GMAT Test: What You Need to Know

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

By the time you take your Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), you've probably already sat through a standardized test or two. You know the drill: #2 pencils, scratch paper, quiet room, proctor, clock…

In the scheme of things, the GMAT test isn't too different. You'll recognize the section headings: Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing. One thing will stand out here for you, though — while the titles may sound the same, this test is all computerized, so #2 pencils aren't going to come in handy unless you like to use them to scribble notes.

GMAT test format

What stands out the most about the GMAT is its computer-adaptive format. This enables the test to adapt to your skill-level as you respond to each question. A right answer bumps up the challenge-level of the next question and a wrong answer eases it. By the time you near the end of the test, your questions will be geared to your specific capabilities and your score will be indicative of that. (In other words, the harder the questions are that you answer correctly, the higher your score will be.)

You won't be able to skip ahead to answer questions that come to you easily because you'll only be given one question at a time and the next one doesn't pop up until you've plugged in an answer. If you're at a loss, don't guess. Make an educated attempt so you don't throw off the computer-generated questions. Use this strategy during your GMAT practice so you can get used to it.

Taking the GMAT test

Three and a half hours. That's pretty routine testing time for a standardized test. And, like most of them, the GMAT is a test of general skills and abilities, not of your management skills and knowledge of the business world. Business schools look at your ability to analyze information, solve problems, and communicate effectively — all skills that a good manager (and student!) needs to have.

There are three sections to the test, and all should be included in your GMAT review: the Analytical Writing Assessment, the Quantitative section, and the Verbal section. The writing portion is not in the computer-adaptive format, but everything else is.

Questions in any portion of the test cover a variety of different subjects, from math to economics to human resource issues. You aren't expected to be an expert in any of these topics, but you are expected to be able to use the information presented within each question to answer them. Use your GMAT prep to develop your analytical and problem-solving skills.

GMAT review should cover all sections

Analytical Writing Assessment: Two 30-minute writing tasks.

  • Analysis of an Issue: assesses your ability to analyze an issue that is presented to you and to then explain and support your position.
  • Analysis of an Argument: assesses your ability to analyze the reasoning behind a presented argument, and to then critique it.


Verbal Assessment: 75 minutes with 41 multiple-choice questions covering three areas.

  • Reading Comprehension: measures your ability to understand words, statements, main points, relationships, and implied information.
  • Critical Reasoning: measures your ability to recognize structure and elements of an argument (conclusions, assumptions, hypotheses), to analyze it, and to formulate and/or evaluate a proposed plan of action.
  • Sentence Correction: measures your knowledge of grammar and of correct and effective expression.


Quantitative Assessment: 75 minutes with 37 multiple-choice questions covering problem solving and data sufficiency skills.

  • Problem-Solving: measures your basic math skills and understanding of math concepts.
  • Data Sufficiency: measures your ability to analyze a problem, determine which information is relevant, and then determine which of two statements gives you adequate data to answer the resulting question.


GMAT scoring and score reports
There are four scores on the GMAT — one for each section and then a total. The total score ranges from 200 to 800 and approximately two-thirds of all examinees score between 400 and 600. There is no minimum score for "passing" the GMAT, but your GMAT preparation should include familiarizing yourself with the score requirements of schools that you hope to attend.

Score reports are usually sent out 20 days after you take your exam, via e-mail or postal delivery. They include your scores as well as a percentile rank. The schools which you selected to receive your scores will also receive them within the same timeframe.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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