What Is the GMAT Test? – Guide for International Students

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 3, 2023

Thinking about taking the next step in your higher education? Here is everything you need to know about starting a master’s in the US and the GMAT exam!

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

2022 update

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) continues to maintain the online version of the standard GMAT, open to all candidates globally excluding Mainland China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan (because of regulatory and local data privacy rules). The duration and the structure of the exam — including the quantitative, verbal, and IR sections — are the same as the standard GMAT.

The GMAT online registration fee is $250 with five complimentary scoring reports to be used within 48 hours. Test times are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week — however, when scheduling an appointment, it must be 24 hours before an available testing window. 

To take notes during the test, you have the option of using a physical or online whiteboard. Supervisors will monitor you via webcam and microphone. The GMAT online exam can be retaken once, and this counts toward the yearly and lifetime limits for the GMAT exam. Your score will be emailed to you within seven business days of taking the exam. 

Many test centers have reopened worldwide, but given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, others are still in the process of reopening. Visit the GMAT test website to see the availability of test dates for your location. If you do plan to take the test in person, health measures are in place to ensure your safety. Test takers may be required to wear a face mask for the duration of the exam, so plan accordingly.

If you are unable to take the test or travel to an official testing center, you can reschedule to another date and/or location or cancel your appointment for a fee (based on advance notice of the cancellation).

For more information, please visit Mba.com.

If you have any questions or need assistance, please reach out to a Shorelight representative


GMAT Guide

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. 

What is GMAT? How long does it take? What is GMAT used for? How is the score calculated? What is considered a good score? This guide will help answer all these questions and more!

What Is the GMAT? 

The GMAT, a computer adaptive test (CAT), is a standardized exam required for applying to many types of business-related programs at US universities and colleges. If you want to get your MBA in the US, or pursue any other type of graduate business program, the GMAT is often listed as a requirement to apply. This exam evaluates your analytical and quantitative skills, as well as your skills with reading, writing, and speaking in English

Why Is the GMAT Used For Business Schools?

Business school admissions staff primarily use the GMAT exam to measure applicants’ skills with business-related topics and to determine if they have the required skills and knowledge to succeed at their school’s graduate business program. 

What is GMAT used for by these types of schools? The GMAT evaluates key modern business skills such as organizing data, analyzing information from different sources, making judgments based on data, and more. Your GMAT score helps business schools measure your proficiency in these skills. 

Programs from different disciplines, such as law and medicine, will have their own unique entrance exams. You can learn more about these in our guide to standardized tests.

How Is the GMAT Different From the GRE?

While the GMAT is used mainly by business schools or for business-related programs such as a master’s in finance or business administration, the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is used for liberal arts programs in fields including mathematics, psychology, and history. 

Additionally, the GRE uses a score range of 260-340 with one point increments, while the GMAT has a score range of 200-800 with 10 point increments. Both exams also have different section structures, with the GRE having more questions than the GMAT.

Remember: Both the GMAT and GRE are graduate exams, only required for students applying to graduate courses. Undergraduates do not need to take these exams.

When Is GMAT Registration?

GMAT registration does not have any official fixed dates: You can register for your exam based on your schedule (and when you feel you are ready to take it). 

How Do I Register for the Exam?

You can register for the GMAT online through Mba.com, the official GMAT website,  operated by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Registering for your exam requires creating an appointment through the website’s scheduling system, and the exam can currently be taken online or at a testing center in your local area. Students with disabilities can request accommodations for testing via this website if testing centers are chosen.

How Much Does the GMAT Cost?

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

When Should I Schedule the GMAT Exam?

You can register up to six months in advance, and the Graduate Management Admission Council recommends registering two to three months before your preferred testing date. This gives you time to prepare for the exam (and potentially achieve a higher score) compared to registering with shorter notice.

GMAT Prep Tips

The GMAT is a standardized test taken by thousands of students around the world every year, which means there are many resources available to prepare. The GMAT website offers a variety of GMAT prep material, including GMAT practice tests, interactive tutorials, videos, guides, and more. Some reputable third parties, such as The Princeton Review and Kaplan, also prepare GMAT test guides which you can refer to in addition to your other material. 

Additionally, consider the following five tips for your GMAT preparation:

  1. Begin your preparations early. Carefully evaluate how long it may take you to go through all your GMAT prep material and start studying as early as you can. This gives you ample time to prepare, without the need to rush.

  2. Avoid studying multiple GMAT sections at once. Prepare for one section of the test and move on to the next after you are confident you’ve mastered the material.

  3. Manage your time carefully and practice answering each section on time. This helps you set your pace while answering questions so that you do not run out of time during the actual exam.

  4. Revise your knowledge of mathematics as the exam tests areas such as algebra, geometry, and more.

  5. Practice each type of question multiple times to find the areas you may need to spend more time on. By getting familiar with these GMAT sections early on, you can see exactly where you need focus – and hopefully make improvements to achieve a higher score.

At first, it may seem like there is a lot of material for you to review, but you can prepare by creating a personalized study plan. If you’re still wondering what is the GMAT, a Shorelight advisor is always ready to help. They can work with you to identify required scores for admission to US graduate programs, give you study tips for exams, and provide other international student services such as assistance with your visa, transitioning to campus, and more!

GMAT Study Plan

A study plan is a guide that organizes all the material you want to review over a specific period of time leading up to the date of your exam. Your study plan helps you go over all your material and cover the areas you need more practice on, while also keeping you on track.

Consider the following when creating your study plan:

  • Dedicate certain days to specific subjects—This helps you focus on just one area of the test per day, so you can improve on the subjects you are less confident about while still covering other areas.

