A business school applicant begins researching how to prepare for the GMAT

How to Prepare for the GMAT: The Ultimate Guide

August 14, 2021
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Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. What is the GMAT?Part 3. Purpose of the GMAT and Use in the MBA Admissions ProcessPart 4. How to Prepare for the GMAT Part 5. GMAT Challenges and Tips for Overcoming ThemPart 6. FAQsPart 7. Conclusion


As standardized tests go, the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is one of the most formidable. The test assesses your abilities in various areas including writing, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning, to name a few, and is used to examine your critical thinking skills in various situations. 

However, as daunting as it may seem, the GMAT is a crucial tool for B-school admissions committees in evaluating whether applicants are academically prepared for the rigor of an MBA program. In light of this, any plan for getting into an MBA program must include a diligent strategy for how to prepare for the GMAT and an understanding of the role this test will play in the evaluation of your application. 

These two things are the first steps towards achieving your best GMAT outcome. This article will provide you with a better comprehension of the ins and outs of the test, as well as guidance on how to prepare for the GMAT so that it can be just another example of your excellence.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is an entrance exam for business schools. It is designed to measure your ability to communicate and think critically in a business setting. The GMAT lasts three and a half hours and has four sections:

  • A writing assessment that measures your ability to analyze information and communicate substantively about it.
  • A quantitative reasoning section that tests your mathematical literacy and calculation speed.
  • A verbal reasoning section that will assess your competency in reading comprehension, editing, and your aptitude in verbally relaying the information you've read.
  • An integrated reasoning section that tests you on the interpretation of data represented in varying configurations.

As you can glean from the titles of each component, the overarching purpose of the GMAT is to assess your applied reasoning skills. To do well in business school, you must have a strong capacity for critical analysis and thorough communication. The GMAT is how admissions committees ascertain that your competence in these skill sets is at an MBA level. 

After completing the test, you should expect five different scores, one for each section mentioned above and then a total score. Prepare carefully and reasonably for each section, as all five scores will be required in your MBA application. 

Scores and their ranges are specific to each test section, so we must outline how each one will be scored. The writing component is scored from 0-6 and is graded in half-point increments. You will get a score of 0-8 in the integrated reasoning section, and your score will be a whole number. 

Both the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are scored 0-60, and typically scores range from 6 to 51. For your overall test score, you’ll receive an outcome between 200 on the low end and 800 on the high, and this is represented in ten-point increments. 

Like many of the tests for professional-degree applications, the total score also reflects how difficult that year’s questions are, so don’t get too caught up looking at test averages from past years. Typically, though, averages tend to remain around 560.

Question difficulty also varies throughout the test. Questions will get more challenging as you continue to answer correctly, and your final score calculates how well you were able to answer harder questions. In light of this, push yourself the entire three and a half hours of the test; a lull in focus, especially towards the end, can adversely affect your total score.

Purpose of the GMAT and Use in the MBA Admissions Process 

The GMAT, as compared to the GRE, was explicitly designed with business school programs in mind. As such, your GMAT scores are interpreted differently than your GRE scores. Admissions committees look at GMAT scores for insurance that you will succeed throughout your MBA coursework. Because the GMAT is more specific to business ideas and workflows, it may give a better representation of how you will do in MBA business classes. 

GMAT scores reveal shortcomings in your academic strengths, if they exist. You may have been able to graduate your undergraduate with less developed writing skills. However, the GMAT will be an initial indication to the admissions committee that you may not be up to snuff in that area. This should hint to you that this is a test for which you should spend extra time on your weaker areas because, again, the admissions committee will see your section scores, too. 

Lastly, the GMAT is a tool for B-Schools to implement standardization into the admissions process. Interpretation of essays and resumes is much more subjective to who is reading your application. 

Indeed, there is no orderly way to compare one person’s academic and professional experiences to another’s to show ranking or priority. Even transcripts differ based on institution, and it can be challenging to evaluate differences in the core curriculum and elective courses from one college to the next. The GMAT allows admissions committees to assess academic competency more equitably and comparatively.

How to Prepare for the GMAT

Start your journey with the GMAT by learning more about the test and what it expects from you. You can download the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s (GMAC) GMAT Handbook, a from-the-source guide on common questions and topics like registration, format, and content for that year’s test. 

Reach out to your alumni networks or professional network services like Handshake or Linkedin to ask former GMAT test-takers about their experiences and tips. Utilize the GMAC webpage and the available network resources for advice and to get an idea of the test format; this will help you structure your test preparation.

