Mastering the GMAT: Insider Advice & Online Resources for Future Business Students

Mastering the GMAT: Insider Advice & Online Resources for Future Business Students

GMAT Prep

Did you know that of the 250,000 students who take the GMAT each year, only about 30 of them earn a perfect score? While scoring the elusive 800 may be quite an overwhelming prospect, you’ll be relieved to know that a much higher percentage of students manage to score in the 700+ range. But if you aim to be in the roughly 12% of students who score above the 700-mark, it’s not going to happen with luck alone.

Scoring high on the GMAT takes determination. It means buckling down, developing a study strategy, following a schedule, and finding the resources that work for you. Whether you’re on your first attempt or just looking to improve your score, with a bit of expert advice and a lot of practice, a score in the 700s is completely within reach. Find out what you need to know about the GMAT structure, review practice questions from the exam, and hear from three GMAT experts with insider information.

The GMAT at a Glance: Section & Structure Breakdown

Part of the process of making the GMAT seem less intimidating is understanding the various sections of the exam and what is expected of you in each. Below, we break down these sections and answer some of the most commonly asked questions.

What are the GMAT sections?

The GMAT breaks down into four sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal. You can choose the order in which you complete the sections, making it easier to prioritize those you feel best about. We’ll take a closer look at the four areas below.

Analytical Writing Assessment

The AWA exists to help demonstrate your ability to think critically and communicate clearly. AWA test evaluators want to see that you can analyze arguments, determine logical reasoning, and write critiques of arguments—all while employing English language and grammar rules.

Integrated Reasoning

Think of this as the section that ascertains how well you can multitask. Integrated reasoning questions require you to review multiple sources of information, frequently in varied formats. You need to be able to synthesize the information presented, evaluate what’s relevant, and find answers by combining data from those sources.

Quantitative

The most math-focused section of the GMAT, the quantitative portion calls on you to use logic and analytical reasoning to find solutions for quantitative questions. Many questions also incorporate graphic data, which you must be able to read effectively to find the right answer.

Verbal

The verbal section examines your grasp of the English language. Questions are designed to see how well you can understand and evaluate complicated words and passages and how well you’ve honed your grammatical knowledge.

How is the GMAT scored?

You can receive a score ranging from 200-800 on the GMAT, with scores breaking down by points in each section:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment: Scores range from 0 to 6.
  • Integrated Reasoning: Scores range from 1 to 8
  • Quantitative and Verbal: Scores range from 6-51 on each

These raw scores are then converted to create a total score. How you score on each section is based on factors such as the number of questions you answer, how many you answer correctly, and if you qualify for questions of a higher difficulty level based on computer adaptive testing. If the algorithm senses that you can correctly answer harder questions, it will adjust the exam in real time. These questions carry more weight than easier questions.

What’s a good GMAT score?

According to MBA.com, the company that provides the GMAT, approximately 66% of exam-takers score between 400-600. Princeton Review reports that the average score is 565. Anything above this score is considered above average, but the score you need depends on the MBA program you hope to attend. Anything below the average will likely limit your options, as top schools only accept students with above-average scores.

How much does the GMAT cost?

The cost to take the GMAT depends on which country you live in. In the U.S., the exam costs $275. Enhanced score reports cost $30, while additional score reports cost $35 per school. If you ask for an essay rescoring, plan to pay $45. MBA.com provides a full breakdown of other costs you could incur.

10 Expert Tips for a 700+ GMAT Score

The tips below represent the tried-and-true findings of expert tutors and GMAT test-takers who did well on the exam. As you review the advice in this section, consider how you can incorporate it into your study plans.

  • Take Practice Tests Early and Often

    Test prep and admissions consultant Joa Ahern-Seronde believes in making extensive use of practice tests. Rather than being afraid that they will expose deep gaps in knowledge, think of them as helping you pinpoint areas requiring more intensive study. By taking practice tests frequently, you’ll see how far you’ve come and what you still need to review. “Practice tests provide you with the most data in your journey to a top score,” notes Ahern-Seronde. By tracking your practice scores along the way, you can feel proud of what you’ve already accomplished.

