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Standardized admissions tests

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Graduate Management Aptitude Test

The GMAT is a test of mental and cognitive ability, and is intended to gauge the likely success of a candidate in postgraduate management study (although approximately a fifth of candidates also apply to non-business programmes). It does not require specialist subject knowledge, but does demand some mathematical and verbal aptitude. Along with an undergraduate record and career experience, it is a key requirement of most business schools – and the one over which you have more influence. If you aim for a top school, it is particularly important to do well: the expectation will be for scores in the late 600s.

What the test comprises

There are three main parts to the GMAT, which are taken consecutively with optional ten minute breaks between each, so that the whole test takes nearly four hours. Table I, below, gives a breakdown:

Table I. Elements of the Graduate Management Aptitude Test
Analytical writing assessment (60 minutes) Two 30 minute essays, one analysing an issue, the other an argument Tests ability to think critically and communicate your ideas. No subject knowledge required
Quantitative section (75 minutes) 37 multiple-choice questions, on data sufficiency and problem solving Requires basic mathematical knowledge and tests problem solving skills, the ability to analyse a quantitative problem, and judge relevance and sufficiency of information
Verbal section (75 minutes) 41 multiple-choice questions, on reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction Tests ability to read and comprehend written material, reason and evaluate arguments, express things correctly and effectively, and correct written material so it conforms to standard English. Passages for reading can be taken from the social sciences, sciences or business disciplines

Separate scores are awarded for each section and then cumulated. The two essays are each marked by one human and one computerized system (Intellimatic, a software program that recognizes syntax). The score is based on the number of questions you answer, whether or not the answer is correct, and the level of difficulty of the question.

It is possible to retake the GMAT up to five times in a year, although few people retake it more than a couple of times in that period, and the scores will appear with your score report, along with your demographic details, and a percentile rank according to the number of candidates who scored less than you did. You can also cancel a score, but only immediately after a test before you know the results, so you would need to be pretty sure that things had gone badly.

The score has a reliability rate of 0.92, and with an error of measurement of 29 points, there may not be too much of a difference between scores of 580 and 600. For this reason, schools are recommended not to have a hard and fast cut-off point. However, studies have shown that there is a correlation between GMAT scores and first-year or mid-programme grade average.

Computer adaptive tests

The GMAT is taken sitting at a computer and you are given dry erase books and dry erase markers for rough notes.

Moreover, the software "adapts" itself to your answer, selecting a harder or easier follow-up question according to whether or not you get the answer right. Questions are weighted, so harder correct answers are given a higher score than easier ones.

Because of the adaptive nature of the test, it's best to answer all questions (there is a high penalty to leaving out a question or for not finishing) and to avoid random guessing. If you don't know the answer to a question, make an educated guess and eliminate the wrong answers. Only one question at a time is presented.

Getting help with the GMAT

It's definitely advisable to put in as much practice as you can before you actually take the GMAT. Free practice software is available from , as is the official guide (which isn't free). There are also plenty of books and online tests available from other suppliers (see Part 5. Useful resources).

Tips for taking the GMAT

  • When preparing for the GMAT, analyse your areas of weakness and brush up as much as you can for that topic.
  • Try and familiarize yourself with the structure of questions and the paper's format ahead of time, which will save precious time in the exam.
  • Manage your time well for each question –- don't spend too long answering one question.
  • The questions early on in the test are worth more than later questions, so it's worth getting them right.
  • Read the questions carefully, check you understand them. If you are not sure of the answer, make an educated guess by eliminating answers you know to be wrong.
  • Take care that you mark the answer you mean to in the correct way – you can't go back.
  • You can achieve a higher score with the computerized marking of the essay by making sure that your essay looks good and is legible.
  • If you are not a native English speaker, English idioms can be particularly awkward. See GMATTutor.com's list of most commonly tested idioms on .
  • For essays, it's quality not quantity that counts –- concentrate on producing something short and succinct.
  • Unlike more conventional exams, the GMAT is entirely done on computer, which means you will have to sit at a computer for nearly four hours. Make sure that you are thoroughly happy with reading from the screen, using a mouse and with word processing. Make sure you stay comfortable.
  • You will need to do a lot of reading for this test, so try and improve your reading speed.
  • Take a practice test at a test centre or use practice software. Check the software as soon as you get it, and make sure it works.

(Sources: ; ;)

Practicalities

You need to register in advance (which you can do online or by phone, e-mail or fax). If you are disabled, you can apply for special provisions.

Pick the test dates by looking at the deadlines for the schools you wish to apply for, and work back from the earliest, allowing plenty of extra time for your score reports to reach the colleges of your choice. Your registration fee will cover you for sending score reports to up to five schools.

On the day, make sure that you arrive with proper identification, and that you know what you can't take to the test centre with you (conditions are remarkably stringent – for example pens and rough paper are not allowed).

For more information on the GMAT, visit the (which is administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council).