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GMAT: Graduate Management Admissions Test

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

What is the GMAT?

Unlike the general GRE (Graduate Records Examination) which is not specific to one subject area, the GMAT is a standardised test which determines the ability of candidates to undertake graduate study in business schools, most often prior to entry to MBA and masters in management. The GMAT is delivered in English and is a combination of numerical, reasoning and writing aptitude. It is important to note that not all Business Schools will ask for a GMAT but in some countries such as the USA, Canada, India and Australia, a GMAT score is often required as part of the application process. Increasingly, GMAT test scores are used to gain access to other programmes that MBAs. While in North America, the GMAT is the test of choice to apply for an MBA, the Graduate Management Admissions Council shows only 41% of GMAT test scores were sent for MBA admission by South East Asian examinees, 2 thirds of them using their GMAT test scores to apply to other programmes such as the Masters of Management or the Masters in Finance.

If you are thinking of doing your Masters abroad (or an MBA abroad), it is worth checking whether you need it as it can take time to prepare for it and to secure a place in an assessment centre. While a good score does not guarantee entry into a chosen programme, it can be a crucial part of the admission decision.

How is the test taken?

The GMAT consists of four sections which will take a combined three and a half hours to complete. Sample questions are available on the site of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) which administers the GMAT.

Analytical Writing Assessment

You will have to present an analysis of an argument in the form of an essay in response to a short statement. There are no alternative question and you’ll have 30 minutes to complete it.

Integrated Reasoning

This is a relatively new section of the examination which tests your capacity to integrate data (provided) into a reasoned argument. Not all Business Schools take it into account and may simply use it as an additional piece of information. You will have 30 minutes to answer the 12 questions in this section, which are of different formats: graphic interpretation, multi-source reasoning, table analysis and two-part analysis.


This is the most mathematical part of the test which requires good general knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. There are 75 questions to answer over 75 minutes. There are two types of quantitative quesitons in this section: problem-solving questions and data-sufficiency questions (the latter being a combination of numerical and verbal reasoning).


This section consists of 41 questions designed to test your skills in reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. You’ll have 75 minutes to complete this section.

How is does it work?

The GMAT is a computer-based exam called a computer-adaptive test which means that the computer adapts to your own ability level. For each section which includes multiple-choice questions (i.e. with the exception of the Analytical Writing Assessment), your answer to a question will determine the difficulty level of the next one. The first question will be of medium difficulty and depending on whether you submit a correct or incorrect answer the next question will be harder or easier, respectively, until you have answered all the questions. This examination process does not allow for returning to questions you have skipped or you would like to change your answer to. The score is determined by the number of questions you have completed (with severe penalties for non-completion), the number of correct and incorrect answers, and the level of difficulty of each question (determined as explained above).

What score do I need?

The maximum GMAT score is 800 with two-thirds of GMAT candidates achieving between 400 and 600. To put things into the context of MBA admissions, selected students in the best Business Schools have an average GMAT score of 718. Only 10% of accepted MBA students overall have scores under 650 and only 1% have a score under 600. So it is safe to assume that a GMAT score of less than 600 is going to be an obstacle to you gaining admission onto an MBA programme into the top schools. On the other hand, while a score of 750 is going to be an excellent addition to your application, it is not necessarily going to give you automatic entry. Your GMAT score will be taken into account alongside your essays, application, prior qualifications and professional experience.

Can I prepare for the exam?


There are online resources and practice papers but make sure they are from reputable sources. You can download the GMAT software from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and practice from home. As the Integrated Reasoning section of the exam is a new addition, there will be fewer resources and former candidates won’t be able to tell you about that part of the exam. A few companies also offer preparatory courses. These are both intensive and expensive so be prepared to make an additional investment. In most cases, you should be able to take a free mock exam which will give you an indivative score so you can decide whether you need a full preparatory course or if you can simply practice by yourself.

How much does it cost and where can I take the exam?

The exam is around $250 and assessment centres can be found the world over. However, depending on the country you would like to be examined in, there may be waiting times before getting a place on a GMAT exam (called “the GMAT” appointment).

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