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What is the GMAT? And How to Prepare

By Kimberly Martin/Andrew Crane

February 16, 2024

6 min read


If you’re thinking about advancing your education by earning a master’s degree or a Master of Business Administration (MBA), you may have already begun to familiarize yourself with the various admission requirements for different graduate programs.


Among these is the GMAT, but what is the GMAT? In this article, we will define the exam and describe the role it plays in graduate school admissions, offer information about preparation techniques and answer some frequently asked GMAT questions.

What is the GMAT?

Administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the GMAT, or the Graduate Management Admission Test, is a multiple-choice, computer-based exam that is used widely for admission to graduate management and business programs, such as MBA programs

The purpose of this standardized test is to provide business school admissions departments with a way to easily measure an applicants’ readiness for graduate-level work, along with your work experience, academic record and any supporting materials. A high score on the GMAT exam is likely to have a positive impact on your business school application, similar to the way high SAT scores can positively impact undergraduate admissions. If you’re asking, “What is a good GMAT score?” we’ll have an answer to that in the FAQ section. 

GMAT Sections

As we continue to work through the question of “what is the GMAT”, let’s take a look at what’s on the exam. The test is broken out into 4 sections, each of which is scored separately. The Quantitative and Verbal sections are combined to generate your total score. You can choose how you want to start the exam, beginning with either the quantitative, verbal or writing sections.

Quantitative reasoning

Containing both data sufficiency and problem-solving questions, the Quantitative section covers math concepts like arithmetic, algebra and geometry to test your quantitative reasoning. For this section, you may have to relearn some of the quantitative concepts you first learned in high school. The problems in this section may be written in either pure math or story format, testing your ability to translate a story into math concepts to solve them. Precise calculations aren’t emphasized here. You are encouraged to work in round numbers and estimations, as you would in many instances in the workplace.

Verbal reasoning

Many graduate-level academic programs emphasize verbal and written communication skills development. The verbal section of the GMAT is intended to test your command of standard written English, your skills in analyzing arguments and your ability to read critically. Critical reasoning, sentence correction and reading comprehension are the 3 question types in this section.

Integrated reasoning

Designed to resemble problems you’re likely to encounter in business school or during your career, the integrated reasoning section is intended to test complex reasoning. Question types in this section include graphics interpretation (your ability to interpret data presented visually, in charts or graphs), multi-source reasoning (your ability to take information from multiple sources and boil it down) and table analysis (your ability to analyze information presented in a sortable table similar to a spreadsheet).

Analytical writing assessment

This is the essay portion of the test. You’ll be expected to write 2 essays for this section, with the more challenging one being the analysis of an argument. A simple and to-the-point, 5-paragraph format is recommended to recap the argument that is presented, make your statement regarding to what extent the argument has merit, and provide a road map to guide the reader through your description of the argument’s flaws. A final paragraph recaps and presents your explanation of how those flaws could be remedied to make the argument stronger.

How to Prepare for the GMAT

Next in our “what is the GMAT” discussion is preparing for the test. Thoughtful and disciplined preparation for the GMAT is a must and may include options like guidebooks and practice tests. Because each of us learns and manages their time differently, there probably isn’t one single process that works for everybody, but you may find these 6 GMAT preparation tips to be useful.

1. Research GMAT deadlines and average scores

Make a list of your business schools of interest and find out their application deadlines. This is what your GMAT preparation and testing timeline will be based on. Allow enough time prior to the application deadline to enable you to re-take the test if necessary, and still make the application deadline. While you’re doing this, find out the average scores of students who’ve been accepted.

2. Set your target GMAT score

Use what you’ve found out about average scores to set your own target score. It’s important to know your target score on test day, as you will see your Integrated Reasoning, Verbal and Quantitative and total scores after you finish the test and will be asked whether you want to keep the scores or cancel them. By having a specific target score in mind, you’ll know right away whether you’ve achieved the results you need to get into the graduate program of your choice.

3. Gather your GMAT practice materials

You will find an abundance of practice resources out there. How do you know which will best help you meet your goals? Look for GMAC practice tests. The GMAC offers 2 full-length GMAT practice tests included in the cost of their practice software. Looking for more practice materials? You may find some high-quality practice tests from third-party providers online. Many students take a practice test every 2 to 3 weeks to measure their progress.

