What is the GMAT?

What is the GMAT?

By: Manhattan GMAT Staff

Note: Beginning on June 5, 2012, the GMAT exam will replace the Analysis of an Issue essay with a new, independently scored section called Integrated Reasoning. For more information on this section, see our Integrated Reasoning page.

The GMAT is the Graduate Management Admission Test, a standardized test required by the vast majority of business schools because it provides a measure of an applicant’s academic ability. The GMAT test does not include any questions that gauge your business knowledge. The GMAT test is computerized and administered six days each week, 52 weeks per year. While the exam can be taken at virtually any time, it can only be taken once per 31 days and 5 times per year.

What is a Computer Adaptive Test?

The GMAT test is computer adaptive, meaning that instead of determining your score using a fixed set of questions, the exam provides you with questions of variable difficulty based on your answers to previous questions. GMAT test questions are not pre-set in advance. The GMAT begins with a question of average difficulty and if you answer it correctly, you will receive a slightly harder second question. If you answer it wrong, you will receive a slightly easier second question. Your third question, in turn, is based on your response to the second question, and so on. In this way, the GMAT test zeroes in on your ability level and assigns you a corresponding score. Because your real-time performance on the exam is essential to a final computation of your score, the way you take the GMAT test will differ greatly from your experience with other exams. Specifically:

  • You will see only one question on the screen at a time. You cannot move onto another question until you answer the current one. Once you answer a question, you cannot return to it or review any questions that you have already answered.
  • Correct responses to difficult questions are worth more than correct responses to easy questions. The raw number of correct questions answered is not indicative of your final score.

Despite these variables, the GMAT test will always present you with a fair mix of questions with regards to content areas for a given section. For instance, any test-taker will receive the same rough mix of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry questions on the quant portion of the test.

GMAT Test Registraion

Register for the GMAT test online at MBA.com. The cost is $250 and your scores are valid for 5 years. Prior to taking the GMAT test, you will be able to pick 5 schools to receive your scores; each additional school you select will cause you to be subject to a $28 processing fee.

Test Center Rules

As anyone who has taken a real GMAT will attest, the testing center rules are stricter than airport security. Pearson VUE, the company that administers the test for GMAC, imposes these stringent rules in order to prevent test-takers from escaping with copies of questions on the exam to share with others. This is a good time to note that the GMAC has recently taken extraordinary steps to track down students who post current GMAT problems on the internet and who cheat during the exam. For those that need proof, here is a link to a story about the Scoretop scandal. If you are caught cheating, the GMAC will invalidate your test scores. Business schools, upon learning this information, will remove your application for consideration or, if you have already been granted a space in their program, withdraw your acceptance letter. Here are the rules imposed within the testing center:

Testing Tools: Calculators, protractors, notebooks, and watches are strictly prohibited and may not be taken into the testing room. You may not bring your own scrap paper. Instead, the Test Proctor will provide you with a laminated Test Simulation Booklet and Pen. Keep in mind that the Test Simulation Booklet operates essentially like a dry-erase board. However, rather than being provided with an eraser for your work, if you run out of space, you must draw the attention of the proctor who will provide you with a new booklet for each used booklet you return.

Note About Watches: A countdown clock is viewable in the test software, so you will be able to see how much time is remaining in the given test section. (You may also choose to hide this clock if you find it distracting.) Personal stopwatches and/or countdown clocks are not permitted.

Breaks & Bathrooms: You are allowed two optional 8-minute breaks according to the following schedule:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment (60 minutes)
  • 8 minute break
  • Quantitative Section (75 mintues)
  • 8 minute break
  • Verbal Section (75 minutes)

Total: 226 minutes (3 hours, 46 minutes) including breaks

While these breaks are labeled as ‘optional’, we cannot stress enough the importance of letting your mind recover from a long section of stressful work. Therefore, take advantage of these breaks! Stretch your legs, get some water, use the restroom. However, make sure your break doesn’t extend past the 10-minute mark, or you may reduce the amount of time you have to solve questions.

