GMAT: A Comprehensive Guide

By Arvind Kumar

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a critical step for individuals aspiring to pursue a graduate business degree, such as an MBA. As one of the most widely recognized and respected standardized tests in the business education realm, the GMAT plays a significant role in the admissions process for top-tier business schools worldwide.

In this comprehensive guide, we will navigate through the intricate terrain of the GMAT, shedding light on various aspects of the exam, from its purpose and format to test registration, content, scoring, and beyond. Whether you’re a beginner seeking an introduction to the exam or a seasoned test taker looking for details, this guide aims to equip you with the knowledge and insights necessary to excel on the GMAT.

We have also included comparisons to the latest GMAT Focus Edition which will be launched later this year (Q4 2023), along with specific linkages to our article on the same.

GMAT – An Overview

GMAT AspectDescription
PurposeStandardized exam for admission to graduate management programs, such as MBA
FormatComputer Adaptive Test (CAT)
EligibilityMust be at least 13 years old and must be able to read and understand English
SectionsFour sections: Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR), and Verbal Reasoning (VR)
AWAMeasures ability to analyze an argument and communicate ideas effectively in written format
IRTests skills in analyzing and interpreting complex data presented in various formats
QRAssesses mathematical and quantitative problem-solving abilities
VREvaluates reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction skills
Duration3 hours and 7 minutes (excluding breaks)
Section Order3 section order options to choose from
ScoringTotal score range of 200-800; Quantitative and Verbal sections: Scaled score range of 0-60, AWA: Scored separately on a scale of 0-6; IR: Scored on a scale of 1-8
Score ValidityScores are valid for five years
AvailabilityOffered year-round in various test centers worldwide and at-home online 24X7
FeeThe GMAT fee is USD 275 (test center) and USD 300 (at-home online)
Retake Policy16-day gap between consecutive attempts. Can take the test up to 5 times in a rolling 12-month period, 8 times in a lifetime.

What is the purpose of the GMAT?

The purpose of the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is to assess the readiness of individuals who are seeking admission into graduate management programs, particularly MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs.

The GMAT is used by many business schools and institutions around the world as part of their admissions process. It provides a standardized measure of an applicant’s aptitude in key areas considered essential for business education. The test helps admissions committees assess candidates’ abilities to think critically, reason logically, analyze and interpret data, solve problems, and communicate effectively.

GMAT Eligibility

The GMAT eligibility criteria are as follows:

  • Age: You must be at least 13 years old to take the GMAT.
  • Language: You must be able to read and understand English in order to take the GMAT.

Additional requirements:

  • Parental consent: If you are between the ages of 13 and 17, you will need to have parental consent to take the GMAT.
  • Disability accommodations: If you have a disability that may affect your ability to take the GMAT, you may be eligible for disability accommodations. You can request disability accommodations when you register for the GMAT.

GMAT Format and Syllabus

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) consists of four main sections: Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR), and Verbal Reasoning (VR). 

Here’s a brief overview of each section:

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Format: One essay task
  • Description: The AWA section requires test takers to analyze an argument and construct a coherent essay that presents a critique of the argument’s logical reasoning and evidence.

Integrated Reasoning (IR)

  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Format: 12 questions
  • Description: The IR section measures the ability to evaluate information presented in various formats, such as tables, graphs, and multi-source data. Test takers must analyze and synthesize data to solve complex problems.

Quantitative Reasoning (QR)

  • Duration: 62 minutes
  • Format: 31 questions
  • Description: The QR section assesses mathematical and quantitative reasoning skills. It covers various topics, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. Problem-solving and data sufficiency questions are included.

Verbal Reasoning (VR)

  • Duration: 65 minutes
  • Format: 36 questions
  • Description: The VR section evaluates reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction skills. It includes passages to read and analyze, questions to assess comprehension and logical reasoning, and sentences to correct for grammar and clarity.

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), which means the difficulty level of the questions adapts based on the test taker’s performance. The test begins with medium-level questions, and subsequent questions become easier or more challenging based on correct or incorrect responses.

GMAT has launched a new version of the GMAT Exam called the GMAT Focus Edition. The number of sections has been reduced to 3. AWA and IR have been removed and a new section “Data Insights” has been added. Know more in this article on GMAT Focus Edition.

Duration of the GMAT

The total duration of the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is approximately 3 hours and 7 minutes, excluding breaks. However, it’s important to note that the duration can vary slightly depending on factors such as breaks and administrative procedures. 

