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What is the GMAT?

Considering business school? Dream of the day when you’ll have your MBA? Need an advanced degree to progress in your career?

If so, then it is likely that the GMAT is in your not-so-distant future.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) is the test most business schools require for admission. At its core, the GMAT tests problem solving and critical reasoning skills to ascertain how well you will perform in a business school program.

While admissions committees rely on a variety of factors to make their decisions, your GMAT score is one area you can still influence (unlike your undergrad GPA which is probably finalized at this point).

GMAT Breakdown

The GMAT is a computerized test which lasts 3.5 hours:

Analytical Writing Assessment: 30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning: 30 minutes
Quantitative: 75 minutes
Verbal: 75 minutes
(+ 2 optional 8 minute breaks)

No calculators (except for the Integrated Reasoning portion where one will be provided to you), watches, or cell phones are allowed: It’s just you, a dry erase board, and a computer.

You may have heard the GMAT uses Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT). The two main sections (Quantitative and Verbal) are in this adaptive format. What this means is that the test adapts to your ability level, testing you over time to see your performance and trying to give you only problems around that level.

The cost to take the GMAT is $250, and unlike many other standardized tests that are administered only on select days and times, you can schedule your GMAT test at your convenience with a nearby testing facility 7 days a week, year round.

When should I take the GMAT?

GMAT scores are valid for 5 years, so if you plan to apply to business school in the next few years, it’s good to start thinking about the GMAT early. Trying to study for the GMAT while you are working full time and also applying to business schools can be stressful. Try to spread it out and get a solid GMAT score before you start the application process. You’ll receive your scores immediately after finishing the test and can have them sent on to the schools of your choice at that time. You can take the test multiple times, and when you have the score you want, you’ll then be in a better position to shift your focus to the other aspects of your application.

Many find the further out you are from college, the more challenging it is to get back in to the swing of studying, so consider taking the test early on if you are in a position to do so. If you are already several years out of college, don’t let that deter you, as most people end up taking the GMAT as adults. Ease yourself in to studying again and you’ll be on your way!

How should I prepare?

The foundational material used on the GMAT is from your elementary, middle and high school days, so you will likely need a refresher on the topics (hello, geometry). The test isn’t designed to test these basic skills, it uses them to test your problem solving and reasoning ability. Memorization won’t help you, so the key is to start to familiarize yourself with how the GMAT test takers design their questions so you can practice and prepare.

Create a study plan, giving yourself a clear roadmap and a few months to cover the material and test design as well as a lot of sample problems and a few practice tests (the GMAT is also a test of stamina, so you’ll want to simulate a 3.5 hour exam to prepare). Plan ahead and you’ll put yourself in a great position to master the GMAT and move forward with your business school applications!

Sara Boehm received her MBA from Wharton and in her free time works with Veritas Prep to help those studying for the GMAT. She is the CEO and Founder of Essential Engagement Services, working with HR to provide products for newly relocated employees to help their families with the mental and emotional aspects of the transition.

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