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All About GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a Computer-Adaptive standardized test in Mathematics and the English language for measuring aptitude to succeed academically in graduate business studies. Business schools, all over the world, commonly use the test as one of many selection criteria for admission into graduate business administration programs. You can take the test on any of the designated test centers of Pearson, the company that conducts the GMAT. You can register for the computer adaptive test on The fee to take the test is $250 worldwide.

The exam measures verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that the examinee has developed over a long period of time in his/her education and work. Test takers answer questions in each of the three tested areas, and there are also two optional breaks; in general, the test takes about four hours to complete. Scores are valid for five years (at most institutions) from the date the test taker sits for the exam until the date of matriculation (i.e. acceptance, not until the date of application). The maximum score that can be achieved on the exam is 800. Over the three years concluding in April 2013, the mean score has been around 540.

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section is the first section to be answered. Then the Integrated Reasoning Section followed by the Quantitative section and the Verbal Ability section.

Analytical Writing Assessment
The AWA consists of one 30-minute writing task—analysis of an argument. It is important to be able to analyze the reasoning behind a given argument and write a critique of that argument. The essay will be given two independent ratings and these ratings are averaged together to determine the test taker’s AWA score. One rating is given by a computerized reading evaluation and another is given by a person at GMAC who will read and score the essay themselves without knowledge of what the computerized score was. The automated essay-scoring engine is an electronic system that evaluates more than 50 structural and linguistic features, including organization of ideas, syntactic variety, and topical analysis. If the two ratings differ by more than one point, another evaluation by an expert reader is required to resolve the discrepancy and determine the final score.

The first reader is IntelliMetric, a proprietary computer program developed by Vantage Learning, which analyzes creative writing and syntax of more than 50 linguistic and structural features. The second (sometimes a third) readers humans, who evaluate the quality of the examinee’s ideas and his or her ability to organize, develop, and express ideas with relevant support. While mastery of the conventions of written English factor into scoring, minor errors are expected, and evaluators are trained to be sensitive to examinees whose first language is not English.

Analytical Writing part of the test is graded on a scale of 0 (the minimum) to 6 (the maximum):

  • 0: An essay that is totally illegible or obviously not written on the assigned topic.
  • 1: An essay that is fundamentally deficient.
  • 2: An essay that is seriously flawed.
  • 3: An essay that is seriously limited.
  • 4: An essay that is merely adequate.
  • 5: An essay that is strong.
  • 6: An essay that is outstanding.

Integrated Reasoning
Integrated Reasoning (IR) is a new section (introduced in June 2012) designed to measure a test taker’s ability to evaluate data presented in multiple formats from multiple sources. The skills being tested by the Integrated Reasoning section were identified in a survey of 740 management faculty worldwide as important for today’s incoming students. The integrated reasoning section consists of 12 questions (which often consists of multiple parts themselves) in four different formats: graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, table analysis, and multi-source reasoning. Integrated Reasoning scores range from 1-8. Like the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), this section is scored separately from the quantitative and verbal section. Performance on the IR and AWA sections does not contribute to the total GMAT score.

The integrated reasoning section includes four question types: table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning, and two-part analysis. In the table analysis section, test takers are presented with a sortable table of information, similar to a spreadsheet, which has to be analyzed. Each question will have several statements with opposite-answer options (e.g., true/false, yes/no), and test takers click on the correct option. Graphics interpretation questions ask test takers to interpret a graph or graphical image. Each question has fill-in-the-blank statements with pull-down menus; test takers must choose the options that make the statements accurate. Multi-source reasoning questions are accompanied by two to three sources of information presented on tabbed pages. Test takers click on the tabs and examine all the relevant information, which may be a combination of text, charts, and tables to answer either traditional multiple-choice or opposite-answer (e.g., yes/no, true/false) questions. Two-part analysis questions involve two components for a solution. Possible answers are given in a table format with a column for each component and rows with possible options. Test takers have to choose one response per column.

