The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a common requirement for admission to the well-known Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs, for some Master’s degree programs in business-related areas, and to some management job opportunities.
GMAT is a standardized computer-adaptive test (CAT) conducted in English, which checks the level of your analytical, quantitative, critical reasoning, and written expression skills. These are crucial skills needed for your successful business and management studies, as well as for your everyday routine as a manager and a business decision maker.
GMAT test is developed in the USA, but is used in the admission process of leading international business schools all over the world. It is an important element of evaluating your potential for admission, as well as in competing for scholarships.
Why & How to Prepare For the GMAT
It is not just about the score. It is about improving your essential skills for successful MBA studies and business decision making.
Just as the MBA itself, the GMAT test is an American invention. They both come from the same culture, but are now widely offered in all parts of the world where the educational approaches and business culture might be very different. This places some additional challenges to the test takers coming from non-US education backgrounds, although the GMAT is tough for US applicants as well.
Why Prepare for the GMAT
GMAT is in English, but is does not test your language skills. It is a test for native speakers of English, just as for native speakers of other languages. It has ‘math’ sections, but it does not test your math knowledge. It tests your analytical and problem solving skills, integrated reasoning, written argumentative communication, and working with facts, figures, charts, and long unfamiliar texts in different areas. All of this is a routine for successful managers, just as time limitations and tight deadlines are. You have all this in the GMAT test.
In a nutshell, the GMAT tests the skills which you will need in the MBA classroom, during discussions, team work, projects, and exams. So, do not think about the GMAT just a as a barrier to your admission, neither as a golden key to it. Think of it as a development tool. Preparing to score high enough on the GMAT will build skills transferable to the MBA, and then into the real business routine.
Another plus of the GMAT test is that a high score will always attract the attention of the admissions committees, can compensate for shortcomings in other elements of your profile and application, and is often of help when applying for a scholarship.
How to Prepare for the GMAT
The majority of GMAT test takers are busy professionals, and it is hard for all of them to find the time for GMAT preparation. But the number of test takers worldwide increases. So, more and more people find a way to prepare. Each person has a different learning style. And now more than ever before, there is a greater variety of options to fit different styles and to overcome limitations: face-to-face classes, individual tutoring, online classes, online tutoring, and online practice tests. However, you need to always do your homework – additional self-preparation and a lot of practice tests during the formal preparation and after it before you take the test.
DOs, DON’Ts, and Q&A
- Do not rely only on self-preparation. Always look for professional advice, which will make your preparation focused and effective.
- GMAT is computer-adaptive. How does it work? This is a refined way to test most accurately the level of your skills. Simply said, if you answer a question correctly the system gives you a harder question next, and if you answer incorrectly, the system selects a lower or the same level of difficulty for your next question. If you answer harder questions correctly, your score is higher.
- Take the GMAT more than once. Very often the first sitting for the test is not your best performance. So many applicants retake for a second or a third time. Note that you can retake the test no sooner than one month after your previous session.
- What score do schools require? Most schools will look for a balanced score of all test sections – Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The maximum possible score on the GMAT is 800 (Verbal + Quantitative, the other two sections are scored separately). A minimum reasonable score is considered 550, anything above 620 is an excellent score, but top MBA programs will have students who scored above 700.
Which Comes First – the GMAT or Selecting the MBAs?
When you meet business schools in events like the Access MBA One-to-One, admissions officers will always ask you whether you have taken the GMAT. You should take the chance and discuss in detail how they evaluate your GMAT, when to take it, what the minimum required score is, and what the average score of the last MBA class is. In any case, it will be to your benefit to have taken at least some practice tests before meeting business schools, so that your discussion is more constructive.
For applicants who aspire to world’s top business schools, it is highly recommended that they start with GMAT preparation as early as possible. In most of the top schools a top GMAT score is a must. But it is true for all MBA-bound applicants that after they acquire the highest score they possibly can, then they can make a really focused MBA selection and match their GMAT score with the requirements of the programs in addition to other criteria. It will be a waste of time to select schools first and then struggle to meet the requirements, especially if you are aiming at top schools. It might take you much longer, and you might never even be able to reach your target. So you will have to select other programs anyway for your GMAT score.
It is a good start to do some GMAT mock tests and then get the professional advice of GMAT instructors on what it will take you to reach your desired score. This is very important for your planning. A sufficient GMAT score might take you between 3 months and 1 year of preparation and up to 3 actual tests. If you do not start on time, you might need to postpone your application for a year. Application deadlines are about 9 months before the beginning of the program, and if you add another six for GMAT prep, this means that you need to begin your GMAT prep about 1.5 years before the date you would like to begin your actual studies.
Of course there are exceptions to this timeline. But it is highly recommended that you start early so that you can improve your chances to score as high as you possibly can.
As any admissions officer will tell you, the GMAT is one of the elements of the application process, but it is entirely within your control. So it is worth focusing on it as well as on preparing an informative, coherent, and outstanding application package. Take any chance to meet business school representatives in person, to discuss in detail what makes a strong MBA application for each particular school.
Another factor which favours the GMAT-first strategy is that the GMAT score is valid for 5 years. Some applicants even start their GMAT preparation immediately after their first university degree graduation, so that they have their skills, learning habits, and knowledge still fresh. Even if you take the GMAT before you started your first full-time job, it will still be valid for MBA application when at least 2 or 3 years of work experience are required.
The skills which the GMAT tests are vital to your success in an MBA, and what is more important, they are absolutely transferable to your managerial everyday routine. So putting an effort in the GMAT always pays back.
When it comes to taking the actual test, plan to book a date about 2 months ahead. In some locations there are fewer test dates and with lower frequency. Registration for the test is done online at www.mba.com, where you can search for the most convenient locations, test date, and time slot. Be advised that the testing centres are just testing sites – not preparation centres. You will just go there to take the test.