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How hard is the GMAT?

How hard is the GMAT?In the interest of being accurate, yet vague, the best that GMAT experts can divulge is umm, well…it depends…

Why? Because the GMAT exam is a standardized test, making it available to anyone, from any background, who chooses to appear for it. However, it is also the standardized test which is widely used to select candidates for a rigorous MBA/Master’s program, and the subsequent career as a management head taking care of beezness, so to speak.

The GMAT exam has been structured to assess some key features to be desired from future managers – integrated reasoning, analytical writing, verbal, and finally, quantitative skills. The exam is set for upwards of three-and-a-half-hour duration, making it technically longer, though seemingly shorter, than your average Cameron flick of flying blue aliens, or drowning ships. There are four sections to independently score your abilities.

  • Analytical Writing Assessment: 30 minutes on a six-point scale, with independent score, not contributing to your final 800.
  • Integrated Reasoning Section: 30 minutes on an eight-point scale, evaluating your analytical skills and data interpretation. This section receives an independent score, not contributing to your final 800
  • Quantitative Section: 75 minutes for 35 questions, measuring your basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometry powers.
  • Verbal Section: 75 minutes for 41 questions, measuring your reading, comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction, capabilities.

For a better insight, check out our article on GMAT Syllabus, New Format & Pattern.

The maximum GMAT score is 800. GMAT scores include a percentile ranking exhibiting their rarity in the context of all test-takers. So, for instance, out of the 767,833 test-takers in the period 2015-2017, a score of 800 was in the 99th percentile, implying that only 1% test takers managed to score the perfect score. Whereas, 200 came out at a graceful 0th percentile indicating that everyone secured a score over 200. All percentiles, for scores over 550, are tabulated below. (Source)

GMAT Score Percentile
800 99%
750 98%
700 88%
650 75%
600 57%
550 41%

When a concerned applicant asks the question “How hard is the GMAT?”, she is really asking how hard is it to crack a high enough score to make a cut above the crowd. Perhaps in the over 650, and preferably in the over 700 range (How to score 700+ on the GMAT). In this article, from here on, we will talk about what are the difficult aspects that make GMAT a nightmare. For completeness, we will also talk about certain simple strategies to keep this nightmare contained to a few beads of sweat and not lost percentiles.

How, and what, makes the GMAT hard?

There are 3 words to describe what makes the GMAT hard – timing, strategizing, and accuracy.

Timing is almost everything

There is no doubt about the fact that the GMAT test is rather long. Too long to keep your mind focused and ready to face every challenge hurled your way. So, while your preparation and grey cells are in hyperactive mode, you need to be absolutely aware of the volume of questions within the given time. ‘Coz even with the almost 4-hour exam period, you may experience a shortage of minutes, and breaths, associated with being on the clock.

The Analytical Writing Assessment’s, or AWA’s, 30 minutes to read, comprehend, formulate a reasoning, take a stand, and then write a logically structured essay, takes practice. So does getting used to analyzing data presented in a variety of kinds and solving 12 questions aimed at bringing out the ninja problem solver in you, all within another 30 minutes of the Integrated Reasoning(IR) Section. The 35 quant, and 41 verbal, questions also seem too tight for the 75 minutes each.

Clearly, timing is one of the most crucial demons to conquer if you want to succeed in the GMAT exam. For the same, the only solution is excessive practice. Barring the challenges faced by non-native English speakers, pertaining to the verbal and AWA sections, the mathematics, involved in the exam, doesn’t pass the complication level of high-school. The secret is in the (wo)man hours spent in practicing and perfecting the techniques that will help you achieve your goal score, each time you appear for the mock tests.
How to start preparing for GMAT

The key is strategy

Each section demands a different approach to tackle the problems in the best possible way you can. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a thorough preparation is really the only way you can save yourself from rude surprises on the D-day. Here are a few quick pointers to help you keep your solution strategy well-oiled for a smooth ride.

  • Quantitative Section: It is not just about assessing your math skills, but rather how you approach a problem. Each problem is unique and no “typical” solving method can save the day if you don’t understand the focus of the problem to begin with, i.e. geometry, algebra, etc. Here is a great article on how to approach GMAT problems and attempt them in a GMAT lifetime.
  • Verbal Section: A spectacular vocabulary can only be so much of a savior. The GMAT verbal section encompasses a verbal knowledge that surpasses tall You will be tested for Reading Comprehension, understanding the key message and interrelationships between the various entities involved, all while keeping track of the ticking clock. This means, being trained enough to identify the crucial pointers without wasting time in details. Make this article your new BFF – GMAT Verbal Reading vs Everyday Reading.
    • Critical Reasoning questions quiz your brain for understanding and inference. The tag line is how to draw conclusions from limited information. You have to prepare yourself, with practice, to identify the telltale GMAT traps, filtering out the needed from the unnecessary noise. Try this article for the inside scoop – GMAT Critical Reasoning Tips.

      Sentence Correction is just as it sounds. Your dearest pal, leading up to the exam date, should be reading. Not just reading, but logical reading where you make sense of relations between the components of a sentence, while keeping true to dear ol’ grammar. GMAT Sentence Correction Preparation: Comparison & Parallelism.

  • AWA Section: This is the only monster with open-ended responses. The rest of the GMAT is, thankfully, multiple choice, leaving very little ambiguity in the correctness of your solution. You are either right or you are wrong. The AWA, along with the IR, are also the sections that don’t contribute to the 800 GMAT score. So, many candidates tend to ignore the AWA and IR preparations, leaving a gaping hole big enough to let a couple of b-school rejections in.
  • You have to understand that while not explicitly mentioned, Adcoms do care about your performance in those. The quality of your AWA essay often acts as a window to your reasoning and logical abilities.

    As promised, here’s our rescue article – GMAT AWA Essay Tips.

  • Integrated Reasoning (IR) Section: 12 questions, with 2-3 associated “tasks” encompassing four different varieties of data interpretation. A mouthful and yes, this needs practice and an eye for data visualization. Remember the secrets – there is no partial credit in questions with associated “tasks”, the tables may need some restructuring before you can make sense of what’s useful, and there is an on-screen calculator to ease your pain.

    Refer to this article for all IR information – IR in GMAT: Scoring, sample questions, practice tests, books and preps.


Choosing the best order of GMAT sections

Traditionally, the order of the sections was hard-ruled to AWA, IR, Quant and finally Verbal. Therefore, test-takers didn’t have the option of rearranging, the order, to begin with the sections that boosted their confidence.

The friendly GMAT people have now introduced a new feature that allows the test-takers to choose between three arrangements. All you have to do is practice your best fit and choose your preference (one of the three below) at the exam center.

  • AWA, IR, Quantitative, