Here are 5 practical tips to help you prepare for the GMAT exam:
- The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), which is very different from a paper-and-pencil exam. The CAT programming will zone in on your proficiency levels and continue to ask you questions within those limits.
- Take your time on the first 5 questions in each section. Since it’s computer-adaptive, the program uses these first few questions to determine the level of difficulty that it thinks you can handle. Correct answers to more difficult questions earn you more points so don’t be in a rush.
- Major GMAT sections are Quantitative and Verbal with scores ranging from 200 to 800, in addition to two Analytical Writing Assessment essays scored separately. The overall average score is 529 and 67% of test takers will score between 400 and 600.
- You want to find a local testing center and schedule your exam well in advance. This gives you plenty of time to reserve your seat and prepare for the exam. Many don’t know that certain metropolitan areas will book up several months in advance. You want to make sure you reserve your seat in time to meet your application deadlines.
- There is no substitute for preparation. Learning and practicing the material tested within the GMAT will help you to achieve a higher score and settle nerves and anxiety. Using a study guide will allow you to work through the principles and take timed practice tests. Try alternating between studying and taking computer-adaptive practice tests, focusing specifically on your weakest areas to make efficient use of your study time.
6 Tips for Test Day
Understand the directions for each question type before you take the test. This will save you valuable time. Test-prep manuals and other tools help you with this.
Take your time with the questions at the beginning of each section. The questions at the beginning of a section affect your score more than those at the end. Once the computer determines your general ability level with these initial questions, you will be able to improve your score dramatically.
Be completely sure of each answer before proceeding. You cannot skip a difficult question and return to it later on the computerized test. Nor can you review responses to questions that you have already answered. If you are totally stumped, then eliminate as many answer choices as you can, select the best one, and move on.
Pace yourself. To finish both sections, you need to establish a pace that allows you to spend, on average, just under 2 minutes per item.
Be prepared to receive a mix of different question types within each section. The computer may select one of several question formats, depending on whether you answered the previous question correctly or incorrectly. So be ready.
Write well and write quickly. Because your essay is graded by computer, be sure to set up a logical structure and write with a clear and direct style. This is not the place to be funny or innovative.
GMAT Verbal Section
After your complete the Quantitative section and take a second minute break, you’ll start the final lap. The Verbal Section tests your English – language communication and reasoning skills using three different multiple choice question-types randomly distributed in roughly equal numbers across 41 questions:
- Sentence Correction questions test your ability to identify clear and correct English. You’ll need a strong sense of both grammar and the stylistic conventions of quality business English to do well.
- Critical Reasoning questions challenge you to understand, evaluate and manipulate logical prose arguments. Here, you’ll have to look past the words to the ideas, good or bad, presented by the author.
- Reading Comprehension questions demand that you quickly and efficiently grasp a challenging passage. To succeed, you’ll need to be able to locate facts, trace an author’s train of logic, and map the structure of a text – all in a matter of minutes.
As with the Quantitative Section, you’ll have 75 minutes for the Verbal Section. Following are explanations and examples.
Sentence Correction questions present a usually knotty sentence with all or a portion underlined. The answer choices present five versions of the underlined portion and your task is to select the best. Note that the first answer choice always repeats the underlined portion of the original Written English. This is not entirely true. You’ll need a strong grasp of proper style and a taste for clarity in writing to do well.
A second question-type is Critical Reasoning. You’ll be asked to understand, analyze and manipulate a text-based logical argument. Typical questions ask you to identify: an argument’s conclusion and evidence, an assumption made by the author, an addition to the argument that would either strengthen it or weaken it, or even an additional statement that can be inferred from the argument. The level of English is advanced, so expect plenty of tough vocabulary, be it in the opening text (the “stimulus”), the assigned task (the “question stem”) or the answer choices. The correct answer is the one that best fulfils the task presented in the question stem. Think of Critical Reasoning as the verbal analogue to Data Sufficiency. Both test your reasoning and judgment.
Reading Comprehension rounds out the Verb al question-types. When you face these questions, the computer screen will post a text of 200 to 300 words on the left side of the screen. You must use the text (and your reading skills) to answer the three to five questions that appear, one at a time, on the right side of the screen. Once you have finished the questions for a text, you won’t see that text again. Rather, later in the section, you’ll be given a new text and a set of questions.
The goal of this question type is to see how well you can digest a lot of new and challenging information presented in a prose format. Imaging you’re a consultant new to a case. Your boss drops a load of industry reports on your desk and asks you to go through them to get the key details and arguments for your first meeting with the client…in an hour’s time. You’ll need to be a very efficient, discerning reader!
The texts themselves are drawn from obscure academic journals in the fields of business, the science and the humanities/social sciences. However, you won’t need any specialized knowledge of the subjects to do well – all the information needed to answer correctly is the text itself.
GMAT Quantitative Section
Next comes the first of the multiple choice portions of the test, the Quantitative section. here, you’ll be given 75 minutes to respond to 37 questions testing math skills and quantitative reasoning. You will see one question on the screen at a time, and you must answer that question before the computer will allow you to move on to the next. No calculators are allowed on the GMAT, but you will have a scratch paper if and when you need to calculate. Tested subject matter includes arithmetic (percents, ratios, rates), algebra, number properties (prime numbers, fractions, etc.) and geometry. These subjects are tested using two different question-types that are distributed more or less at random across the section:
- Problem Solving is the traditional multiple choice math question. Below you’ll find the questions from the mini diagnostic, and strategies to give you a sense of how to succeed with this question type.
