GMAT 101: The Definitive Guide
If you’ve made the announcement that you’re applying to business school only to have friends and family wince and ask if you “have to” take the GMAT test, it can be a little scary…to say the least. If you don’t know much about the GMAT exam, you should know this: The GMAT gets a bad rap.
Is it challenging? Definitely. The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, likes to throw out a battery of questions in unusual formats you’ve never seen before. Furthermore, like a crazy psychic mastermind, it adapts the difficulty level of questions based on how well you’ve answered questions so far (oh, it’s a computer-based test—I probably should have mentioned that.) But can you master the GMAT exam? Yes! Read on to find out all about the GMAT, from what skills it tests to how you can prepare for a great score.
Table of Contents
Click the chapter icon to jump ahead to that section.
(Note: This post is long and, depending on your internet speed, may take a bit longer than usual to load. If the post doesn’t load all at once, you can fix the issue by clicking “refresh.”)
What is the GMAT Test?
GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admissions Test. Basically, you can think of it as “the MBA test,” because students who take it do so as part of their business school applications. The GMAT is created and administered by GMAC, which works with both business schools and businesses to determine appropriate content for the test.
In short? The GMAT is for students pursuing graduate-level education in business and management, typically an MBA.
What is the GMAT Test For?
Just as the SAT is an admission test high school students need to take to get into college, the GMAT is an admission test after-college folks in the business world need to take to get into business school. The vast majority of MBA programs require a recent GMAT score as an essential part of the admission process.
Different schools use and judge GMAT scores in different ways. As a general rule, a good score on the GMAT can give an applicant a strong competitive edge in applying to the best business schools.
How Do You Take the GMAT Test?
To take the GMAT test, register on the official GMAC website, MBA.com. No matter where you live, the GMAT exam fees are $250 (US). You’ll also need valid ID in order to take the test; we’ll get into more about what this means for international students in a few moments.
How Often is the GMAT Exam Offered?
Most test-takers will be relieved to know that the GMAT exam is available on-demand at test centers worldwide on most days of the year. National holidays are a notable exception. So if you’re worried about GMAT exam dates, don’t be! There are plenty left.
That said, you should schedule your GMAT test dates well in advance. Depending on the size of your town, you may or may not have multiple test centers to choose from. Regardless, register early.
How often you can take the GMAT exam is a very different question from how often the GMAT is offered. While the GMAT is offered very frequently, you can only take the GMAT once in any 16-day period, and only five times within a twelve-month period.
Where is the GMAT Exam Offered?
Many test centers around the world offer the GMAT. With that said, the majority of these test centers tend to be in larger cities (you can find centers near you on the GMAT website). If you don’t live in one of these cities, make sure to plan your travel far in advance.
In fact, it’s even worth doing a test run to scout out your test location. Think about it: you will no doubt be nervous on your test day. Don’t add any stress by getting lost en route. Make sure to visit your test site prior to your test day to do a dry run of your transportation.
You may also gain valuable information. For example, many test centers have a special accommodations room. However, some (not all!) make a provision that if no testers are scheduled who need the space, then it is open to whomever shows up first. And that’s just one of many benefits of learning about your test center in advance!
What is a CAT, Anyway?
As I mentioned earlier, the GMAT is a CAT. And, no, I haven’t lost my mind—CAT means computer adaptive test. The GMAT is computer adaptive, which means that the level of difficulty of the questions adapts to your skill level. Questions appear on your computer screen one at a time. You must answer and confirm each question before you can move forward to the next question.
This has definite consequences for you as a test taker! After you have answered a question, you cannot change your answer. Within each set of multiple-choice questions, the items are selected by the computer software, depending on your response to the previous question.
The first question is always a medium-difficulty question. If you answer it correctly, your next question will be more difficult and worth more points. If you answer the first question incorrectly, your next question will be less difficult and worth fewer points.
In the end, thanks to the CAT format, your GMAT score is based on a complex formula that includes the number of questions that you answer correctly and the difficulty level of each question. This process allows an accurate assessment of your individual ability level in a given subject area.
What Does the GMAT Exam Evaluate?
While at first glance, the GMAT may appear to contain a motley collection of questions, there is most definitely a method to the (apparent) madness! Take it from GMAC, which explains that “The GMAT exam measures higher-order reasoning skills.”
These are the kind of reasoning skills that we’d want business executives to have: determining not only what information is present, but also what information is needed and what we can do with the information in a variety of contexts.
What Does the GMAT Test?
The GMAT will test these reasoning skills in a wide variety of ways: through your written analysis of an argument, your ability to interpret data, your quantitative reasoning skills, and your verbal reasoning skills. We’ll look at the question types in each section in more detail in a little bit, but you can also take a look at the most commonly tested GMAT question types here.
How Does the GMAT Test Your Skills?
To put the GMAT in terms that many American students will understand, the GMAT is like a harder (well, much harder) version of the SAT. Think: multiple-choice questions, verbal and math sections, an essay—and that 200-800 scaled score.
