Study Tips for the GMAT

If you want to end up in a good MBA program, make sure that you do well on the GMAT. See more college pictures.
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If you're applying to graduate school to study business -- whether it's at Harvard or the University of Iowa -- the school will require you to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). This standardized test gauges your math, verbal and reading aptitude to give the schools you're applying to an idea of your overall intellectual acuity, as well as a sense of how well you might perform if you're accepted. Unlike many of the tests you took in high school and college, which assessed your knowledge of a specific subject, the GMAT assesses your general skills.

Scores on the test range from 200 to 800. Typically the higher you score, the better your chances of getting into the program of your choice, although some schools weigh the GMAT into their decision more heavily than other schools.


The GMAT test is timed. It generally takes about three-and-a-half hours to complete the three parts:

  • Analytical writing (1 hour)
  • Quantitative (75 minutes)
  • Verbal (75 minutes)

You'll get your scores online or through the mail about three weeks after you take the test. Whether you're thrilled or disappointed with your scores depends a lot on how well you prepared for the test.

In this article, you'll learn some tips to help you bone up on the skills you need to score high on the GMAT. Start early -- you may need three to six months to get fully up to speed.

The first part of the test consists of an analytical writing assessment. You will complete two writing assignments, one of which involves analyzing an issue and the other which involves analyzing an argument.

Next is the quantitative section, which tests your basic math skills and ability to reason mathematically. It contains 37 multiple-choice questions of two types:

  • Data sufficiency -- Analyzing a problem and determining which information is relevant, and if there is enough information to answer the question
  • Problem solving -- Finding the solution to mathematical problems

You'll need to brush up on all of these mathematical concepts for the test:

  • Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
  • Prime numbers
  • Percentages
  • Square of a number
  • Even and odd numbers
  • Exponents
  • Averages
  • Roots

Finally, in the verbal section, you'll be asked in 41 questions to show that you can read and interpret written material, and write in proper English. The three sections of this part of the test are:

  • Reading comprehension. You'll read a passage and then answer questions about its content to show that you've understood the material.
  • Critical Reasoning. You'll read an argument and then answer questions based on the assumption underlying that argument.
  • Sentence correction. You'll be shown five different ways of presenting the same sentence, and you must choose the clearest and most grammatically correct sentence.

The GMAT is highly individualized. In other words, you'll probably be taking a completely different test from the person sitting next to you. The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), which means that it constantly monitors your progress and adapts each question to your ability level. Each section of the test starts with a medium difficulty question. Answer it correctly and your next question will be more difficult. Answer it incorrectly and you'll get an easier question for the next one. You will be scored on the number of questions you answer, how many you answer correctly or incorrectly, and their difficulty level.

Studying for the GMAT takes time. If you need assistance, a little tutoring can help.
Studying for the GMAT takes time. If you need assistance, a little tutoring can help.
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Study, study, study! Don't cram the night before -- start at least a few months before the actual exam. Use GMAT study guides, flash cards and textbooks to brush up on the skills you may have missed or forgotten from your undergraduate years. You can study alone or with a friend. If you're willing to spend a little extra money, you can take a GMAT prep class, or get one-on-one tutoring.

For the math section, do as many practice problems and questions as you can, in all the different areas (data sufficiency, basic math computation, squares, exponents, etc.). Practice may not make perfect, but it will definitely increase your odds of scoring higher on the test. Keep going over the problems until your math comprehension score is slightly higher than what will be expected of you on test day.

For the reading section, you'll have to read large (and often very boring) sections of text. Practice reading passages from books, magazines and newspapers until you find a speed that is quick enough to move through the material within the allotted time, but slow enough to ensure that you've absorbed what you read. Once you've read a section, ask yourself questions about it to see how much you understood, and then go back and check yourself.

Also practice taking the essay portion of the test to make sure that you can construct a well-written, clear answer to the types of questions you will be given.

Don't just study the questions you'll be asked during the test. Also familiarize yourself with the directions for each section, so you don't have to read through them again and use up valuable test-taking time.

Finally, take a computerized practice test. It helps to take tests prepared by different companies, including the official GMAT company, GMATPrep (, and a couple of other test preparation companies. Try to simulate the actual test-taking environment as much as possible. Sit in a quiet room and time yourself. Take the same length breaks that you will be given during the real test. Score the test, and then focus on areas in which you didn't do very well, starting with your weakest areas. Practice those skills until you feel comfortable with them. Take the practice test again (and again) until your scores improve.

Don't worry. You've already studied for the test. With a few simple tips, you should do just fine.
Don't worry. You've already studied for the test. With a few simple tips, you should do just fine.
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No matter how hard you've studied, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you don't choke on the day of the test.

  • Get a good night's sleep. When you're well rested, you'll have an easier time focusing on the test.
  • Eat a good breakfast. A grumbling stomach can really break your concentration.
  • Get there early. Set your alarm a little bit earlier to make sure you're out the door with plenty of time to spare. Map out your route ahead of time so that you don't get lost and show up late and stressed out for the test.
  • Start slowly. Really take your time with the first few questions, because they'll determine the difficulty level of the rest of the questions you'll be answering in the section.
  • Read carefully. Skipping over a couple of words could change the entire context of the question. Make sure you understand exactly what's being asked before you answer.
  • Move on. If you can't figure out the answer to a question, use the process of elimination to remove as many answers as possible and then take an educated guess. You don't want to run out of time without finishing the test.
  • Check yourself. Make sure that the answer you've chosen is not just factually correct, but that it actually answers the question that is being asked.
  • Keep track of time. Glance at the onscreen time display from time to time to make sure you're pacing yourself appropriately.

If you follow these simple tips on the day of the test, you should do reasonably well -- provided you studied beforehand, of course.

For more standardized test study tips, see the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "The Ultimate Guide to the GMAT: 100 Tips, Tools, and Resources." October 16, 2008.
  • Graduate Management Admission Council. "The Official Guide for GMAT Review." 12th edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2009.
  • Kolby, Jeff and Scott Thornburg. "NOVA's GMAT Prep Course." Los Angeles, CA: NOVA Press, 2004
  • Koprince, Stacy. "Developing a GMAT Study Plan." Beat the GMAT, Feb. 9, 2010.
  • "Test Structure and Overview."
  • "Test-Taking Strategies."
  • Study Guide Zone. GMAT Test Study Guide.