Quantitative Section
The quantitative section consists of 37 multiple choice questions, which must be answered within 75 minutes. There are two types of questions: problem solving and data sufficiency. The quantitative section is scored from 0 to 51 points. Over the 3 years ending in October 2009, the mean score has been 35.8/51.

  • Problem Solving

This tests the quantitative reasoning ability of the examinee. Problem-solving questions present multiple-choice problems in arithmetic, basic algebra, and elementary geometry. The task is to solve the problems and choose the correct answer from among five answer choices. Some problems will be plain mathematical calculations; the rest will be presented as real life word problems that will require mathematical solutions.

Numbers: All numbers used are real numbers.

Figures: The diagrams and figures that accompany these questions are for the purpose of providing useful information in answering the questions. Unless it is stated that a specific figure is not drawn to scale, the diagrams and figures are drawn as accurately as possible. All figures are in a plane unless otherwise indicated.

  • Data Sufficiency

This tests the quantitative reasoning ability using an unusual set of directions. The examinee is given a question with two associated statements that provide information that might be useful in answering the question. The examinee must then determine whether either statement alone is sufficient to answer the question; whether both are needed to answer the question; or whether there is not enough information given to answer the question. Data sufficiency is a unique type of math question created especially for the GMAT. Each item consists of the questions itself followed by two numbered statements.

(A) If statement 1 alone is sufficient to answer the question, but statement 2 alone is not sufficient.

(B) If statement 2 alone is sufficient to answer the question, but statement 1 alone is not sufficient.

(C) If both statements together are needed to answer the question, but neither statement alone is sufficient.

(D) If either statement by itself is sufficient to answer the question.

(E) If not enough facts are given to answer the question.

Perhaps the easiest way to fully internalize the scope of these questions is to replace the word “is” with the words “must be” – the questions are not asking whether an answer is possible, but rather, whether it “must” be the case.

Verbal Section
The verbal section consists of 41 multiple choice questions, which must be answered within 75 minutes. There are three types of questions: sentence correction, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension. The verbal section is scored from 0 to 51 points. Over the 3 years ending in October 2009, the mean has been 28.0/51; scores above 44 and below 9 are rare.

  • Sentence Correction

The Sentence Correction section tests a test taker’s knowledge of American English grammar, usage, and style.

Sentence correction items consist of a sentence, all or part of which has been underlined, with five associated answer choices listed below the sentence. The first answer choice is exactly the same as the underlined portion of the sentence. The remaining four answer choices contain different phrasings of the underlined portion of the sentence. The test taker is instructed to choose the first answer choice if there is no flaw with that phrasing of the sentence. If there is a flaw with the original phrasing of the sentence, the test taker is instructed to choose the best of the four remaining answer choices.

Sentence Correction questions are designed to measure a test taker’s proficiency in three areas: correct expression, effective expression, and proper diction. Correct expression refers to the grammar and structure of the sentence. Effective Expression refers to the clarity and concision used to express the idea. Proper Diction refers to the suitability and accuracy of the chosen words in reference to the dictionary meaning of the words and the context in which the words are presented.

  • Critical Reasoning

This tests logical thinking. Critical thinking items present an argument that the test taker is asked to analyze. Questions may ask test takers to draw a conclusion, to identify assumptions, or to recognize strengths or weaknesses in the argument. It presents brief statements or arguments and asks to evaluate the form or content of the statement or argument. Questions of this type ask the examinee to analyze and evaluate the reasoning in short paragraphs or passages. For some questions, all of the answer choices may conceivably be answers to the question asked. The examinee should select the best answer to the question, that is, an answer that does not require making assumptions that violate common sense standards by being implausible, redundant, irrelevant, or inconsistent.

  • Reading Comprehension

This tests the ability to read critically. Reading comprehension questions relate to a passage that is provided for the examinee to read. The passage can be about almost anything, and the questions about it test how well the examinee understands the passage and the information in it. As the name implies, it tests the ability of the examinee to understand the substance and logical structure of a written selection. The GMAT uses reading passages of approximately 200 to 350 words, covering topics from social sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences, and business. Each passage has three or more questions based on its content. The questions ask about the main point of the passage, about what the author specifically states, about what can be logically inferred from the passage, and about the author’s attitude.

