The GMAT Exam

The GMAT Exam

Welcome to GMAT free, the world’s free, complete GMAT course. In this chapter we will briefly cover the basics of the GMAT exam. You will learn what it’s for, how it’s scored, and what comes next in preparing for business school.

The GMAT Exam: Purpose

The purpose of the GMAT is to demonstrate academic readiness for a particular MBA program. The GMAT is one of multiple components that make up your application:

The GMAT Exam - Application Components

Of all of them, only two address your readiness for the MBA classroom: your GPA and your GMAT score. If your GPA and/or GMAT are below average, an admissions committee might want to admit you to its program, but might feel it is risky to do so. And admissions committees must keenly manage the risk that any given candidate might not be successful. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to bolster your application is to do well on the GMAT, which, unlike your GPA, is something that you can affect in the present.

The GMAT can be taken year-round at your convenience. You can schedule it for any day that there is an open seat a testing center of your choice. To schedule the test, you go to Generally, all programs require that you take the GMAT before the dates of your admissions deadline for your application.

The GMAT Exam: Sections

The GMAT is made up of a number of sections, some of which are scored individually and some of which are scored together.

The GMAT Exam - Sections

The writing and Integrated Reasoning sections, which always occur first on the test, are scored individually. Your scores on these sections are far less important than your Total Score, which is the combination of your Quant and Verbal performance. The Quantitative section always comes before the Verbal section, and both the Quant and Verbal sections are 75 minutes each. There is no experimental section on the test. Your total score on the GMAT ranges from 200 to 800 points, with 700, the 90th percentile, representing an approximate threshold for competitiveness in applying to so-called top 20 schools.

The GMAT Exam: Adaptive Scoring

Both the Quantitative and Verbal sections use adaptive scoring, which makes for a very different experience than traditional tests. To see how a depth of scoring works, let’s imagine a game that has nothing to do with the GMAT.  Imagine that you are thinking of a secret number between 1 and 60. And a computer has the job of guessing what number you’re thinking of. It makes a guess and you tell it whether to go higher or lower. The computer’s best strategy is to start guessing a number exactly in the middle, and then based on whether you say “higher” or “lower,” then split the difference in the direction it’s supposed to go. Eventually it will get to your number or very close to your number. Turning back to the GMAT, adaptive scoring on a section is similar to this game. But, rather than choose a number, you have an ability level, in the mind of the computer. And when the computer is guessing at your ability number, it gives you a question with a difficulty that matches that ability. If you get it right, that’s just like saying you need to go higher. Then you get a more difficult question. Just like in the guessing game, the computer starts in the middle and splits the difference, so that by the end of the section the computer has narrowed and very closely on your ability level.

Adaptive scoring has important implications for the test. First, the difficulty increases and stays high for top scores. That means, if you’re used to standardized tests feeling relatively easy, you’re in for a surprise on the GMAT: the GMAT is likely to feel challenging. A second consequence is that, since you are seeing a greater number of difficult questions when you do well, time is really a factor on the test. It’s important to finish the section on time. Time management is more important on the GMAT than on many other standardized tests. Finally, since you have to earn your way up to harder questions, there is no benefit to studying more difficult topics on the GMAT before you’ve completely mastered the slightly easier topics.

The GMAT Exam: Math Topics

Speaking of GMAT topics, let’s look at what the GMAT topics are, specifically on the Quantitative section. There are three main categories of math areas that you need to know for the test, and they are arithmetic, algebra and geometry.

The GMAT Exam - Math

In the diagram above, you can see some of the other topics that fit underneath them. On the right side, counting methods, sets, and probability don’t have much to do with geometry, but they also tend to appear more at higher difficult to levels. This is not a complete list of the math topics on the GMAT – you can find that in the GMAT Math section of this course, which also covers these topics completely. As for the verbal section, there isn’t much that you are expected to know, with the major exception of English grammar, which is tested on Sentence Correction questions.

The GMAT Exam: Advice

Here are a few high-level pieces of advice to succeed on the GMAT. First, a few mistakes to avoid:

  • The most common error is to take the GMAT under-prepared. Because of unique question formats such as Data Sufficiency, even highly talented people have essentially no way of doing their best on the test without some preparation beforehand. This is one reason why every year 18% of GMAT tests taken represent people who are repeating the test.
  • The next big problem area is to confuse absolute with relative performance. With this I mean that, even if you are good at the GMAT or find it “easy,” so to speak, that doesn’t automatically mean that you will be in the 90th percentile for the 95th percentile on the test. The set of people taking the GMAT are a more competitive and more qualified than those taking many other exams, especially college entrance exams. To do your best, you want to shoot for the top and keep pushing yourself as you find you’re getting questions correct.
  • The last two problem areas are related. Time and motivation both boil down to your own management of this process. The best way to stay organized and moving forward is to do research upfront and to get on board with an organized program, such as the free online course provided by GMAT Free.

We’ve now covered the very basics of the GMAT exam. There are a number of key questions that you need to answer for yourself as soon as possible: whether you should consider taking the GRE, when your applications are due, how long you need study, what materials you need, and what score you’re aiming for. We will cover these questions in the upcoming chapters of this module.


Welcome! You are encouraged to register with the site and login (for free). When you register, you support the site and your question history is saved.