Here’s a breakdown of the time allocation for each section based on one section order:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA): 30 minutes
  • Integrated Reasoning (IR): 30 minutes
  • Optional Break: 8 minutes (Note: This break is optional and can be skipped if desired.)
  • Quantitative Reasoning (QR): 62 minutes
  • Optional Break: 8 minutes
  • Verbal Reasoning (VR): 65 minutes

The optional breaks provide an opportunity for test takers to take a short break between sections. These breaks are not mandatory, and individuals can choose to proceed to the next section immediately if they prefer to do so.

The duration of the GMAT has been reduced in GMAT Focus Edition from 3 hours 7 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes. Know more in this article on GMAT Focus Edition.

Section Order

Test takers have the flexibility to choose from three different section orders:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR), Verbal Reasoning (VR)
  2. Verbal Reasoning (VR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
  3. Quantitative Reasoning (QR), Verbal Reasoning (VR), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

Under these section orders, test takers are given two optional breaks, but they can only be taken between specific sections. The optional breaks can be taken:

  • After the Integrated Reasoning section and before the Quantitative Reasoning section.
  • After the Quantitative Reasoning section and before the Verbal Reasoning section.

The optional breaks are not permitted before or after the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

You can choose any section order you want in the GMAT Focus Edition Exam. Know more in this article on GMAT Focus Edition.

GMAT Score and Percentile

The total GMAT score is based on the combined performance in the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections. The AWA and IR scores do not contribute to the total score. The total score range is 200-800, in 10-point increments.

Here are a few insights on GMAT scores and percentiles:

Total Score

  • The total GMAT score ranges from 200 to 800, in 10-point increments.
  • The total score is a combination of the scores from the Verbal Reasoning (VR) and Quantitative Reasoning (QR) sections.
  • The total score is the most commonly referenced score and is often used by business schools to evaluate applicants.
  • Higher total scores generally indicate stronger overall performance on the exam.

QR Score

  • The Quantitative Reasoning (QR) score ranges from 0 to 60, in one-point increments.
  • The QR score measures the test taker’s ability to reason quantitatively, solve problems, and interpret data in mathematical contexts.
  • This score reflects the test taker’s quantitative skills and proficiency in areas such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.

VR Score

  • The Verbal Reasoning (VR) score also ranges from 0 to 60, in one-point increments.
  • The VR score assesses the test taker’s ability to understand written material, evaluate arguments, and correct written English.
  • This score indicates the test taker’s proficiency in areas such as reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction.

AWA Score

  • The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) score ranges from 0 to 6, in half-point increments.
  • The AWA score is based on the analysis and critique of an argument presented in an essay.
  • This score evaluates the test taker’s ability to articulate ideas, analyze arguments, and communicate effectively in written form.

IR Score

  • The Integrated Reasoning (IR) score ranges from 1 to 8, in one-point increments.
  • The IR score assesses the test taker’s ability to evaluate and synthesize information presented in different formats, such as tables, graphs, and multi-source data.
  • This score reflects the test taker’s skills in interpreting and analyzing complex data sets and making informed decisions.

The scaled score and total score range has changed in the GMAT Focus Edition Exam. Know more in this article on GMAT Focus Edition.

GMAT Score Range and Average Scores

This table depicts the GMAT score range and average GMAT Scores for the 4 sections.

GMAT Section GMAT Score Range Average GMAT Score
Verbal Reasoning 6 to 51 27.26
Quantitative Reasoning 6 to 51 40.7
Integrated Reasoning 1 to 8 4.6
Analytical Writing Assessment 0 to 6 4.43

GMAT Scores and Percentiles

Now, let’s compare these scores with the corresponding percentiles. Percentiles represent the percentage of test takers who scored below a given score.

Total GMAT Score

GMAT Verbal and Quant percentile ranking 

GMAT Integrated Reasoning percentile ranking 

Integrated Reasoning scorePercentile ranking 
890%
779%
664%
548%
431%
318%
28%
10%

GMAT AWA percentile ranking

Analytical Writing Assessment Percentile ranking 
688%
5.581%
557%
4.547%
418%
3.512%
34%
2.53%
0.5 to 2 1%

GMAT Score Validity

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) score validity refers to the duration for which GMAT scores are considered valid and can be used for admission purposes. Here are the details regarding the GMAT score validity:

GMAT scores are typically valid for a period of 5 years. This means that business schools and institutions will accept GMAT scores that are no more than 5 years old at the time of application. After the 5-year period, the scores expire and are no longer considered valid for admissions purposes.

It's important to note that the score validity period starts from the date the test taker takes the GMAT, not from the date of application to business schools. So, if you took the GMAT in June 2023, for example, your scores would be valid for applications until June 2028.

When can you take the GMAT?

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is available for test takers year-round at home or at a test center. The specific dates and times for GMAT exam appointments can vary depending on the location and availability of testing slots if you wish to take the GMAT at a test center.

