The Graduate Management Admission Test, or in short – the GMAT exam, is a common requirement for admission to most well-known MBA programmes. It may even be required of candidates interested in some Master’s degree programmes in business-related areas and of candidates headed to a management job in a particular industry.
The GMAT is a standardised 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.
The GMAT exam is developed in the US, 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.
The GMAT exam today
It is not just about the score. It is about improving your essential skills for successful MBA studies and business decision making.
As an indication of the test’s significance, consider the fact that globally nearly 1.3 million GMAT exams were taken between the years 2012 and 2016 by individuals interested in pursuing management education. According to GMAC, the organisation that administers the GMAT, more than 250,000 GMAT exams were taken by prospective business school students around the world during the 2016 testing year, with more than 500,000 score reports sent to management programmes on a global scale throughout the same year. The figures suggest that the popularity of the test is certainly not diminishing.
Just as the MBA itself, the GMAT exam 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 cultures might be very different. This creates some additional challenges for the test takers coming from non-US education backgrounds, although the GMAT is tough for US applicants as well.
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The GMAT beyond B-school admissions
The GMAT is conducted only in English, but it 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 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 to the real business routine.
Another advantage 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. The EDHEC Global MBA, for instance, offers to cover between 30% and 50% of the tuition fees of students whose GMAT score falls in the 650-710 range or reaches 720 or over.
In addition, some recruiters are also interested in the GMAT scores of candidates who could potentially join their company. Top consulting companies may often assess not only the undergraduate and MBA grades and performance of future employees, but may also check whether their GMAT score is high enough to qualify for a place in the firm. Of course, future employment opportunities and starting salaries are not solely determined based on test scores but on many additional factors that come into play.
How to prepare
The majority of GMAT test takers are busy professionals and it is hard for all of them to find the time for GMAT preparation. However, the number of test takers worldwide is increasing. Therefore, 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 always need to do your homework – additional self-preparation and a lot of practice tests during the formal preparation and before taking the test. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:
- 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. Many applicants take it 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 programmes will have students who scored above 700.
When you meet business schools during events like the Access MBA Tour, admissions officers will always ask you whether you have taken the GMAT. You should take the chance to discuss the exam – 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 the discussion is more constructive.
For applicants who aspire to the 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. However, 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 programmes 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. In the end, you will have to select other programmes that match your GMAT score anyway.
You may start off by doing some GMAT practice tests and then get professional advice from 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 require between three months and one year of preparation and up to three actual tests. If you do not start on time, you might need to postpone your application for a year. Application deadlines are about nine months before the beginning of the programme, and if you add another six for GMAT prep, this means that you need to begin your preparation about 1.5 years before the date you would like to begin your actual studies.
Of course there are exceptions to this timeline. Even so, 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 only one of the elements of the application process, but it is entirely within your control. Therefore, it is worth focusing on it as well as on preparing an informative, coherent, and outstanding application package. Take any chance you have to meet business school representatives in person and 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 five 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 start your first full-time job, it will still be valid for MBA application when at least two or three years of work experience are required.
The skills tested by the GMAT are vital to your success in an MBA, and more importantly, they are absolutely transferable to your managerial everyday routine. In that sense, putting an effort in the GMAT always pays back.
When it comes to taking the actual test, book a test date about two months in advance. 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 location, 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.
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