On the other hand, the GMAT tests your skills in different ways from the SAT, as well. Remember, this is a computer-based exam (which the SAT is not), and some sections of the test employ computer adaptive testing (CAT), which means the difficulty level of the questions is adjusted automatically as you move through the test.
Test day will also look different from your SAT experience. Again, you’ll be at a computer. The testing center will provide you with a booklet of five erasable noteboards and dry erase pens, so you can write things down if you need to. The Integrated Reasoning section has an on-screen calculator, but the Quantitative section is calculator-free—another way the GMAT is harder than the SAT.
But then again, business school is harder than college, so that makes sense.
How Does the GMAT Exam Reflect What You’ll Do in Business School?
The GMAT is a pretty good evaluation of executive business skills. There’s actually a correlation between GMAT scores and starting salaries, implying that there’s definitely a correlation and possibly some causation there, too.
GMAT questions use business-based scenarios whenever possible, though this will vary on some Quant and Verbal problems by necessity. Even though the GMAC is a private company, it tries to test both skills needed to successfully make it through a B-school curriculum and to succeed in private industry.
In short? Don’t despair—the time you put into prepping for the GMAT has the potential to help you through business school and even for the rest of your career. Pretty good return on investment, eh?
Format of the GMAT Exam
What can you expect when you walk through the doors of the test center for your official exam? Well, first of all, a lot of paperwork. Once you sit down at your station, however, you should know exactly what to expect. With that in mind, here’s the rundown on GMAT sections and their timing.
Overview of GMAT Sections
Think of this as your GMAT exam syllabus. On test day, you’ll see these sections on the GMAT exam, though you can choose the order in which you work on them:
You can find more in-depth info on the GMAT’s format here.
Overview of GMAT Timing
While, technically, you’ll only be testing for 3 hours and 30 minutes, you should allow five hours for the entire GMAT exam. This is because of that aforementioned paperwork, as well as optional breaks.
After you’ve signed in, stowed your stuff in a locker, and sat down at your computer station, here’s the GMAT exam pattern, time-wise (we’re using the “traditional” order here, but your section order may differ depending on your preferences):
That may seem overwhelming, but with some focused practice and work on GMAT timing strategies, it is doable!
GRE vs GMAT for B-School
You may have heard the news: many top business schools, including UC Davis, Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, NYU and Dartmouth, have recently begun accepting the GRE in addition to the GMAT. This gives you another choice as you go through the admissions process—but how should you decide which exam to put your valuable time into? Here are a few questions that should help you decide.
1. Do all of your target schools accept the GRE?
Here’s a list of MBA programs that accept the GRE. The rankings come from US News & World Report’s 2018 Best Business Schools rankings.
Which B-Schools Accept the GRE?
And here’s a list of business schools that may not require you to take the GRE or the GMAT. For these programs, you’ll just need to check and see if you are eligible for the standardized-test waiver. (This data was pulled from our own research, with help articles by Geteducated.com, Collegeatlas.org, and Aringo.)
Which B-Schools Don’t Require the GMAT or the GRE?
2. Do you perform better on the GRE?
3. Are you applying for a dual degree program?
Who Takes the GMAT?
Future business-school students (who are, one assumes, future businesspeople) take the GMAT. Basically, if you’re applying to business school in the United States, you most likely need to take the GMAT, though the GRE may be an acceptable alternative (see the previous section for more info).
If you’re applying to international business schools, you might need to take the GMAT, or a GMAT score may prove to be an asset to your application file. Check with individual programs to verify requirements.
Finally, if you’re applying to any other non-business graduate program, you almost certainly don’t have to take the GMAT.
The GMAT for International Students
Taking the GMAT can seem like an overwhelming prospect for anyone, and this is all the more true if English isn’t your first language. If you’re applying to U.S. business schools (and/or some international programs, usually those taught in English), you will most likely take the GMAT. Because you’ll almost certainly have to take an English proficiency exam as well, it’s a good idea to get that out of the way first, polishing your language skills in the process.
International students often ask, “Do you need your passport to take the GMAT?” This is a great question, and so important that American students should be asking it, too! For most international test takers, the answer is YES. If you are testing outside your country of citizenship, you need your passport. This is also true for Americans testing abroad. Government-issued IDs won’t even cut it.
If you are testing in your country of citizenship, you may still need your passport as ID. If you’re American and testing in the U.S., a government ID (like a driver’s license or military ID) is also okay. This is sometimes true for international test takers, but not always. Check out the “Special Restrictions” section of the MBA GMAT registration site as you register, but when in doubt, take your passport.
Other than valid identification and registration, eligibility for GMAT exam is completely open. You don’t need to have finished college to take it (or even started college, for that matter—though let’s face it, it’d probably help to have a few years under your belt).
(When) Can You Retake the GMAT?