  • Start Your Prep Early

    “Give yourself time to prepare for your first test, and time your first test and the application deadline so that if your first test doesn’t go well, you have time to prepare for the next one,” encourages Arash Fayz, founder of LA Tutors. “If your first test does go well and you don’t need to take a second test, then the time you allocated is just extra time for applications and personal statements.” Feeling pressured has never produced the best results, so give yourself plenty of space when prepping.

  • Don’t Underestimate the Verbal

    “Most people study Verbal far less than they should,” cautions Manhattan Prep teacher Jamie Nelson. “If you are shooting for a 700 overall score, your Verbal should be at least 38, which is in the 85th percentile.” Unlike other portions of the GMAT, the Verbal section looks for a different skill set. “Verbal is largely not about finding the correct answer,” she says. “Instead, it is about eliminating four incorrect answers and choosing whatever is left.”

  • Understand the Format

    “The GMAT is its own test with its own format,” says Fayz. “You will need to familiarize yourself with the material and how it’s presented in order to determine what you need to study.” Just because you did well on the SAT, ACT, or GRE doesn’t automatically guarantee that you will ace the GMAT. “While the GMAT draws on material you may have studied in school or while preparing for other tests, that’s not a guarantee of success,” notes Fayz.

  • Study Smart, Not Hard

    “Don’t clock study hours just to clock them,” warns Ahern-Seronde. “Make sure you’re studying at times that you’re fresh and ready to go, and don’t push yourself past your retention point.” It may seem admirable to stay up late every night for months before the exam, but if you don’t study well at night, it’s actually a waste of your time. Rather than telling yourself you have to sit at your desk for a specific number of hours every day, create more concentrated, focused studying sessions. “Take breaks and let your brain process the progress you’re making,” encourages Ahern-Seronde.

  • Don’t Make Assumptions

    “Don’t assume which sections need the most prep time based on your academic background,” cautions Fayz. “GMAT math is different than school math or SAT or GRE math, so proficiency in one does not automatically indicate proficiency in the other. The same is true for GMAT verbal sections.” Just because you did well in your high school or college English classes does not mean you will ace the AWA. By making these assumptions, you may realize too late that you needed to spend extra time on them.

  • Approach Quantitative Smartly

    “In Quants, try to avoid translating word problems into algebraic equations,” encourages Nelson. “Instead, try to either test answers if the answers are whole numbers or make up your own numbers to solve if the answers consist of variables, fractions, or percents.” It’s also important that you don’t try to do too much in this section. “Choose your battles wisely in Quants, as many question types, such as Rates and Probability, are extremely complicated and time consuming,” notes Nelson. “Guess those quickly and focus on the easier wins.”

  • Don’t Let the AWA Intimidate You

    “If you’re worried about your AWA essay, find someone who can give you feedback and a score estimate on your writing,” says Ahern-Seronde. It’s normal that you won’t be naturally skilled in every area of the GMAT. Rather than worrying that your analytical and writing skills aren’t up to the task, be proactive. “The AWA is one of the hardest sections to improve on without some sort of feedback,” says Ahern-Seronde. If possible, try reaching out to an undergraduate professor or friend with advanced writing skills to ask for help.

  • Make Your Integrated Reasoning Efforts Count

    “The Integrated Reasoning section is incredibly time pressured, so the wisest move is only to fully work eight or nine questions,” counsels Nelson. It’s important to note that, unlike other sections of the GMAT, most of the integrated reasoning questions are multi-part in nature, which take more time and create more opportunities for incorrect answers. “If you get one of the sub-questions wrong, you get no credit for the question, so work the question thoroughly or guess it altogether.”

  • Read, Read, Read

    “For the analytical writing assessment, read some actual essay samples to get a feel for what the graders are looking for,” encourages Fayz. Even if that type of writing doesn’t come naturally to you, you can learn to mimic the style in time for the exam. “It is also crucial that you practice this section timed,” says Fayz. “Time mismanagement is one of the biggest errors standardized test-takers make on the writing section.”

Getting Familiar with the GMAT Categories: Sample Questions & Answers

As we discussed previously, the GMAT comprises four different sections. But within each, you should prepare for the distinct types of questions asked. We look at these in the following section while also providing sample questions and answers for each.