Take time to research the scoring method as well.. Understand how some sections are scored within a small range and others are scored to allow more variation and why this is the case. This understanding will give you a better idea of what your goals for each section should be and help you interpret class averages better.

Once you’ve achieved a good foundation of knowledge about the GMAT and its format, it’s time to start practicing your GMAT strategy. The more time you spend preparing in a test-taking environment, the more naturally you’ll work in these conditions when taking the actual GMAT. 

Find a comprehensive, full-length GMAT practice test to get an idea of your baseline business-test abilities. It will prove more useful to take these steps with the help of a tutor or advisor, so you can also gain specific insight into how to increase your score in certain areas. 

It may seem trivial in the early stages of GMAT preparation, but tutors and advisors are also excellent sources of encouragement and support. It’s intuitively better to start your GMAT feeling secure and intelligent, not fatigued and self-doubting.

In tandem with your practice tests, supplement your GMAT practice with sample questions. Tutors can provide you with extra material or you can find your own on using online resources, including the GMAC web page. Training yourself with multiple sample questions from each section will help you hone strategies that apply to many types of questions. In other words, you’ll be better prepared to hit those curveball questions just as hard as any others.

GMAT Challenges and Tips for Overcoming Them

Challenge: Many MBA hopefuls experience struggles early on in their preparation and practice that they misconstrue as indications of permanent shortcomings. Stagnation in practice scores or repeated mistakes in certain sections are easy to categorize as personal failures that are either insurmountable or too big of a time commitment to change. 

Not only does this keep you from improving your score, but it negatively provides you an excuse to let up on your GMAT preparation. If you do not believe you can do better, you won’t. 

Tip: The most effective solution to this particular occurrence lies in your reaction to it. The GMAT and, therefore, the studying process for it is grueling. It’s attractive to explain problems or weaknesses inherent to you as a student. 

Don’t succumb to this mentality. As an MBA, you will be asked to overcome challenges throughout your coursework. Practice this by not letting up on your GMAT targets and remaining determined. Whether it be writing, mathematics, or the entire test, don’t let the test sections that you find especially difficult defeat you. 

Find the extra gas in your tank, and continue to test your abilities, and don’t hesitate to ask your tutor about pushing through certain subject blocks. If you need an extra boost in morale, peruse case studies about other students in your position who faced issues and then found ways to overcome them. 

Challenge: The test questions get increasingly more complex as you continue to do well during the test. The test can become more rigorous the further you get into it.The GMAT is designed to measure the absolute furthest you can take the test material. 

If you do not plan with this in mind, it is possible to do stellarly in the first sections or the initial parts of each section and then undo much of your progress by fatiguing your brain and losing momentum.

Tip: The solution to this issue is all in your pacing. Do not power through your first questions as fast as you can. You might end up at the brink of your capacity with so much of the test left to go. Start at a reasonable rate for answering questions or writing, and allow yourself breaks for breath between questions now and again. 

You’ll have a better chance of staying in your best difficulty range for the end of the test and might even achieve more correct answers than you would’ve if you had steamrolled through the entire GMAT. This being said, do not be lethargic in your answering rate. You want to answer the maximum amount of questions correctly that you can, so be as quick as you can without rushing.

Challenge: It’s not uncommon for B-School prospects to hit their GMAT early and with determination, taking advantage of every resource at their disposal and still fall short of their goals. This can be a confidence-killing outcome. 

It can feel like you did everything in your power to do well and your scores were still not ideal. Leaving you wondering, “What else could I possibly do? Why do I even try?”

Tip: Don’t be hard on yourself like this; there are still more methods to try. One explanation for this could lie in your strategy for GMAT preparation. For example, maybe you decided your best path to GMAT success is by doing the absolute maximum amount of sample questions that you could get your hands on. 

At that point, you’d think: “I tried my hand at more problems than anyone. How could I still not be hitting my targets?” Well, perhaps it’s time to try a new method. Instead of doing sample question after sample question, do a practice problem, and then spend more time going over your answers to understand what about your solutions was wrong. 

If you think about it, spending all your time doing sample questions without ever really examining why you’re getting some wrong could trap you in cycles of similar mistakes that you were never noticing. Spending more time with your incorrect responses could be the way to finally achieving your target score.

Challenge: Some people have particular difficulties with certain sections of the GMAT. The writing assessment is one section for which many people feel ill-prepared. One big issue B-School applicants face in writing assessments is, once again, pace. 

Some people are simply slower writers. This sort of characteristic is another factor that can really lower applicants’ self-esteem regarding their testability. With a case like this, you might feel that, even if you had the best potential response to a certain writing prompt, you”ll never get a high score because you”ll never be able to write it all down in time.