First of all, don’t worry: yes, you can retake the GMAT. You can retake it any time after the sixteen-day period following your exam. After that, you can retake the GMAT as many as five times in twelve months. If you want to take it even more than that, you can submit a written request to the GMAT, but think seriously before doing this.
Unless you’ve significantly changed your approach to the test, there’s really no good reason to take it more than five times. If you’re wondering whether to retake the GMAT at all, check out our post on the Magoosh GMAT Blog, Should I Retake the GMAT?
As we’ve already seen, GMAT scoring varies depending on the section. Here’s a quick recap:
I know it’s more than a little bit confusing, especially without context. So let’s get some context! First of all, it’s very important to recognize that the “total” score, the 200-800 score, is based only on you Quant & Verbal subscores; the AWA & IR are entirely separate and have nothing to do with the “total” score.
Beyond that fact, the best way to make sense of all this is to look at percentiles. Watch our video below to learn more or skip ahead to the GMAT Percentiles section below!
A percentile describes the percentage of test takers who scored lower than you did on the exam. This is particularly important in helping you contextualize your GMAT scores. After all, knowing your GMAT percentile can help you evaluate how close you are to getting into the school of your dreams.
First of all, a few things to know about GMAT scores: 2/5 of students have a total score of between 400 and 600; therefore, the higher you score above 600, the more you stand out from the pack. The most recent average GMAT score the GMAC released was 556.04. Again—the farther above this average you reach, the more appealing your GMAT score will be to B-schools.
To contextualize your score even more, here’s an overview of GMAT score percentiles: total, scaled, AWA, and IR.
Total GMAT Score Percentiles
Scaled Score Percentiles
AWA and IR Percentiles
What Does It Take to Get a Top GMAT Score?
Blood, sweat, and tears. No, just kidding—the only thing that’s really required is the sweat. It is difficult to get a top GMAT score. On the other hand, it’s also non-negotiable if you’re dreaming of attending a top business school. To be competitive at the top ten business schools in America, for example, you’ll need to have a total GMAT score of around 715.
And, because this ain’t my first rodeo, let me take a wild guess at what your next questions going to be…
How Can I Score 700+ on the GMAT?
Sadly, there’s no shortcut to scoring above 700 on the GMAT.
There are actually only three steps in the process to scoring 700+. Really, just three!
Okay, yes. Technically, there may only be three steps (the way I’ve described them; others may see it differently). However, the way you carry out each step is of vital importance to that 700+ score!
First of all, you need to give yourself plenty of time. Exactly how much time will depend on your situation, and we’ll go into that a little bit later. But chances are that you’ll need at least a month (bare minimum), no matter where you’re starting, to get above 700 on the GMAT—and probably more.
Taking practice tests is so important. And when you’re done, analyze them. No, don’t just look at the questions you got wrong. Look at why you got them wrong. Record them in a log. Write them down. Do them again in a week, two weeks, three weeks. Look at the questions you got right, too. Were you guessing? Is there a quicker process you could have used?
You should spend at least as long analyzing your practice tests as you do taking them.
There are two other scenarios surrounding this whole “700+” issue. First, you may find that you’re consistently approaching the 700+ range but missing it. In that case, check out How to Get from 650 to 700.
On the other hand, you may be aiming for a perfect 800 (they do happen!) If so, check out the Magoosh blog on how to get that perfect GMAT score.
In all this, it will be important to keep in mind what Magoosh GMAT Expert Mike McGarry calls the “habits of excellence.”
One important note on retakes for you perfectionists out there: test takers who score above 700 on the GMAT have diminishing returns with each subsequent retake. So remember, the GMAT is just one aspect of your B-school application.
If you’ve scored a 760 and are obsessed with getting an 800, stop and ask yourself why. At this point, your time would be better spent working on other aspects of your application.
Do You Have to Prep for the GMAT?
Do you have to prep for the GMAT? It depends. Do you want to do well on it? I’m sorry, I know that sounds harsh—but this isn’t a test for the casual test hobbyist (if, you know, such a person existed).
Prepping for the GMAT is important. Not only is there immense time pressure, which preparing can help you deal with, but the problem formats can be downright confusing (Data Sufficiency, anyone?) if you’ve never seen them before.
Basically, if you’re serious about business school, you should be serious about the GMAT and prep for it. While not the only admissions criterion, your score on the GMAT test can be the difference between you getting accepted or rejected from your target MBA school. Proper GMAT preparation is a very important part of scoring well on the GMAT.
That being said, a great or even perfect GMAT score cannot guarantee your admission into a business schools. In addition to your GMAT score, your work experience, essays, recommendations, and interview are all factors that contribute to your acceptance or rejection from a business school.
How Hard is the GMAT, Anyway?
It’s not a walk in the park, let’s put it that way. It’s definitely harder than the SAT. But unlike the MCAT, for example, the GMAT isn’t meant to measure specific knowledge. Instead, it’s meant to measure your reasoning skills. The fact that it does this using very particular question types is part of what makes it challenging—but, as Magoosh GMAT expert Mike McGarry explains, the GMAT is just that, a challenge—not an obstacle.
