What is the GMAT exam, and who must take it?

If you're asking yourself, What is the GMAT? — or if you want to know whether you need to take the GMAT — the FAQ on this page is the place to start.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is a 3½-hour standardized exam designed to predict how test takers will perform academically in MBA (Masters in Business Administration) programs. GMAT scores are used by graduate business schools to make admission decisions.

You might sometimes see the GMAT referred to as the GMAT CAT. The acronym CAT stands for Computer Adaptive Test. Actually, only two of the exam's four sections (Quantitative and Verbal) are computer-adaptive, meaning that during those sections only the test adapts to your ability level as you go.

The GMAT is administered only by computer now, except that in certain remote locations outside North America a paper-based version of the exam is available instead. (Since you're reading this on the Web, in all likelihood the computer-based GMAT is available where you are.)

Who is responsible for the design and administration of the GMAT?

The GMAT is developed by GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council), which determines what kinds of skills the GMAT should measure — and how it should measure them. Another organization actually develops the test questions, administers the test, and reports test scores to the schools — all at the behest of GMAC.

Do I need to take the GMAT for admission to an MBA program?

To gain admission to an MBA program, chances are you'll need to take the GMAT. About two-thirds of the 1,900+ graduate business schools around the world require GMAT scores for admission, although an increasing number of schools accept GRE General Test scores as an alternative to GMAT scores. Schools that do not require GMAT scores nevertheless welcome GMAT scores to help access an applicant's qualifications.

NOTE: Schools that do not require GMAT or GRE scores generally have relatively lenient admission standards and/or are located outside North America.

What cognitive skills, or abilities, does the GMAT measure?

The GMAT seeks to measure four broad skill areas: analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and integrated reasoning (which embraces analytical, quantitative, and verbal reasoning). The exam gauges these skills through four discete components, presented in the order listed here:

  1. a 30-minute Analytical Writing Assessment (one writing task)
  2. a 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section (12 multiple-choice questions, most of which are multi-part)
  3. a 75-minute Quantitative section (37 multiple-choice questions)
  4. a 75-minute Verbal section (41 multiple-choice questions)

For each of the four exam sections, a separate scaled score and percentile rank are awarded. A combined Quantitative/Verbal score (called a Total score) and corresponding percentile rank are also awarded. The GMAT is not a pass/fail test.

How important are GMAT scores in the B-school admissions process?

Each graduate business school develops and implements its own policy concerning the use of GMAT scores in making admissions decisions. Many schools screen applicants by combining GMAT scores and undergraduate GPA (each school determining for itself their relative weight), then ranking all applicants in their initial pool accordingly.

In addition — especially after the initial screening of applicants — admissions officials consider subjective factors such as work and other relevant experience, recommendation letters, reports of personal interviewers, and personal statements (application essays). In making difficult decisions between two or more similarly qualified candidates, admissions officials rely less on GMAT scores and GPA and far more on these other, more subjective factors.

Widely recommended for GMAT prep:

GMAT book    The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 13th edition
Graduate Management Admission Council

From the test makers (GMAC), this book provides over 900 questions used on actual GMAT exams and keyed Web access to 50 exam questions for the new Integrated Reasoning section.