Tip: If you’ve identified that you have a persistent issue similar to this, then strategy becomes familiarity, the crucial tool for success. Within your tutoring services, request Strategy Tutoring so that you can receive focused training on the issue. 
Utilized correctly, hard work regarding your approach to the sections you struggle with can unravel your difficulties and give you the tools to reach beyond what you formerly saw as your potential.


1. Have there been any recent changes to the GMAT? 

Yes, there have been considerable changes. The test has actually been shortened to make it more manageable for test-takers, though if this is your first GMAT attempt, that news may not affect you quite as much. 

GMAC also instituted a new feature called Select Section Order. Excitingly, this means that you can now decide which order to take the test’s sections. This is crucial for your planning and preparation stage, as you can now form a strategy for which sections to tackle first.

2. Do I need to take a GMAT Prep class?

There are many avenues down which you can take your GMAT practice. Prep classes can help provide a clear view of what to expect from the test, as well as introduce you to people in similar situations to yours (i.e., potential study partners). 

However, the prep class may not be the best choice for everyone. Some folks benefit from a more one-on-one structure to their GMAT test-taking education, such as those of a personal tutor. 

You could also opt to collect all your own resources and venture into this undertaking on your own. This could result in its own challenges, but one upside would be that you end up more closely acquainted with specific details of the test because you did your own research.

3. Do I really need to take a diagnostic test? 

Most testing professionals strongly suggest a diagnostic test early on into your GMAT studying. These give you a better baseline idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are and give you better insight into what your targets should be. 

Taking a practice test and then studying harder on your lacking areas is almost guaranteed to influence your overall scores positively. Without the practice tests, you may misjudge which sections or subjects in which you actually are lacking.

4. How long should I spend studying for the GMAT?

Not shockingly, there has surfaced a strong positive correlation between time spent studying for the GMAT and higher scores, section-specific and overall. In light of this, there’s no exact way to pinpoint how many hours equates to what exact score because people spend time differently. 

GMAC has released data on this subject, though, and in a recent year, the median amount of preparation time for the GMAT resultant in scores in the 600s was 80 hours. Use this gauge to hone your studying schedule in on an appropriate amount of prep time for your target scores. 

hours spent preparing for the GMAT exam

5. How do I deal with pre-test nerves?

Feeling nervous before a big test like the GMAT, especially when you might never have taken a test like it, is a totally rational response. Make sure you sleep well the night before. Eat well leading up to your test time. 

Come prepared with all the materials you’ll need before, during, and after the test and, to that point, know beforehand what you need to bring. If, during the test, you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or dreadful, practice deep, rhythmic breathing to regulate your heart rate and take your focus elsewhere for a moment. 

While these things can all help when the time comes, of course, the most significant factor to nervousness will be how well you're prepared to take the GMAT. Study well, diligently, and ahead of time, and you will feel more secure as you walk up to your computer, ready to take this critical test.

6. What should my target score be?

Research your B-School(s) of choice to find out past class averages and, if included, what the institution has suggested are good scores for applicants to their program. Get specific, and find out these scores for each section. 

You can typically find this information by viewing the class profiles for your desired schools. The other half of this consideration lies in you. After practicing and studying, you are the most acquainted with your own abilities and motivations. 

You’ll have a good idea of which target scores are attainable for you and how you can reach them. If you listen to yourself when answering the target-score question, then getting those scores will not only gratify your goals to get into your dream MBA but will also gratify you in your ability to achieve the goals you set!


In your quest to learn how to prepare for the GMAT, realize that even your being on this page reveals your motivation to do well. The key to claiming those excellent GMAT section scores comes down to understanding the test and its format, studying hard, especially on your lacking sections, and utilizing outside resources when helpful. 

Take practice tests to prepare yourself for the test format and pace. Train yourself on solid de-stressing practices like even breathing. Engage with tutors and share your goals with them, and let them in on what areas in which you think you’re weakest. 

Then, on test day, you’ll be the most prepared to walk in confidently and walk out knowing you gave the GMAT your all! The journey does not end with just learning how to prepare for the GMAT; put this information to work and take that test with fervor. 

Again, the GMAT scores you present to MBA admissions committees do matter, and they help compare you to other students, but they do not make up your entire application. Allow your scores to represent you as a student, but do not consider them solely representative. 

Prepare adequately, study with determination, and your GMAT scores will be just one more way that you excel as an MBA applicant.

About Inspira Futures

At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.
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