GMAT Test Overview: Get The Facts

GMAT Test Overview

This GMAT test overview will help you prepare for the Graduate Management Admissions Test-the GMAT for short. The GMAT is a timed, computer adaptive test that assess quantitative, qualitative, analytical and writing skills. It is administered in English only, so you must be fluent in American English in order to understand and take the test.


If you are applying to graduate school in the United States, you will have to take an entrance examination. Many schools accept either the GMAT or the GRE, but some prefer one over the other. Both tests are similar. Both assess analytical skills, writing skills, as well as quantitative and qualitative reasoning. They are simply administered by different companies and vary slightly in questions and section length. Check with the graduate admissions office in the school to which you are applying to determine which test is accepted by the school you wish to attend.

Why Do Schools Require the GMAT?

It may seem unfair. After all, you completed a four-year undergraduate degree in your chosen discipline. So why should you have to take an entrance examination to prove your fitness for graduate school?

Higher education institutions began requiring standardized tests to help all potential students have a fair chance at entering graduate school. Because every potential students takes the exact same test under the same conditions, it sets a fair and equitable bar for everyone. It also compensates for differences in quality among the colleges students may have attended.

By placing the same set of questions before every potential student, universities have found what they believe to be the best way of assessing a student’s skills independent of socio-economic state, undergraduate institution, and other factors.

GMAT Test Overview

The GMAT is a timed, computer-based test. You will have three hours and thirty minutes to complete the entire test. The sections are timed, and if you don’t finish a section, you will still have to move on to the next one. Everyone must take each section at the same time.

There are four sections in the GMAT:

  1. Analytical Writing: The first section is a timed essay. You’ll be presented with an Argument Task. You’ll read a short position statement, then a response. You’ll be asked to analyze the argument and present your analysis in a written essay stating why or why not you agree with the position. You should focus on the quality of your writing and the precision of your logic as you examine the pros and cons of the argument presented by the test. Time: 30 minutes.
  2. Integrated Reasoning: The second section presents you with written information, tables, graphs and charts. You’ll be asked to examine the data presented and answer questions on it. Each question is independent, which means the answer to one question does not depend on your answer to the previous question. Two questions may be asked about the same data set, however. You’ll be allowed to use an on-screen calculator if asked to calculate any mathematic answers. Time: 30 minutes.
  3. Quantitative Section: The entire quantitative section consists of multiple choice questions. You’ll be asked to solve problems or a questions about data sufficiency. Data sufficiency questions present a statement, then two answers. Your job is to say whether or not the information provided is sufficient to answer the question. The mathematics and problem solving skills are on about an 11th grade level, but the logical reasoning may be very advanced. You won’t be allowed to use a calculator in this section. There are 37 questions, with 10 data sufficiency questions and the problem solving. Time: 75 minutes.
  4. Verbal Reasoning: The verbal reasoning section includes reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction problems. Reading comprehension problems include one or two paragraphs to read followed by questions to determine how well you understood the information. Critical reasoning requires you to read information and form educated guesses about what you’ve just read, while the sentence correction problems are fairly straightforward questions about what should be fixed in a sentence. There are 41 questions split among the three types of verbal reasoning problems. Time: 75 minutes.

Preparing for the GMAT

The best way to prepare for the GMAT is to become as familiar as possible with the test format, questions and style as you can. There are plenty of GMAT sample questions, sample tests and practice books available. Even the testing company itself provides 30 free GMAT sample questions on their website.

One of the trickiest things for some returning adult students is taking a computer-adaptive test. A computer adaptive test delivers one question at a time to test-takers on a computer screen. As you answer each question, the computer calculates your level and adjusts the questions accordingly.

The first several questions on the screen are used to set your test level. These are generally not included in the test score calculations. The system will alert you when your scored questions actually begin.

Students used to taking old-fashioned paper-based tests may feel uncomfortable at first with CAD exams. With paper-based tests, you can open the test booklet and see all the questions at once. You can skip confusing or difficult questions and plow through the easy ones first. CAD tests do not let you skip and return to a question. Once you answer it, you move on.

Keep this in mind as you practice for the GMAT. If you decide to take any GMAT practice classes or invest in GMAT practice materials, make sure they are computer adaptive. The best way to overcome pre-test jitters is to practice using materials that are as close to the real thing as possible.

