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Everything You Need to Know About the GMAT

An undergraduate business degree can lead to great opportunities, but even more career possibilities may be available with an MBA. In order to apply for an MBA, you first need to take the GMAT. Here is a guide for international graduate students to prepare for this grad school test.

College students writing in test booklets with a female professor standing behind them.

From accounting to entrepreneurship, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree can serve as a pathway to the career of your dreams. The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a graduate admissions entrance exam designed specifically for students who want to go to graduate school for business. A GMAT score is often required when submitting a graduate program application for an MBA, Master of Accountancy, or Master of Finance. 

Here is everything you need to know about the GMAT, including how long it takes, how the the score is calculated, and what is considered a good score. 

All about the GMAT in 2020

What is the GMAT? 

The GMAT is a computer adaptive test (CAT) business school exam, required for an MBA and other business graduate programs, that covers analytical and quantitative skills as well as reading, writing, and verbal skills in English. 

How hard is the GMAT? 

This grad school test requires students to analyze and evaluate written material, which is particularly important for international students for whom English is not their first language.  The Quantitative and Verbal sections are computer-adaptive, meaning that they adjust to the test-taker’s ability. The more correct answers are scored, the more difficult the questions become. After taking the test, you will receive an initial score that you have the option to cancel. (More on that later!)

What is the structure of the GMAT? 

More specifically, how many sections does the exam have? How many questions are on it? How is each section scored?

The exam has four sections and 2020 test sections include: 

  • An Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) comprised of one essay question, with thirty minutes for completion. The essay is scored between 0 and 6 points, with scores calculated from both a computer assessment and a human reader from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). The final AWA score is recorded separately from the overall score.

  • An Integrated Reasoning (IR) section, which measures the test-taker’s ability to evaluate data presented in various formats like graphics interpretation or two-part analysis. Test takers have thirty minutes to complete twelve multi-part questions, using pull-down options, tables, and fill-in-the-blank statements. Scores range from 1 to 8 points. Like the AWA, this score is separate from the total score.

  • A Quantitative Reasoning section, which focuses on problem-solving and data sufficiency questions using algebra, geometry, and arithmetic. Students have sixty-two minutes to answer thirty-one multiple-choice questions and calculators are not permitted. A wet-erase pen and laminated graph paper are provided so you can work out problems by hand. Scores range from 6 to 51.

  • A Verbal Reasoning section, which tests reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction, and is comprised of thirty-six five-option multiple-choice questions taken in sixty-five minutes. Scores range from 6 to 51.

You can choose the order in which you complete the test sections:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal

  • Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

  • Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

How long is the GMAT? How long does it take to get scores?

The test takes a total of three hours and thirty minutes, including breaks and instructions. Since it is a computer-based entrance exam, results for the two adaptive sections (quantitative and verbal) are available immediately upon completion. When you get your initial score, you then have two minutes to decide whether to keep or cancel that score. If you keep the score, but then change your mind later and want to cancel, do not worry—you have up to seventy-two hours after the exam’s start time to cancel the score online. This cancellation can be reversed for four years and eleven months after the test date for a $50 fee.

How is the GMAT scored? What is a good score?

GMAT scores are given in increments of 10 points: with a range from 200 to 800, measuring the quantitative and verbal sections together. AWA and IR sections are scored separately. Most test takers score between 430 and 670, with a mean score around 550.  A competitive score is between 650 and 690. 

GMAT Logistics

When is GMAT registration? 

Registration is available on a rolling basis. Test takers can find worldwide testing center locations to register for at mba.com

How much does taking the GMAT cost?

Non-refundable exam fees are $250 each time you take it.

How many times can GMAT be taken?

You can take it up to eight times, with a minimum of sixteen days between attempts. It can only be taken up to five times in a single year, even if the scores are canceled. Recorded scores are valid for five years, and all non-canceled scores from the past five years will be reported. 

Can I take the GRE instead of the GMAT?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) may meet more general grad school requirements. The GMAT is more specialized, and preferable for students who know they want to pursue an MBA. (If you are not sure which entrance exam to take, you can always speak with a Shorelight advisor for assistance.) 

How to study for GMAT

There are many test prep courses and books available to study for the exam. The official provider of prep materials is mba.com, which offers GMAT practice tests and an interactive tutorial to get you started. Other reputable study guide test prep companies include Kaplan and The Princeton Review.

Wondering how far in advance to study for the GMAT? According to Kaplan, test-takers study as many as one-hundred total hours over three months. Of course, depending on your learning style, you can study more each per day over a shorter period if you prefer. It all comes down to the amount of time you can dedicate to studying and the university programs’ application deadlines.

Study hard and best of luck!

Speak with a Shorelight advisor today to start planning your next steps toward studying in the US >