This is a print version of's Introduction to the GMAT.

Introduction to the GMAT

Last updated: 3 Jun 2013

You have decided to apply for an MBA and now you have to take the dreaded GMAT. Yikes! For many people nothing could be more frightening.

In this tutorial we will start right at the beginning and try to answer many of the questions that you might have about the GMAT.

The most important question of all before you start studying is, do you need to take the GMAT?

Do you need to take the GMAT?

Last updated: 12 Feb 2015

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) was designed by Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) to provide them with a selection test for candidates applying for MBA programs. It has grown in popularity with business schools and it is now a requirement for over 1,800 MBA programs world-wide.

There are business schools that have more lenient admissions procedures and do not require the GMAT but, at least in the States, this often signifies a lower quality or less demanding MBA program.

Most good MBA programs will ask for a GMAT score. If you are in any doubt as to whether you need to take the test check with business schools you aim to apply to.

The bottom line is that if you want to apply for an MBA at a quality business school you will almost certainly have to do the GMAT.

Also, for better or worse, the increasing competitiveness among leading B-schools has only served to increase the importance of this exam for candidates as B-schools struggle to stay on top of the rankings.

What does the GMAT test?

Last updated: 13 Oct 2008

The GMAT is split into three sections, quantitative, verbal and an analytical writing assessment.

The quantitative area tests your ability in basic high school mathematics.

The verbal area focuses on your English grammar, reading comprehension and understanding of written arguments.

Finally the essay writing section examines your basic writing skills.

We will look at each of these sections in more detail later in this tutorial.

Format of the GMAT

The test always begins with the two analytical writing sections, followed by an optional 5 minute break and the the quantitative and verbal sections.

Section Questions Timing

Analytical Writing

  • Analysis of an Issue
  • Analysis of an Argument


30 mins
30 mins
Optional break - 5 mins


  • Problem solving
  • Data sufficiency
37 75 mins
Optional break - 5 mins


  • Reading comprehension
  • Critical reasoning
  • Sentence correction
41 75 mins

Analytical writing assessment

Last updated: 13 Oct 2008

The GMAT starts with the analytical writing assessment (AWA) which consists of writing two 30 minute essays.

One essay will be analysis of an issue, and the other analysis of an argument.

In the analysis of an issue essay, you are given a particular issue, and must analyze it carefully, supporting your arguments with relevant examples and/or reasons.

For the analysis of an argument essay, you need to analyze and critique the logic of a given argument, again supporting your critique with examples and reasons.

How are the essays marked?

GMAC wants to see that you can, at the very least, string a few sentences together, form proper paragraphs and structure an essay satisfactorily.

Their requirements are not very profound given that the essays are marked by a computer and a university faculty member or graduate student (who has just a few minutes to grade your essay).

Thus the structure of the essay is far more important than the content.

Nevertheless, do not take this section too lightly, especially if you are not a native speaker of English. If your mother tongue is not English, business schools can use these essays as another way of evaluating your proficiency in English.

You will receive a grade on each essay that will range from a possible 0 to a perfect 6. Your score will increase or decrease in increments of 0.5, so you could have, for example, a score of 4.0, 4.5, or 5.0.

Important: The scores for the essay are NOT included in the final GMAT score, which is calculated from 200-800. The AWA score is scored separately, and is sent with your GMAT scores to the universities you have selected on the test day to receive them.

For more information see our AWA tutorials.

Quantitative section

Last updated: 12 Feb 2015

The quantitative section consists of 37 questions in 75 minutes on your favourite maths topics from high-school i.e. arithmetic, algebra, geometry, probability and sets.

Notably, there are no questions on calculus or trigonometry but do not breath a sigh of relief yet because there is also a ban on calculators. So it is back to a pencil and paper (or marker and noteboard since the test rules changed in January 2006) and remembering how to add two fractions, combine exponents and calculate the area of a circle.

There are two types of questions, problem solving and data sufficiency.

Problem solving

Problem solving questions make up two thirds (about 24 - 25) of the questions in the quantatitive section of the GMAT.

Each question consists of a math problem and 5 answers from which you can choose.

They test your ability to solve equations and do arithmetic to find an exact answer.

Data sufficiency

Data sufficiency questions make up the other third (12 - 13) of the questions.

