Demystifying The GMAT Exam

An internationally recognised examination conducted in over a hundred nations, the Graduate Management Admission Test, popularly known by its acronym GMAT, plays a crucial role in determining the fate of thousands of students aspiring to enter any of the coveted business schools across the world. For these aspirants, achieving a good GMAT score is the first tangible step towards realising that dream.

In fact, it is on these scores that their futures rest!

GMAT exam seeks to assess the analytical and problem-solving abilities of the candidates, along with their aptitude in critical reasoning and communication. These are skills that are deemed vital if one is to succeed in the highly competitive field of business and management. GMAT scores are used by reputed Business Schools as an important criterion for admission into any of the many Graduate Management Programs that are now being offered, be it a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA), Finance (M.Fin) or Accountancy (M.Acc). Thus, each and every aspect of the preparations related to this exam is accorded a significant level of importance.

The Journey From The 20th Century To The 21st

In 1953, nine business schools, having a common goal in sight, decided to band together and christened themselves as The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Their aim was to develop a standardised test that would help in selecting qualified applicants who were bound to succeed in the management programs being offered by them. This proposed test soon materialised in the form of the GMAT exam!

At the end of the first year after its inception, the GMAT exam was attended just over 2000 times. This number swelled in the consecutive years, and recent estimates have put the number of exams conducted annually at more than 230,000! Initially, the GMAT scores were used by only 54 business schools as the basis for the admission process. However, the scene today is vastly different from those bygone days! Today, GMAT scores are used by over 2,100 schools and 5,900 programs across the world. Currently, 112 countries have standardised GMAT test centres.

GMAT exams continue to be the favourite choice of students who dream of entering management programs being conducted by prestigious institutions, in spite of the growing popularity of the GRE tests. The reason behind the continued relevance of this exam could be attributed to the validity studies that GMAC constantly conducts to verify that this exam is still capable of predicting the candidate’s success in the management program.

GMAT’s A Comprehensive Test!

The main intention of any test that seeks to ascertain eligibility is to literally weed out the poorly performing, under-qualified and less-skilled candidates, from the more capable ones who possess the requisite skills to achieve success. However, the GMAT Exam is not one of the usual, run-of-the-mill eligibility-determining exams. It seeks to measure the true potential of the candidates, by subjecting them to comprehensive, computer adaptive tests (CAT).

CAT is a test that automatically adapts itself to suit the examinee's ability, i.e., the tests become easier or harder based on the accuracy of the responses it receives from the candidate. Simply put, correctly answered questions will be followed by questions that are more difficult, and vice versa. This process will continue till the candidate completes each section. CATs are advantageous than other tests, as they provide a more accurate evaluation of the test taker’s ability. Thus, GMAT exams are preferred by professional educational institutions that aim to select the best candidates for its business and management courses.

What’s In The Test?

Test takers are allotted three and a half hours to complete the four sections that make up the GMAT exam. These sections are:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment- AWA,
  • Integrated Reasoning- IR,
  • Quantitative Section, and,
  • Verbal Section

Initially, the test-takers had to solve each section in the order given above. However, from July 11, 2017 onwards they have been granted the provision to select the order in which they wish to attempt each section of the exam. Authorised Test Centres now provide candidates with three options:

  • The original version- AWA, IR, Quantitative, Verbal
  • (OR)
  • Quantitative, Verbal, IR, AWA
  • (OR)
  • Verbal, Quantitative, IR, AWA

Regardless of the order of the attempt, candidates have 30 minutes each for the Analytical Writing Assessment and the Integrated Reasoning sections, and a further 75 minutes each for the Quantitative and the Verbal sections, of the test. Both AWA and IR are scored independently from the Quantitative and Verbal sections. The performance of these two sections are added as an additional assessment as part of the GMAT score.

Let’s take a brief look at each of the four sections that make up the GMAT

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

Candidates have 30 minutes to complete the Analytical Writing Assessment section which consists of just one question-an essay. This essay will involve analysing a particular argument, and writing a critique of the same. This will be helpful in assessing the critical thinking and communication skills of the candidate. The unique aspect of this section is that it will be rated twice. These two independent ratings are then averaged together to determine the final AWA score.

The first rating will be given by the automated test engine, based on 50 linguistic and structural features that include the candidate’s writing skills and presentation of ideas, as well as the topical analysis. The second rating will be made by a representative from the GMAC, who will read and score the essay without being made aware of the score awarded by the automated test engine. Any discrepancy between the two scores will be resolved by presenting the essay to an expert reader for additional evaluation.

The AWA section carries a maximum score of 6, and a minimum of 0. The descriptions of the scores are given below:


Score 0: The essay was either not written or was nonsensical.
Score 1: The essay was deficient.
Score 2: The essay contained flaws.
Score 3: The essay was limited.
Score 4: The essay was sufficiently good.
Score 5: The essay was strong.
Score 6: The essay was absolutely outstanding.