- Data Sufficiency is the most challenging math on the GMAT because it asks you not to solve a problem, but to determine whether or not it can be solved. We cover this question type in detail and help you understand how you can exploit this question type’s structure to have a competitive advantage.
You know the drill for Problem Solving – read the question, set up the problem, perform the calculation and select the best response from the five listed. About half of these questions are word problems (i.e. the problems are presented in prose rather than in mathematical formulae or notation – “what does two plus two equal?” rather than “2+2+?”), and in total you’ll see about 22 Problem Solving questions in the Quantitative section.
The other question-type is the famous, dreaded, Data Sufficiency. Here, you must determine whether you have enough information to answer the question. Sometimes, but not always, the question itself provides useful but incomplete information. Once you’ve digested this, you then consider two additional propositions and decide if one, both or neither of them provides the additional information you need. The answer choices are standardized based on the combination of propositions needed to correctly answer the question. Data Sufficiency is very tricky for the uninitiated, but because up to 15 question in the section are this type, your performance on Data Sufficiency will make or break your Quantitative score.
GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment
Once the tutorial is complete, you’ll begin the first section of the actual exam, the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA). This includes two timed essays of 30 minutes each. For each essay, the computer posts a topic and a series of instructions, provides a window for typing the essay, and provides command buttons for basic text editing functions, such as cut, paste, undo.
AWA I: Analysis of Issue
One of the two essays is called Analysis of an Issue. The topic paragraph presents a subject for debate, and your job is to select one side and argue for it. The instructions require you to state your choice and support it by giving relevant reasons and examples. Here’s a sample:
Internet-based music distribution, in which a consumer can locate online thousands of songs to download for free, has become a lively topic of debate in recent years. Most record companies and many recording artists oppose free distribution, arguing it deprives them of their rightful income, and in so doing limits the growth potential of individual artists and the industry as a whole. On the other hand, many consumers and the high tech start-ups that have pioneered this technology claim “free” distribution is merely a symptom of problems in the industry itself. They point to inflated prices for CDs and poor selection as reasons why consumers reject traditional distribution. Furthermore, they state that the income artists lose from free distribution is more than offset by the cheaper access they have to new fans and international markets.
Which argument do you find more convincing: that in favor of free Internet-based music distribution, or opposed? Use relevant reasons or examples (drawn from your reading, observations or personal experience) to support your choice.
The surest, quickest way to fail this essay is to write off the topic – and you’d be surprised by how many people do! Don’t touch the keyboard until you’ve asked yourself the same questions journalists do: What’s is the issue? (Downloading music off the internet for free); Who’s involved? (record companies and recording artists vs. consumers and DotCom companies); When? (now, of course); Where? (not important in this case); Why do the two sides disagree? (loss of revenue and growth potential vs. low prices, selection and cheap access to new fans and markets).
Your answers to these questions form the “boundary” for what you discuss in your essay. Don’t ever stray outside! Once you’ve set your boundary, you’re ready to respond to two more questions (and get a top score in the process): Which side do you support? And, why should the reader believe you?
GMAT Analysis of Argument
The other essay is Analysis of an Argument, where you’ll be asked to critique the reasoning of an argument presented in the topic paragraph, pointing out its weaknesses and suggesting ways to improve it and/or information that would help you better evaluate it. Here’s a typical example:
The following appeared as part of the quarterly financial report of a major multinational manufacturing company.
“Despite the unexpected $100 million loss we posted for the quarter and the resulting price slump in company stock, shareholders should be bullish about the company’s immediate future and use the slump as an opportunity to buy additional shares. The market as a whole, as shown by the recent performance of both the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq indexes, continues to climb and inflation is projected to stay low. Furthermore, our planned $250 million factory investment scheme will give us a manufacturing capacity greater than what our competitors currently have. Finally, the new management team has a great track record in their prior work consulting for the financial services industry. The Board expects them to return us to profitability very quickly.”
Explain how logically convincing you find this argument. In your explanation, analyze the argument’s line of reasoning and its use of evidence. You should consider explaining what, if anything, would make the argument more valid or convincing, or would help you better evaluate its conclusion.
Ask yourself, What’s the author’s claim/point? – “Buy our stock even though it isn’t performing well now”. Then ask, What does the author provide as evidence to try and convince me? – “markets are going up. Inflation is supposed to stay low. Our investment will give us greater capacity. The author’s argument. You must therefore identify and dismantle each to earn your score – the more completely you do so, the higher your score.
Note: Either essay could be the first you’ll see on the test day, so read the instructions carefully and write accordingly. The test makers understand 30 minutes is a very brief time to compose and write, so the essays don’t need to be very long. Aim for 300 words each. Note that you must finish the first essay before the computer will allow you to move on to the second. When you’ve completed both (or run out of time), you’ll be given a five minute break and can leave the test room to stretch your legs.