Simulate test-taking conditions by using adaptive practice software. Time yourself as you rehearse, making sure you’re pacing yourself with the questions and not lingering too much on difficult ones.

Test practice courses or software can help you gain comfort and familiarity with the test structure. They can also pinpoint areas of weakness. You may find that your quantitative reasoning skills are excellent, but you need to improve your verbal reasoning skills. Once you’ve pinpointed areas you need to work on, you can take as long as you need to brush up on your skills so that when you actually take the test, there are no hidden surprises.

How Is the GMAT Scored?

Computer adaptive tests are scored a little differently than other tests. Because the computer “knows” which questions are more difficult, greater weight is given to harder questions answered correctly. Don’t try to guess if each question is scored more or less according to difficult; just do your best with each.

The test itself is scored along a scale from 200 to 800. The first score, 200, is the lowest anyone can get and 800 is the highest. Most people, or about two-thirds of all GMAT test takers, score between 400 and 600.

The two 30-minute test chunks are scored differently than the longer quantitative and qualitative sections. The first section, the Analytical Writing section, is scored on a scale of 0 to 6. Scores are on a half-point system, so you can receive a 2.5 score, for example. In the Integrated Reasoning section, answers are scored on a point system of 1 to 8, in whole intervals, so your score will always be a whole number.

Because these sections involve writing, the testing company uses two readers to assign grades. Usually, one of the readers is a computer programmed to evaluate dozens of linguistic features in the writing. If the two readers differ by more than a point in their evaluation of your response, the answers are sent to an expert reader for final evaluation. Expert readers are faculty or students trained with a set rubric, or value system to evaluate the test answers.

When Can You Expect Your Results?

You’ll receive an immediate, unofficial score on the computer screen after you take the test. Within about 20 days, you’ll receive an email from the testing center that provides you with access to their online system and your official grade. Also around this time, you’ll receive your official score in the mail. You can access your scores online at any time, and print and download reports, too.

If you’ve taken the GMAT before, you’ll also be able to evaluate and compare two or more test results on the testing company’s website.

Where and When Can You Take the GMAT?

The GMAT costs $250.00, and the fee is payable at the time you register. Begin the registration process online at the test company’s official website.

GMAT testing is held on a rolling calendar, with tests administered on several days each month at varying times, so there should be a time and date that fits your schedule. To find the testing center nearest to you and register for the exam, visit the test company’s website at the link above. Use the test center finder and type in your address. The website will return a list of potential places to take the test. You will need to contact the individual center to register.

Most testing centers are located on college and university campuses. Some are located in Peterson official testing offices, which are special test centers run by the publishing company.

Active military personnel can take the test at a military base. Use the same online system to find a testing center, but click the button marked “Military.” You will need your military identification number to register to take the test on a base near you or on your own base.

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the test. On the date of the test itself, plan to arrive about 30 minutes before the actual starting time of the test. You’ll need an identification with photo, such as your driver’s license or state identification card.

At the test center itself, you’ll be asked to present your identification and proof of registration. You may be asked to completed additional forms and to allow your picture to be taken for identification purposes. No food or drink are usually allowed in the testing area. The center will allow breaks during the testing period to get a drink of water or to visit the restroom.

In the event of inclement weather such as a major snowstorm or other even that can close testing centers, most centers have a stated policy for rescheduling your test date.

Can You Retake the GMAT?

Although you can’t actually fail the GMAT, most very competitive business schools want to see total GMAT scores in the 700s. They also want to see a balanced score. If you score very high in the quantitative section but poorly in the qualitative section, that may count against you.

If your scores are below 700 and you know you’re applying to a top-tier business school, consider retaking the test. You can take the test as many times as you like, but you must wait 31 days (about a month or more) between tests to retake the GMAT.

Consider whether or not it’s worth it, though, to keep taking the GMAT or not. Most schools look at the whole picture a student presents with their application in order to decide whether or not to accept individuals into their graduate programs. A student with a great application essay and letters of recommendation and an average GMAT score may fare better than a student with a mediocre application essay and a good GMAT score.

For those who do decide to retake the GMAT, the process of registering and taking the test is identical for retakers as first-time test takers.

Official Sources of Test Information

This GMAT test overview provides comprehensive information on the test itself, but if you’re looking for more information on test preparation, test dates or sample questions, the following resources may help:

GMAT test overview resources: