GMAT Prep Guide for
MBA Students
Study Resources, Tools, Tips and Expert Advice

More than 2,100 colleges and universities use the Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT, to assess prospective student’s academic abilities prior to admittance into graduate school. The GMAT provides admittance committees with an overview of student’s analytical and reasoning skills, as well their overall academic aptitude.

This guide is designed to help test-takers understand the nature of the test and what it takes to do well on it. We’ve included study resources, test-taking rules and scoring.

GMAT Basics

The GMAT is a marathon of an exam, but let’s take a closer look at some of the main aspects of the exam.

  • What is the GMAT, and what is the official body that oversees it?

    The GMAT is owned and operated by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, a global consortium of graduate business schools. The GMAT consists of four sections:

    • 1. Analytical writing

    • 2.Integrated reasoning

    • 3.Quantitative

    • 4.Verbal

    Students have three hours and 30 minutes to complete the entire test, and each section is scored differently. The test is designed to measure student’s aptitude in math and writing, as well as their reasoning and problem-solving skills.

  • Why is the GMAT used by graduate business schools?

    Since competition is fierce for enrollment into the nation’s top business and management programs, universities use the GMAT exam as a predictor of how well students might do in the classroom. Students who score well on the GMAT show they are prepared to be good students in MBA programs. Also, the criteria the test measures — critical thinking, problem solving and analysis — are skills crucial to success not only in graduate school but also in the workplace.

  • What does the GMAT measure?

    The test measures student’s English and math skills, as well as their ability to apply higher-order reasoning in these subject areas. Each section of the exam requires students to apply their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, as well use time effectively, since each section of the exam has a set time limit.

  • What are business schools looking for?

    Solid scores on the GMAT can certainly help student’s chances to be accepted into business school, especially for more competitive MBA and master’s degree programs. Similarly, lower GMAT scores often raise a red flag with admissions committees. However, it’s important to remember that the GMAT exam is but one part of the admissions process. Other criteria – GPA, letters of recommendation, a personal essay – also carry a great deal of weight since they tell a more personal story about the candidate. For top-tier business schools, applicants need to be more than just qualified with good GMAT scores. They must demonstrate they have the experience, passion and talent to succeed. These factors are reflected other aspects of the application rather than just a high score in the GMAT exam.

Navigating the GMAT

The GMAT consists of four main parts. Here’s an in-depth look at what test-takers can expect in each section of the exam.

GMAT Test Section What it Measures Number of Questions How it’s Scored Types of Questions Time Allowed

Analytical Writing Assessment

The sum of test-taker’s ideas regarding the presented argument, as well as the quality of organization, development and expression of those ideas. Also gauges use of reasons and examples to support ideas, and student’s overall control of written English.

1

Scores range from 0 to 6 in half-point intervals.

1 argumentative analysis

30 minutes

Integrated Reasoning

How well students can integrate data from a variety of sources to solve complex problems. Tests student’s ability to evaluate, organize and apply information to find relationships that help with problem solving.

12 (But most questions require more than a single response)

Scores range from 1 to 8 in single-digit intervals.

Interpretation and analysis of graphics and tables; multi-source reasoning

30 minutes,

Quantitative

How well students analyze and evaluate data, as well as their ability to apply their findings to a problem and put forth a solution.

37

0 to 60

Multiple-choice math problems (averages; distance, rate and time; estimation, permutations and combinations, differences, etc.)

75 minutes

Verbal

How well students read and understand written English, as well as their ability to evaluate arguments. Also gauges ability to correct deficiencies in writing.

41

0 to 60

Reading comprehension; sentence structure; critical thinking

75 minutes

Total Exam Time

3 hours, 30 minutes

  • Test-takers may register for the exam at mba.com.

  • It costs $250 to take the GMAT exam.

  • Additional score reports cost $28 each.

  • The test is delivered all year long in testing centers located throughout the world.