Data sufficiency questions test your understanding of concepts, requiring you to decide what is the necessary and sufficient data to solve a problem.

Each question consists of a problem and two statements. You have to decide which of the statements is necessay to solve the problem.

Possible answers are:

(A) Only the first statement.
(B) Only the second statement.
(C) Both statements.
(D) Either Statement.
(E) Neither Statement is enough to solve the problem.

You must be very careful in these questions to consider each piece of information separately.

Also, remember you do not have to find the solution to the problem, you only have to decide how much information you need to solve it.

Verbal section

Last updated: 12 Feb 2015

The verbal section of the GMAT consists of a slightly more rapid 41 questions in 75 minutes. and tests your reading comprehension, logic and grammar.

There are three types of questions reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction.

For all three types of questions, you must choose the best answer out of 5 answer choices.

There is no order to these questions in the verbal section, as they are intermingled throughout the section. However, reading comprehension questions usually come together in groups of 3-5 questions about the same excerpt from an article.

Reading comprehension

Reading comprehension questions test your understanding of the content of short, up to 350 words, excerpts from articles on 1) business and economics, 2) science and technology, and 3) the humanities or social sciences.

Despite the fact that the readings come from one of these three areas, no prior knowledge of the material is required nor expected.

Critical reasoning

Critical reasoning questions ask you to identify the structure and determine the effectiveness of short arguments. Again, no previous familiarity with the material is expected.

Sentence correction

Sentence correction questions ask you to identify the best way of writing a phrase, or part of a phrase, among five possibilities.

One part of a sentence (or sometimes the whole sentence) is underlined, and you must decide which answer choice best completes the sentence, taking into consideration the grammatical rules of standard written English.

The first answer choice, A, is always the same as the original sentence.

Computer adaptive format (CAT)

Last updated: 13 Jan 2012

The GMAT is presented on a computer and so you will need to know how to use a mouse and a basic word processor.

The multiple choice sections (quantitative and verbal) of the GMAT are a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT). This means that the difficulty of the questions you are given depends on how well you have answered previous questions.

Basically if you do well and get the questions right you will be given increasingly difficult questions and if you get a question wrong the computer will react by giving you an easier question. This means that you will have a different test from the one taken by the poor soul sitting beside you taking the GMAT at the same time. Initial questions will be randomly chosen from mid level questions and then it will all depend on how you answer.

You do not have to get all the questions right to get a perfect score of 800, in fact the questions should be difficult enough to cause you problems by the end of the test even if you are scoring 800.

Approaches to the CAT

This makes a number of differences to your strategy for the test.

Firstly, you have to answer each question before you go on to the next and you cannot return to a question you previously answered to change your mind. This means you cannot miss out difficult questions when you first see them and return to them later in the test.

Secondly, the score you receive in the verbal and quantitative sections is not just a simple measure of how many questions you got right and how many you got wrong, it depends on which questions you got right and which ones wrong. The CAT tries to home in on the score you deserve and so at the beginning of the test right and wrong answers make big differences to your score whereas at the end of the test the CAT is just fine tuning your score and the changes are much smaller.

Also you must attempt 80% of the questions because otherwise you are heavily penalised for not finishing enough questions for the CAT to assess you properly.

How is the GMAT scored?

Last updated: 12 Feb 2015

The GMAT is scored in two parts and if you decide to receive your scores you will get part of your score immediately after the test and part of your score a few weeks later

Analytical writing assessement

Firstly, your essays from the Analytical Writing section will receive a score on a scale of 1-6 where 1 is the lowest score and 6 is the highest.

The will be marked by a combination of human essay scorers and a computer essay scorer.

The essays will take about two weeks to be scored.

Main score

Secondly, and most importantly, you will receive a score from 200 to 800 which is for the quantitative and verbal sections of the test.

This score is calculated by computer and is available, should you want it, immediately after you take the GMAT.

The median score is 500 i.e. 50% of test takers score more than 500 and 50% less than 500.

You will also receive a break down of your scores in both the verbal and quantitative sections.

Scores for the sections will be in the form of a raw score and a percentile. The percentile tells you what percentage of test takers scored less than you in the the area, e.g. a percentile of 63% means that you did as well as or better than 63% of people who have presented the GMAT.

Getting your scores

At the end of the test you will be asked if you want to receive your scores or cancel them.

