GMAT General FAQ

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is the standardized test that you take when applying to business school. It lasts between 3.5 and 4 hours. The format is as follows: First you write two essays that last a half hour each, after which you have a 5 minute break. Second, you spend 75 minutes on the quantitative section, which has 37 questions, and you take another 5-minute break. Last is the 75-minute verbal section, which is 41 questions long.

The GMAT, along with your undergraduate grade point average (GPA) and your work experience are the three things that admissions committees look at when considering you for admission. The GMAT is important and should be taken seriously, especially by those who are not happy with their undergrad GPA or have very little work experience.

Please visit our GMAT web pages containing a vast amount of information to allow you to do just that.


Does the GMAT have more or less influence on your application than other things, like GPA, work experience, recommendations and interviews?

Your GMAT score is very important to the application process, but what is most important is determined per individual. A high score can serve to undermine a lower GPA or less job experience, or set you apart from those with a very high GPA and outstanding recommendations, but who are poor test takers. Conversely, if you have a very high GMAT score, a good GPA and job experience can set you apart from others with high GMAT scores.


Is there any way I can apply to business school without reporting a GMAT score?

No, unless the schools or the programs (such as some executive MBA programs) don’t require it. Otherwise, you must report a GMAT score to be considered for admissions at any accredited MBA program.


Can you explain the three parts of the test in more detail?

Yes. The three parts are the Analytical Writing Assessment, Quantitative section, and Verbal section. Here is some more information on each:

Analytical Writing Assessment

The exam begins with two essays. You are given 30 minutes for each essay. The essays are intended to demonstrate two writing skills: Analysis of an Issue and Analysis of an Argument

Quantitative Section

After your 5-minute break, you move on to the quantitative section of the exam. There are 37 questions in two categories: data sufficiency and problem solving. You will have 75 minutes to complete this section.

Verbal Section

After your second 5-minute break, you move on the verbal section. There are 41 questions of 3 types: Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and Sentence Correction. Again, you will have 75 minutes to complete this section.


How is the GMAT scored?

The GMAT is scored between 200 and 800, with 540 being close to the average score. In recent years, there have been more test takers yielding higher scores however. Breaking 650 could get you into many schools, but some top schools require above a 680.

In addition to your overall score, you receive a sub score for the verbal and quantitative sections, and a percentile. The percentile means that you did better than that percent (the one they gave you) of the testing population in the last three years. The percentiles for quantitative and verbal refer to different scores, because more people do well in quantitative on the GMAT. This goes to show that in your GMAT prep, you should be thorough and cover both sections. Cover whichever you are weaker in more.

Along with your scores, your essays will be sent to your schools of choice.


Do I need any special computer skills to take the GMAT on a computer?

No you don’t. But the better you are with computers, the more comfortable you will feel with taking a computer test, making it more likely for you to receive a higher score. At the least, you need to know how to operate a computer generally, as well as type and use a computer mouse. There is a tutorial before you start the test that is un-timed. The tutorial will teach you how to answer questions and proceed through the test. Since there are two timed essays, you should be comfortable with typing at a reasonable speed.


Are there accommodations for disabled test takers?

Yes. There should be an accommodation to suit any disabled test taker, whatever the disability may be. These accommodations include but are not limited to the following: More time, more breaks or extended breaks, allowance of medical devices like insulin pumps, a different mouse, a reader, sign language interpreter, and a larger font on the computer monitor. Some allowances or comfort require special permission through the GMAT Test Accommodations Request Form, and some do not. Those that do not are: glasses, hearing aids, a support pillow, a neck brace, and again an insulin pump. The insulin pump must be attached to the body, or else it will need special permission.


What level of math does the GMAT cover?

The GMAT covers through high school math. You do not need advanced math knowledge to be successful on the quantitative section of the GMAT, but you need to be able to apply your math knowledge and use your skills in diverse ways. The best thing to do is to prepare rigorously with GMAT experts and use any tools at your disposal to practice your math skills.


What is the content of the reading passages? Should I be prepared to read about business?

The reading passages can cover just about anything. This part of the test is not testing you on specific subject matter, but on your comprehension of the subject matter. The content, in that sense, does not matter.

However, the more knowledgeable you are about the tested topics in Reading Comprehension, the more likely you can speed through the reading with more accurate answers.

You may see as many as 4 passages in the Reading Comprehension section ranging up to 400 words in each passage, followed by 3 or 4 interpretive, applied, and inferential questions. The topics are typically related to social sciences such as politics and history, physical or biological sciences such as geology and astronomy, business-related areas such as marketing, economics and human resource management, along with other advanced subjects.

Please visit our InFocus Blog for latest observations on GMAT Reading Comprehension.


What is the advantage of joining a classroom prep program like Manhattan Review as opposed to just working with a study book?