  • Students who take the exam and are not happy with their scores can re-take the GMAT exam once every 16 days. However, the test cannot be taken more than five times in a rolling 12-month period and no more than eight times total.

  • GMAT exam scores are valid for five years.

  • The Graduate Management Admissions Council reports all scores for test-takers who have taken the exam multiple times in the past five years.

GMAT Study Help & Resources

Preparing for the GMAT is a lot like running a marathon – it’s a long journey, and each mile is as important as the last and the next. There are many ways to score well on the GMAT, but no matter the path taken, from self-study to online tutorials to personal tutoring, there’s one aspect that permeates each approach: hard work. Planning, preparation and dedication are the primary tools test takers need to win the day on exam day.

There’s an abundance of resources available to help people prepare for the GMAT exam, from free online software to third-party tutorials. We compiled this list of study resources to point test takers in the right direction – and to help them get the most out of their study and preparation time.

Self-study involves using a variety of readily available GMAT test prep materials to prepare for the exam. These materials contain questions that have been retired from the GMAT, so they are spot-on as far as structure and content of actual test questions. No matter what approach students take to preparing for the GMAT, there’s going to be a great deal of self-study involved. Self-study requires tremendous discipline and dedication – Manhattan Prep suggests it takes between 50 and 100 hours of study over the course of four to eight weeks to properly prepare for the GMAT. Students interested in studying for the GMAT on their own may find the resources listed below helpful.

  • Veritas Prep

    Veritas Prep’s online self-study GMAT course gives students access to experienced GMAT instructors who are available for live help every day of the week. Thirty-, 60- and 90-day study plans are available.

    Cost: $995 in one payment, or $199 a month for five payments

  • Manhattan Prep

    Self-study requires tremendous discipline and dedication – Manhattan Prep suggests it takes between 50 and 100 hours of study over the course of four to eight weeks to properly prepare for the GMAT. The self-study toolkit from Manhattan Prep comes with a syllabus, a planning session with a GMAT expert, tools to analyze your performance on practice tests, and five interactive lessons.

    Cost: $499

Online or in-person GMAT tutors can cost more than self-study. Tutoring also requires a firm time commitment as opposed to self-directed studying, which can be done when it best suits the student. However, an experienced tutor who has been through the fire and scored well on the GMAT has a great deal of wisdom to impart. Tutors also can hone in on sections of the exam where students are the weakest, and this personalized attention can make a huge difference on test day.

  • The Princeton Review

    The Princeton Review offers personal tutors for both in-person and online instruction. The one-on-one tutoring includes a personalized study plan. User can choose between the comprehensive package that includes 22 hours of tutoring, the targeted package that offers 10 hours of tutoring and the flexible plan offering three hours of tutoring.

    Cost:$135 per hour to $170 per hour

  • The Economist

    The Economist GMAT Tutor has one-on-one tutor support via private video tutoring sessions with expert tutors and interactive lessons and comes with a score improvement guarantee. Tutors are also available to answer one-off questions outside of the tutoring sessions.

    Cost: $799 to $1099

GMAT prep classes can either be self-paced, guided or personalized. Online prep classes are taught via pre-recorded videos and live interactive instruction with experts on the GMAT exam. Students pay for a set number of pre-scheduled instruction sessions, and they also receive sample test questions and a wealth of similar study materials for offline use. Students also can get review and analysis of their practice GMAT tests (this service also is offered as a paid add-on to the free tests offered from the GMAC and other test-prep organizations).

  • Kaplan Test Prep

    Students can attend live GMAT prep classes in-person or online and receive private tutoring with Kaplan’s GMAT prep program. Members of the teaching team answer questions during the live online session. Self-paced instruction is also available.

    Cost:$699 to $2499

There is an abundance of free GMAT tests online. Experts recommend that people preparing for the GMAT exam take a minimum of two practice tests to familiarize themselves with the nature of the test and establish a good pace for their answers. Practice tests are one of the most realistic – and important – methods of properly preparing for the GMAT exam.