If you cancel them you will not find out how you did and the business schools you apply to will be notified that you took the test on this date and cancelled your scores.

What do I need to score in the GMAT?

Last updated: 22 Feb 2015

The simple answer is that you need to score the best you can in the GMAT and should prepare accordingly.

Business schools do not usually set minimum score on the GMAT as a requirement for entry into their MBA programs. This is because your GMAT score will just be one factor amongst many, such as your work experience, your university grades, your application essays and possibly an interview, that they will use to assess your suitability for their program.

Harvard Business School say,

"The Admissions Board hopes that all applicants will recognize the following: the full range of GMAT scores is very broad, that there is no "minimum" score requirement, and that the GMAT is just one piece of data among the many used to evaluate an application."

Harvard Business School FAQs

London Business School say,

"Our average for the Class of MBA2015 is 695 with a range of 600-790. However, the GMAT is just one of several admission criteria. Just as a high score does not guarantee admission, a below average score does not eliminate a candidate. You must ensure that your GMAT score is still valid on the 1 September for the year you will be matriculating. GMAT scores are valid for five years from the date you take the test. For example, for the class beginning in 2014, we only accepted GMAT scores obtained since 1 September 2009. "

London Business School FAQs

So scoring much lower on your GMAT than their average intake will increase your reliance on these other factors to make you shine in comparison to other candidates for the same MBA program.

Conversely scoring higher on the GMAT than their average intake is likely to make you look like a better candidate in comparison with other applicants.

Why prepare for the GMAT?

Last updated: 13 Oct 2008

Why should you spend time preparing for the GMAT?

With a reasonable amout of time and effort put into studying for the GMAT you should be able to score 50-150 points more in the test than you would have if you had taken the test without preparation.

An extra 100 points, say, on your GMAT score is likely to make a great deal of difference in how the business schools you want to apply to view your application.

It is definitely worth putting a little bit of extra effort into preparing for the test to ensure that you get the best score you can.

Levels of preparation

Preparing for the test will help you in the following ways

1. Familiarity with the test format

At the most basic level you need to prepare for the format of the test.

This means becoming familiar with using the different sections of the test and how you answer them.

Some of the question types have quite an unusual formats, for example sentence correction and data sufficiency which it will be very helpful if you are familiar with.

In the GMAT you will also be under considerable time pressure and so you will want to spend as little time as possible reading the instructions between sections which explain how the test works.

2. Revision of test subjects

The mathematics (arithmetic, geometry, algebra, probability, sets etc.) is of a high school level but for exactly this reason many of you will not have seen these subjects in years and inevitably you will be a little rusty.

In the verbal section sentence correction is full of traps to catch out even the most confident native speaker of English so you will need to brush up on your grammar.

3. Time savers and short cuts

There are numerous time savers and short cuts which you can learn which will help you save time and maximize your chance of getting the right answer even when you do not know how to answer all the questions correctly.

These can make all the difference in improving your score.

4. Practice

There is no substitute for practice in your preparation for the GMAT.

The GMAT has strict time limits and without practice you will find it very hard to finish the test on time.

Also, GMAT questions are all very similar and if you have already tried 200+ questions you will find that many of the questions in the real test are familiar and thus easy.

How should I prepare for the GMAT?

Last updated: 26 Feb 2015

To prepare thoroughly for the test you should allow at least 50 hours spread over a period of 6-8 weeks.

Options for study

There are a number of different ways you can approach studying for the GMAT.

Which ever way to choose to study, we recommend that anyone preparing for the GMAT should work through all the questions in The Official Guide for GMAT Review 2015. This contains 100's of questions from old GMAT tests and is the best source of GMAT practice questions.


Our main focus is on the quantitative section of the GMAT although we do have some tutorials and practice questions for others sections.

We recommend that this site is used as a companion to The Official Guide for GMAT Review 2015, which will provide you with all the practice questions to try out the techniques learned with

2. Self study

In addition to the the The Official Guide for GMAT Review, there are a whole host of GMAT preparation self study aids available to help you prepare.

These aids will not only provide you with plenty of practice questions and the best of these will also include software to install on your computer so that you can take some practice tests. They will also give you tips and tricks for taking the test.

These are likely to cost you less than $50 (USD).

For example there are

Self study is ideal for those with good self discipline and who are relatively confident in their abilities.