Total Score

The “Total Score”, composed of the quantitative and verbal sections, is exclusive of the analytical writing assessment (AWA), and ranges from 200 to 800. About two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600. The score distribution resembles a bell curve with a standard deviation of approximately 100 points, meaning that the test is designed for 68% of examinees to score between 400 and 600, while the median score was originally designed to be near 500. The 2005/2006 mean score was 533.

The quantitative and verbal sections comprise a computer-adaptive test. The first question may be difficult. The next few questions in each section may be around the 500 level. If the examinee answers correctly, the next questions are harder. If the examinee answers incorrectly, the next questions are easier. The questions are pulled from a large pool of questions and delivered depending on the student’s running score. These questions are regularly updated to prevent them from being compromised by students recording questions.

The final score is not based solely on the last question the examinee answers (i.e. – the level of difficulty of questions reached through the computer-adaptive presentation of questions). The algorithm used to build a score is more complicated than that. The examinee can make a silly mistake and answer incorrectly and the computer will recognize that item as an anomaly. If the examinee misses the first question his score will not necessarily fall in the bottom half of the range.

Also, questions left blank (that is, those not reached) hurt the examinee more than questions answered incorrectly. This is a major contrast to the SAT, which has a wrong-answer penalty. Each test section also includes several experimental questions, which do not count toward the examinee’s score, but are included to judge the appropriateness of the item for future administrations.

Based on the level of difficulty of questions that you generally get correct, you will be given raw scores (on a scale of 51) in QA as well as VA section. These raw scores will translate into your GMAT score. For example, Q51 and V45 converts to a GMAT score of 770. You will get this score immediately after the test. However, the score in AWA is sent in 4-7 business days through e-mail. In AWA, you are scored on a scale of 6.0 and this score is separate from your ‘GMAT’ score. All scores and cancellations in the past 5 years will be on a student’s score report, a change from the previous policy of the last three scores and cancellations being kept on the score report.

Must Knows:

  • GMAT is a computer adaptive test and thus, the level of difficulty of questions increases if you are doing well and decreases if you are not doing well.
  • You can neither skip any questions nor can you get back to previous questions.
  • First few questions are very important as your raw scores fluctuate a lot in the beginning. Towards the end, the scoring system is relatively less sensitive. Hence, while all questions are important, the first 10-15 questions in each section are relatively more important.
  • On GMAT, you are penalized more heavily for wrongly attempting few questions than for not attempting them. Hence, please make sure to attempt all questions and if you are running short of time, make sure to randomly mark all the questions.
  • Before you start with the test, you will be asked to name five schools to which your GMAT scores are supposed to be forwarded. For every additional school, you need to pay $28. Hence, please be prepared with name of five schools to which you would like to forward your score.
  • Avoid multiple attempts at GMAT. It’s not only wastage of $250 every time but also harmful to your profile as GMAC would be sending scores, to designated schools, of your all the GMAT attempts in last five years.
  • After you finish your test, the system would ask you whether you would like to see your score. If you are sure that you have screwed, you can opt not to see the results. In such a case, your test would be deleted and no score would be sent to any schools.
  • Almost 20-30% questions that you see on GMAT would be dummy questions and you would not be scored on them. However, there is no way to identify such questions and you should attempt all questions with equal seriousness.
  • To reschedule your appointment, you need a gap of at least seven days. Take a GMATprep test (freely available on 8-9 days before your GMAT and if you don’t score your target score+10-20 points, get your test rescheduled.