Joining a prep course is a good option because you are learning from an instructor. You are able to ask the instructor questions. Asking questions is an important part of learning – a part that is lost when you learn from a book. At Manhattan Review our instructors are both experienced educators and very high scorers on the GMAT. Also, being in a classroom setting can be conducive to good study habits. You also have the option of reviewing material and studying with a fellow classmate.

There are many good reasons to join a prep course, not the least of which is that you will have an instructor who has the knowledge to answer most of your GMAT questions. At Manhattan Review, our instructors have been teaching students how to prepare for the GMAT exam for years, and they themselves have scored in the 99th percentile. To involve yourself in a classroom atmosphere also opens you to questions that your fellow students might have, questions you may not have thought of yourself. Importantly also, the classroom environment will make you a more diligent studier. Coming to class will keep you on top of your preparation and will promote good study habits.

Our proprietary Turbocharge Your GMAT 4 books are also great resources for you to have if you prefer to study on your own. We also offer 5 CATs for your own practice. Please visit here for more info.


Should I prepare for my GMAT with books, or with programs that simulate the CAT?

Our advice is to do both. Books will help with reviewing grammar rules, vocabulary, and math skills but you will need to practice putting yourself in a testing situation and you will want this to closely reflect the real GMAT, which is where a computer program will come in. You can determine the pace at which you should take the real test, get used to the computer atmosphere, practice your typing, and learn how to gauge your performance. If you take a practice CAT a few times, you will have a better idea of how your scores will come out and you can make a more educated decision, when the real GMAT comes, of whether to keep the score or not.

This is not to say that paper based practice tests are not worth your while. On the contrary they are worth it: any amount of GMAT practice is worth your time. Also, be sure to research the materials you plan on using. Not all software recreates the GMAT as well as others.


How are the essays scored?

They are scored between 1.0 and 6.0 in half point increments. This score does not factor into your GMAT total score. While your AWA score is reported to schools, it is not as important as your GMAT total score. However, schools may compare your AWA writings to your application essays to ensure that your essays are reflective of your own writing abilities.


If I take the GMAT a number of times, will my scores vary?

There is a degree of error with the GMAT as with all standardized tests. The standard error of difference for the total GMAT score is about 41, according to Graduate Management Admissions Council. This means that the difference between the total GMAT scores actually received by two test takers could be within 41 points above or below the difference between the test takers' scores of true ability. The standard error of difference for the Verbal scaled score is 3.9, and for the Quantitative scaled score 4.3.

Research also indicates that a test-taker will most likely earn a Total score within about 30 points of a score of true ability. Your Verbal and Quantitative scaled scores are probably within about 2.9 points of your true scores.

It is important that not everyone’s experience will be in accord with this purely mathematical understanding of the test. There are situations where a person can score dramatically lower (probably not higher) than what there score should be. For example if you are very sick, or your beloved dog dies, you could score significantly lower than 29 points below your previous score.

GMAT scores are a relatively reliable predictor of academic performance in the first year of a business school program. Studies have shown that the median correlation between GMAT scores and first-year grades was 0.41 (perfect correlation is 1.0). Comparing 0.41 to the median correlation of 0.28 between undergraduate grade point average and first-year grades, you can conclude that business schools do have a strong incentive to see good GMAT scores from applicants. Because there is a degree of error, we all should exercise caution in comparing two scores. That is why other parts of your business school application are also as crucial to your admission.


How does the CAT work, as in, how does the test adapt to the individual user?

The multiple choice sections of the test are able to gauge how you respond to questions of various difficulties, and to give you questions based on that information.

In each question type, for example, sentence correction you will get a question of average difficulty first. If you answer this question correctly, your next questions will be more difficult. The more questions you answer correctly, the more difficult they will become. If you answer incorrectly to the first, average-difficulty question, your second question will be less difficult. This has two consequences: The first is that as you take the test, you will get fewer questions that are very easy for you, and fewer that are too hard. Also, no other test taker will see the same question combinations. In those ways, the CAT is able to better gauge your performance.

An ideal item pool for a computer adaptive test would be one with a large number of highly discriminating items well distributed at each ability level. The information functions for these items would appear as a series of peaked distributions across all levels of ability estimate.


Should I respond incorrectly to the harder questions in the beginning on purpose, so that the questions I get later I can answer easily?

This may seem like a valid strategy, but you should not do it. You are not only scored on the number questions you answer correctly, but also on the level of difficulty of those questions. So, answering 10 hard questions correctly counts for more points than 10 easier questions.


Are there other factors involved in the scoring?

Yes there is one more. If you can answer a number of questions correctly that cover a range of question types, your score will improve. For example, if you can answer questions on algebra, geometry, and statistics in both data sufficiency and problem solving correctly, you will score higher than doing so in only one of those areas. This third factor however is less important in determining your score.

The logic behind having the third factor is simple: A business manager must be well rounded. He or she cannot just be an expert mathematician or a powerful analytical thinker. It is more important that the test taker prove that he or she are able to do both at a high level.


In this system, do you advise against random guessing?

