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How Hard Is The GMAT?

When contemplating applying for MBA programs, students often ask, "Just how difficult is the GMAT?"

Primarily taken by students and young professionals seeking entrance into business school, the GMAT is often touted as one of the tougher tests out there. Getting into a top flight MBA program often turns on your GMAT score, and as such, students need to know just how hard this exam is to assess their chances of getting into the business school of their choice. When determining the difficulty of the GMAT, it’s important to look at all components of the exam, including structure, content and exam style. In this resource guide, we discuss how the GMAT is scored, what makes the exam so difficult (especially as compared to other exams), and the different sections that make up this test.

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How Difficult Is The GMAT?

Obviously, the better you score on the GMAT, the better your chances are of getting into the MBA program you want. However, it helps to know how this graduate entrance exam is scored. This computer-based test begins with questions that are of medium difficulty. When you answer these questions correctly, you are presented with more difficult questions to further test your abilities on all three sections, except for the analytical writing assessment.

How Hard GMAT

As a result, your score on the GMAT is determined by your level of ability using an algorithm that also calculates the level of difficulty of questions you reached during the test. The analytical writing assessment is scored by a human reader and uses a holistic 6-point scale. Except for the writing assessment, all unofficial scores are available immediately following your test session.

When determining the GMAT difficulty, you’ll need to know the average scores, statistically speaking. The verbal and quantitative sections are scored from 0 to 60. On average, the mean score for the verbal is 27 and the quantitative is 39. Overall, you have the potential to reach a combined score of 200 to 800, with 800 as the top score. However, the mean score is 552.

Each MBA program determines their minimum GMAT score to accept, with some flexibility. Nationally, though, between 2013 and 2015, the top 10 percent of students who took the GMAT scored an average of 710, with 25 percent scoring at approximately 650. It’s comforting to know, when wondering about the difficulty of the GMAT, that 50 percent of most test takers score at or around 580.

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What Makes The GMAT Hard?

This is a question that varies in answer, as your ability to score well depends upon your test taking skills, your preparation and your knowledge base. For some, the unique computer format is a factor. With the GMAT, you cannot skip questions, regardless of the level of difficulty, which means that you are required to guess before moving on to the next question if you do not know the answer. Those who have scored well have found that the best strategy is to be prepared to answer difficult questions at a quick pace.

GMAT Difficulty Section

The time limit is another factor that can make the GMAT hard for some. Factoring in breaks (which are highly recommended), the exam totals roughly three and a half hours. You are allotted the following time slots when taking this computerized exam.

  • Verbal: 65 minutes
  • Quantitative: 62 minutes
  • Integrated Reasoning: 30 minutes
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: 30 minutes
  • Optional Breaks: 2 at 8 minutes each, totaling 16 minutes

Background About The GMAT

Known as the Graduate Management Admission Test, the GMAT is a computer-based standardized exam with multiple choice questions that is globally required for entrance into an MBA program. Your test score from the GMAT is used, alongside academic transcripts and work experience, to determine eligibility into graduate school programs.

Similar to tests such as the GRE and the LSAT, the GMAT is designed to measure your skills and understanding of grammar, data analysis, algebra and geometry. The test also features questions that measure critical thinking and problem solving.

Breaking Down The Different GMAT Sections

The GMAT features four sections that require test takers to apply analytic and critical thinking skills. The sections consist of:

  • Verbal
  • Quantitative
  • Integrated Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing Assessment

You do have some freedom when taking the GMAT, as they provide you with three options for the order in which you will test each section. In order to be prepared for this decision and gain an in-depth understanding of the GMAT, let’s look at each section.

  • Verbal: As expected, the verbal portion of the GMAT measures your understanding of grammar and written English. The test features questions on reading comprehension, sentence correction and critical reasoning.
  • Quantitative: Get ready to test your understanding of basic math concepts in this section of the GMAT. The quantitative section includes both data sufficiency and problem solving questions that are focused on geometry, algebra, arithmetic and number properties.
  • Integrated Reasoning: This portion of the GMAT features two-part analysis questions and multi-source reasoning questions to test your analytical and critical thinking skills. You will also find graphics interpretation questions and table analysis questions to measure how you can interpret visuals and data.
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: Also known as the ‘essay’ section of the GMAT, this portion of the test presents you with an argument. You are then asked to present your opinion or point of view about the topic, analyze it and provide evidence for your side.

Be Sure To Plan Ahead For The GMAT

In order to do your best on the GMAT, you’ll need to plan ahead. Most test takers prepare for at least two months before the exam and take online practice exams or complete worksheets. Others allow up to six months. Pick a timeline that best meets your circumstances.

It’s best to work on one section of the GMAT at a time, which requires reviewing basic math principles and then moving on to reading comprehension and grammar. It will also help to practice your pacing when taking practice tests for the GMAT. Time yourself to see which principles slow you down during the test and spend more time on those concepts so you can answer quickly and advance to the more difficult questions during the test.

The bottom line – The difficulty of the GMAT depends on your level of preparedness, so study, study, study!