4. Establish your baseline GMAT scoring level with a diagnostic practice test

A diagnostic practice test will help you develop a clear sense of your GMAT starting point and see the areas where your results are strong as well as those where you need significant improvement. This will allow you to prepare as efficiently as possible, putting more work into the areas that will help you work toward earning your target score.

5. Determine your study schedule and make a detailed plan

If you’re planning to enroll in a graduate program and you’re balancing work, family obligations or both, you’ll need to make time to study and that requires a plan-- especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. Take a close look at your schedule and allocate the same amount of study time on the same days of the week to establish a routine. It’s also a good idea to choose a place to study that helps you to focus without distractions or interruptions.

Include several important aspects in your study plan, such as:

•  Your weekly target number of study hours

•  Number of study sessions each week

•  What GMAT prep materials you’ll be using and how long it will take to work through them

•  When you’ll take practice tests and your target score for each of them

•  Plans to boost your practice test scores if you need it

6. Choose a GMAT test date and register

After you’ve determined how long you need to study for the GMAT, set your test date and register a few months in advance. By registering early, you’ll be doing what you can to make sure that your preferred test date is available and giving yourself a firm deadline for your study schedule.


Do you need to take the GMAT for an MBA program?

In some cases, you do not have to take the GMAT for admission to a graduate program. For example, here at DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management, applicants who meet baccalaureate degree requirements and whose undergraduate cumulative GPA is 2.50 or higher (on a 4.00 scale) are eligible for admission. Applicants who earned a grade of B or better in both college algebra and English composition need not complete the Graduate Management GMAT, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Keller-administered placement testing. 

If your undergraduate GPA is below 2.50 on a 4.0 scale, you must achieve acceptable scores on the GMAT, GRE or Keller-administered admission test. Selected programs have additional, program-related prerequisite skills requirements. Complete information can be found in our Graduate Academic Catalog.

What is the difference between the GRE and the GMAT?

The biggest difference is that the GMAT is typically used for business school admissions, while the GRE is accepted for a broader variety of grad school programs, including at business and law schools. The tests also have different formats with different types of questions, testing policies and options for submitting your test scores to schools. They can both be taken online or at a testing center, and the scores for each are good for a 5-year period.

Is the GMAT hard?

Several aspects of the GMAT contribute to it being considered a challenging test. Because of its computer-adaptive format, you can’t skip over a tough question and come back to it later, and as you do well, the test actually gets harder. It’s also a time-limited exam, so you need to have practiced how to answer questions within the time allowed. Keep in mind that because it is a skills-based exam, the skills it requires are within your grasp to learn. With careful preparation, you will help give yourself the best possible chance to do well on the GMAT.

Do all schools require a GMAT?

No. In fact, more and more top business schools are beginning to drop the GMAT as a requirement for MBA programs. This is encouraging for adult learners who’ve been out of school for a while and may be concerned about how the GMAT will impact them as an MBA candidate.

What is a good GMAT score?

Take a look at the mean or median test scores of applicants for the schools you’re considering. A competitive score is one that is at or above the school’s posted median/mean score. GMAC reports that two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600.

Reach Higher with the Flexibility of a Keller MBA

To advance your education or prepare to change careers or pursue a management role in your current occupation, it’s important to find a program that fits your busy life. At DeVry University and our Keller Graduate School of Management, our general MBA degree1 can be completed in as few as 10 courses2 and gives you the option of studying 100% online or in a hybrid format that combines online learning with an on-campus experience.3 

This program also gives you the choice of 10 different industry-focused specializations in areas like accounting, marketing, project management, human resources and more.

Online learning with DeVry can help you balance your commitment to education with work, family and other aspects of your busy life. Classes start soon. 

1Master of Business Administration in Management program in New York.

2Students attending certain DeVry locations are not eligible for course waivers based on undergraduate coursework; however, such students are eligible for course waivers based on graduate/professional degrees or CPA certifications. Students attending a Missouri location may be awarded waivers for no more than 25% of the program’s credit hours. Eligibility and application of course waivers varies based on the type of course waiver credit earned, the student’s enrolled location and/or the student’s state of residence. For more information, please refer to the Course Waiver section of the Keller academic catalog.

3All students enrolled in site-based programs will be required to take some coursework online and, for some programs and locations, a substantial portion of the program may be required to be completed online.

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