How Long Should I Study for the GMAT?
Studying for the GMAT is less about the amount of GMAT preparation time you put in (Magoosh has sample study schedules that range from 1-6 months) and more about the kind of work you put in.
With that said, you should aim for one month, minimum, to prep for the GMAT—and that’s only if you can devote most of that month to GMAT prep.
Why a month minimum? Think about everything you’ll need to do before test day:
Yes, you’re definitely well on your way to completing steps 1-5 on that list just by reading this post, but steps 6 and 7 are the real kickers that will not just prepare you for test day but also improve your score.
How to Prepare for the GMAT Exam
So I’ve convinced you to prepare for the GMAT? Awesome! Clearly, I think this is an excellent idea. But now that you’ve decided to prep, you’ll have to make a few decisions, as well as keep a few pieces of advice in mind.
GMAT Book vs Class vs Tutor vs Online
When preparing for the GMAT, an early decision is whether or not to take a class. There are many quality options to choose from, with Kaplan, Veritas Prep, Manhattan GMAT, and (if we can toot our own horn) Magoosh as some of the top brands.
Prices vary for instruction, with in-person classes priced around $1500 and online courses offered between $750-$1000 (Magoosh is a notable exception to this—all our plans are under $300). GMAT coaching is also an option, but expect it to run you even more $.That is a lot of coin, so should you write the check or save the money for a cache of Charles Shaw to get you through business school?
Although the decision factors vary from one future applicant to the next, one fundamental consideration is how disciplined you are as a person. Be honest. A good analogy is to consider a personal trainer. Some people can achieve their fitness goals without one, but others know that in order to stay on track, it helps to pay someone.
So, if you will be able to set a study schedule (more on that below) and stick to it, you’ll likely be able to achieve your personal top score without the instruction. (Magoosh’s free GMAT ebook is a great step in this self-directed, um, direction, and you can follow up by choosing more prep after reading Magoosh’s advice on the best GMAT books.)
But, if you know verbal practice problems will take a backseat to the next season of Modern Family, then it is time to pull out your Visa and purchase the required help.
In terms of resources, keep in mind that there are excellent official resources out there, too (though they’re limited). You can take two free CATs at the GMAC website, which is a good place to start. It’s best to use these later on in your practice, as test day approaches.
While the GMAT Official Guide is a must-have, you should also know that the GMAC also puts out specialized Verbal and Quantitative guides, too. And on that note, not everyone realizes that there’s a code at the back of the full Official Guide that gives you free online practice to 50 IR questions—not too shabby!
Even the old GMAT paper-based tests make for some good practice in a pinch. Just don’t let them make you too jealous of the folks who got to take the paper test, you know, back in the good ‘ol days.
Practice Habits of Excellence
No matter which method of GMAT prep you choose, it’s absolutely vital that you practice well. What do I mean by this? That you practice habits of excellence. Habits of excellence are all about starting from a mindset of curiosity as your primary motivation—rather than starting from a mindset of “I must get x, y, or z score.”
As one of our students tweeted:
This paradox will bother people, because for some people, getting that target score is their principal motivation: without it, folks might worry that they will have no motivation. Think about it this way. If my goal is “I must get a 720,” then the thought of that goal and any attachment to that goal will actually work against me in achieving that goal. By contrast, if your motivation is the ideal of excellence, embodying excellence as a mindset, then living that high standard is its own reward.
For example, if you are attached to a score, then every time you make mistakes on a practice session or in a mock test will be a cause for concern and anxiety. By contrast, the habit of excellence is not bothered by making mistake during the learning process, because every mistake is a profound opportunity to improve your overall understanding.
One of the ideals of excellence is: never make the same mistake twice. That’s a hard ideal for which to strive, but the student who can follow it consistently sees massive improvement over time. After getting a question wrong, energy spent on “what else do I have to learn?” or “how can avoid this mistake in the future?” is energy well spent.
By contrast, anxiety about “will I achieve my target score?” does zilch to move you forward, and because the anxiety generates distraction, it is actually entirely counterproductive. It is the ultimate waste of time in GMAT studying.
Part of what I am discussing here is the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. The student who is attached to achieving a particular target score is extrinsically motivated. The student who strives to embody and live out the mindset of excellence is intrinsically motivated. Folks who are externally motivated have less stamina and resilience, and generally are less likely to perform at their highest potential.
The advantages to intrinsic motivation are widespread and profound. This is true on the GMAT, in business school, and throughout one’s career.
Any time you spend thinking about a particular numerical target, and how close or not close you are to it, is time you are not thinking about concrete concepts and strategies. Concepts and strategies will further your progress toward a good GMAT score. By contrast, thinking about the numerical target does absolutely nothing to help you achieve that target, and in most cases, it generates anxiety and distraction that works against you.
