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The ultimate guide to mastering the GMAT exam

Sean Campbell
Last Updated: 2 August 2021 • 7 min read

The GMAT exam is one of the main entrance exams you need to know about if you’re interested in studying abroad. In this GMAT study guide, we’ll break down what it is and who it’s for, before going into the best way to prepare for the GMAT. 

What is the GMAT exam and who is it for?

GMAT stands for Graduate Management Aptitude Test. The 3 hour (and 7 minutes) test is intended for those who wish to study for an MBA abroad (Master of Business Administration), or other similar graduate management programmes. 

It tests a candidate in four key fields: Analytical Writing, Quantitative Aptitude, Verbal Reasoning, and Integrated Reasoning. 

Basically, it’s an exam that seeks to find out if you’ve got the required skills and potential to succeed in your MBA or graduate management programme. 

Do I need an undergraduate degree to take the GMAT?

No, you don’t. Even though an undergrad degree is usually required before enrolling in an MBA, it’s not always essential. However, you don’t have to have a degree before taking the GMAT test. Naturally though, most GMAT examinees will either be studying an undergraduate degree or have one already.

Is there a GMAT age limit?

Yes, you have to be at least 18 years of age when you sit the GMAT exam. However, candidates between 13 and 17 years of age can sit the exam with the written permission of a parent or guardian. Your results in GMAT are valid for 5 years after taking the exam. 

When and where can I take the GMAT?

You can sit the GMAT exam at any time of year, but you should book your test appointment 2-3 months in advance as it’s in high demand. 

You can sit the GMAT at your nearest test center, which is just a quick Google search away, or you can do it online. 

The key difference between taking the GMAT online and at a test center is that the online test can only be taken twice in a year, and there must be at least 16 days between each attempt. If you do GMAT at a test center, you can repeat it up to 5 times in a year, with the same 16 day break between attempts.

What GMAT score do I need?

The score you need in the GMAT will be dictated by the programme and university you wish to enrol in, however these are usually quite similar for different schools. The GMAT is scored out of 800, and most top universities require an ‘excellent’ score of 700 or above. So, 700 should be your aim, but 650 or even 600 may suffice depending on your school of choice.

How to prepare for the GMAT

Here are a few top tips for mastering your GMAT: 

  1. Buy yourself a GMAT study guide
  2. Get familiar with the GMAT format
  3. Understand that GMAT is ‘computer adaptive’
  4. Give yourself time
  5. Take it one section at a time
  6. Test yourself with practise exams
  7. Test yourself against the clock
  8. Practise reviewing your work quickly
  9. Practise using an on-screen calculator

1. Buy yourself a GMAT study guide

The best way to prepare for GMAT is through practice and experience. To that end, we’d recommend buying yourself a recognised GMAT study guide. Here are a few we’d recommend: 

  • The GMAT Official Guide
  • The PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible
  • The GMAT Sentence Correction Strategy Guide
  • Total GMAT Math
  • GMAT Advanced Quant

2. Get familiar with the GMAT format

Understanding the format or structure of any test will serve you well, as you can then focus more on the content of the questions and tasks. GMAT is divided into 4 sections as we mentioned above, but here’s a little bit more detail:

  • Analytical Writing (1 question, 30 minutes): Here you’ll be tasked with analyzing an argument. This tests your skills in critical thinking and written communication. 
  • Integrated Reasoning (12 questions, 30 minutes): By studying graphs and tables, and multiple sources, this section tests your skills in data analysis and evaluation. 
  • Quantitative Reasoning (31 questions, 62 minutes): Here you’ll be asked to study data and solve problems, testing your analytical thinking and reasoning. 
  • Verbal Reasoning (36 questions, 65 minutes): Through reading comprehension tasks, error correction and critical reasoning challenges, this final section of the GMAT gauges your reading ability, as well as your skill in judging arguments, seeing the “bigger picture” instead of getting distracted by unimportant details, as well as correcting writing errors

3. Understand that GMAT is “computer adaptive”

The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections are not the same for everybody. They are “computer adaptive”, meaning that the tasks and difficulty adapts to the quality of your own answers. 

They start with a question of medium difficulty, and based on the answer you give, the subsequent questions adapt to the level the computer thinks you are. This process continues for the whole section. So if you answer a question very strongly, the next question will be more difficult. Conversely, a weaker answer will bring around an easier question next. 

The more difficult questions you answer well, the higher your score will be!

4. Give yourself time, lots of time

This one should need little explanation. Doing anything in a rush or panic is just asking for trouble. Take it from me (who did too many all-night study cramming sessions before exams), time should be your friend here. We’d recommend starting your GMAT study between 3 and 6 months before your exam date

5. Take it one section at a time

Try not to bite off too much at once, and study for each section for a few weeks e before moving onto the next one. This will allow you to focus more on each task, becoming much more comfortable with it over time. As you get closer to the GMAT date, you can begin doing full practice tests if you wish. Speaking of which...

6. Test yourself with practice exams 

There’s no better GMAT test preparation than actually doing practice tests. You can find these online, possibly for free if you know where to look, but the official practice exams can be bought on the MBA website

7. Test yourself against the clock

Time management is a major part of the GMAT. You’re against the clock while taking the test, so make sure to do some of your own practice tasks and tests within the same time limit

8. Practice reviewing your work quickly

If you’ve practiced working within the time limit, you should have a few moments at the end of each question of section to quickly review what you’ve written. 

However, there will be no spelling or grammar checker available on test day, so it can be quite easy to make little mistakes. 

To that end, try turning off your spelling and grammar check on your own word processor for a while. This will encourage you to a) take more care while writing, and b) review your own writing and analyze it for any mistakes

9. Practice using an on-screen calculator

Mathematical logic and arithmetic are important skills in the GMAT, so you’ll need to knuckle down in your general numerical skills. However you won’t be allowed to bring your own calculator along on test day, but you’ll be able to use one on the computer screen. We’d recommend getting to grips with a small but significant change. 

We hope that our GMAT Study Guide has helped you become much more familiar with the requirements of the exam and the best ways to approach studying for the GMAT. 

If you’d like to learn how MBAs can make you rich, why not read, “7 fortune 500 CEOs with an MBA”

If you’re thinking of studying overseas, Edvoy can help you find a place on the perfect course at the perfect university for you. Start exploring your options!

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.

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