Exam Prep

Graduate Management Admission Test – Business School

The Basics: Your GMAT Questions Answered

For the past 60 years, aspiring business school candidates all over the globe have taken the Graduate Management Admissions Test, commonly referred to as the GMAT. Performance on this notoriously difficult exam is considered the gold standard for entry into a competitive business master’s programs, particularly a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) program.

The test does not measure an applicant’s body of knowledge or training in particular skill sets; instead, admissions officers at business schools are able to assess a candidate’s ability to reason, analyze data and problem-solve. Demonstrable critical thinking skills have proven to be a useful predictor of future success or failure in business; consequently, business school admissions officers rely heavily on GMAT performance when matching candidates to graduate programs.

From the outset, this exam sets the tone for a typical candidate’s challenges in business school — the GMAT isn’t easy and neither is business school. Questions on the exam are continually modified, both to prevent cheating and to remain relevant and understandable by business school students. The Graduate Management Admissions Council reported that, in 2013, 238,000 people in 113 countries sat for the GMAT. This figure actually signifies a year on year drop in annual GMAT registrations recorded since 2008.

The peak year for GMAT registrations came in 2011-2012, when 286,529 students sat for the GMAT. This drop in registrations is likely due to the expansion of admissions policies at some business schools, where applicants can submit a GRE score in lieu of a GMAT.


  1. What master’s programs require the GMAT?

    The GMAT is required by graduate programs offering degrees in business and management. This is most often a Master of Business Management (MBA), but it could also be a specialized program like a Master of Accounting, Master of Science in Finance or Master of Management. The admissions page of each of department will clearly layout the application materials required. However, if a department accepts GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores, it’s always best check with the director of your program to ensure that the GMAT exemption really does apply to you.

  2. Where do I register?

    You may register online or mail in a paper form available from the placement office at a local college. Make sure the name on your state-issued identification or passport matches the name you register under.

  3. When and where do I take the exam?

    The GMAT is offered nearly every day of the year at multiple locations. You’ll probably want to register for your exam a few months early to allow yourself some prep time, but GMAC will also let you schedule an exam the very next day if a slot is available. Availability and scheduling vary by facility, just use the search tool provided by GMAC to locate nearby testing centers and review their upcoming calendars. Then simply find a date and place that is convenient for you. Registrants can also choose between a morning 8am session or an afternoon test beginning at 3pm. U.S. military service members may also opt to take their GMAT at a test center located on a military base. Test takers who have valid Federal ID and authorization to enter the base can simply check “Yes I have access to the base” and will be able to review nearby military base testing centers.

  4. How much does it cost?

    The GMAT scheduling fee costs $250. This registration cost covers all expenses for this particular exam date. Online registrants must create a GMAC Account online and then choose to pay with a credit card or pay-by-mail with a check or money order via the U.S. Postal Service. If you opt to pay by mail, GMAC will mail you a summary of charges and instructions on where to submit your payment.

  5. How long is the test?

    The entire test spans 3.5 hours:

    • 60 minutes for essay writing
    • 75 minutes for reading skills
    • 75 minutes for problem-solving skills
  6. Can I reschedule my test day?

    You may reschedule a GMAT exam and change testing facilities, but fees do apply. If you reschedule more than seven days before your first scheduled test date and time you’ll need to pay an additional $50 to reschedule. Once you are within a week of your first scheduled exam date, the cost to reschedule goes up to $250. Fee scales and policies vary slightly for international students taking the GMAT outside the U.S.

  7. When should I start studying?

    Due to the flexibility of available test dates, you can allot yourself preparation time that takes your individual learning style into account. Most experts recommend at least 3 months of preparation. Consider whether you should leave time to retake the test if you’re unhappy with your score, and don’t forget to plan around business school application deadlines. Allow 3 to 4 weeks for your scores to reach your target schools.

  8. What is adaptive testing?

    The technology behind the GMAT’s Computer Aided Testing (CAT) creates a customized test based on the accuracy of your answers in the early parts of the test. If you choose a correct answer, the next question you receive will be harder than the first. Conversely, your next question will be easier if you choose an incorrect answer. Correct scores on harder questions result in a higher overall score than scoring well on easy questions. By the time you’ve answered about the first third of the questions, CAT technology can approximate your highest possible score based upon your performance and will generate questions that will best help you to hit that score.

  9. What is a “good” GMAT score?

    Of course, a “good” GMAT score depends on the types of programs you are interested in. Most business schools will provide information on the average GMAT score and undergraduate GPA of incoming classes. Use this as a guideline to gauge the range you need to score within to gain admission. The four sections of the GMAT are scored individually. Students also receive a “total score” ranging from 200-800. Total scores are calculated as a composite of the verbal and quantitative sections only. Two-thirds of test takers score between 400-600 on their total score and earn an average of 547.35. Your official score report will also include percentiles for each section. This figure indicates how your score ranks against GMAT test scores from the last three years and provides students and schools a better relative indicator of performance. Most of all, these rankings are useful for setting target scores and measuring progress on practice exams. Review GMAC’s percentile rankings to get a better idea of where you stand.

