Application season is starting to heat up again! For those of you just getting started, here’s an overview of “what’s what” with the GMAT.
What Is The GMAT?
The Graduate Management Admissions Test is a standardized test that many English-speaking business schools require applicants to take. The test is called a CAT, or Computer Adaptive Test, both because it is administered on a computer and because the test actually changes based upon how we answer the questions. The computer chooses what test questions to give us based upon our performance up until that point in the test. In a sense, we all take a different test, because the specific mix of questions any one person sees is based on that person’s performance during the test.
To register for the test or learn more information straight from the testwriters, go to www.mba.com.
What Does The GMAT Test?
The GMAT has three different sections, summarized below. Click here for a more in-depth discussion of the test.
(1) Essays. The test starts with two essays (time limit: 30 minutes each). The essays are scored on a zero to six scale (6 is the highest score); the score is completely separate from the multiple choice score.
One essay, Analysis of an Argument, gives us an argument that someone is making and asks us to evaluate the argument. What are the flaws? How could the argument be improved?
The other essay, Analysis of an Issue, gives us a quote and asks us to take a stand (agree or disagree) and explain why. We have to develop a thesis statement and defend that thesis with specific examples from history or our own experiences.
(2) Quantitative. The second section tests us on our quantitative skills; we have 75 minutes to answer 37 math questions. Topics tested include Number Properties, Algebra, Geometry, Statistics, Word Problems, and more.
Approximately half of the questions are standard multiple choice questions, with numerical or mathematical answer choices; these are called Problem Solving questions. The rest of the questions are Data Sufficiency questions, in which we are asked whether various pieces of information would be enough to answer the question (but we do not actually have to find the numerical answer). For example, let’s say that we want to know how old Mike is. We’re told that Paul is 25, but that piece of information is not sufficient to determine how old Mike is. If we’re told that Paul is 25 and that Paul is 2 years older than Mike, then those two pieces of information are sufficient to determine how old Mike is. The correct answer will be the one that indicates that we need both pieces of information.
(3) Verbal. The third, and final, section tests us on our grammatical and logical reasoning skills; we have 75 minutes to answer 41 questions. There are three different types of verbal questions:
Sentence Correction. These sentences test us on correct use of grammar. Grammar topics include Parallelism, Modifiers, Subject-Verb Agreement, Verb Tenses, Pronouns, Comparisons, Idioms, and more.
Critical Reasoning. These questions test us on our ability to analyze the line of reasoning used in an argument. We may be asked to strengthen or weaken an argument, to identify an assumption used in the argument, to draw a conclusion, to explain a discrepancy, and so on.
Reading Comprehension. We’re required to read a passage (typically two to four paragraphs) and answer a series of questions to demonstrate our ability to correctly comprehend, analyze, and apply the information we read in order to answer both general questions, such as the main idea, and specific questions, such as why the author states a particular piece of information in the passage.
The quant and verbal section scores are combined into one overall score, given on a 200-800 scale (800 is the highest score).
How Do B-Schools Use The GMAT?
Most schools that use the GMAT require all applicants to take the test by the application deadline. Because requirements and deadlines vary, check the websites of the specific schools to which you want to apply for specific information. If a school does require the GMAT, the school will care most about your 200-800 scaled score; when people ask for your GMAT score, this is the score they want. The schools will also look at the essay score (0-6), but most schools are only concerned if the score is below a 4.0.
Although things will vary from school to school, most schools use the GMAT to screen applicants but not to admit applicants. In other words, a very low score will likely prevent you from being admitted to that school, but a very high score will not result in definite acceptance. The GMAT is more of a “threshold” indicator: if you score at or above a certain level, the school will feel that you are likely to be able to handle the work, and then the school will examine the rest of your application in order to determine whether to admit you.
What Is A “Good” GMAT Score?
Generally speaking, a “good” GMAT score is dependent upon the scores desired / required at a particular school. Schools will generally publish the average GMAT score for the students they admitted in prior years. If your GMAT score is at or above that school’s average, then that is a good score for that school. If your GMAT score is below that school’s average, then you may need to offset that score with something else extra-positive on your application (such as a GPA that is higher than the school’s average GPA for admitted applicants, or very impressive work experience).
Taking The GMAT Again
We are allowed to take the test once every 31 days, up to 5 times in a calendar year. Scores are kept on our GMAT “transcripts” and each score is valid for 5 years from the date of that test. Most schools do not mind if a student takes the test up to 3 times; beyond that, some schools will see repeated re-takes as a negative. If you do need to re-take the test more than twice, it’s important to make sure that you’re as ready as possible before you re-take it.