How to succeed in your GMAT

Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
October, 2020

Your Graduate Management Test (GMAT) score is an important part of your MBA application, so it's vital that you understand how the test works and what you need to do to prepare for it

Many business schools expect you to have achieved a good result in a pre-entrance exam such as the GMAT to secure a place on an MBA. Even if the exam isn't an official entry requirement for your chosen MBA course, a strong performance can give you an edge over other candidates.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is organised by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and is used by universities to help them decide whether you have the academic ability to study for an MBA. It is also used for entry onto some other postgraduate business and management courses.

The exam itself is a three-and-a-half hour paper. It is made up of the following parts:

  • Analytical writing assessment (30 minutes, one question) - focuses on your ability to think critically, understand an argument and communicate ideas.
  • Integrated reasoning (30 minutes, 12 questions) - tests whether you can analyse and evaluate information presented in different formats.
  • Quantitative reasoning (62 minutes, 31 questions) - measures your skill at drawing conclusions from data that you have analysed.
  • Verbal reasoning (65 minutes, 36 questions) - centres on skills in reading, understanding, evaluating and correcting written English.

You can choose the order that you complete the sections, from three available options, and you're allowed two eight-minute breaks.

The exam is computer-based and adapts to your ability. This means that in multiple-choice sections, your answer to one question will determine the difficulty of the next, and so on.

To take the GMAT you'll need to book a place at an assessment centre. These are located around the world, and you can search for your local centre on the GMAT website.

It costs £225 to take the GMAT. All GMAT test center-based appointment reschedule and cancellation fees have been temporarily waived (October 2020). Find out more about how much the GMAT costs.

How does the scoring work?

You'll receive individual scores for each of the four sections, and an overall score. The total score ranges from 200 to a 800. Two-thirds of candidates achieve an overall GMAT score of between 400 and 600.

Learn more about how the GMAT score works.

The score you'll need to get onto an MBA course depends on the university or business school, so check with your chosen institution. In general you'll need a score of at least 600 to be considered for a leading course. Here are some example entry requirements for some of the best MBA programmes in the UK:

  • University of Cambridge - does not specify a required score, but the average for successful applicants was 687 for the class of 2020.
  • London Business School (LBS) - the average is 701, the minimum is 600.
  • The University of Manchester - does not state a minimum, but it's 'rare' for a candidate to be successful with a score below 500.
  • University of Oxford - scores of 650 or above are 'considered competitive'. The current average is 690.
  • City, University of London - looks for a 'well-balanced minimum' of 600.

Don't forget, your GMAT exam is only part of the MBA application process and a good score does not guarantee entry onto a course. Equally, a lower than average performance does not necessarily exclude you.

Business schools will consider all elements of your application, including essays and your academic and professional achievements. In some cases, you may be asked to retake the exam to improve your result.

What GMAT prep should I do?

To be successful in the GMAT you must spend time familiarising yourself with the types of questions involved, and taking practice tests.

The GMAT website has 90 practice exam questions for you to try, which should help you discover your weak areas. Set out a timetable that focuses mainly on these areas and build in intensity until the day of the exam.

It’s a good idea to get hold of official textbooks and guides, which have thousands of questions in them, or the GMAT 800 book, which includes some of the hardest questions.

You should do a simulation run once or twice before the exam. Make sure all technology is switched off and the test is timed. Keep a diary of where you went wrong and what the correct answer is, so you will see your areas of weakness as you prepare.

If English isn't your first language, read publications such as the Financial TimesThe Economist and the Wall Street Journal as often as possible. Improvements in the verbal score generally have a bigger impact overall.

When it comes to the day of the test, remember that algorithms change the questions depending on your previous answers. If you're getting harder questions, this usually means you're doing well.

What other MBA admission tests are there?

Many business schools accept alternative admission tests for MBA courses. The most common besides the GMAT is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which is provided by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

The GRE is used for a wider variety of postgraduate courses in addition to the MBA, especially in the USA, and consists of three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. You can take the GRE at test centres around the world.

Meanwhile, some business schools have their own admission tests. For example, Cranfield University accepts a GMAT or GRE score, but candidates who are able to attend an interview in person can take a Cranfield admission test. This is made up of two paper-based exams testing your numeracy and problem-solving. The University of Manchester also has its own admission tests for those attending their interview on campus.

Find out more

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