  10. How long are scores valid?

    Tests are considered current up to five years after the exam date.

    Year GMAT Taken Current Up Until
    2009 2014 — Not Current Anymore
    2010 2015
    2011 2016
    2012 2017
    2013 2018
    2014 2019
    2015 2020
    2016 2021
    2017 2022
    2018 2023

    Provided you haven’t taken the GMAT within the last five years, you may request score reports up to ten years after an exam, but outdated results won’t do you much good. Most schools won’t consider score reports that are older than five years old. Special cases may apply for accomplished mid-career professionals, but these instances are rare and must be agreed upon on a school by school basis by the applicant.

  11. How do I get scores sent to a school?

    Before you begin your exam, you may identify five graduate programs you would like to send your scores to. You are not required to list these score recipients on the day of your exam, but it is a good idea to take advantage of the free score report delivery system. After you’ve taken the test, designating additional schools will cost $28 each.

  12. Is it possible to cancel scores?

    You can cancel scores on the day of the test. Immediately after you complete the exam, you will see an unofficial score report. You will have a two-minute window in which to designate whether you want your final scores to be sent to your prospective schools. Choosing “no” doesn’t not mean you will never be able to send score reports to these schools.

    If you change your mind within 60 days of cancelling your score, you can opt to reinstate your score for a $100 fee. You will then need to pay an additional $28 fee for each school you choose to submit the score report to. The score cancellation will also remain a part of your permanent record and be reported on future score reports.

  13. How many times can I take it?

    You may take the GMAT five times within any 12-month time frame, as long as the tests are 31 days apart. Of course, exam registration costs add up quickly. Take a look at our GMAT Preparation Strategies before taking the GMAT.

  14. Should I retake the GMAT?

    It depends. If you bombed the GMAT because you were ill-prepared or had a problem on test day a retake is your best option. Just remember that the test is engineered to assess reasoning skills that can’t easily be developed in a few months. It’s not content-based and you can’t necessarily study your way to a perfect score. If you prepped for months and got disappointing scores on your practice exams, a retake is probably not going to help you. GMAC doesn’t release regular data on the average score improvements of those who retake the exam a second or third time. But in 2012, GMAC’s chief psychometrician did release statistics indicating that average score gains on retakes are modest and not guaranteed. Nearly 25% of repeat testers actually scored lower on their second GMAT test. Additionally, retesting did not appear to be that worthwhile for students who scored above a 600 on their first exam attempt.

    Retakes: Average Point Gain

    Score of 1st Exam Average Point Gain on 2nd Attempt
    200-499 30
    500-590 20
    600-690 10
    700-790 8

    Also, keep in mind that schools will be able to review all of your GMAT scores from the last five years. Contact the school to find out if they average scores or consider only the highest composite score or the most recent score. This will help you decide if a retake is worth the additional effort and cash.

  15. How does the GMAT differ from the GRE?

    The GMAT is most typically required by business schools, but a growing number of them accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The tests are basically similar in content, length and cost. Both test Quantitative, Verbal and Writing skills, but individual question formats vary. It’s advisable to get GMAT-specific prep materials, even if you are highly conversant in GRE-style of verbal and quantitative questions. If you fail to devote time to GMAT practice exams, you will be seeing several critical thinking and problem-solving exercises for the first time on test day. And don’t forget: Students may use a calculator during the GRE, but not the GMAT.

    Breakdown: GRE vs GMAT

      GRE GMAT
    Source: The Princeton Review
    Why Take It Required for admission by most graduate schools and a growing number of business schools Required for admission to most business schools
    Test Structure
    • Analytical Writing: 75 min
    • Verbal: 60 min
    • Quantitative: 70 min
    • Analytic Writing: 30 min
    • Integrated Reasoning: 30 min
    • Verbal: 75 min
    • Quantitative: 75 min
    Test Format Both paper-based and computer adaptive sections Fully computer-adaptive
    Cost $195 $250
    Scoring 130-170 in one point increments 200-800 in 10-point increments
    Exam Time 3+ hours depending on format 3.5 hours
    Scores Valid 5 years 5 years

  16. Who should take both the GRE and GMAT?

    You probably don’t need to. Only students who have identified programs that verifiably require the GRE or the GMAT should sit for both exams. If you’re going to business school, the GMAT may be your best bet, but be sure to check to see on the off-chance that all of your schools accept the GRE in lieu of GMAT scores. The GRE is ideal for students who think they may want to apply to graduate school in another discipline within the next five years. These tests are expensive to register for, expensive to prepare for and expensive to send to schools. Be sure that you absolutely need these exams before you commit. If you are planning on taking both tests, consider spacing the exam dates at least a few months apart. This will give you time to do prepare thoroughly for each exam. The preparation time for both exams is roughly the same, as is the retake policy. So you’ll need to build in an appropriate amount of time to be able to study, take and retake any exams before your application deadlines come up.