The exam is quite challenging. It is conducted in English, and evaluates the level of your analytical and critical thinking, quantitative skills, and how you work with big data from multiple sources. There is a section which checks how you evaluate arguments related to a statement.
Although it is not a language test, you need to have quite a good level of vocabulary as well as of standard English grammar. The level of maths knowledge – arithmetic, algebra, geometry and word problems - is no higher than that taught in high school or during the first year in college (in some educational systems). However, the way the questions are asked requires higher order thinking and application of your maths knowledge and skills. All this needs to be done within a tight time limit.
Check out: Why the GMAT Exam is Challenging (Video)
The GMAT is conducted on a computer in a format that automatically adapts the difficulty to the level of your skills, based on how you answer the questions. It has four sections – Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative and Verbal. With its duration of 3.5 hours, 90 questions plus one written assignment, the GMAT is quite exhausting. Building your stamina and practising keeping concentration is part of the preparation if you want to master the GMAT. And below is why you had better commit to your GMAT preparation.
Why study for the GMAT
Business schools require that applicants meet a certain standard on the GMAT to be eligible for admission. But the GMAT is not just about achieving the required score. It is not about beating the GMAT. Your score reflects the level of your skills and the GMAT was created to test exactly the skills that business schools need. These are the skills that you will need if you want to be successful during the demanding MBA or Master’s degree studies.
Check out: GMAT Scores That Can Get You into an MBA
How to study for the GMAT
Your main motivator to master the GMAT is to develop or improve the skills that you will need in the MBA classroom. An impressive number of MBA students have shared that the GMAT quantitative skills are an indispensable part of their survival kit during their studies.
So, before starting your GMAT studies try to understand how you will apply them in the classroom and ultimately in your everyday practice as a manager. Talk to MBA students or alumni and to friends or colleagues who have managerial roles. This will help you better understand what skills you should master to make the best of your GMAT preparation.
The most effective approach to GMAT preparation is a combination of guided preparation, self-study and practice. According to surveys by GMAC (the organisation which owns the GMAT exam) successful GMAT test takers invest about 100 hours of preparation in the exam.
Guided GMAT preparation can be provided in a course (traditional classroom or online format) or in individual tutoring sessions (face-to-face or online). The choice depends on your learning style, your budget and the availability of preparation options in your location.
A typical GMAT prep course is about 40 hours. They can span two or three months depending on the intensity of the course. For example, if you attend one GMAT class of four hours every weekend for two months you will have 32 study hours of guided preparation. Of course these will be coupled by at least two hours per week of self-study which comes to almost 50 hours that you will commit to GMAT over these two months.
Whatever course or individual tutoring you take, you should commit additional time for preparation on your own. During the guided preparation you will have regular homework tasks. They will ensure that you master the knowledge of each step and gain confidence in applying it to the GMAT questions.
The GMAT challenges your stamina as well as your skills. You have to get yourself fit to keep high levels of concentration for almost four hours. During the test you will work on timed tasks delivered to you by a smart system which alters the difficulty level according to your performance. So, prepare for a cross-country long-distance run during which you have to pace yourself perfectly and overcome any ups and downs in the terrain.
GMAT practice is most effective when done step-by-step. To start with, you will have to master each type of question for each of the four GMAT sections. Then, you can start combining different types of questions. Then you can start working on full sections in an untimed and finally a timed manner. Only after you have mastered all sections, should you start doing full-length GMAT practice tests. Again, start without any time pressure, but make sure you do a lot of practice under realistic conditions in the final stage of your GMAT preparation.
You can expect to achieve a lower score in the real GMAT compared to your score in mock tests. The difference may be 50 points or more. There are various reasons for this. However, you should be clear about the score you can realistically achieve. If you are not happy with your first score, you can take the test again. Depending on the reasons for your lower score, you can take the GMAT again as soon as 16 days after the first one or take your time and improve your skills over several more months. Some test takers invest more than a year in achieving a worthwhile score.
GMAT beyond admission
Your GMAT performance is taken into consideration beyond MBA admission. Many scholarship policies give weight to the GMAT. However, it is good to know that even employers may be curious about your GMAT score. They know that it speaks about the skills you possess, skills which are relevant to managerial roles.
Ultimately, the GMAT is a great tool to equip yourself with transferable skills for your everyday business and personal life. The good news is that GMAT preparation is totally within your control. So, get the most out of it. Start now.