Yes, we do advise against random guessing, for the most part. The only benefit of a random guess is that it will save you time on a question that leaves you particularly stumped. However with the odds at 1 in 5, the benefit is not worth the risk. Since the odds are that you will get it wrong, your next question or questions will be easier, and you will be losing the opportunity to answer difficult questions, thus losing the opportunity to max out your score. Also, the GMAT only gives the test taker 37 Quantitative and 41 Verbal questions, 10 of which on each are un-scored. It follows that you need to do you best on each question because you don’t have that many chances.

The problem with this advice is that there is a penalty for leaving a section blank. This penalty is worse than an incorrect answer. That being said, if you cannot figure it out, you can probably narrow it down to 3 or 4 options. Make educated guesses, not random ones, UNLESS you are scrammbling for time at the end of the exam. That is the only situation in which completely random guessing would be suitable.

It is even more important to not guess in the beginning of the test. These first few questions more or less determine the difficulty level of the rest of the test. It will be nearly impossible to “convince” the CAT to change the difficulty level in the middle. If you guess incorrectly on one or more of the first few questions, you will be stuck in a low-difficulty testing situation, and will not be able to make up points later. It is unlikely that after establishing a low difficulty level, the CAT will randomly introduce more difficult questions.


Why are there un-scored questions?

There are constantly new questions being added to the GMAT. A new question will be in the bank of un-scored questions so the testers can determine the difficulty level, before making it an officially scored question. You will not be able to tell the difference between a scored and an unscored question, we do not recommend that you try.


Are there any strategies unique to the CAT?

Yes. You should be careful and take your time in the beginning of the multiple-choice sections, and whenever you see the first question of a given type. Firstly, the beginning of the sections determines, to a large extent, the level of difficulty in the remaining questions. Secondly, since you want to answer the widest variety of questions as possible correctly, when you get to a new question type it is important that you do your best to get it right; meaning read carefully and double check your answers. Please note that with any kind of testing, it is important to take your time, but you need to budget your time such that you can complete the whole test without feeling rushed. Also, while it is always good to double check, it can be problematic to change your answers from what you thought first. Multiple-choice tests tend to rely on intuition, and changing your answer could result in a wrong answer.


How does the CAT produce a reliable measurement with so few questions?

An adaptive test, whether computer or paper based, yields a wider range of scores than a non-adaptive test. A wider range of scores can serve as a more accurate way of comparing test takers. That CAT yields a wider range of scores because the easier questions count for less. We know that someone who answers 10 easy questions correctly will get fewer points that a person who answers 10 hard questions correctly. It follows that the first person may have less cognitive ability, and in turn have a much lower score.


Even if the GMAT CAT produces a more accurate measurement in terms of scores, it still seems unfair that there are so few questions.

Yes, we feel that it is possibly unfair but so do other test takers and even GMAT administrators! The same problem goes for the SAT, the GRE and other major standardized test. There are two ways to explain the length of the GMAT: When designing and administering a standardized test, the test needs to be fair and accurate while also being efficient and inexpensive to administer. The increasing number of test takers validates this concern. While it is true that more questions equals a more accurate measurement, a long test introduces fatigue and failing endurance into the set of factors that help determine a test takers score. Fatigue and endurance are not necessarily components that the GMAT is intended to measure.


Can you discuss the CAT algorithm?

Yes. The algorithm is an iterative process.

Given the currently estimated ability level of a test-taker at a given point (usually the first question is started at mid ability level), the program evaluates all the items that have not yet been administered to determine which will be the best one to administer next.

In this approach, the “best” next item would be the one that provides the most information about the test-taker. Typically difficulty level of an item is the most important parameter. However, in order to be able to clearly discriminate the ability among individual test-takers, the test-maker also incorporates other factors in the item selection process on a particular exam. They include different question types (data sufficiency vs. problem solving; critical reasoning vs. sentence correction), content (e.g., algebra, ratios, combinatorics, topic and inference questions for the same reading comprehension passage, etc.), and exposure (i.e., the number of times the question has been seen by other test takers already during a given period).

Demonstrating to the CAT that you can handle a variety of substantive areas in all question formats will increase your GMAT score. The greater the variance among your ability in different tested topics, the lower your score. In other words, the GMAT rewards generalists—test takers who demonstrate a broad spectrum of competencies. This approach does make sense as in a business world, being well-rounded and knowledgeable can be positively correlated to a manager’s decision-making skills and managerial ability in general.

The "best" next item is administered and the test-taker answers

The program computes a new ability estimate based on the answers to all of the previous items

Steps 1 through 3 are repeated until a stopping criterion is satisfied.


What are some differences between the CAT and the old style test?

The Cat is a more efficient test taking process. The old paper and pencil test had 61 questions in each section, all of varying difficulty. The test taker would, in affect, waste time answer questions that were too easy for them, and stumbling around difficult questions that they would probably get mostly wrong. The CAT is shorter, and avoids questions that are either gimmees, or much too hard.