  • MBA.com

    The official website of the GMAT offers two practice tests via its GMATPrep software to registered users of mba.com.

    Cost:Free to registered users

  • Veritas Prep

    White Veritas Prep offers paid services, students can also find free GMAT practice tests here. The computer-adaptive practice test offered by Veritas Prep offers a realistic way for students to see what it’s really like to sit for the GMAT.

    Cost:Free

GMAT apps are primarily designed to help test takers squeeze in extra study time, especially when they are away from their computers. Many use flash cards and videos to present pretty much the same instructional materials found through online resources. Essentially, GMAT apps put study in the test taker’s pocket rather than his or her desktop. They can be a great way to glean more insight into the test for people who have full schedules and struggle to find enough quiet time to study.

  • Economist GMAT Tutor

    This mobile app gives user access to over 5,000 GMAT practice questions along with 100 hours of interactive prep and comprehensive lessons and practice questions for quantitative and verbal topics.

    Cost:Free

  • MBA.com GMAT Mobile App

    This app is provided by the creator of the GMAT exam and includes official questions retired from the exam, a built-in timer and the ability to purchase more questions.

    Cost: $4.99

  • Magoosh GMAT Prep & Practice

    This app includes video lessons and practice questions so GMAT-obsessed students can study anywhere. The app tracks progress and includes both trial and premium versions.

    Cost:Free

  • Ready4 GMAT

    This app includes a comprehensive adaptive assessment, expert-designed lessons with text and audio, detailed analytics, and proven time-saving strategies.

    Cost:Free

There’s an abundance of online videos test takers can watch to further ground themselves in the nature of the GMAT exam. Test takers can glean insight into what it takes to break 700 – a benchmark score for many of the top MBA programs in the U.S. GMAT videos are a great way to increase depth of knowledge about the exam, particularly those areas where test takers need more help.

  • Khan Academy

    Khan Academy offers a huge selection of practice math problems in problem solving and data sufficiency along with videos showing how to solve them.

  • Magoosh

    Magoosh offers some videos that can be accessed for free, but the real treasure trove of videos is available for users who sign up for a prep course.

  • YouTube GMAT

    Many GMAT videos posted to YouTube are narrated by master GMAT instructors, who share their knowledge and strategies about key sections of the test.

5 Important Tips for Studying for the GMAT

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Benjamin Franklin

For some people, college was a breeze, and they hardly cracked their books during their undergraduate studies. But that approach won’t wash for the GMAT. It’s a tough test, and preparation is the key to success.

Test takers can follow these five study steps to better position themselves for success on test day:

Pick up the official study guides from the Graduate Management Admissions Council

The Official Guide for GMAT Review contains more than 900 retired questions from the exam, as well as online access to 50 questions in the integrated reasoning section of the exam. There also are official GMACT supplemental guides for the verbal and quantitative sections. Make these guides an indispensable part of any study regimen. There are also many reputable third-party guides available. Manhattan Prep and Veritas Prep are two well-known providers of GMAT study guides.

Download the free GMAT Prep software

This software from the GMAC comes with a bevy of benefits, including:

  • Two full-length practice tests

  • 90 free practice questions (30 quantitative, 15 integrated reasoning and 45 verbal), along with answers and details about how answers were derived

  • A guide to properly preparing to take the GMAT exam

Although this software is free, test takers can purchase additional questions and practice exams. The practice tests are exactly what students can expect to experience at testing centers. Learn how to navigate the test, and how to complete each section in the allotted amount of time to succeed on an actual test.

Sharpen your skills in the basics

Although the GMAT is designed to test higher-order reasoning skills, test-takers are well served by refreshing their mastery in the fundamentals of English and math. Students should be well versed in the principles of algebra, fractions, divisibility, exponents, geometry and number properties. Similarly, they should be well-versed in core English skills such as grammar, sentence structure and correction, and critical reasoning with written material.