One of the essential strategies for achieving GMAT success is to let go of any attachment to what score you want and, even more importantly any stories about what a good or bad GMAT score would mean.
Your GMAT Tools
With our philosophical approach well in place, let’s turn now to two practical tools you’ll need for your GMAT practice: practice questions and full-length GMAT practice tests. These are the two most vital components of your GMAT prep. If you take nothing else away from this post (I mean, I hope you take something else away from this post!), know that.
Practice problems are important to learning and mastering concepts. Practice tests are key to evaluating the extent to which you’ve internalized this knowledge and can put it into practice on the official exam. Period.
How to Take and Review a GMAT Practice Test
There are a few components of successful GMAT practice-test taking.
Of course, even with all that in mind, there’s another component of GMAT practice exams that’s really important.
The Importance of the CAT
Let me be totally clear on this: if you’re only taking paper-based practice exams, or even if you’re taking computer-based but non-adaptive exams, you’re doing a great thing in terms of boosting your score, but your idea of your current GMAT score range is going to be a little off. Really.
In Quant and Verbal, the actual, official GMAT presents you with different questions depending on what you’ve answered correctly so far on the exam, zeroing in on your final score. So as you work through non-computer adaptive tests, keep in mind that the score you receive is a general idea of the range in which you might score.
While it may be useful to take at least one CAT before test day, the most important thing to do with your time is to zero in on the types of questions you’re getting wrong on each practice test and work to address those.
Good GMAT Practice vs Bad GMAT Practice
To sum that all up: good GMAT practice includes practice problems and timed practice exams taken under exam-like conditions. Good GMAT practice requires practice tests. And good GMAT practice is practice in which you work on your habits of excellence every time.
Best Online GMAT Practice
When you’re looking for materials that will help you get good GMAT practice, make sure that they are both test-like and user-friendly. What do I mean by this?
Questions should be test-like in that they mirror the form and the content that you’ll see on the official exam.
Your practice experience should be user-friendly in that the answers and explanations a) exist and b) make sense in a way that will help you remember how to get to the correct answer.
Let’s take a quick glance at what this looks like by examining a Magoosh GMAT practice problem.
I’ll be upfront with you here: Magoosh has great online GMAT practice. That’s not just bias talking—I can prove it to you. Not only does Magoosh test prep meet all the standards for good GMAT test prep I’ve been talking about, but it also meets another standard, rare in the test-prep industry: it provides excellent and thorough answers and explanations in a variety of formats. (We also have tons of free resources for GMAT study on this blog, if you’re interested!)
What Does Magoosh GMAT Practice Look Like?
Here’s a Magoosh GMAT test sample question for Integrated Reasoning.
The graph below shows the different commuting options chosen by commuters in the Farview City metropolitan region in 1995 and in 2005.
The commuting mode whose ridership increased by approximately 29% from 1995 to 2005 is bikesubway & buscommuter trainscar.
Here we have a GMAT test example question for IR. Go ahead, put your GMAT training to work! I’ll be here when you get back.
Bad GMAT Practice Answer (and Why We Hate It!)
Ready to check your answers? Great!
The answer is “commuter trains.”
Disappointed in my response? I’m not surprised! Yet you’d be amazed at how much test prep just provides you the answer and leaves it at that. If you answered incorrectly, you’re probably frustrated, not knowing how to get to the correct answer. And even if you got the answer right, how do you know it’s because you did the problem correctly, and not just because you accidentally chose “commuter trains”?
Yep. That’s bad GMAT practice. It wastes your time, it frustrates you, and—worst of all—it doesn’t help you improve. At all.
Good GMAT Practice Answer (and Why We Love It!)
On the other hand, good GMAT practice will clearly explain the answer, in context, and give you strategies for solving the problem. Just like Magoosh’s GMAT expert Mike has done in the actual answer to this problem:
Well, we can estimate this one. A 29% increase is an increase of a little more than a quarter. Bikes tripled, so that’s way more than a quarter increase—that’s not correct. The category “subway & bus” when from 3 to 5 million, more than a 50%—that’s not correct. Cars decreased, so that’s not correct.
Even without looking at “commuter trains,” we can easily eliminate the other three. Notice “commuter trains” increased from 7 M to 9M, a 2M increase which is slightly more than one quarter of 7. That’s the answer, and we didn’t need the calculator.
Believe me, GMAT questions and answers are rarely that clearly presented. Now, that is good GMAT practice.
So now that we’ve seen how important good GMAT materials are, let’s take a quick look at GMAT practice. To get a top score on the GMAT, you’ll need to practice well and often. How? Well, we’ll take a look at some GMAT practice in the section-specific chapters below, but you should also check out the testmaker’s free GMATPrep software, among other resources, such as books and online or in-person lessons. Then come back for some advice on how to organize your GMAT practice!
