admissions criteria at all top MBA programs.

Some business schools use the GMAT as the main factor in admissions decisions, while other schools place much less weight on the test. Since each school places a different weight on the GMAT, comparing your GMAT score to a school's average GMAT score does not tell you much about your chances of admission at that school. Members of the Go4BusinessSchool staff have been accepted to many of the top business schools and can provide you with your realistic chances of admission. Click here to find out where you stand at the top MBA programs.

The GMAT is akin to the SAT or ACT in that it is the only relative measure by which admissions officers can compare candidates. It is a necessary evil; without the GMAT, there would not be an objective way to compare candidates from different undergraduate colleges and professional backgrounds.

Overview of the GMAT

Until 2005, the GMAT was created and is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS); now, Peterson's is in charge of the test. The GMAT is primarily a multiple-choice computer-adaptive exam where one question is presented at a time and the difficultly level of the exam adjusts or adapts to the test taker's performance on each question. The computer scores each question before selecting the next one; therefore, you may not skip, return to, or change your responses to previous questions. You do not see your score until you have completed the test and decided to submit it for scoring.

Not every question included in the GMAT exam counts towards a test taker's score. Every test contains a number of experimental questions that are being tested prior to their actual use. These questions are not identified and appear in different locations throughout the test. Answers to experimental questions are not counted in the scoring of your test.

The cost of taking the GMAT is $250. You may only take the test once per calendar month.

Structure of the GMAT

The GMAT consists of three sections: Analytical Writing, Quantitative, and Verbal. There are two five-minute breaks after the Analytical Writing and Quantitative sections. Below is a description of each section:

Analytical Writing - This section consists of two thirty-minute essay questions. One essay, 'Analysis of an Issue,' asks the examinee to read a short passage, choose a position, and write an essay defending that viewpoint. The other essay, 'Analysis of an Argument,' asks the test taker to again read a short passage, assess the validity of the argument, and write an essay supporting or refuting the viewpoint contained in the passage.

Quantitative Section - This 75-minute section consists of 37 multiple choice questions. There are two main types of questions: problem solving and data sufficiency. Both types of questions cover a number of topics including arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. Problem solving questions ask the test taker to derive numerical answers, while data sufficiency questions do not require a numerical answer; instead, the latter tests whether enough information is presented to be able to answer the question.

The first question of the quantitative section is of 'medium' difficulty. For each question the examinee answers correctly, the next question increases in difficulty. For each incorrect answer, the next question becomes less difficult. In order to score in the 70th percentile or above, it is imperative that the test taker answers the first four or five questions correctly.

Verbal Section - This 75-minute section consists of 41 multiple choice questions. There are three main types of questions: Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Sentence Correction.

Critical Reasoning - tests ability to evaluate evidence and deduce logical conclusions

Reading Comprehension - tests ability to understand the logic, structure, and details of densely written passages

Sentence Correction - tests ability to recognize clear, concise, grammatically correct sentences

As in the quantitative section, the first question is of 'medium' difficulty and questions get more or less difficult based on each correct and incorrect answer. Again, in order to score in the 70th percentile or above, it is imperative that the test taker answers the first four or five questions correctly.

GMAT Scores

Total GMAT scores range from 200 to 800. About 66% of test takers score between 400 and 600.

The Verbal and Quantitative scores range from 0 to 60. Scores below 9 and above 44 for the Verbal section or below 7 and above 50 for the Quantitative section are rare. The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) score is an average of the ratings given to the Analysis of an Issue and the Analysis of an Argument sections. Each response is given two independent ratings, one graded by a computer program and one by a person. Once both essays have been scored, the scores are averaged to provide an overall score. Scores for the AWA can range from 0 to 6 in half-point intervals.

Studying for the GMAT

While no 'silver bullet' exists for how to prepare for the GMAT, one consistent trend is that test scores improve as people:
  1. Complete more practice exams
  2. Take the GMAT a second or third time
Princeton Review and Kaplan, along with a host of other companies, offer study courses and materials for GMAT test takers. Prices range from $20 for a study book to a few thousand dollars for a 10-week course with private tutoring. Regardless of how you choose to study for the GMAT, you should purchase The Official Guide for GMAT Review by ETS. This book is comprised of 'retired' GMAT problems and contains sample essays and associated grading scales.

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