Mastering the GMAT: Insider Advice & Online Resources for Future Business Students
Get to know what the GMAT is all about and find study strategies and expert insight to help you get a great score.
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.
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.
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.
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 long is the GMAT?
The answer to this question used to depend on whether you took the exam in person or online. That’s because the online version didn’t include the AWA and the length of the breaks were different. However, starting in April 2021, both versions of the test are the same and take three hours and seven minutes.
The table below highlights the schedule for the GMAT.
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.
Mapping Out Your GMAT Study Timeline
If you want to earn an above-average GMAT score, you’ll need to crack open your study materials well in advance of the test. Learning material, identifying test-taking tips, and mastering the format requires months of concerted effort. We break down a six-month schedule in this section.
6 Months to GMAT
Register, Research, & Assess
Six months may seem like a long time to study for one test, but investing yourself in the process for this long can help you feel confident that you’ve covered everything and are truly ready. It also means you won’t be cramming last minute. Some steps to take as you get started include:
Register for the GMAT
To register for the GMAT, you can visit the Graduate Management Admission Council and sign up online. The organization recommends that you register between two and three months before you want to take the exam.
Research different study methods and materials
Before launching into a study schedule, it’s important to think about how you learn and what types of study materials work best with your style. Some students may be very visual in nature, while others are more auditory. Countless types of GMAT study resources exist online, in print, and in various media forms, giving you plenty of options. If you like studying on the go, many prep apps provided by Magoosh, Manhattan Prep, Varsity Tutors, and others may best support your needs.
Assess where you stand with a diagnostic exam
It’s important to take a practice test early into your studying to set a baseline for what you know and areas that could use improvement. When you sign up to take the GMAT, the official starter kit that comes with your registration includes two free practice tests. Many test prep companies, such as Kaplan, also provide free practice exams.
4 Months to GMAT
Retain a Tutor, Consider Courses, & Reassess
As you get closer to your exam date, it’s time to start considering what resources you may need to add to your existing study plan to get the best results on testing day. If you have the funds, a tutor could be a great help. In this section, take a moment to size up your options.
Retain a personal or group tutor
Working with a GMAT tutor—in either a one-to-one or group setting—can benefit your study process in myriad ways. For starters, a tutor can keep you motivated when you feel burnt out or tired of studying. Many tutors also scored high scores on the GMAT themselves, allowing them to give you insider tips and tricks. And of course, if you get stuck on a problem or concept, a tutor can help you understand the material and move past it more quickly.
Consider GMAT prep courses
Again, if you have the budget, GMAT prep courses can really make a difference in the score you earn. These courses typically vary in length and can be found both in-person and online. While most prep courses are paid options, you may be able to find some free classes at your local library or community center. In terms of online options, both Magoosh and Kaplan rank high in terms of what they provide.
Reassess where you stand and adjust your study plan
After studying for about two months, it’s time to see what you’ve learned and what you need to keep working on. Taking a second practice exam can help you focus your studying efforts as you head into the halfway point of your study schedule. Perhaps your verbal score has improved, but you still need some help on the quantitative section. Review your practice exam carefully to see what areas to focus on.
2 Months to GMAT
Target Weaknesses & Take Mock Exam
Once you’re two months out from the GMAT, it’s time to get fully in the zone and make the most of your remaining time. Now that you know which weak points still exist, you can target your studies to help turn those weak points into strengths before the big exam.
Target your weaknesses with more intensive study
While you may have identified a weakness in a particular section of the test, now is the time to drill down into the specifics of the problem and address them with targeted study. For instance, you may be strong in reading comprehension but struggle with sentence correction. Drill down to the specific types of questions you’re still missing and focus on those with intensive study.
Take a timed mock exam
You’ve already taken two practice exams at this point, but a mock exam is different. When you take this test, you should try to mimic as closely as possible the exam environment. Set strict timers for each section, sit in a quiet room, and observe all rules enforced on the actual test day. By mimicking exam day, you can get a better feel for what to expect and potentially negate any nerves you might feel.
1 Month to GMAT
Assess Again, Refine Test-Taking Skills, & Curate Practice Questions
With one month left, it’s time to fine-tune your knowledge, address remaining weak points, and get comfortable with the actual test-taking process. You can still easily increase your score in the last 30 days if you take a realistic approach.