Integrated Reasoning (IR)

On June 5th, 2012, GMAC introduced an innovative section to the GMAT exam-The Integrated Reasoning section. This section, comprising of 12 questions, seeks to evaluate the candidate’s ability to process multi-format information from multiple sources, i.e., information presented in any of the following four formats:

Multi-Source Reasoning

These questions may be presented either as opposite-answer questions (example-yes or no, true or false) or may be the traditional multiple-choice questions. To solve these questions, the test takers will have to click and examine 2 to 3 sources of information presented in a combination of text, tables and charts, on tabbed pages.

Graphics Interpretation

Here, the candidates are required to interpret a graph or a graphical image. These questions are typically presented as fill-in-the-blank statements, containing pull-down menus. The test taker must make the statements accurate by filling in the blanks with the correct options chosen from the pull-down menu.

Two-Part Analysis

These questions provide two components as a solution. Possible answers are presented in a tabular form, with columns for each component and rows containing possible options. Candidates will be required to select one solution per column.

Table Analysis

Here, the information to be analysed will be presented in a tabular format, similar to that of a spreadsheet. Each question will be followed by several opposite-answer statements (example- true or false, yes or no), and the candidate will be required to select the right option.

The IR section carries a maximum score of 8 and a minimum of 1, and is scored separately from the verbal and quantitative sections.

Quantitative Section

The Quantitative Section has been designed to test the quantitative aptitude of the test takers, and will require a fundamental knowledge of concepts related to arithmetic, algebra and geometry. As the use of electronic equipment like calculators has been prohibited, test centres will provide materials like laminated graph paper and wet-erase pens so to enable the test takers to manually solve the math work.

The 37 questions that comprise this section have been divided into two categories:

Data Sufficiency

These questions have been designed to measure the candidate’s ability to understand and analyse a quantitative problem. They will be required to identify relevant information, and determine if it is sufficient to solve a particular problem.

Problem-Solving

These questions aim to evaluate the candidate’s ability to reason and solve quantitative problems.

This section carries a maximum score of 60 and a minimum of 0. On average, candidates can be expected to score between the range of 6 and 51.

Verbal section

The verbal section of the GMAT exam contains 41 questions that must be solved within 75 minutes. This section comprises of the following question types:

Reading Comprehension

Test takers will be required to read comprehension passages ranging from one paragraph to several, and will be asked questions relating to the same. This test will prove the candidate’s expertise in understanding the nuances of the language as well as the ability to draw conclusions.

Critical Reasoning

These questions are designed to evaluate the critical reasoning skills of the candidate.

Sentence Correction

Essentially, this is a test of the candidate’s linguistic prowess. Here, both grammar and communicative skills of the candidate comes to the fore, as they are required to select the most appropriate options that best expresses the core intent of given sentences.

The verbal section of the GMAT exam carries a maximum score of 60, and a minimum of 0. Usually, test takers score within the range of 9 to 44.

What’s The Score?

The total GMAT score can fall anywhere within the range of 200 to 800. On average, two-thirds or approx. 68% of the candidates achieve scores that fall within the range of 440 and 640. The mean score is approx. 551.94 with a standard deviation that comes close to 120.88 points. This score measures the candidate’s performance on the verbal and quantitative sections. The AWA and IR sections do not contribute to the total score as these sections are scored separately. GMAT scores are awarded in increments of 10 (example- 560, 570, 580, 590, etc.).

The algorithm that the test engine uses to evaluate the test is quite complicated. The final score does not take into account the last question attempted by the candidate, and will not judge based on the degree of difficulty of the questions that were generated through the Computer Adaptive Test mode. Missed questions and incorrectly answered questions are both dealt with differently.

Quick Decision-Keep The Score or Cancel?

Prior to July 2014, GMAT examinees weren’t able to get a preview of their scores. They were required to blindly state whether they wanted to retain their scores or cancel them altogether. However, the situation is quite different today. Once all four sections of the exam have been completed, the test takers will be presented with their unofficial GMAT scores. They will then have 2 minutes to decide whether they keep the scores or cancel them. Sometimes, candidates may choose to cancel if the score reflects poor performance levels. However, it must be borne in mind that cancellation of the exam does not mean a refund of the fees! Test takers who inadvertently cancelled their scores, can retrieve them by paying an additional fee of $100, provided they do so within 60 days of attempting the exam. All cancelled scores are deemed irretrievable after that period.

Schedule Your Test

A candidate can attempt the GMAT exams up to 5 times in a year, with each attempt separated by a minimum period of 16 days. One may schedule the test by either registering online at www.mba.com, or by directly booking an appointment at a nearby authorised Test Centre. Candidates may use official GMAT exam study materials while preparing for their exam. These are available online as well as through third-party vendors. The exam fee is currently fixed at $250. Applicants have to present valid ID proofs when they appear at the test centre for their GMAT.

Achieving a good GMAT score is a definite step towards a golden future. So, remember to prepare well ahead and score high!

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