Here are some important points to know about scheduling the GMAT:

  • Test Center Availability: GMAT is administered at authorized test centers worldwide. Test takers need to find a test center that is convenient for them and offers available test dates.
  • At-Home GMAT Online: GMAT Online is available in most locations worldwide, allowing test takers to access the test remotely without needing to visit a physical test center. This test can be take 24X7
  • Availability of Dates and Times: Test dates and times are typically offered on a first-come, first-served basis. It's advisable to schedule the GMAT well in advance to secure your preferred date and time slot.

GMAT Registration

Here are the steps on how to register for the GMAT for test center exam and at-home GMAT Online:

Step 1: Create an mba.com account.

You can create an account on the GMAT website. You will need to provide some basic information, such as your name, email address, and date of birth.

Step 2: Select your exam delivery method.

You can choose to take the GMAT at a test center or at home through the GMAT Online. If you choose to take the test at a test center, you will need to select a testing center and a date and time for your exam. If you choose to take the GMAT Online, you will need to select a date and time for your exam.

Step 3: Pay the registration fee

The registration fee for the GMAT is US $275 for the test center exam and US $300 for the GMAT Online. You can pay the registration fee with a credit card, debit card, or cheque.

Step 4: Verify your profile

Once you have paid the registration fee, you will need to verify your profile. This includes providing your passport information and a recent photograph.

Step 5: Download the GMAT software

If you are taking the GMAT Online, you will need to download the GMAT software. The software is available for Windows and Mac computers.

Step 6: Take the GMAT

On the day of your exam, you will need to arrive at the test center or log in to the GMAT Online at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time. You will need to bring your passport and a photo ID.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind when registering for the GMAT:

  • You can only register for the GMAT once every 16 days.
  • You can cancel or reschedule your exam up to 4 days before your scheduled date.
  • You can take the GMAT a maximum of 5 times in a 12-month period.

GMAT Cost

The cost of taking the GMAT includes the registration fee, the score report fee, and the additional services fee.

The GMAT costs vary depending on the type of service or action. The base GMAT exam fee is US$275 for the test center delivery option and US$300 for the online at-home delivery option. If test takers choose to purchase an Enhanced Score Report at the time of registration, an additional fee of US$30 applies, although this option is not available for the online delivery. Additional Score Reports can be requested at a cost of US$35 each, regardless of the delivery format.

There are also fees associated with rescheduling and cancellation. Rescheduling fees depend on the time frame before the appointment, ranging from US$55 to US$165 for test center delivery and from US$60 to US$180 for online delivery. Cancellation fees are based on the timing of the cancellation, with refunds ranging from US$55 to US$110 for test center delivery and from US$60 to US$120 for online delivery.

In addition, there are fees for specific actions such as canceling or reinstating scores, which are applicable only to the test center delivery option. The cost to cancel a score is US$25, while reinstating a score incurs a fee of US$50. AWA Essay Rescoring, which is available for both delivery options, carries a fee of US$45.

GMAT Fee CategoryDelivered at a Test CenterDelivered Online
GMAT ExamUS$275US$300
Enhanced Score ReportUS$30Not Available
Additional Score ReportUS$35 eachUS$35 each
Cancel score (via mba.com My Account page after the exam)US$25Not Applicable
Reinstate scoreUS$50Not Applicable
AWA Essay RescoringUS$45US$45
Reschedule Fees
More than 60 days before appointmentUS$55US$60
15-60 days before appointmentUS$110US$120
14 days or less before appointmentUS$165US$180
Cancellation Fees
More than 60 days before appointmentUS$110 refundUS$120 Refund
15-60 days before appointmentUS$80 refundUS$90 Refund
14 days or less before appointmentUS$55 refundUS$60 Refund

GMAT Retake

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) retake policy allows test takers to retake the exam if they are not satisfied with their initial score or wish to improve their performance. Here are the key points of the GMAT retake policy:

  • Frequency of Retakes: Test takers can take the GMAT up to 5 times within a rolling 12-month period. The rolling 12-month period starts from the date of the first exam taken. Once you have taken the GMAT, you must wait for at least 16 days before retaking the exam.
  • GMAT Retake Fee: Each GMAT retake requires a separate exam fee payment of US $275 for for the test center delivery option and US$300 for the online at-home delivery option 

Final Thoughts

The GMAT is a gateway to renowned business schools and a stepping stone to new opportunities. With a solid understanding of the exam's nuances, diligent preparation, and a belief in your abilities, you can conquer the GMAT and pave the way for a rewarding and fulfilling future in the world of business.

Good luck on your GMAT journey, and may your dedication and hard work yield the results you desire. Embrace the challenge, stay focused, and remember that the pursuit of excellence extends far beyond the boundaries of a single exam.

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