3. A classroom based course

There are many companies world-wide who offer GMAT preparation courses.

A good course will provide you with classes taking you through all aspects of the GMAT, plenty of study materials to practice at home and the opportunity to take multiple practice tests.

This has the advantage of keeping you to a timetable of study and also will give you much more opportunity to ask questions and get feedback if you run into difficulties.

The downside is that a face to face course will cost you anywhere from $500-$1,500 (USD). This will be money well spent if the extra discipline that a course provides significantly improves your GMAT score.

The best courses will also offer you advice on which business schools you might apply to and also guidance on how to apply.

There are a number of world-wide test prep franchises such as Kaplan, Manhattan GMAT and Veritas, as well as many independents. See Business Week's rundown of the different options for studying for the GMAT for more details

General tips for the GMAT

Last updated: 13 Oct 2008

There are some very important guidelines to follow when presenting the test which will help you score the best you can.

Process of elimination

The GMAT is a multiple choice test and you should use this to your advantage. If you do not know the answer can you discard any of the answers as definitely wrong, if you can do this you are increasing your chances of picking the right answer.

This is most useful in the verbal section when you can often discard 2, 3 or even 4 answers quite easily.

Time management

The GMAT has very tight deadlines in all the sections and it is important that you use that time well.

In the GMAT there will be a clock on the top left hand side of the computer screen which will keep you informed of how much time you have left in the section.

Do not spend all of your time staring at it but do glance at it every 5 questions or so to make sure you are using the time wisely.

Avoid perfectionism

Remember you do not have to get every question right to score 800. If you do not know or are not sure about the answer to a question then take the plunge and guess it.

The worst thing you can do in the GMAT is spend 8 minutes on a question. If you spend this amount of time on any question it is because you do not know how to do it, and you will almost certainly get it wrong. Get it wrong (or right if you are lucky) quickly by guessing and save the time for questions you do know how to answer.

Avoid carelessness

When you review GMAT questions, that you have done, you will find that many of the wrong answers are caused by careless reading of the question or simple mistakes in your calculations. It is very important that you make an effort to stamp out these mistakes.

How to register to for the GMAT exam?

Last updated: 10 Mar 2010

The GMAT is administered by computer for the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). One of the main advantages of the test being computer administered is that you can take the test almost any day of the year and should be available almost every week day of the year in a testing center near you.

Test fee

The GMAT test fee is $250 (US) worldwide. In some countries you will have to pay tax in addition to this fee. You will have to pay this fee when you register for the GMAT.

Booking a time to take the GMAT

Bookings for the GMAT are made online with

If you register more than two weeks in advance there should be no problem getting the time and date you wish. Register for the test now.

Since the test is rarely available at the weekends you will probably have to take time off work to present the test.

We would strongly advise you to register for a morning test early in the week i.e. Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday because we all know that our concentration is much better at these times than on a Friday afternoon for example.

Avoid going to work before the test if you can because you want to be at your tip top best when you present the GMAT.

On the day

The GMAC have strict identification procedures so that the test center ensures that you are who you say you are when you take the test. Make sure you take the identification that your local test center requires to the test.

The test center will also make sure that you bring no study aids into the test. Most importantly you will not be able to use a calculator or dictionary.

Next steps

Last updated: 26 May 2018

In this tutorial you have been given a basic overview of the GMAT.

You should now know whether you need to take the GMAT or not. You should also be clear that it tests your basic math and english. Finally you should understand that to achieve the best score possible you must prepare for this test.

There are a variety of things you can do next to get you on your way to taking the GMAT.

Try some questions

Try answering the questions in our introductory practice set to give you a flavor of what the GMAT is like.

Start studying

If you want to get stuck in and start studying then you could start with either

Or take a look at our complete list of GMAT tutorials.

Further reading

The following should help you start preparing for the GMAT.

MBA Research

Start researching the MBA programs that you are interested in applying for.

What do you want to achieve with your MBA? What sort of MBA program will help you do this?

You may find the following useful in your search for the ideal MBA program

Once you have narrowed down your search you probably want to look into when do you need to apply to them by and at what sort of GMAT scores do successful applicants get. This information will be available from the website's of individual MBA programs.

Business Week's admissions Q&A's are essential reading for those interested in finding out more about how business schools choose between applicants and in particular how the GMAT fits into this.