Become a mental master

Pacing is a crucial aspect of completing the GMAT. It’s critical that test takers learn to work simple sums and other aspects of the test in their heads to efficiently manage their time when taking the test. Math is full of simple tricks that can speed up answers. Adding up figures and other data on paper and taking copious notes can derail timing for each section, especially in the Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning sections of the exam. This holds true for the Analytical Writing Analysis as well. The more test takers can formulate the details of their essay in their minds, the faster they can type it up on the computer.

Sharpen visual literacy skills

The GMAT is full of math graphics, tables, charts symbols and other visual data. Learning how to read these quickly is called visual literacy. For example, the Integrated Reasoning portion of the exam requires test takers to sift through complex tables and charts to compile data for an answer. The faster test takers can gather this data the faster they can provide an answer and move on to the next question.

What students study is just as important as how often they study. Use the GMAT study literature and practice tests. Become familiar with common math formulas and all visual aspects of the test to increase efficiency. Lastly, study often, and with little distractions. Just like professional writers who block out a set amount of time for their craft, many test takers find it beneficial to set aside a set block of time each day dedicate solely to studying. Once studying becomes the norm, learning becomes routine.

What to Expect When Taking the GMAT

No matter how you slice it, test day is a big day. Knowing the GMAT exam administration rules prior to test day can go a long way to getting a better score.

  • Pearson Vue, a global testing center administrator, operates all exam centers for the GMAT. Test takers are encouraged to arrive at least a half-hour early to their scheduled test time so they can digitally sign the GMAT rules and regulations testing agreement, confirm their identity, and settle in at a testing station. Test takers who arrive more than 15 minutes after their scheduled exam time might not be admitted to the testing center, and they could forfeit their $250 testing fee as well.

  • Students must present a valid photo identification card at the testing center. There’s a bit of science involved in the registration process as well. Test takers are required to provide a palm-vein scan. The palm scanner measures the unique patterns formed by the blood vessels in the test-taker’s hand.

  • No personal effects are allowed in the testing room. A notepad and marker, which are provided by the testing center, are the only materials students are allowed to use in the testing room. A testing proctor escorts all test-takers to their assigned seats and signs them into their computer terminals. All testing stations are separated from each other by dividers so test takers have a degree of privacy.

  • Once the exam is complete, test takers face a very tough decision – they must decide if they want to submit their scores from the exam to their prospective colleges, or if they want to cancel their scores and try again at a later date. Here’s the rub: test takers must choose this option before seeing their unofficial scores.

  • Students who feel confident that they answered a high number of questions correctly on the verbal and quantitative sections of the test and are comfortable with their performance on the other two sections may choose to submit their scores. Students who feel they struggled with any section of the test may want to re-take the exam after putting in some more study time. Students who choose to submit their scores receive an unofficial score report at the testing center, which contains their scores in verbal and quantitative sections of the GMAT exam.

  • Prior to beginning the exam, test takers can designate up to five institutions to receive their GMAT scores. These institutions cannot be changed once selected, but students can select additional colleges and universities to receive their scores by purchasing additional Official Score Reports. There are two official breaks during the 3-hour, 30-minute test, so the actual time spent in the testing room is four hours. Test takers who need to leave their testing station during these breaks are escorted by a test proctor.

GMAT Preparation Timeline

For some, the decision to take the GMAT exam is a choice made during their undergraduate studies. For others, it’s a choice made after spending years in the workplace and deciding it’s time to improve career options by obtaining an MBA or master’s degree. No matter the journey, the long path from deciding to take the GMAT exam to actual test day may look something like this:

  • 6 Months to 1 Year Formulate a game plan

    The first step in your game plan should be to figure out which MBA or master’s degree programs you are interested in and the acceptable GMAT scores they require. From there, you can set a benchmark score for practice exams. You also should pay attention to application deadlines so you leave yourself enough time to re-take the test if you aren’t successful on your first go-round. The GMAC recommends at least six months of planning and studying prior to taking the test.

