What You Need to Know About the GMAT

Image by Ian Lamont, Flickr

Image by Ian Lamont, Flickr

Since 1954, graduate business programs around the world have been using the GMAT to guide their hand in the admissions process. From its humble beginnings, this standardized exam is now in use by over 5,400 programs and taken by more than 200,000 persons annually. So what exactly is the GMAT?

The Basics

The GMAT, short for Graduate Management Admission Test, does not require advanced English vocabulary or a knowledge of math beyond the grade 10 level in order to complete it. It is only delivered in English, and since 1997, it is only administered on computers. The exam runs approximately four hours in length, which includes two optional eight minute breaks. The GMAT may be the most expensive part of your graduate program application, as registering for it costs US $250. If you wish you to improve your score and retake the exam (another $250), you must wait a minimum of 31 days before you can write the GMAT again. You may only write the exam a maximum of five times within any given twelve month period.

The Test

The GMAT requires no prior education in either business or management. Instead, the GMAT is designed to test the higher-order reasoning abilities that students will need to be successful in a Master of Business Administration program.

The exam is divided into four sections:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment
    In it, students are allotted 30 minutes to analyze a given argument in the form of a short essay.

  3. Integrated Reasoning
    In June of 2012, this new second section was introduced, which challenges students’ ability to analyze data and draw reasoned conclusions. 30 minutes are allotted to students to answer 12 questions. There are four types of questions in the Integrated Reasoning section. The first question type, Multi-Source Reasoning, is more of a writing comprehension and analysis exercise, while the other three question types — Two-Part Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, and Table Analysis — are geared toward numerical analysis.

  5. Quantitative
    This is the math section. The allotted time is boosted to 75 minutes, a period in which students will be presented with a maximum of 37 questions. The questions come in two different types: Problem Solving, and Data Sufficiency. Problem Solving questions are straight-forward quantitative questions, but Data Sufficiency questions are a little more complicated. They present a problem and two pieces of data, and the student must figure out whether neither, one, or both pieces of the given data are sufficient to solve the question. You do not actually need to find the answer to the question.

  7. Verbal
    This section comprises of a maximum of 41 questions, to be completed in 75 minutes. There are three question types: Sentence Correction, to test your knowledge of English grammar and your ability to communicate ideas effectively, and Reading Comprehension and Critical Thinking, which present you with questions based on a short written passage.


Each section of the GMAT receives an individual score:

  • The Analytical Writing Assessment section is scored on a scale of 0-6, using intervals of 0.5
  • Integrated Reasoning uses a 1-8 scale with intervals of 1
  • Both the Quantitative and Verbal sections are scored on a scale of 0-60, also with intervals of 1

Additionally, the GMAT awards the student a total score on a scale of 200-800, based solely on the Quantitative and Verbal sections of the exam. So technically, you could bomb the first two sections and still pull off a respectable score overall – but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Average GMAT scores for admission into Canadian graduate programs in 2013 ran the gamut from as low as 540 (Lakehead University) to as high as 674 (University of Toronto Rotman School of Management). Competition is even fiercer in the United States, as the average GMAT scores for elite business schools there regularly tops 720.

In short, the GMAT is a key piece of your application to graduate business programs, as your score demonstrates if you are up to the institution’s standards.


Want to learn about other tests?

, ,