Many moons ago when starting my career as a financial advisor I was ambitiously trying to get my MBA at the same time. I eventually had to make a choice and realized that getting my MBA was not paying the bills and I had to drop out to focus on my career. (Later on, I felt getting my CFP® certification was superior to the MBA for my profession) To get accepted into the MBA program I had to take what's called the GMAT exam. It's been ages since I took the GMAT exam, but recently my intern, Alex Marrucho, has been preparing for the GMAT exam for quite a while and just took the test. I asked him to share his experience with anyone that is looking to take the GMAT exam in the near future. So for anyone that is looking to prepare, take and pass the GMAT exam, this post is for you.
What is the GMAT?
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is the standardized and computerized exam that helps Business schools asses the qualifications of applicants who wish to pursue advanced degrees in business. Most MBA programs require applicants to take the GMAT and they use it as a tool to level out applicants. What I mean by this is the following: how can business schools compare a 3.5 GPA at University A and a 3.5 GPA at University B or how can they compare two different applicants that have been in the job market working in different industries? It’s obvious that each university or job provides a different learning experience. This is where the GMAT comes in; business schools use the GMAT, which tests one’s analytical, quantitative and verbal skills, as one predictor of how the applicant will perform in their programs.
Why take the GMAT?
According to the Official GMAT website,
“Over 1900 graduate business schools around the world use GMAT scores as part of their admissions process”.
The bottom line is if you wish to pursue an advanced degree in business, you will most likely need to take the GMAT. While a few Business schools do not require the GMAT, a lack of a GMAT score might lead the admissions committee to cast doubt on your potential. If you plan to pursue an advanced business degree, prepare yourself to take the GMAT.
The GMAT Exam Structure
As mentioned above, the GMAT tests your analytical, quantitative, and verbal skills. Simply stated, the GMAT will test your ability to express yourself clearly and concisely, your math skills, and your usage of formal written English. The test starts out by testing your ability to express yourself clearly and concisely by having the test-taker write two essays on random topics. On one of the essays, the GMAT will give you a short paragraph to read and you will have to analyze the reasoning behind the argument. While many test takers try to pick a side, I believe the best approach is to use a passive tone, pointing out the possible flaws in the argument and how the author could have strengthened it.
On the second essay, you will be given an issue to analyze and you will have to present and support your point of view on the subject. On this essay, you should pick a side and develop persuasive arguments to support your reasoning. You will have 30 minutes to develop each of the essays. It is important to note that after the 30 minutes pass, the computer will “kick” you out of that section and into the next section. Even if you did not finish your essay, were in the middle of typing a word or sentence, or were in the introduction of the essay, the system will not allow you to go back and finish that essay. Be sure that you will be penalized for not finishing the essay. Time management is very important.
After both essays, you will have an optional break of 8 minutes before starting the quantitative (i.e. math) section. It is important to say that if you do take more than 8 minutes, the timer for the quantitative section of the test will start. The quantitative section of the GMAT tests basic math skills such as arithmetic, geometry, and problem solving; most, if not all, of what is asked in the math section was taught to you in high school. Don’t let this fool you though, the test makers can word the problems in such a way that it may seem that a team of NASA engineers is required to solve the problem. Oh, did I mention that you are not allowed to use a calculator? Yes, be ready to add, subtract, multiply, and divide whole numbers and fractions. The quantitative section is divided into 2 sections, the problem solving and data sufficiency sections. On the problem solving questions, you will be required to come up with an answer for the question, while in the data sufficiency questions you will have to determine whether the information given to you is enough to answer the question. On the data sufficiency section, which many say is the trickiest, a question and 2 statements will be given to you. You will have to analyze the statements and determine whether statement 1 alone is sufficient to answer the question, statement 2 alone is sufficient to answer the question, each statement alone is enough to answer the question, both statements combined are necessary to answer the questions, or you do not have enough information to answer the question. You will be given 37 questions and 75 minutes to answer them in the quantitative section of the test. Again, if you do not finish the test, you will be penalized considerably. Before the verbal section, you will be given the option to take an 8 minute break; the same rules that I stated before will apply.
After feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained for 2 hours and 15 minutes, the hardest part of the test (as can be concluded from the average score of test-takers on this section) will start, the Verbal section. On this part of the test, you will be required to use the formal rules of written English to correct “seemingly correct, but not really” sentences, analyze; strengthen; weaken; and explain arguments presented to you, and read texts, which may vary from business topics to the most obscure physics topics such as black holes, to answer questions that test your reading comprehension. While most answers can be found in the text, don’t think it is an easy task to spot the answers for the questions. The texts can be so convoluted with complex and technical terms that you may find yourself not knowing what is going on after reading the whole passage. You will be given 75 minutes to complete this last section of the test; be sure to finish all 41 questions.
Preparing for the GMAT Exam
There are many books, which I personally recommend The Official Guide for GMAT Review 12th edition and The Princeton Review Manual for the GMAT Version 8.2, from which you can study. The Official Guide for GMAT Review 12th edition brings you hundreds of exercises created by the makers of the GMAT, while The Princeton Review Manual for the GMAT focuses on teaching you the topics tested in the GMAT and gives you strategies on how to approach the problems. Other than the books I recommend, your best bet is to type in “GMAT” in Amazon’s search engine and read the product details and comments on each book.
GMAT Prep Materials
There are additional options, although costly, that can better prepare you for the GMAT. Both Kaplan and The Princeton Review offer preparation courses for the GMAT. The available courses range from a classroom of four to online private tutoring. The cost for The Princeton Review Online Private Tutoring runs around $1900 (they provide you with the latest Official Guide, The Princeton Review Manual, 5 practice tests, online resources to study for the GMAT, and 18 hours of one-on-one tutoring). The cost for the Kaplan’s tutoring should be about the same. When you enroll in a private tutoring course, you are assigned a tutor who will meet with you throughout your course. The meeting’s length can vary from 1 to 2 hours and you are recommended to meet once a week. While some may be inclined to want to meet every day, I would strongly recommend sticking with the recommendation (once a week). You will be assigned readings and tens of exercises between classes and to get the maximum out of the course, I encourage taking your time working the exercises rather than rushing through them.
How Long Should you Study for the GMAT Exam?
On the Official GMAT Web Site, it is stated:
“Allow at least four weeks of studying before you take the test.”
I agree with this advice; I believe that if you really stick to the plan and study at least 3 hours a day for a month, you should be more than prepared for the test. If you plan on taking a prep course, you probably want to allow yourself 2-3 months to prepare for the GMAT. As mentioned above, the prep course will offer you 18 hours of private tutoring and with the recommendation of 1 meeting per week and 2 hours per meeting, you will need 9 weeks of preparation.
The GMAT website also offers a free software called GMATPrep®, which offers 2 practice tests and some insight into the topics tested on the GMAT. I would strongly recommend using additional sources beside the software to study for the GMAT. I believe the best option is to work with this software whenever you are done with the studying because I believe it gives you a better perspective of what the test will look like.
The Week before the GMAT Exam
While many may think that the best is to study hours and hours during the week before the GMAT, I would recommend using your time wisely. The most important is getting enough sleep, not only the day before, but also the whole week before the GMAT. While many recommend 8 hours per night, I found out that the ideal for me was around 9 hours of sleep per night. You should also focus on what you eat. My GMAT was scheduled for 1pm and I decided that I would not have lunch, but a late breakfast before taking the GMAT. To prepare myself for this, during the week preceding the GMAT, I ate the SAME breakfast at around the SAME time every day. While this may seem a little weird, I decided that I would rather risk acting weird than all the effort, time, and money that I had put into studying for the GMAT. I did not want my body to influence my mind during the test, but rather have my mind in control of everything. How much would you regret feeling too full, too nauseated, or too tired during the test, which you prepared for months? During the last week you should focus on your weak skills, be it sentence correction, reading comprehension, or data sufficiency. My advice for the week preceding the test is simple: seize every moment, control every outcome, and be selfish; during this one week, make yourself more important than anything or anyone. You have put a huge amount of effort into the preparation and deserve the best possible outcome.