Using a GMAT Study Schedule
You may or may not be convinced by now that online prep is the best GMAT training for you—and that’s totally okay! Different students respond to different formats and methods of learning. One thing that every GMAT student has in common, though, is the need for a clear GMAT study schedule. Following that link, you’ll find schedules ranging from one month to six months of preparation, all free and all customizable to your particular strengths and weaknesses.
Not only will a GMAT study schedule help you stay organized while studying, but it’s also the only way to make sure that you incorporate time to do everything you need to do to get you to your goal score. A study schedule keeps you organized, keeps you accountable, and keeps you on track for your goals. This is especially important if you’re aiming for a top score (and we have a study plan for that, too! Check out the Magoosh GMAT Study Plan for 700 or More).
The GMAT AWA Section
One of the most common questions about the GMAT AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment) is: Does it even matter? Aren’t business schools way more interested in your multiple-choice scores?
Yes and yes. Overall, your sectional scores and overall score will be more important to your B-school applications than your score on the AWA. However, with that said, you should be prepared to do your best on it.
Why? The GMAT is a mental marathon. You want to undertake your journey with confidence, ready to dive into Integrated Reasoning with aplomb. So with that in mind, at least know what you’re in for with the AWA so your reaction to your prompt isn’t one of total terror and/or bafflement.
What Concepts Does the AWA Cover?
The AWA asks you to write one essay in 30 minutes. In this essay, you analyze an argument (hence “analytical” writing assessment). You’ll write a response, typically 4 to 6 paragraphs, in which you evaluate the argument.
The logic behind this is that you’re showing your ability to think critically about opinions presented to you. You can analyze them, find their strengths and weaknesses, and determine what information might help you further evaluate the argument in more depth. Basically, you’re showing off skills that definitely come in handy in business settings.
What Kinds of Arguments Will I Evaluate?
Like a lot of the material on the GMAT, the arguments presented in the AWA tend to be business-oriented, or at the very least, have implications for businesses. You can see an official example here, as well as an example of a high-rated response.
How Should I Write My GMAT AWA?
Glad you asked! First of all, be strategic. Outline before you write, know what examples you’ll use, and always (always!) leave time to proofread. Other things to keep in mind as you prepare for the AWA:
Practice for GMAT AWA
Itching to try your hand at a sample GMAT essay? Can’t say I blame you! Have a go at the following prompt, from the OG13:
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underline the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.
You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sounds, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusions.
Don’t give yourself longer than 30 minutes to write your practice essay. When you’re done, check out Magoosh GMAT expert Mike McGarry’s analysis of the argument and sample high-scoring essay in response to the prompt to evaluate your work.
The GMAT Integrated Reasoning Section
For many, the mere mention of this section alone can cause anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. Remember, the GMAT is standardized. We can break down patterns, even (and maybe especially) within Integrated Reasoning so that you can get rid of those IR-related anxiety sweats well before test day.
What Does GMAT IR Cover?
The GMAT Integrative Reasoning section is set up to test higher-order reasoning. This includes questions about the integration of information (organizing, synthesizing), evaluating information (tradeoffs and benefits of different actions), making inferences from data (and predictions), relating information to other data, and strategizing based on data provided.
You’ll have 12 questions to answer in 30 minutes. While that sounds relatively comfortable, keep in mind that these are often complex, multi-part questions. A big part of mastering IR depends on your ability to master the timing.
These twelve questions will each be one of four types:
Unlike question types on other sections of the GMAT (ahem, looking at you, Quant), every test taker will see all four question types. The only difference between what you and your neighbor are looking at will be in the experimental questions mixed into the section.
Why Does GMAT IR Test These Concepts?
Integrated Reasoning is designed to test your managerial skills. Really! Think about it: a lot of people can find and even verify facts. At the higher levels of an organization, however, managers need to be able to assess, evaluate, and, yes, integrate data to make reasoned (and hopefully reasonable) decisions. So don’t worry—there’s definitely a good reason to polish your skills with charts and graphs!
How Can I Increase My GMAT IR Score?
If that’s all got you a little freaked out, don’t worry! There’s a lot you can do before your official exam to boost your IR score. In fact, there’s so much you can do that we even wrote an eBook about it (free, by the way)!
Mike breaks down the key components of IR strategy here, but here’s a quick recap.
GMAT IR Practice Questions
With all that background information and those strategies at your fingertips, I’m sure you’re dying to see what GMAT Integrated Reasoning looks like in practice! Wait no longer: here’s a sample problem for you to try. (If you’re looking for more practice and tips, the Magoosh GMAT Blog has plenty more IR resources!)
1) A value p = 50 is initially entered. When S first has a value of S = 10, p has a value of 5153575961.
2) An initial entry that reaches an output in the fewest number of steps is 13101231.
Be sure to check your answers at the end of the post!
The GMAT Quantitative Section
By the time you encounter GMAT Quant, you’re well into the test. You’ve written an essay analyzing an argument. You’ve conquered 12 IR questions in a short period of time. You’ve taken your optional (but really, take it!) 8-minute break. Now, it’s time for Quant (Math).