Give yourself a final assessment
For the third and final time, take a practice exam. By benchmarking your progress throughout your months of studying, you’re continually pinpointing weak areas and leaving time to strengthen them. Rather than studying for the test as a whole, you can use your last few weeks to really home in on what still needs work. Approaching it from this perspective will also feel less overwhelming.
Refine your test-taking skills
Knowing the right answer to GMAT questions is only part of the test-taking process. It’s equally important to consider other factors that can lead to a better score. For instance, you’ll need to pace yourself if you want a shot at answering all the questions in each section. The GMAT doesn’t allow you to skip or return to questions, so knowing how much time to spend on each one is critical.
Curate your practice questions
Rather than taking another generic practice exam before the big day, now is the time to create a curated test. By approaching your final practice test in this way, you can include only the questions still giving you trouble rather than wasting your time on those that you already understand. If time allows, consider creating a couple of different practice tests that zero in on the types of questions still giving you problems.
Keep Calm, Stay Confident, & Be Proud
After preparing for the GMAT for six months, you should feel confident and ready to take the exam. Still, there are some steps you can take to make the day a success
Double-check your exam day and time
Bring a valid photo ID
Arrive 30 minutes before the test start time to get checked in
Take a deep breath and remind yourself how much hard work you put in
Feel proud of yourself!
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
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.
Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.
Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.
BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.
Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question asked, and additional data are needed.
As the name implies, these types of questions require you to actually solve a problem rather than determine if the solution presented sufficiently answers it. These questions rely on your deductive reasoning to solve them.
Karen sold her house at a loss of 25 percent of the price that she originally paid for the house, and then bought another house at a price of 30 percent less than the price she originally paid for her first house. If she sold the first house for $225,000, what was her net gain, in dollars, for the two transactions?
The GMAT is looking for your ability to understand complex sentences and passages. Each passage comprises two to three paragraphs and three or four questions about each. These passages typically use advanced vocabulary as a way of testing whether you understand the meaning.
Although oft-maligned in modern culture, the pigeon once stood not only for speed and reliability but also for grace and beauty. Darwin himself became a pigeon fancier after beginning to work with the humble Columbia Livia, discovering them to be more fascinating than he had formerly believed. During the Victorian age, in fact, raising show pigeons was a popular hobby, with new breeds continuously arising as amateur (and not-so-amateur) ornithologists crossed animals in the hopes of creating ever more fantastic creatures. One of the most sought-after varieties was known as the Almond Tumbler, a name presumably derived from the color of the birds combined with the distinctive flight style. Over the course of many generations, this bird was so manipulated as to have a beak so small as to prevent the adult birds from feeding their offspring. And yet, it was wildly popular, drawing high prices at auctions and high prizes at competitions.
How then did an animal once so well-loved come to be so loathed? As recently as World War II, the military used pigeons to carry messages, but today, many people would kick a pigeon before they would feed one. Perhaps it is just a problem of population density—a lack of esteem for that which is ubiquitous. Pigeons have become our constant urban companions and, as such, have been transformed from symbols of peace, plenty, and prosperity, to representatives of disease and decay.
The primary purpose of this passage is to
Convince the reader of the nobility of the pigeon, based on its history as a symbol of virtue
Dissuade the reader from mistreating a once-majestic animal that has fallen from favor
Rebut claims that the pigeon carries disease any more frequently than do other domestic animals
Promote a renewal of pigeon fancying and a resurgence of breeds such as the Almond Tumbler
Suggest that there might be more to the story of some urban wildlife than is commonly known
These questions assess how well you can use logic in critical thinking. Most questions include a short passage that presents several different facts. The potential answers require you to use the facts in the passage to identify an argument, assumption, or conclusion.
Studies reveal that a daily exercise regimen helps stroke survivors regain dexterity in their extremities. Being given an exercise routine and having a consultation with a doctor about the exercise routine have been shown to be effective mechanisms to get patients to exercise daily.
From the above information, which of the following statements can be reasonably inferred?
A stroke survivor that is given a detailed exercise plan and consults her physician about the plan will regain full dexterity in her extremities.
If a stroke survivor is not given an exercise plan and does not consult with a doctor, she will not regain dexterity in her extremities.
Stroke survivors who are given an exercise routine and consult with a doctor about that routine will sometimes regain dexterity in their extremities.
Being given an exercise routine and having a consultation with a doctor about the routine is the best way to help a stroke survivor regain dexterity in their extremities.
Only being given an exercise routine is necessary to regenerate dexterity in the extremities of seniors who have suffered a stroke.
