Your Graduate Management Test (GMAT) score is an integral part of your MBA application, so allow plenty of time to prepare ahead of taking the exam

Although it may not always be an official entry requirement, an impressive score could be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful application to your chosen business school.

What is the GMAT?

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

The exam is three and a half hours long and is split into four 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 interpret data presented in different formats.
  • Quantitative reasoning (62 minutes, 31 questions) - measures your mathematical skills and your capability to draw conclusions from graphic data that you have analysed.
  • Verbal reasoning (65 minutes, 36 questions) - centres on skills in reading, comprehension and editing, including making sense of written arguments.

You can choose the order that you complete the sections and you're given two minutes to decide at the beginning of the exam. There are also two optional eight-minute breaks that you can take after one hour.

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.

You'll need to register for a GMAT account to book and pay for the test, which can be conducted online or in a test centre. These are located around the world, and you can find your local centre on the GMAT website.

The UK test costs £250 in a centre, and £275 online. If you wish to cancel, you'll forfeit some of the fee depending on how much notice you provide.

You may retake your GMAT up to five times within 12 months, and eight times in your lifetime. You're advised to make the time to take the exam twice, in case you're unhappy with your first score.

There's a 16-day waiting period for doing tests of the same format, however if you do one in the test centre, you can do the online version straight away and vice versa.

How does the scoring work?

The total score is out of 800 across the four sections. Two-thirds of all candidates achieve a total score between 400 and 600. Discover 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:

  • Imperial College Business School - recommends a minimum score of 600.
  • Warwick Business School - their GMAT average is 650.
  • University of Cambridge: Judge Business School - no minimum score required, but the average is 687.
  • University of Oxford: Saïd Business School - scores of 650 or above are 'considered competitive'. The current average is 690.
  • London Business School - their average is 708, but they generally request a minimum of 600.

Upon completion, your unofficial score will show immediately, but the website will typically process your official score in seven working days - up to 20 in some cases.

A GMAT score is only valid for five years after completion, and submitting an invalid GMAT score will affect the strength of your application.

A high GMAT score is only part of your application, and the rest of it must be up to the same standard.

What GMAT prep should I do?

'We would suggest starting off with a visit to to familiarise yourself with the content of the exam,' said Tony Whiteman, Bayes Business School's MBA recruitment manager. 'Preparing well for the GMAT is a good investment of your time. Not only can it have an impact on your chances of being accepted on to the full-time MBA programme, it can also influence scholarship or financial award decisions.'

If English isn't your first language then reading publications such as the Financial Times, The Economist and the Wall Street Journal should help with business terms and improve your score in the verbal reasoning section of the GMAT.

What other MBA admission tests are there?

There are many reasons why people opt against the GMAT:

  • too difficult
  • expensive
  • a long time to prepare.

In applications where a GMAT isn't a requirement, you may boost your application by taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which is widely accepted as an equivalent by many graduate programmes. The GRE is popular for the cheaper registration fee, but the exam is also structured differently and it's more about reasoning than analysis.

The test is split up into:

  • one analytical writing section
  • two verbal reasoning sections
  • two quantitative reasoning sections.

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.

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