GMAT: The Sure Marks of an Unsure World

The special skills that only the GMAT tests

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This is a guest post by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep.

George Bernard Shaw once said: "If all the economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion." This quip certainly highlights what's uncertain about the business world, a world that has considerably more flux and instability in our modern electronic age than it did even in Shaw's time. To prepare folks to navigate these uncertain waters, business schools give people MBA's. To assess to whom to give the MBA's, the business schools rely on the GMAT. The GMAT, then, is a portal into a world of tremendous uncertainty. 

Ironically, there's quite a bit that is regular and predictable about the GMAT. In some sense, the deeper irony is that, as much as the marketplace changes, some of the same skills that have always garnered success continue to do so in the ever-changing world. Some of these perennial skills, such as the ability to run numbers in one's head or the ability to analyze arguments, are precisely what the GMAT tests. 

The GMAT stands out in testing skills that are most relevant to business school. This becomes particularly clear in the GMAT vs. GRE comparison. While some folks do take the GRE for business school, most GRE test takers are headed toward a more academic degree. Nuclear physicists, clinical psychologists and poets all the take the GRE. However similar or different the various academic degrees are, none of them prepare folks for the high stakes uncertainty of the modern business world. And the common academic test, the GRE, reflects this. 

For example, the GRE Verbal section is notorious for its advanced vocabulary. And not surprisingly, GRE Vocabulary list litter both the web and the printed GRE guides. It's not at all surprising that the test that poets and novelists will take plumb some of the most arcane and flowery vocabulary in the language. By contrast, business folks are more practical. They aim to communicate effectively, not to proliferate grandiloquent verbiage. Typical GMAT vocabulary is simply not a concern in the same way. Beyond some basic economics 101 vocabulary (profit, demand, interest, etc.) one does not really need to know any specialized words for the GMAT. 

So what really is the focus of the GMAT?

Well, first of all, effective sentences and effective arguments are absolutely key. Of course, the math on the GMAT is typically a notch harder than GRE math. Perhaps most interesting is the GMAT Integrated Reasoning (IR) section, introduced in June 2012. This half-hour, twelve-problem section combines the hardest aspect of the Verbal section with sophisticated mathematics - especially the math of data interpretation, including graphs and charts.

Think about it: when you have your MBA and are sitting in some corporate meeting, there will not be a separate "math" or "verbal" section - instead, numbers, verbal arguments, charts and graphs will all be thrown at you at once, and you will have to make sense of them and "integrate" them. That's the idea of the GMAT IR section. I highly recommend taking a look at the official GMAT IR practice questions as part of your GMAT preparation. 

Economists may never reach a conclusion, but as you will learn from high quality GMAT prep materials, you can reach very sound conclusions about what to expect on each section and each question type of the GMAT. With the right preparation, you will have a sound basis from which to make your leap into this world of vast uncertainty!  

This post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

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