What is GMAT and how to prepare for it by I GOT IN

If you’re applying to a graduate business program in Canada or the United States, you’re likely looking into taking the GMAT. Due to its ability to measure the skills most relevant to success in business, the GMAT is the most commonly used exam in the admissions process of various  graduate business programs, including MBA, finance, and even accountancy. 

Keep reading to learn more  about the exam’s background, its four sections, where to take it , and how to start developing your study plan. 


GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. It was developed and is currently distributed by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). Schools  in 114 countries use it as a part of their admissions process for graduate business programs. Each year, there are over 200,000 test-takers, making it the most commonly used exam for graduate business admissions. 

Since the exam is used internationally, it’s important that it is not biased towards North American or English-speaking populations. To minimize any potential biases, the questions are created by experts worldwide and even include multicultural examples.  

The GMAT is a computer adaptive test, which means that it selects questions based on individual test-takers’ abilities. It does this by initially presenting the candidate with a task or question of intermediate difficulty. If they do well, the next question is slightly more difficult. The opposite is also true: if they do poorly, the next question is slightly easier. This gives a more accurate assessment of test-takers’ abilities than a standardized test does.

Traditionally, the exam has been administered at testing centres. Now, due to COVID-19, GMAC has developed a version of the exam that can be taken from home which makes it more accessible to candidates who do not live near testing centres. But more on that a bit later. We’ll get into more detail once we talk about test registration and associated fees. 

GMAT Sections & Scoring 

There are four sections to the GMAT, each with their own scoring system:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment
  2. Integrated Reasoning 
  3. Quantitative
  4. Verbal

Analytical Writing Assessment 

The analytical writing assessment is designed to measure test-takers’ reasoning and analytical skills. You are presented with an argument and are asked to analyze the reasoning behind it in thirty minutes. You don’t have to present your own opinion or argument; it’s your ability to break down someone else’s perspective that matters here. 

This section is scored on a scale of 0-6, increasing in half-point increments. This section has no bearing on the scores of other sections and is not included in the total score’s calculation.  

Integrated Reasoning 

The integrated reasoning section is made up of twelve questions that you have to answer in thirty minutes. It measures your ability to analyze and combine data from a variety of sources and that may be presented in a number of formats before using it to solve given problems. There are four types of questions that you will face in this section: table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning, and two-part analysis. 

The scores for this section range from 1-8 in single-digit intervals. Like the analytical writing assessment section, the integrated reasoning section has no bearing on other sections and is not included in the calculation of the total score. 


You’ll have to rely on your math skills in this section as it’s all about candidates’ quantitative reasoning skills. Don’t worry, you won’t encounter any high-level statistical analysis or anything. It’s all about whether or not you can understand mathematical questions – things like common geometry problems or some basic algebra. 

The quantitative section is made up of thirty-one questions that you have to complete in sixty-two minutes. Scores from this section range from 0-60. This is one of the sections included in the calculation of the total score. 


The verbal section includes reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction questions all designed to measure test-takers’ textual analysis, inference drawing, and English-language competence. You have sixty-five minutes to complete all thirty-six questions in this section. 

Just like the quantitative section, the scores for the verbal section range from 0-60 and it is included in the total score. 

Total Score and Score Report

 Confusingly, the total score, which ranges from 200 to 800, is not actually made up of all four sections; it only includes the Verbal and Quantitative sections. Two-thirds of those who take the GMAT end up with a score between 400 and 600. 

Some North American schools have cutoff scores that applicants have to meet in order to be eligible to apply. In these cases, cutoff scores typically fall around 500. Regardless of whether or not schools have a cutoff score, they often note that a competitive score is around 550. 

Although you can get an unofficial score right after taking the GMAT, you get your official score report about three weeks later. It is released to you as well as to any schools you designate as score recipients. Included in the score report is your score on each individual section, the total score, as well as your percentile rank. Your percentile rank shows the percentage of exam scores of the entire GMAT testing population from the last three years that were lower than yours. If you choose to retake the GMAT, keep in mind that the score report also includes any of your GMAT results from the last five years. You can write it a maximum of five times in a twelve-month period and eight times in your lifetime. 

GMAT  Registration: Testing Centre vs. At Home 

While the exam has historically been written at testing centres, candidates can now take the exam online from the comfort of their own homes. The cost of your exam varies based on where you take it and whether there will be any additional costs for things like additional score reports. You can find out a bit more about what the cost will be based on your specific circumstances here but it generally falls around $275 USD. You can find a testing centre near you here and register to take the GMAT here

There is significant overlap in the test when taken at home versus at a testing centre. Either way, it is a computer adaptive test and you can choose the order in which you write the sections. In both cases, the overall length of the exam is three hours and seven minutes and you have two optional eight minute breaks. 

The major difference between them lies in when you can write your exam. If you choose to write it at a testing centre, you are limited to writing it during the hours when the testing centre is open. However, if you write it online, you can write it at any time, day or night. Other differences between them are minor, such as differences in what kind of scrap materials you can use when writing the exam. Find out a bit more about the differences and overlap between the formats here


While there is very little prior knowledge required to write this exam, you should still develop some kind of GMAT study plan. A good place to start is to use the free starter kit and the two practice exams provided by GMAC. This will give you a good idea of what kinds of questions to expect on the exam and how to develop a study plan that works for you. 

The package comes with a total of ninety integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal questions. Just like the questions on the actual exam, these ones adapt to your skill level. So, as you work through the problem sets and improve your skills, you’ll notice an increase in difficulty. GMAC has additional practice materials on their site but only the starter kit and the first two practice exams are free. 

While writing and doing well on the GMAT is important, remember that the exam is only one component of the application process. It’s vital that you learn to effectively juggle the exam with all of the other elements of your application, including your CV and reference letters. If you find yourself overwhelmed and in need of some expert tips on how to successfully plan and get into business school, our team is ready to help. From essay strategy to business school interview prep, we can help you tackle every component of your application.

If you feel like you need additional support in developing your pre-GMAT strategy, consider setting up a consultation with one of I Got In’s experts. We are ready to support you in all of your academic pursuits!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Book a consultation to learn how our approach can help you get in.

Scroll to Top