What does the GMAT test?


What does the GMAT test?

Many people find it helpful to understand the big picture of what their up against. So let’s start from there. The GMAT is not a straight forward test that requires you to regurgitate memorized facts.  It’s a test of analyzing clues in problems to determine the correct concepts to apply to solve the problem.

The GMAT is a high level test of your reasoning skills. Built upon concepts you’ve already learned in high school and hopefully honed during your college years. Now, some people don’t believe us when they hear the words, high school.

So let’s clarify. GMAT questions are certainly harder than anything you experienced in high school. Knowing the content your tested on is not enough for a high GMAT score but it may have been enough in high school. For the GMAT, you need to be able to apply reasoning tricks and think efficiently though various problem sets in order to solve them quickly. That means, if you’re not confident in your basic high school math and English skills, the GMAT may make you stumble.


What high school content is covered?

On the math section of the GMAT you need to know; arithmetic, algebra, geometry, counting, probability, and statistics. The material itself isn’t that difficult. But you need to know it very well. Here’s an example, knowing arithmetic means you need to understand fractions, roots, exponents, and prime numbers, and be able to interact between them all without a calculator.

No calculator means some of the computational problems you’ll be expected to solve will look like their near impossible. You’ll need to know how to use prime factors to simplify monstrous exponents and roots. And you’ll find that the solving certain GMAT questions correctly will be hard without understanding that 0 is an even number and is neither positive nor negative.

On the verbal section, knowing American English grammar and sentence structure, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and the logic of argument construction is key. You will be tasked with comprehending what you read accurately and then answering question on it all while under pressure.

You need to know the basic parts of speech in the English language, be able to understand the logic of sentence construction and recognize grammar patterns. You have to be able to read essays and arguments and pick away at each sentence identifying its key meaning while understanding the passage’s primary and secondary arguments.

Here’s how the GMAT test is officially broken down:

Analytical Writing
  • 1 question
  • 30 minutes
  • Analysis of an argument
Integrated Reasoning
  • 12 questions
  • 30 minutes
  • Multi-source reasoning, table analysis, graphics interpretation, two-part analysis
  • 37 questions
  • 75 minutes
  • Problem solving, data sufficiency
  • 41 questions
  • 75 minutes
  • Reading comprehension, critical reasoning, sentence correction


What do I need to learn to score well?

Having both excellent reading and logical inference skills and a deep knowledge of the testing concepts and content is not enough. You need to be able to perform effectively under time constraints. Time is what will hurt you the most during any standardized test. If you had all the time in the world and knew the material you’d be golden.

The truth is simple. Being under a time constraint means there’s no room for error and you need to know exactly what to do. It is excruciatingly difficult to master the high level skills the GMAT demands without having a deep understanding of the basics. Therefore, you need to learn the material in and out. Know it like the back of your hand. And when it comes time to solve a GMAT question, you should perform like a well tuned sports car.


Where do I start?

It’s critical to evaluate your current skill level. While some people have gone from scoring a 420 to a 700 on practice tests in a couple of months, not everyone will. Some people will find their initial low scores to be due to poor time management, anxiety, or just never having taken a computer adaptive test before.

But if you find that you can’t remember the difference between adding and multiplying fractions or how to solve an algebraic expression, then it’s highly unreasonable to expect scoring high within a short period of study time.

For some people, relearning everything you learned in high school comes easy; for others not so much. For the typical student, we recommend spending about three to four months to study for the GMAT. That should give you time to relearn high school level math,make it a second nature, and perfect its execution.


How do I move forward?

Once you benchmark your current skill level and see your practice score you’ll know just how much work you have ahead of yourself. There are numerous options at your disposal to study for the GMAT with. You can opt to self study and pick up a great prep book and go to work. You can enroll in a GMAT prep course and put yourself in a forced learning environment – helpful, if you find it hard to self motivate. Or you can hire a private tutor to give yourself a dedicated instructional experience.

We’re personally fans of self study. You have control over what you dedicate your time towards. Need more math help? Focus on it. Need flexible study hours? You choose your hours. Looking to save money on your GMAT prep? Get a book and save yourself from the huge costs associated with courses and tutors. We’ve outlined and reviewed what we deem to be the best GMAT prep books. Take a look and find the right one for you.




How to Study

Plan to dedicate at least 10 to 15 hours per week towards mastering the material and practicing. Studying, like exercise, needs to be done regularly, so it’s critical to set specific study times and stick with them. Also, studying a little every day is much more effective than studying for an extended period of time on only one or two days a week. Take a look at other post, on how to study to remember. It has some great tips on improving your memory retention.

Next, find a place to study. Mix it up even. Just find a place that you can study effectively and somewhere where you can concentrate. There should be no TV distracting you while you study. Turn your phone off and move yourself away from any distracting temptations.

There is no one best way that everyone learns with, and the most effective learners typically use multiple techniques. So find what works best for you. Is it using flash cards, reading, time or untimed practice, writing notes, making mnemonics, etc? Maybe, finding a study group or partner can help make studying more fun. Experiment and learn.


Final Words

It’s important to know that everything on the GMAT can be learned. It’s also completely possible to work your way up from knowing nothing to full mastery. But there’s no magic formula to the equation. No shortcuts. It takes a hundred percent effort from you and time dedication to achieve a GMAT score your proud of.


Images are Courtesy of mer chau and the UBC Library provided under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.