For GMAT Math, you’ll answer 31 questions in 62 minutes, giving you slightly over two minutes per question (but remember, you need to actually select the right answer and wait for the next screen to load! So let’s say two minutes). Within Quant, you’ll encounter:
We’ll take a closer look at how these question formats test your math and reasoning skills in just a minute. Before we do, though, here’s what you can expect to see, concept-wise, on GMAT Quant.
Concepts on the GMAT Math Section
You may have heard rumors about the difficulty of GMAT math, or maybe you’ve tried out a few problems yourself and been bowled over by the high-level thinking they require. But one thing you won’t have encountered is any concept beyond high-school level math.
Strange, but true: the GMAC knows that there are humanities majors among us who may not have thought about calculus integrals in years…and even then, only under duress (that last one may be just me). So instead, the GMAT tests quantitative reasoning (notice a pattern here?) by piling relatively simple concepts on top of each other to create multi-level problems.
So yes, you should review the following areas before test day:
But, in addition to that review, you should spend the majority of your Quant study time focusing on practice problems and practice tests, because although the material the GMAT tests isn’t that tricky, the way the GMAT tests it can be pretty tricky indeed.
If you want to go really in-depth on how GMAT Quant tests these questions, take a look at our post What Kind of Math is on the GMAT? Breakdown of Quant Concepts by Frequency!
How Does the GMAT Test These Concepts?
As we’ve already seen, you’ll encounter those concept areas in two formats: Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Let’s start out with Problem Solving, since there are more of these questions in the section.
GMAT Problem Solving questions test your reasoning skills by having you unravel dense problems to their simpler components. Sound like a quality a good manager should have? The GMAC thinks so, too. These are multiple-choice questions with five answer choices. For an amazing round-up of 30+ practice questions with answers and explanations, written by GMAT experts on the Magoosh GMAT Blog, check out GMAT Quant Questions: Problem Solving.
GMAT Data Sufficiency questions are beasts of a different nature. In these questions, the focus is not about solving the problem, but about analyzing a question, then evaluating two statements and deciding if either, both, or neither is sufficient to answer the question. Tricky, right? But also interesting. These questions test the same types of skills the GMAT looks at in IR—that is to say, higher-order reasoning in which you flex those managerial muscles to determine and select the best possible information.
Strategies for GMAT Quant
If all that information has you a little overwhelmed, know that there’s a lot you can do before your exam to master this section! First, learn How to Study for GMAT Math, and then How to Actually Improve Your Score on the GMAT Quant Section. Once you’ve got that info under your belt, brush up on your math foundations with Kevin:
Another really important thing to do is brush up on your number sense particularly if it’s been some time since you worked with numbers.
General Tips for GMAT Quant
Are the basics coming back to you now? Awesome! Here are some more tips, which apply to both Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency questions:
There’s also quite a bit you can do to prep for GMAT Data Sufficiency questions. First of all, get familiar with them! You’re going to be old friends before this test is over. Next, learn how to strategize so that you don’t miss points unnecessarily.
And as you practice, there are a few habits you should get into as you approach GMAT Data Sufficiency questions.
GMAT Strategies for Data Sufficiency
First, memorize the answer choices. Really memorize them! Going over these is a huge waste of time on test day, because they’re not going to change. Just to refresh your member, they are:
A. Statement 1 alone is sufficient but statement 2 alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked.
These are the only answer choices you will see in Data Sufficiency. These are the only answer choices you will ever see in Data Sufficiency (for the foreseeable future, that is). Learn ’em now, benefit later.
Otherwise, here are a few handy tips to master Data Sufficiency:
Before you dig into some practice questions, take a look at this series of GMAT Quant strategy videos to help you sharpen your skills!
Data Sufficiency Strategy Videos:
GMAT Quant Practice Questions
Ready to put those strategies to work? Try your hand at these two GMAT Quant practice questions. And, if you skipped the IR practice questions (#1-2), jump back up by clicking here.
3. Data Sufficiency
The figure on the left is an isosceles right triangle, and the figure on the right is a square of length 3. What is the value of b?
(1) b is the length of the diagonal of the square.
(2) the triangle and the square have the same area.
Statement 1 alone is sufficient but statement 2 alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked.
4. Problem Solving
Be sure to check your answers at the end of the post!
The GMAT Verbal Section
The GMAT Verbal section is 65 minutes long; during those 65 minutes, you’ll encounter 36 multiple-choice questions. Like the Quantitative section, the Verbal section is computer adaptive, which means the test will be adjusting the difficulty as you move through the section.
The Verbal score, along with the Quantitative score, determines your Total 200-800 GMAT score. As we’ve seen, AWA and IR sections have separate scores and are not included in the Total GMAT score.
What Content Will I See on GMAT Verbal?