Taking the GMAT Exam
When taking the GMAT, you are required to arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before your test starts. This will give you enough time to go over the registration and security procedures. While no study material is allowed in the room, I would recommend taking some problems to “warm-up” your brain and work them in your car before entering the test center. I failed to do that and paid the price; I got stuck with the first math problem for about 5 minutes, when it would have taken me about 30 seconds to solve the problem had I “warmed up” my brain. You will be given a locker to place all your belongings, including your jacket or sweat-shirt, before entering the testing area. Even though it was really warm in the room that I took the test, I would recommend dressing in layers; I believe a t-shirt and a long-sleeve shirt with no pockets, will suffice. After having your palm scanned – yes, fingerprints are something from the past – you will enter the testing room. All that you should have with you is an ID, key to your locker, a pen (provided by the test center), and a dry note board (provided by the test center). As mentioned above you will work on two essays, followed by the math section, and finally the verbal section.
Analytical Writing Section
While in the analytical writing section, you should remember which essay you should pick a side and which essay you should use a more passive tone and recommend actions to strengthen the author’s argument. After reading the passage, take 2-5 minutes to write down 2-4 ideas that you should explore, either to strengthen or weaken the argument. Choose your best 3 and start writing about them. Your essay should have an introduction, a body (comprised of one paragraph for each idea you chose to write about), and a conclusion. In the introduction you should restate the author’s argument and, if appropriate, state your side. In the body of the essay, you should support your arguments with relevant information, while in the conclusion you should state, if appropriate, whether you think the author is right or wrong. Whenever I say “if appropriate”, I mean if you are in the section that REQUIRES you to take a side. Always keep track of the time and allow yourself 2 minutes to reread the essay before submitting it.
Multiple Choice Section
The multiple-choice section of the test has a very interesting way of testing the test-takers’ knowledge. The GMAT is a dynamic test. Your answer to a question will determine what will be the next question given to you. For every question you get wrong, an “easier” question will pop up; for every correct answer you get, a harder question will pop-up. The first 10 questions will weigh much more towards your final score, than the last 10 questions will. The diagram below illustrates this idea. If you get the first answer right, your possible final score is, for example, 600. If you get the first answer wrong, your possible final score is, for example, 200. This goes on throughout the test, which means that you should take more time working the first 10-15 problems than the last 10 problems, but you have to be sure to answer every problem, even if you don’t know the answer or do not have the time to read the problem. By guessing, you have a 20% chance of choosing the correct answer, while if you don’t guess, not only will you get that problem wrong, but also will be penalized for not finishing the test. If you have 10 minutes left and 15 problems to go, start guessing. Read the problem, estimate the answer, and choose the one that you think could most likely be the correct one. Don’t waste your time on problems that are extremely hard; eliminate the “trap answers”. For example, if you see in the problem two numbers, a 3 and a 2, and one of the choices given to you is 5, discard it. What are the odds that all the test makers wanted you to do is to add the 2 numbers given in the problem? Slim. The same applies for the verbal section. If you run out of time, discard answers that are too strong. Some “strong” phrases are: “All of the…”, “The author refutes the theory…”, “This will happen all the time…”, etc.
Passing the GMAT Exam
Whenever you are done with the test, give yourself a pat on the back; you are a survivor. You will be given the option on whether to report the scores. If you chose to report, the verbal and quantitative scores will show up for you and the schools you selected to send the scores to will receive the scores. If you choose not to report the score, not only will the schools not receive your scores, but also you will not be able to see your score. Most likely, the best alternative is to report the score. If the test seemed too hard, that may be a good sign. It could mean that you were getting a lot of answers correct, therefore making the computer give you harder questions each time. I think that the only time you should cancel your scores is if at the beginning of the test you were overly anxious and puked all over the keyboard and that greatly affected your performance. Remember, even if you do cancel your scores, the $250 test-fee will not be refunded. The scores for each of your essays will arrive approximately a month after you took the test. Also, the schools will only receive your scores after about a month from the date you took the test; schedule the test taking into account this month delay and the school’s application deadline.
That is all; I wish you luck with the GMAT process!
This a guest post from Alex Marrucho, an intern from SIU-Carbondale majoring in Finance. He can connect with him on his Linked In Profile.