GMAT Prep Guide for MBA Students

By Staff Writers

Published on May 25, 2021

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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.

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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 SectionWhat it MeasuresNumber of QuestionsHow it’s ScoredTypes of QuestionsTime Allowed
Analytical Writing AssessmentThe 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.1Scores range from 0 to 6 in half-point intervals.1 argumentative analysis30 minutes
Integrated ReasoningHow 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 reasoning30 minutes,
QuantitativeHow well students analyze and evaluate data, as well as their ability to apply their findings to a problem and put forth a solution.370 to 60Multiple-choice math problems (averages; distance, rate and time; estimation, permutations and combinations, differences, etc.)62 minutes
VerbalHow well students read and understand written English, as well as their ability to evaluate arguments. Also gauges ability to correct deficiencies in writing.410 to 60Reading comprehension; sentence structure; critical thinking65 minutes
Total Exam Time3 hours, 7 minutes

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 is 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

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

Personal Tutoring

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

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

Practice Tests

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 Mobile Apps

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

GMAT Videos

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.

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 dedicated 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.

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:

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.

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 into 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.

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