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What You Need to Know About the GMAT

Do you want to get accepted into a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at a reputable, accredited business school? Then you will need to get familiar with the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) exam. In this post, we will explore what the GMAT exam is, what it reveals to business schools about candidates, how it is constructed and what you need to know in order to successfully prepare yourself to achieve a high score.

What Is the GMAT?

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the developers of the GMAT, the exam is “the most trusted, proven and well-understood predictor of academic success.” This standardized test has been refined over the years by business schools to enable them to effectively compare candidates and project the best performers in their respective programs.

The GMAT is used today by more than 7,700 business programs in over 2,400 schools and universities in 110+ countries. It is the product of decades of peer-reviewed research, including hundreds of validity studies. As a reliable predictor of academic success in business schools, the GMAT is impressive and peerless.

What Does the Exam Test and How Is It Scored?

As a prospective business student, you might imagine that this exam tests for the aptitudes and skills that are important in the business school academic environment as well as in professional business environments. The GMAT exam assesses competencies in areas like analytical thinking, problem-solving, critical thinking, reading and writing, data sufficiency and logic skills. The entirety of the GMAT is intended to measure one’s “ability to assess higher-order reasoning skills.”

The test produces a composite “Total Score” ranging from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments. Generally, two-thirds of test takers achieve a score between 400 and 800, with the mean score from 2019 to 2021 being 574.51. The test is broken down into four sections as follows (with the number of questions, score ranges and mean 2019 to 2021 scores):

  1. Sixty-two-minute Quantitative Reasoning section (31 questions, scores range from 0 to 60, mean of 41.3)
  2. Sixty-five-minute Verbal Reasoning section (36 questions, scores range from 0 to 60, mean of 27.51)
  3. Thirty-minute Analytical Writing Assessment (one written essay question, scores range from 0 to 6, mean of 4.43)
  4. Thirty-minute Integrated Reasoning section (12 questions, scores range from 1 to 8, mean score of 4.65)

Only scores from the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections are used to compute the test taker’s GMAT “Total Score.” The Analytical Writing Assessment and Integrated Reasoning scores are treated independently and have no effect on the “Total Score.” Total test time, including two optional eight-minute breaks, is just under 3.5 hours.

The GMAT Verbal and Quantitative sections use Computer Adaptive Testing. In this format, each question answered correctly or incorrectly helps to determine which questions will follow. One of the main objectives of this format is to determine knowledge and proficiency for certain questions or content areas for each test-taker and adapt the test accordingly.

The test learns about the test taker’s proficiency through their answers and provides questions of appropriate difficulty to the assessed proficiency level. Answers are scored according to correctness and difficulty level with the intention of providing a clear representation of test taker proficiency within a timely and efficient test structure.

A Quick Word on the GRE

More than 1,300 business schools now accept GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores. The GRE differs from the GMAT in that it has traditionally been used in the admissions process for graduate programs in many disciplines such as public administration, psychology and English, while the GMAT was exclusively for business school admissions. For that reason, the GRE has a heavier emphasis on the English verbal component, and the GMAT has a more challenging quantitative section.

UNCW and the GMAT (or GRE)

For the school’s online MBA and Executive MBA programs, the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) requires a GMAT score above 500 or an equivalent GRE score. The requirement is waived for candidates with five or more years of managerial work experience, candidates with an undergraduate GPA of 3.2 or higher or candidates who have completed an advanced degree (graduate level or above) involving some quantitative coursework.

A fair number of other schools waived GMAT and GRE admissions requirements as well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many institutions will likely start requiring minimum test scores on these exams again as complicated circumstances surrounding the pandemic subside. Yet, some may continue taking a similar approach to UNCW, waiving minimum score requirements if applicants meet certain academic or work experience criteria.

Select Your Own Sequence

GMAT has also implemented a feature which lets test takers select the order in which they will complete the GMAT exam sections. Three options are available:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment → Integrated Reasoning → optional break → Quantitative → optional break → Verbal
  2. Verbal → optional break → Quantitative → optional break → Integrated Reasoning → Analytical Writing Assessment
  3. Quantitative → optional break → Verbal → optional break → Integrated Reasoning → Analytical Writing Assessment

This choice puts everyone on a level playing field. All test takers now have the option to choose whether they want to begin with a writing assessment, verbal test or quantitative test. In addition, each test taker can begin with what they feel is the most or least challenging section. Regardless of the sequence you choose, you have the option to take an eight-minute break between test sections. Or you could keep your momentum going and plow through.

Prior to the implementation of these sequence options, with just one section order, some test takers could get off to a more confident start than others. Putting everyone at ease for such an important exam is a fair and sensible approach GMAC deemed worth implementing.

Exam Results Are Immediately Available

Test takers can now find out their unofficial scores immediately after finishing the exam. Instead of providing profile information on the day of the exam, you can now update your profile ahead of time on the GMAT website.

Test takers may choose to cancel their score and retake the test, eight being the maximum number of times an individual can take the test. The test can only be taken five times in a 12-month period, and the online version of the test can only be taken twice. This can be helpful for various reasons, such as if familiarity with an exam can help you avoid performance anxiety or if you wish to improve your score to increase your potential financial aid offerings.

Recognizing all the work that went into creating and refining the GMAT should add to your appreciation of what the exam does for business schools and, ultimately, the students who attend.

Learn more about UNCW’s online MBA programs.

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