The GMAT

by IJR112

The GMAT Is the standardized test that students must take to gain admission to a business school. This article provides all the information you need to know about the test.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is the standardized test given by the GMAC that is required by most business schools to gain admission.  The test is a computer-adaptive test that can be quite grueling and causes many test takers a lot of stress.  The biggest feature of the test is that it is computer adaptive.  This means that if you get a question right, the test will then provide you with a more difficult question.  If you get a question wrong, the test will provide you with a less difficult question.  This means if you keep getting harder and harder questions, you must be doing something right!  Let's go through the different sections of the test.

The sections of the GMAT

Here is a brief description of the sections of the GMAT

-Quant- This section contains a lot of material and will involve problem solving and data sufficiency questions.  You will have to know a lot of different math subjects for this section, such as such as probability and statistics, algebra, number properties, geometry, word problems, etc. It definitely helps if you have a math background, but if you don't you can still do really well.  You just need to be willing to put in a lot of time to practice.  The concepts in Quant are normally not too complex, but the test makers find very clever ways to make a lot of very tricky questions.

-Reading comprehension- In this section, you will be given passages of a few paragraphs to read on a varying array of subjects (could be anything, such as science, political, economic, etc.).  You will then have to answer a series of questions based on those passages.  You can be asked about the passage as a whole, about specific sections of the passage, or how the author would feel about another similar situation.

-Critical Reasoning- You will be given a short paragraph and be asked to answer any of 11-12 types of logical reasoning questions based on that paragraph. Some examples of questions are "which of the following would most weaken the argument above?" or "assuming the above is true, which of the following must be true?" There is a section of the LSAT that is very similar to this section.

-Sentence Correction- You will be given a sentence(s) and will be asked to correct part or all of it. You must memorize a lot of grammatical rules and understand the intended meaning of the sentences in order to do well on this section.

Analytical Writing Assessment- You will have to write two essays: an analysis of an issue and an analysis of an argument.  This section will be the first one you will take and is a good warmup for the rest of the test.  You will have 30 minutes to write each section.  Business schools tend to place a lot less importance on this section than the Quant or Verbal sections.

How to Study for the Test

In order to do well on the GMAT, you must have a really good plan and you must stick to it.  To get started, you should do some serious research on the Internet as to what the best study methods and study materials are.  You should really seek to learn how to study for the GMAT first before you even get started.  Once you figure these things out, set up a schedule for yourself.  I would suggest giving yourself 2 months to study.  That should be more than enough time to learn all the fundamentals and practice a ton without getting distracted and losing focus and motivation.  The key to doing well is consistent and targeted practice.  Never let two days go by where you don't study something.  Having said all this, let's go through the different sections of the test and figure out how best to attack them.

Quant- This is a very difficult section because there is so much material to learn.  The material itself isn't overly complex, but you need a lot of practice in order to do well.  I would learn the fundamentals with the Manhattan GMAT math books.  These are probably the best books out there for math.  Another source to consider is Jeff Sackmann's Total GMAT Math.  Both go through in detail each section and lay out very clearly which math rules you need to know for the test.  Once you do that, use the Official Guide for practice problems.  These problems are from old actual GMAT tests, so they are the most accurate and similar practice problems you can take.  If you want to take your abilities to an elite level, try a few of the math tests at gmatclub.com.  They contain only 700+ level questions, so becoming intimately familiar with these tests is a great way to take your math abilities to the next level.  If you can learn the fundamentals well and do tons of practice with the Official Guide and the gmatclub.com tests, you should definitely score well on this section.

Critical Reasoning- The only two sources you need are the Powerscore Critical Reasoning Bible and the Official Guide (and verbal supplement).  The Powerscore CR Bible is amazing.  It is so comprehensive and detailed that you can't fail after reading it a few times.  It goes through every question type and gives you a detailed breakdown on how to attack those problems.  It will give you a great idea of the types of wrong answer choices you need to look out for and the types of right answer choices that show up the most frequently.  You should go through it 3-4 times and then just do practice problem after practice problem with the Official Guide.  Using these two sources will definitely give you a big advantage come test day.

Sentence Correction- Use the Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction Guide.  That is the established standard book for SC fundamentals.  Once you know the grammar rules cold, use the Official Guide and verbal supplement to get some great practice.  I would consider making flashcards of the grammar rules and drilling them until you have them down cold.  Doing sentence correction questions quickly will allow you more time for the critical reasoning and reading comprehension sections.  I would also consider memorizing all idioms.  This will probably allow you to get 1-2 more questions right on this section.

Reading Comprehension- This is a hard section to get better at.  I would read from the Wall Street Journal and The Economist every day and then go through as many Official Guide passages as possible.  The key here is that you read 1-2 articles/passages every day and stay consistent in order to get better.

How to Lessen Test Day Anxiety

Taking the GMAT can be a fairly nerve-wracking experience.  A great GMAT score can really put you ahead of the competition for getting into a great business school.  With so much at stake when taking the test, it’s perfectly natural to feel nervous.  While it’s probably impossible to completely get rid of anxiety come test day, there are a few things you can do calm your nerves.  If you follow this advice, you will be setting yourself up to do very well come test day.

Don’t Study the Day Before the Test

Trying to cram the day before the test is counterproductive.  You will probably end up being more worried that you don’t have a certain critical reasoning concept down cold, for example, and you won’t score as well.  I would recommend spending the day relaxing in order to put your mind at ease.  You should be confident that you have studied enough, so why not put your mind in a good state and try to relax?

Do a Light Workout in the Morning

This is an easy way to get rid of anxiety for any situation.  Go for a light run or otherwise do some sort of light workout and a lot of your nerves will go away.  Your body will be too consumed by the physical exhaustion of working out to worry as much about your upcoming test.

Be Prepared

The best way to alleviate anxiety is to be really prepared.  If you have studied as much as you possibly can, then you should be confident that you will do your best come test day.  There should be a certain point where you think there is nothing else you can do to improve.  If you feel this way, then most of your nerves should be gone.  Do your best to be prepared and then you should feel confident and anxiety-free come test day.

This is an often-asked question.  One thing I can say is that business schools take students with a very wide range of scores.  Harvard may accept students with an average GMAT of 720, but the range of scores often is something like 580-790.  This shows that even if you score poorly, you can still get into the best business schools in the world.  If you do score poorly, then you absolutely need something to be outstanding about the rest of your application.  You would need either a really great GPA or amazing extracurricular activities and/or leadership experience.  The GMAT is definitely a very important score, but it won't necessarily prevent you from getting in somewhere if you score poorly.

If you are in an overrepresented population of applicants, such as in consulting or investment banking, then you probably need to do better than the average score of your target school.  With so many people of a similar background applying, you need to stand out.  One way to do that is by having a killer GMAT score or having some really interesting extracurricular activity.  If you don't come from an overrepresented population of applicants, then you can probably get away with a less-than-stellar score.  This may not seem fair, but it's reality and you have to accept it.

Overall, the GMAT can be pretty important depending on the rest of your application, but don't think it's the end of the world if you don't do that well.

How to Study for the GMAT

This site goes through in detail the different sections of the test and describes what the best study materials and methods are.

GMAT Club

This site provides a lot of great information about the test. It has really great practice tests and has a very active forum where you can discuss issues about the test and b-school in general with lots of other people.

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IJR112, on 11/14/2011