Quantitative Section Questions

Data Sufficiency

These types of questions require you to ascertain whether statements made about a given question adequately provide the answer. Rather than actually trying to find the answer to the question, you must decide whether enough data exists in the statements provided. In a certain company, at least 200 people own manual transmission vehicles. If 12 percent of the people who own manual transmission vehicles also own automatic transmission vehicles, do more people own automatic transmission vehicles than own manual transmission vehicles? (1) 5 percent of the people who own an automatic transmission vehicle also own a manual transmission vehicle. (2) 15 people own both an automatic transmission vehicle and a manual transmission vehicle.

  1. Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.
  2. Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.
  3. BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
  4. EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.
  5. Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question asked, and additional data are needed.

Answer: A

Q&A with a GMAT Expert

Arash Fayz has been a professional in the educational field for over 18 years. He started his teaching career as an SAT instructor in 2003, while attending the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he completed a graduate degree in applied mathematics and computer science. Soon after graduating from UCLA, he discovered a passion for education and a love for helping students; these interests resulted in the founding of Fortune Tutoring Group in 2007. Since then, Fayz has helped thousands of students of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds empower themselves through education, score higher on standardized tests, and gain admission to their target schools. In 2015, Fortune Tutoring and LA Tutors 123 joined forces, bringing even more tutors into the mix, ready to teach, advise, and consult.

Joa Ahern-Seronde is a test prep and admissions consultant who specializes in academic and career advice and has over a decade of experience providing strategic services to students internationally. She helps people ace standardized tests, grab acceptances to educational programs and jobs, and generally succeed in their career goals. Ahern-Seronde is the co-founder of JEM Achievement, a woman-owned online test prep and admissions consultancy that provides tailored and flexible support no matter where you are.

Jamie Nelson is a veteran teacher at Manhattan Prep. She has approximately 20 years of experience teaching the GMAT exam to thousands of aspiring business school students. With a GMAT score of 770 (and a perfect score of 800 on the earlier pencil and paper version), Nelson has trained and managed new GMAT instructors. She gets great satisfaction from helping students master challenging material and get the scores they need.

Q. What is the biggest/most common mistake students make in preparing for the GMAT? 

A: One of the most impactful mistakes is not working to develop time discipline during your studies. Poor use of time on the test is the number–one reason students score below where they could on the GMAT, and for many the tight time on the test is a very rude awakening. Particularly when completing the Quant section, the average test taker will not have enough time to fully work every question and will have to work some and strategically guess others. It is very important to practice timed tests so that you are ready to make the decision to either work a question or guess it quickly on test day. Many test takers take too much time early on then run out of time at the end, causing their score to plummet.

Q. In your estimation, which section is the trickiest and how can students prepare for it? 

A: Within the Quant section about 40% of the questions are Data Sufficiency, a question type unique to the GMAT. Data Sufficiency does not involve solving a question and determining an answer; rather, it requires you to take a question and evaluate two pieces of data as to whether they are sufficient to answer the question. Preparing involves learning to break down the question, as it can often be manipulated and rewritten as a simpler question, and realizing that when it cannot the best strategy is often to test cases using the criteria in the statements.

Q. What are your favorite prep resources for the GMAT and where can students turn for help? 

A: My favorite resource is the Official Guide 2021, a compendium of retired official GMAT questions. These questions will give you a great starting point of seeing what the questions look like and the breadth of information you will need to know. In addition, two terrific resources are the All the Quant and All the Verbal books published by Manhattan Prep, which outline necessary memorization work and helpful strategies. Finally, you are very welcome to visit the Manhattan Prep forum, where you can receive free custom advice from top GMAT instructors.

Q. What should students keep in mind when awaiting their scores? 

A: Other than the essay score, which can take a few weeks to receive, you will know your scores upon finishing the exam. So there’s really not much waiting these days.

Q. What advice do you have for students who need to retake the GMAT? 

A: First, do your homework and make sure that a retake is necessary. I often have students tell me that they must have a particular score because they read that it’s the average at their desired school, yet they end up being admitted to strong programs with the score that they already have. If a retake is necessary, plan out the amount of time that you will need to study. If you need to improve 30 points that may be achievable in a month, but 100+ points may take three-four months. Start by taking a practice test that will allow you to run analytics to evaluate your pockets of weakness; our free test at Manhattan Prep will guide you through generating an assessment report that will show you exactly where you need to improve. Finally, obtain resources to help you learn not only content but strategy, and assess your progress every two to three weeks by taking practice tests.