  • 6 Months Register for the GMAT

    All test takers must register for the GMAT exam at mba.com and find the nearest testing center. It’s also a good idea to download the official GMAT handbook and familiarize yourself with testing rules, identification requirements and other crucial aspects of the exam. The smart play is to set up an account at least six months in advance of the day you want to take the GMAT exam.

  • 4 to 6 Months Determine your strengths and weaknesses

    The GMAC’s official site for the test, mba.com, and other sites provide free sample tests and prep materials where you can familiarize yourself with the exam format, nature of the questions, and timeline for the four sections that make up the exam. You can begin establishing a baseline of your strengths and weaknesses so you can shore up those areas as you study for the exam. The earlier you perform a self-assessment, the more time you have to study and improve in deficient areas. If you are working on a six-month study plan, get this step done in the first month so you know where you stand and where you need to improve.

  • 3 to 6 Months Study regularly & practice time management

    Free test prep materials are the best resource to properly study for the GMAT. They help you understand the nature of the test and the questions, and you also can use progress reports to plan and modify your study strategy. These materials also help you understand how much time each section takes to complete. Since the GMAT is a timed exam, it’s crucial to know in advance how much time you need to comfortably complete each section. The GMAC also recommends downloading sample argumentative essay topics used on the exam. Study until you feel solid in all four areas of subject matter, as well as question formats, clock management, and especially pacing – there’s a stiff scoring penalty for failing to complete the exam on test day.

  • 3 to 4 Months Take practice exams

    You know you are ready for the real deal when you do well on practice exams. They help you gauge your improvements, as well as your overall score. If your practice scores are in range for the MBA programs of your choice, it’s time to take the next step.

  • 3 Months to Day of Test Schedule the exam

    Most people schedule the exam on weekends or on Fridays, the GMAC notes, so those testing days fill up fast. Seats also are at a premium near program deadlines for the fall and spring semesters. Play it safe: choose an exam date that falls early in your game plan to allow some flexibility if you need to reschedule or retake the exam.

  • Test Day Be prepared

    The section above explains in detail what test takers can expect on test day. You can take a video tour of a testing center at mba.com. One of the most important things you can do is arrive early to alleviate unnecessary stress and complications on testing day. The GMAT exam is offered most days of the year, but testing center hours may vary. Check the hours at your planned test center well in advance of test day.

  • After the Test Accepting the Score

    You’ve finally completed the exam. But rather than rest easy, you now have a difficult choice to make: You must decide without seeing your score if you did well enough on the exam to accept your score. Remember, this is the score that the GMAC will send to the universities you select. If you know you floundered, you may want to reject your score and re-take the test. You can re-take the exam once every 16 days.

  • Get Your Score

    If you accepted your score, you’ll receive an unofficial score report at the testing center. An Official Score Report is mailed to the colleges you selected, and you’ll receive a personal copy within 20 days.

  • Retaking the GMAT

    If you struggled on test day, you can retake the exam once every 16 days, and no more than five times in a year from your first exam date. The average score for test takers from 2013 through 2015 was 551.94, the GMAC reports. If that’s not good enough for admissions in the program of your choice, it’s back to the drawing board.

Scoring the GMAT exam

Overall scores for the GMAT exam range from 200 to 800 and are measured in 10-point increments. According to mba.com, the official site of the GMAT, roughly 65 percent of all test takers score between 400 and 600. Scoring methods vary across each section of the GMAT and are discussed below.

  • Analytical Writing

    Test taker’s essays are scored by a human reader and a computer. An average of those two scores is used, and scores are reported in half-point increments. Scores range from 0.0 to 6.0.