Food & Beverages: Food and beverages are not allowed in the testing room.

Noise & Earplugs: Please be respectful of your fellow test-takers by being as quiet as possible. Note that there may be some noise as new test takers arrive and are seated by the test proctor. Just as in official GMAT test centers, students do not begin the exam all together, but instead each student is seated in order of arrival. It is important that you get use to some noise, since there are always some distractions at official test-centers. If you would like, you may request earplugs from the test proctor.

Format and Scoring

Intro: Before you begin your exam, you will sit through a computer tutorial designed to help you become familiar with computerized testing. You can review this information for as long as you please.

Section 1 – AWA: For the Analytical Writing Assessment, you will be asked to compose two 30-minute essays. The first essay will ask you to analyze a given argument; the second will ask you to analyze a given issue.

Section 2 – Quant: You have 75 minutes to answer 37 multiple-choice quantitative questions that come in two formats. Problem Solving questions (approximately 22 out of the 37 questions) are multiple choice math questions that ask you to solve for a specific value.. Data Sufficiency questions (approximately 15 of the 37 questions) ask you to decide whether or not you are given sufficient information to answer a mathematical question.

Section 3 – Verbal: You have 75 minutes to answer 41 multiple-choice verbal questions in three formats. Sentence Correction questions ask you to choose the most grammatically accurate sentence. Critical Reasoning questions demand that you assess the logic of short arguments. Reading Comprehension involves reading short passages and answering questions based on that particular passage. Each verbal question type comprises approximately one-third of the Verbal section.




The EssaysAnalysis of an Argument

Analysis of an Issue



30 min

30 min

“Optional” Break

8 min

QuantitativeProblem Solving (~22)

Data Sufficiency (~15)




75 min

“Optional” Break

8 min

VerbalSentence Correction

Critical Reasoning

Reading Comprehension





75 min

3 hrs 30 min (+ breaks)

Your Score Report

Find your quantitative subscore on the horizontal axis and find your verbal subscore on the vertical axis; plot the resulting point on the chart. If the point lands on a solid line, your score is approximately equal to the score associated with the line. If the point does not land on a line, the overall score is some average of the scores your point falls near. Notice that there are many combinations of subscores that result in any particular overall score.

Massachusetts Institute of Business

After the Exam

Due to the computer adaptive nature of the test, you will have immediate access to your performance on the quantitative and verbal portions of the exam. However, the test will ask you if you would like to view or cancel your scores. If you think you did not perform well, you may cancel your scores without seeing them and they will not be reported to any business schools, although the schools will be notified of your decision to cancel your scores. Keep in mind, however, that once you cancel your scores, you will not be able to view them and you will not be refunded your test registration fee.

We consistently recommend to our students that they check their scores. In most cases, the feeling of underperformance is simply a side effect of computer adaptive test-taking: the GMAT provides you with difficult questions because you are at a higher level. Hence, you should always check your scores. The only exception would be when you run out of time on a given section, thereby earning a score significantly below your ability level. Your AWA score, on a range from 0 to 6, is determined separately and e-mailed to you roughly two weeks after the test.

The mean overall GMAT score is a 537 (as of 2007). To be considered for top business schools, you generally need a score of at least 600. The top 20 business schools report their average GMAT score to be around a 670 – 715, with 700+ being the average for top 10 programs.

Final Reminders

Plan. Prepare. Practice. Most applicants spend several months preparing for the GMAT and many students take the test more than once, so it’s in your best interest to plan ahead. The average GMAT study time is 2 – 4 months, so it’s important to leave time for researching specific business school programs and for completing applications.

This is a test for which practice pays off – GMAC’s data shows that there is a positive correlation between the length of time spent studying for the GMAT and one’s score; over 50% of students who studied for 2 months or more received a 600 or greater, in contrast to under 37% of students who studied for a month or less.

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