1. The GMAT exam lets you showcase your skills and preparedness for business school. It is used by over 6,000 programs worldwide, as part of their application process. This blog highlights the 5 essential things you need to know before taking the GMAT: What it is, its structure and time, types of questions, scores, test dates and locations.


    What is the GMAT? 

    The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is a standardized test which many MBA programs around the world require as part of their application process. It measures skills in the fields of English, Mathematics and analytical writing and takes 3.5 hours to complete.

    Designed to predict how you will perform academically in MBA programs, it mainly tests how well you use specific techniques and strategies.


    The GMAT is sometimes referred to as the GMAT CAT. CAT stands for Computer Adaptive Test. Two of the exam’s four sections (Quantitative and Verbal) are computer-adaptive. This means that during those sections the test adapts to your level of ability as you go.

    What does the GMAT actually test?

    Before we explain what the GMAT actually tests, let’s cover all the thing that it does not:

    • The GMAT doesn’t test intelligence
    • The GMAT doesn’t test IQ
    • The GMAT doesn’t test knowledge

    Since the GMAT’s main goal is to identify how well you will perform on your MBA or other similar programs, the main skill that it tests is what we like to call ‘cognitive flexibility’. Meaning, how fast you can find the best way to solve each question.

    The GMAT will expose you to different kinds of questions that require the same basic knowledge you have been taught in middle school or early high-school (depends on where you are in the world).

    Each question will usually have more than 1 way to solve it! Unlike in high school, the GMAT doesn’t want you to solve it in a specific way or elaborate on how you got to the right answer. The GMAT just wants you to get to the right answer, fast.

    Mind flexibility is a skill that you can develop. It has nothing to do with intelligence.

    Types of questions you’ll find on the GMAT

    The GMAT measures the following skill areas: Analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and integrated reasoning (which covers analytical, quantitative, and verbal reasoning). When taking the test, you have 3.5 hours to complete these four sections.There are also two optional timed breaks.



    Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)—Analysis of an Argument

    The AWA measures your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas. You will be asked to analyze the reasoning behind an argument and to write a critique of it.



    Integrated Reasoning

    This section measures your ability to evaluate information presented in many formats from different sources – the kinds of skills you need to succeed in today’s data-driven digital world.


    Timed break (optional)



    Quantitative Section

    This section measures your ability to analyze data and draw conclusions using reasoning skills. The mathematics needed for this section is usually not harder than secondary school level. This section is adaptive. This means that based on your answer to each question, it chooses a harder or easier question for your next question.


    Timed break (optional)



    Verbal Section

    This section measures your ability to read and understand written material, evaluate arguments, and to correct written material. This section is also adaptive.

    Structure and time

    Analytical Writing Assessment

    Number of Questions/Topics:

    1 writing task

    Types of Questions:

    Analysis of Argument


    30 Minutes


    Integrated Reasoning

    Number of Questions/Topics:

    12 multiple-choice questions, most of which are multi-part. Once you answer a question you cannot go back to change your answer.

    Types of Questions:

    • Multi-Source Reasoning
    • Graphics Interpretation
    • Table Analysis
    • Two-Part Analysis


    30 Minutes



    Number of Questions/Topics:

    37 questions:

    • Problem Solving: 23-24 questions
    • Data Sufficiency: 13-14 questions

    Each question is a multiple choice question with 5 answer choices. Once you answer a question you cannot go back to change your answer.

    Types of Questions:

    • Data Sufficiency
    • Problem Solving


    75 Minutes (an average of two minutes per question).



    Number of Questions/Topics:

    41 questions:

    • Sentence Correction: 14-15 questions where you are asked to choose the correct version of a sentence out of five options.
    • Critical Reasoning: 14-15 questions
    • Reading Comprehension: 4 passages, 3-4 questions on each passage.

    Each question is a multiple choice question with 5 answer choices. Once you answer a question you cannot go back to change your answer.

    Types of Questions:

    • Reading Comprehension
    • Critical Reasoning
    • Sentence Correction


    75 minutes (a little less than two minutes per question on average, although some question types usually take longer).


    Total examination: 3:30 hours


    How the GMAT is scored

    This is not a pass/fail test. There is a separate scaled score and percentile rank for each of the four sections. A combined Quantitative/Verbal score (called a Total score) is also given.

    In total, you’ll get 5 different scores:

    • The AWA (scored 0-6)
    • Integrated Reasoning (1 – 8)
    • Verbal and Quant (each has a scaled score from 0 – 60).
    • Verbal and Quant (200 – 800). Verbal and Quantitative sections are each worth 800 points and the final score is an average of these two scores.

    In both the Verbal and Quant sections you will also be given a percentile ranking. If you are at the 80th percentile, it means you scored better than 80% of those taking the exam. For most test takers, the verbal score will be lower than the quantitative score. Verbal scores of over 40 are already in the 90th percentile of the population.

    You can get the results at the test center immediately after taking the GMAT. However, this is not an official score as the results of the writing section come later.

    GMAT scores are valid for five years, but some business schools might insist on a recent score.

    Learn more on how GMAT scores are calculated.


    What is regarded as a good score?

    Over the last few years, the average score for GMAT test takers has been in the high 500s. A good GMAT score is over 600 (around the 70th percentile) and an excellent score is 700+ (90th percentile).

    The average scores for students admitted to the 50 top ranking MBA programs is around 660 but you can find the average GMAT scores for the intake in a given year to individual business schools online.

    In addition to the overall score and a percentile, the test report includes the scores and percentiles for both the verbal and quantitative sections of the test. Although a student’s total score may look good, there may be a large disparity between the verbal and quant sections and this usually does not look good with the admissions committees.


    GMAT test dates and locations

    Unlike many other admissions tests, the GMAT is given all year round in most locations around the world. Although you have a lot of flexibility to decide when you want to take the test, you should schedule your test early enough to ensure that your scores are available by your application deadlines. Keep in mind that weekend dates tend to fill up quickly as application deadlines approach.

    The advice by most test makers is to book your GMAT in advance 1 month before your deadline. This will give the right amount of time to work on your application essays after the GMAT.

    Keep the following rules in mind as you schedule your GMAT date:

    • The registration fee is $250.
    • You can reschedule, but it’s not free. If you reschedule more than 7 days in advance, you will be charged a $50 fee. If you reschedule within a week, the fee is $250 (the total test fee).
    • You can retake the GMAT exam once every 31 calendar days, but no more than five times in a rolling 12-month period.
    • There are other new features:
    • Candidates will be able to view their Official Score Report online using their date of birth. A separate authentication code will no longer be required.
    • For more information about the new features, click here.
    • A complete set of rules and regulations is available in the official GMAT Handbook.


    Register to take the GMAT at



    Jack Oren Jackman
    CEO & Founder of examPAL. 21 years' experience in the field of test prep. Has written dozens of books and courseware, and personally taught over 4,000 students.


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  1. Jamie says:

    Standardized tests are so nerve wracking – I like being able to know what to expect. I didn’t realize the testing fee was so high, I think the GRE has a similar fee. Having the opportunity to show myself off to a school with a great GMAT score is definitely worth it though.

  2. Jen says:

    Great overview. The test looks pretty intense, but doable. Would you say it’s of equal difficulty to the GRE?

  3. mm Jack Oren Jackman says:

    Hi Jen
    I suggest you take a look at our GMAT vs. GRE blog post. We compare the 2 tests down to the questions structure:

  4. mm Jack Oren Jackman says:

    The GRE is actually a bit cheaper – $195 at the moment.
    But if you are going for a business school the GMAT is definitely worth it.

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