These three types will be roughly evenly distributed, so you will have about 11-14 of each of the three kinds in a typical Verbal section.
Reading Comprehension questions give you a short (200-300 words) or long (300-400 words) passage, then ask you about what you’ve read with three or four multiple-choice questions, respectively.
Critical Reasoning questions set forth an argument that you then analyze. There are eight different types of CR questions, which you can read about in the above post, all of which are multiple choice, with five answer choices.
Sentence Correction problems present you with a sentence. Part of this sentence is underlined, and you have to decide if there’s a grammatical problem. If so, you choose from one of four alternatives to the underlined portion.
Why Does the GMAT Have a Verbal Section?
The easy answer is: Of course the GMAT has a Verbal section, because that’s more or less the norm for standardized tests. The PSAT, the SAT, the ACT, the GRE, the LSAT, and even the MCAT all involve a Verbal or English section, so why wouldn’t the GMAT?
A deeper answer is: To be a truly successful executive in the modern business world, one needs a wide variety of skills, but undeniably, some of the essential skills are verbal skills. All of business involves selling, and selling almost always involves presenting words and interpreting words. Both the seller and the buyer need to have sophisticated verbal skills to negotiate the finer points of selling at almost any level.
Finally, there is the simple issue of establishing credibility. No matter how intelligent you are, folks who know you only through your writing will have a low opinion of you if your writing is full of grammatical errors!
Similarly, if the arguments you pose are vulnerable to obvious objections, you are unlikely to be persuasive even if you are right! Being successful in business means making a good first impression on new people time and time again, and clearly that involves verbal skills.
GMAT Verbal Strategies
First, let’s take a look at some strategies you can use to approach GMAT Verbal questions in general, then at some more specific approaches for each of the three question types.
Kevin takes you through six important tips for Reading Comprehension questions in this short video:
GMAT Verbal Practice Questions
Constitutional scholars of both the traditionalist and liberal views would agree that “Ninth Amendment rights”
accommodate shifts in cultural values with respect to issues affecting human rights
Assuming the statements above are true, what conclusion can be drawn from them?
If one practices chess enough to raise one’s proficiency, one has a good chance of raising one’s income level.
7. With American cryptanalysts breaking the Japanese code, the Japanese Imperial Fleet losing the strategic element of surprise at Midway, which allowed the American Fleet to ambush the Japanese and win a decisive victory.
With American cryptanalysts breaking the Japanese code, the Japanese Imperial Fleet losing the strategic element of surprise at Midway, which allowed
Be sure to check your answers at the end of the post!
GMAT Resources & Next Steps
But with all that said, if your first foray into GMAT practice has you a little freaked out, that’s okay! There are a ton of free resources right here on the Magoosh GMAT Blog to help you master both the format and the content of the GMAT. For example:
Those are all great resources with which to start. They’ll give you a great grounding in what the GMAT looks like, how to study for it, and the concepts that you’ll see on test day—almost like an illustrated guide to this post!
Next, check out Zen Boot Camp for the GMAT. Particularly if you’re scoring high already—but not quite high enough—mastering the mental game is crucial. Then again, it’s always crucial.
Getting a great score on the GMAT does take lots of preparation, and for a truly tailored approach, let me make a suggestion. After you’ve worked through Magoosh’s free resources, try Magoosh GMAT prep!
Bonus Resource: Answers and Explanations
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Here are the answers and explanations to the practice problems we’ve looked at in this post, in order of appearance.
Check out Magoosh GMAT expert Mike McGarry’s analysis of the argument and sample high-scoring essay in response to the prompt to evaluate your work.
Integrated Reasoning Answers
Question 1) 59
For mathematical and computer science folks, a flow chart diagramming a mathematical algorithm might be one of the most enjoyable games the GMAT provides.
For less math-y folks, though, this question type could be a living nightmare.
How does someone not adroit at mathematical reasoning even begin to make sense of this? Click here for a video explanation of the answer!
Quantitative Reasoning Answers
Question 3) Each statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question.
We know everything we need to know about the square. The prompt tells us that the triangle is an isosceles right triangle, a.k.a. the 45-45-90 triangle, a very special right triangle. Click here for a video explanation of the answer!
Question 4) 75
We used a double matrix to solve this one. Confused? Click here for a video explanation of the answer!
Verbal Reasoning Answers
Question 5) “Ninth Amendment rights” are not stated explicitly in the Bill of Rights. Click here for a video explanation of the answer!
Question 6) It is possible that a person who has attained only a sixth grade level of education could earn more than a person who has a Ph. D. Click here for a video explanation of the answer!
Question 7) Because American cryptanalysts had broken the Japanese code, the Japanese Imperial Fleet lost the strategic element of surprise at Midway, allowing the American Fleet to ambush the Japanese and win a decisive victory. Click here for a video explanation of the answer!
You’ve reached the end of this post! Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, then leave us a comment with any questions or comments you still have. Happy Studying!