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How the GMAT Works

Preparing for the GMAT
The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Rusty Kennedy/AP Images

With a standardized test like the GMAT, the key to success is to become intimately familiar with each type of question on the test and comfortable with the test-taking format. Studies by the GMAC show that the longer people prepare for the exam, the better they perform [source: Manhattan Review]. Give yourself at least four weeks of study time before taking the test, although each person has different study requirements depending on how long you've been out of school and how comfortable you are with writing and math.

There are several excellent free resources for familiarizing yourself with each section and sub-section of the exam. The GMAT area of the official Web site has detailed articles and sample questions for each section. The Web site also includes hundreds of sample essay prompts from the AWA section alone.

Once you're familiar with each question type, it's time to practice, practice, practice. Get hands-on experience with the computer-adaptive test-taking format by downloading the free GMATPrep software available from The software includes 15 sample questions from each section of the test and works exactly like the software you'll use on test day. You can also take a free, full-length online practice test through the Princeton Review website.

If you're unaccustomed to reading long passages of text on a computer screen or typing essays on a keyboard, then you need to make special preparations to get comfortable with the computer environment as the test approaches.

For more practice, you can choose from a wide variety of GMAT test preparation books. Some specialize in test-taking strategies and advice, while others are stuffed with thousands of sample questions. The GMAC offers several "official" titles, and there are dozens of annually updated titles from test prep services like The Princeton Review and Kaplan.

Test prep services promise to teach proven test-taking strategies and fundamental verbal and quantitative skills through classroom instruction and tutoring. A study of SAT test prep services found that they had a minimal, but proven effect on raising test scores [source: Inside Higher ED]. Companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan have expanded on their traditional classroom and tutoring services to offer online test prep courses and even live online tutoring.

In addition to preparing for the test itself, you need to prepare for the rules and regulations surrounding the testing day. Find out more on the next page.