  • Set a time for practice tests—By organizing your schedule to take practice tests after your review sessions, the material will be fresh in your mind and help you measure your preparedness based on your prep work. It is important to approach each practice test as though it was the actual test to make sure you can pace out your answers for each question and finish on time.

  • Use your favorite study techniques—Every student has their own way of studying, and you should prioritize what works best for you. Whether you need to study alone in silence, have music on, or study with friends, you will learn better if you study in an environment that feels comfortable to you.

How Long Should I Study for the GMAT?

The exact time you need to study for the GMAT depends on how much of the GMAT prep material you have already mastered. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, most GMAT test takers say it takes at least eight weeks to prepare for the exam, if you are familiar with the test content. With this in mind, if you are not familiar with the material, it can be worth planning to study longer than eight weeks so you have time to cover all the material.

According to Kaplan, test-takers study as many as 100 total hours over three months. Of course, depending on your learning style, you can study more each day over a shorter period if you prefer.

What Are the GMAT Sections?

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

The exam has four sections and test sections include: 

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

  2. Integrated Reasoning (IR)

  3. Quantitative Reasoning

  4. Verbal Reasoning

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

These sections are designed to measure the key areas of critical thinking and analysis similar to what will be present in business programs such as an MBA. The sections in this exam also test areas such as basic arithmetic, data analysis, and your proficiency with English. 

As many graduate programs require you to assess problems, formulate your own solutions, and draw conclusions from data, the GMAT places a strong focus on evaluating your analytical and problem-solving skills.

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) consists of one essay question and you have 30 minutes to write it. The essay is scored between zero and six points, with scores calculated from both a computer assessment and a human reader from the Graduate Management Admission Council. 

In the essay prompt, you are given an argument from an author and must critique their argument using evidence from the text and evaluating the author’s reasoning. In this section, the grader measures your ability to analyze statements and organize your ideas logically while connecting your analysis using evidence. The final AWA score is recorded separately from the overall score.

Integrated Reasoning (IR)

The Integrated Reasoning (IR) section measures your ability to evaluate data presented in various formats like graphics interpretation or two-part analysis. You have 30 minutes to complete 12 multi-part questions, using pull-down options, tables, and fill-in-the-blank statements. 

In this section, you need to demonstrate your skill with analyzing data and forming logical decisions based on your findings. To do this, you need to evaluate relevant information from different sources, organize information to find relationships and patterns, and combine information to find solutions to problems. Scores range from one to eight points; like the AWA, this score is separate from the total score.


The Quantitative Reasoning section focuses on problem-solving and data sufficiency questions using algebra, geometry, and arithmetic. While calculators are not permitted, a wet-erase pen and laminated graph paper are provided so you can work out problems by hand. 

You are required to analyze statements related to the presented data to determine if there is enough data provided, then you need to identify the most important information to come up with answers, all within a limited timeframe. Scores range from six to 51 and students have 62 minutes to answer 31 multiple-choice questions.


The Verbal Reasoning section tests your proficiency with reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. This section has 36 five-option multiple-choice questions that must be completed in 65 minutes. 

You are required to evaluate different arguments related to specific questions and create a response that links evidence from the text with your own logical conclusions. You also need to analyze sentences carefully to find errors or identify correct text passages. Additionally, you must demonstrate your skill in understanding author tones, perspectives, summarizing ideas, and creating conclusions based on evidence in text. The score in this section ranges from six to 51.

How Long Is the GMAT Exam?

The GMAT takes approximately three hours and 30 minutes to complete, and each section of the exam has a specific amount of time allocated.

  • Analytical Writing Assessment—30 minutes

  • Integrated Reasoning—30 minutes

  • Quantitative Reasoning—62 minutes

  • Verbal Reasoning—65 minutes

You can also take optional breaks throughout the exam for a total of 16 minutes maximum. 

How Is the GMAT Scored?

GMAT scores are given in increments of 10 points with a range from 200 to 800, measuring the quantitative and verbal sections together while the AWA and IR sections are scored separately. 

What is GMAT scoring? As the exam is a CAT test, the GMAT scoring method evaluates your score based on how you perform during the exam. Your exam begins with a medium difficulty question, and the computer will increase the difficulty of questions presented to you with each question you answer correctly. If you answer questions incorrectly, you may be given slightly less difficult questions to compensate. 

Your final score is created using a combination of your correct answers and wrong answers with the level of difficulty of the questions you answered.

What Is a Good GMAT Score?

Each US university and college has its own required minimum GMAT score in order to be admitted to a specific graduate program. Being aware of the average scores that previous applicants earned can help you find a middle ground for your own target score – and work toward a score that helps you stand out among other applicants.

In the quantitative section, the mean score is 39; the verbal section’s mean score is 27. Most business schools prioritize your cumulative score in the exam, and for the overall exam, most test takers score between 430 and 670, with a mean score around 550. A score between 650 and 700 is considered competitive. 

Can I Retake the GMAT Test?

Yes, you can! You can take the test up to eight times, with a minimum of 16 days between attempts. The GMAT can only be taken up to five times in a single year, even if your scores are canceled. Recorded scores are valid for five years, and all non-canceled scores from the past five years will be reported. 

The online GMAT can be retaken once. If you have a technical issue that requires you to retake the test, this will not count toward your retake limit if the issue can be verified. 

Getting started with registering and studying for the GMAT can be challenging to do alone, but a Shorelight advisor can give you the support you need. They will advise you every step of the way and help you confidently prepare for your exam so you can work toward studying at your ideal university.

Study hard and best of luck!

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