Test Taking Tips:

  • Be extra cautious in the first 10 questions. However, also remember that every question is important.
  • Do not get stuck with on one question for too long. Don’t let few difficult questions on GMAT decide the fate of your entire score.
  • If you think that the questions are difficult, you are doing well.
  • If you think that you are not doing well, take a deep breath and try to have a fresh start from that instance; don’t mull over past.
  • Make sure to attempt all questions.
  • If you’re running really short of time on verbal, randomly mark last RC.
  • Avail all breaks. Carry juice and chocolates with you…it’s a long test, stay energized.
  • The staff at the test center would be very strict and the level of scrutiny would make you feel that you are in the IFB headquarters. Don’t let these factors affect your concentration.


  • Is GMAT difficult?

It depends on the current skill set of the individual. For few it’s easy, for others it’s not. The syllabus is limited to basic level Math and English but the questions are tricky and one cannot afford to get too many questions wrong if the target score is high.

One good thing about GMAT is that its pattern is more or less fixed. Same set of concepts are checked and the scope of syllabus is limited. So, if you put efforts in the right direction and refer to the right material, you can easily do well at it.

Caution: Please do not be distracted by plethora of free/paid material available on the net. You can score well by doing only 1% of it and you may jeopardize your chances at GMAT by solving even 50% of it. What’s important is not the number of books/study material you finish…what’s important is referring to the right material at right stage in your preparation and learning from every page that you read. Experts’ Study material will make you do just that!

  • Is a high GMAT score necessary?

Good GMAT score is a prerequisite. While a high GMAT score does not guarantee you a place, a low GMAT score definitely defies you a place. Other important factors such as your application essays, letter of recommendations, university grades, quality and length of work experience, extra-curricular ventures etc also play a vital role in selection.

Schools look for an impressive overall personality, formed by the amalgam of one’s academics, work experience, and extra-curricular activities. You need to convince the admission committee that you are in the right shape to make optimum use of their MBA curriculum and go on to be a good alumnus.

In your application essays, there should be a clear link among your past, future plans, and MBA. Once this link is ready, it becomes very easy to write application essays and face the interviews.

Remember, end of the day, you need to be liked by the admission committee. If so, you will be through!!

  • When to take GMAT?

Well…anytime! You can take the test at any point you think you are ready. There are certain myths that the GMAC s/w keeps on getting easy and difficult around the calendar…even if there is any truth attached to it, you can do nothing about it. Hence, give no heed and take the test when you think that you are at the peak of your preparation.

There are two approaches…

  • Gain sufficient experience and when you see that you have gained enough professional maturity, plan your MBA and take GMAT at least one year before commencement of the course. This is a good strategy when you intend to have substantial work-experience before starting your MBA.
  • Take the GMAT in your final year of undergrad or soon after you finish your college. This is a good strategy when you wish to start your MBA with just 2-3 years of experience. This would create a good back-up plan for you and you can plan your career ahead.

Although the score is technically valid for 5 years, please be advised to apply with a score not more than three years old.

  • How well in advance should one take the GMAT appointment?

We very often see individuals worried about getting an appointment. It’s something very trivial. Take one thing at a time. First prepare for GMAT, small issues like these would take care of themselves and should not be given undue consideration.

There are two strategies that can be followed:

  • Take an appointment well in advance. Say 45-90 days before your GMAT and use the deadline as a motivation to prepare for GMAT.
  • Keep on preparing for GMAT and when you think that you have reached the peak, take an appointment of just 2-3 days later. Since one needs a gap of 7 days to re-schedule an appointment, many slots are cancelled just 7 days before. Hence, if you look for an appointment just 2-3 days ahead, you will almost always find one. If your luck is really against you, look for a less popular testing centre in your vicinity and you will definitely find a slot there. E.g. If you stay in north India and are not getting a slot in Delhi, look for Allahabad.
  • How to take GMAT appointment?

GMAT is a computer based test that is conducted many times a day at various centers authorized by GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council), the governing body for GMAT. You need to create an account on the official GMAT site,, and take an appointment online.

Please be precise in filling your details as the same are used by GMASS (Graduate Management Admission Student Search) engine to shortlist relevant students for universities. Good universities give their criterion to GMASS and the very search engine finds the matching profiles and sends application requests to GMAT takers. Such individuals, without doubt, have very bright chances of converting the calls.