How do business schools distinguish between highly-able candidates, many of whom have stellar academic and professional credentials? The answer is a challenging test that assesses qualities necessary for leadership success—the Graduate Management Admissions Test or more commonly known by its acronym, the GMAT.
The GMAT is used by over 6,000 business management programs and 1,700 universities worldwide. Selecting from a pool of mostly well qualified applicants means that the test is no easy feat. Proper preparation is absolutely essential if you are to perform well. To do so, you need to know what to expect.
The GMAT is a structured test that includes four key elements. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.
1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
In this section, candidates are presented with a short passage setting out an argument. Candidates are given 30 minutes to critically evaluate the reasoning in this passage. This aims to assess the candidate’s critical thinking ability, and whether they can express ideas succinctly using relevant language and syntax.
While the AWA doesn’t actually contribute to your overall GMAT score, it is seen by universities and so it’s still important to do well. To improve your performance in this section, ensure that you recognize, understand, and use assumptions, inferences and deductions. Your ability to test whether these are valid or not will be checked.
Practice evaluating the strength of evidence used to support arguments. You should pay particular attention to weaknesses in reasoning, breaks in logic, or lack of information. Reading newspaper articles can be a great way to achieve this.
Remember to stick to the facts and don’t be tempted to offer your own opinion, provide alternative proposals, or deviate from the question posed. Prior to the test, write several practice essays and make sure to seek feedback on how to improve them—look through the list of example questions provided by the GMAT publishers.
2. Integrated Reasoning
In the integrated reasoning section, candidates are presented with information in a range of different formats which they are expected to understand and synthesize. To be successful, candidates must be able to see relationships or interdependencies within the data provided, evaluate data from different sources, and combine these to solve complex problems.
This part of the test consists of 12 questions to be answered in 30 minutes. As with the AWA, Integrated Reasoning doesn’t contribute to the overall GMAT score. But, poor performance in this section may damage your application, so it’s well worth preparing for fully.
Candidates can expect four types of questions to come up.
Graphic interpretation requires understanding data presented as a graph. Prepare by revising what different graphs are used for, and making sure that you are familiar with the different elements of a graph such as axes and increments.
Two part analysis questions consist of two tables of data, which candidates must use to solve a problem. Practice your understanding of relative data, and critically evaluating information.
In table analysis questions, information is presented in the form of a table as above. But, this time you must select one answer for each statement with a choice of only two opposing answers—yes/no, or true/false.
For multi-source reasoning, you will be given information in a variety of formats which you are required to interpret and understand. Practice looking at data that you wouldn’t normally encounter, like the performance data of a different department or another organization. Also try reading academic papers from a different subject field.
Any activity where you are exposed to, and make sense of unfamiliar information presented in tables and graphs will be beneficial. Take a look at this expert article for further insights into the types of questions you might encounter, and how to address them.
3. Quantitative Reasoning
Quantitative reasoning is a key part of the GMAT, and will contribute to your overall score. It tests your ability to understand and interpret quantitative data, analyse and apply information to solve problems, and to critically evaluate the sufficiency of data.
You’ll be presented with 31 questions to answer in 62 minutes. There are two main types of questions you might be given.
Straightforward problem solving questions require using numerical data to come up with an answer. This will feel familiar to people who have completed numerical reasoning tests in the past.
The second question type expects the candidate to assess whether data provided is sufficient to solve a problem. This assesses your ability to understand and analyse a quantitative problem, and evaluate the data provided.
The best way of preparing really is to complete as many practice questions as possible. This will help you become familiar with the type of questions that are asked, and equip you with strategies for understanding how to solve them. Make sure to read the GMAT Official Guide, as this provides a good explanation of the different topics that can come up.
Also, revise basic mathematical calculations like algebra, geometry, arithmetic, applied maths, and data interpretation. Remember, calculators are not permitted so you will need to work out the answers by hand. You need to be able to do this quickly and accurately...and that means practice.
4. Verbal Reasoning
Verbal Reasoning is the second assessed section of the GMAT—it evaluates your ability to read, understand, and apply written material. You’ll be asked questions that expect you to correct sentences, critically evaluate written material, and accurately understand a passage of text.
The section consists of 36 questions to be answered in 65 minutes. Here are some suggestions for enhancing your performance.
Ensure that you revise your grammar. There are numerous grammar books available that can provide useful guidance in this area. Practice writing grammatically correct sentences, or correcting the grammar and syntax of others.
Proactively build your vocabulary and look for opportunities to expand the words you are familiar with. Reading broadsheet newspapers or highbrow literature can be really helpful for this. Challenge yourself to find as many different ways as possible of writing the same sentence, and use your thesaurus to identify alternative words.
Also, ensure that you are familiar with assumptions, inferences, deductions, and conclusions—the GMAT Official Guide is a useful starting point for really understanding these concepts. And, of course, complete as many practice tests as possible, seeking feedback on how to improve your performance.
The GMAT is difficult—it's important to prepare properly for it and this takes time. Create a study schedule over a period of weeks or months before you sit the test, and don’t be tempted to rush into it before you’re ready.
Practice makes perfect. The more practice tests you can complete, the better. It is definitely worth doing full practice papers under test conditions, and then using these to benchmark where you are at the moment. This will highlight areas of weaknesses that you need to work on further.
Finally, remember to look after yourself. You will perform at your best if you are healthy and well-rested. Balance revision and preparation with self-care to set yourself up for the best chance of success.
Edward Mellett is a careers professional and founder of test prep platform PracticeReasoningTests. He’s also founded successful careers websites like Wikijob.co.uk