Sentence correction questions call on you to use your knowledge of grammar, syntax, and the rules of English. Each question includes a sentence with an underlined portion. You must choose from the multiple-choice options to decide if the question is correct or suffers from a grammatical issue.
In order to better differentiate its product from generic brands, the cereal company first hired a marketing firm that specializes in creating campaigns to build brand awareness and then retools its factory to produce a variety of different shapes of cereal.
Then retools its factory to produce a variety of different shapes of cereal
Retools its factory to produce a variety of different shapes of cereal
Then retooled its factory to produce a variety of different shapes of cereal
Then will retool its factory to produce a variety of different shapes of cereal
Then produces a variety of different shapes of cereal through retooling its factory
In this section, you’re presented with a short argument-based essay. Your job is to analyze the piece and write a rebuttal argument that highlights issues with uncritical reasoning, illogical assumptions, or other issues that invalidate and/or weaken the argument as a whole.
The following appeared as part of a medical advertisement in a magazine.
A new medical test that allows the early detection of a particular disease will prevent the deaths of people all over the world who would otherwise die from the disease. The test has been extremely effective in allowing doctors to diagnose the disease six months to a year before it would have been spotted by conventional means.
Discuss how logically convincing you find this argument. In explaining your point of view, be sure to evaluate the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, it may be necessary to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what other explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion of the argument. You can also discuss what kind of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically persuasive, and what, if anything, would enable you to better evaluate its conclusion.
These types of questions present multiple data sources (such as graphs, text, tables, etc.) that you must analyze individually and together to find the correct answers to multiple questions. The types of questions themselves can vary from determining which data sets are relevant to finding discrepancies between them.
News article in an environmental publication.
If current trends continue, fossil fuels will be exhausted by 2052. Industry and transportation and the inability of governments to put stricter emissions regulations in place means that there will be a greater demand for alternative energy sources. Additionally, recent concerns about the high cost of implementing new systems such as public transportation in industrialized areas has led many voters to actually strike down propositions to subsidize alternative fuel research.
Interview with a well-known scientist.
Dr. Lisa Goodman, one of the team of architects behind several new battery-operated commercial vehicles, has criticized the government’s unwillingness to aggressively lobby voters to pass measures to reduce fossil fuel usage. She suggests that without a significant reduction in per-person fossil fuel consumption, the rate of global warming could soon increase threefold.
“I know that voters continue to reject costly measures to reduce widespread fossil fuel consumption such as large-scale public transportation projects, and that politicians are naturally going to avoid stumping for unpopular policies. However, if something isn’t done soon, by 2055, a barrel of gasoline may become a luxury that only the rich can afford.”
Article from a weekly news magazine.
The price of crude oil has jumped by 500% over the last decade as a decrease in supply has met with an increased demand. This demand has encouraged many new oil wells to launch in the Gulf of Mexico, and some American environmental groups have expressed concern that certain oil companies are not following the safest procedures, emphasizing that the companies are more concerned with the speed of extraction than the well-being of the ecosystem. Some scientists in the Gulf have called for an increase in safety regulations for oil companies drilling off the coast, but the companies warn that this may dramatically increase the cost of crude oil, at a time when many Americans are already struggling to pay the increased price.
Politicians usually do not agree with one another on issues of global warming and fossil fuel consumption.
Whether presented with a bar chart, statistical curve distribution, or x/y graph, these types of questions test your ability to read them correctly and interpret the data. You will be asked several questions about each type of graphic.
The bar chart above displays the population of the United States according to official census figures every fifty years over a 150-year period.
Question: The ratio of the U.S. population in 2000 to the U.S. population in 1900 is closest to __.
These questions measure your ability to interpret and analyze two different content types to find an answer. It could be a combination of quantitative and verbal data that you must understand the relationship between and draw conclusions from.
Team Legato is competing against Team Forte in a musical duets competition where two members from each team play a song together. Prizes are awarded for first, second, and third place to the three winning duets overall, and not for the three best duets on each individual team. Team Legato has 1/4 as many members as Team Forte.
From the choices below, identify the number of members on each Team if there are 15 duos competing in total.
These types of questions most closely resemble spreadsheets and require you to sort and distinguish different types of data presented. Using common spreadsheet formulas and tools, you’ll need to find the relevant data to answer the questions.
Price and Wages
The unemployment in Iceland has generally decreased over the years.
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.