  • Integrated Reasoning

    Scores on this section are based on the total number of questions test takers answer correctly. Many questions have multiple parts, and each part must be answered correctly since no partial credit is given. Scores range from 1 to 8.

    The integrated reasoning and analytical writing assessment sections of the test are not included in the overall score. Total score is based on performance in the quantitative and verbal sections of the exam, and then scores factored in for the analytical writing assessment and integrated reasoning sections of the test. These different scores are then converted into a total score.

  • Quantitative and Verbal

    Scores in these two sections are based on three factors:

    • Total number of questions answered
    • Number of questions answered correctly
    • The difficulty and quality of the questions answered

    For the quantitative section, scores below 7 and above 50 are rare, the GMAC notes. Similarly, scores below 9 and above 44 are rare for the verbal section.

    Both sections are computer-adaptive, meaning that as test takers move through these sections, the computer updates their scores and selects subsequent questions based upon the examinee’s skill level. Test takers can earn higher scores in these sections by completing more questions, and by answering more questions correctly they receive even harder questions, which increases their total score. Scores range from 0 to 60 for each section.

  • When test takers complete the GMAT, they are provided with an unofficial score. If test takers are unhappy with their total score they can choose to re-take the exam at a later date. They can also look at their scores in each individual section to determine if they are deficient in one of these areas, or if they are a good fit for the graduate school of their choice.

  • Unofficial scores cannot be used for graduate school admissions. Prospective MBA and master’s degree students need to submit an Official Score Report, which is provided to test takers within 20 days of completing the GMAT exam by the Graduate Management Admissions Council. The GMAC also sends Official Score Reports to as many as five graduate school programs.

  • Test takers can also get an Enhanced Score Report from the GMAC, which provides detailed insight into their performance on the GMAT exam. The ESR might be a wise purchase for test takers with lower scores who wish to improve their performance on subsequent GMAT exams.

  • A good score depends on where the prospective student wishes to study. Some of the top business schools in the nation require a minimum GMAT score of 715, or better than the 90th percentile for all test takers. Other schools aren’t as stringent in this requirement. The mean score for more than 757,000 test takers from 2013 through 2015 was 551.94, the GMAC reports.

Expert Advice on the GMAT

Pamela Brown is senior manager of product management with the Graduate Management Admissions Council. She leads the development and management of all of the GMAC’s portfolio of digital and non-digital test preparation products. She earned a master’s degree from Harvard University in public policy with concentrations in international development and economics. Below are her insights and top tips for students and others preparing to take the GMAT exam.

How should people who hope to pursue a graduate degree best prepare to pass the GMAT?

First, there is no pass or fail to admissions tests – scores are a reflection of skills and abilities measured by the exam. We encourage people to take free practice exams to get more familiar with the GMAT. This can be especially helpful for professionals who have been out of school for a while to get back into the mindset of studying and taking tests since it’s what they’ll be doing once they’re in graduate school.

What should be done first?

Start by taking a diagnostic exam to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Use this information to create a plan – but keep in mind that there is no one right plan. Consider your goals, learning style, time availability, and create a plan that works for you.

What’s your top tip for professionals who might not have taken a standardized test in a while to get ready for the GMAT?

Get yourself back in the groove of academics and studying by sprinkling in a bit of studying every day. Just completing the GMAT exam is a huge accomplishment, but remember that your score is only one part of your application. It does not automatically qualify or disqualify you for admittance into a specific school. Schools look at your overall application, and your score is just one data point.

What are the most important factors for adequate test preparation?

Your goals, learning style and time availability — these three factors drive how you study, and to a large degree influence your potential for success.

What’s the most overlooked part of preparing for the GMAT?

The exam is also a test of endurance. You may score well on individual sections, but you also must sustain a high level of concentration over a long period of time.

How will someone know that they are truly ready to take the GMAT?

That answer depends on the individual. Generally speaking, after diagnosing, improving and practicing, an individual might be ready to take the exam once he or she attains a level of consistency in performance.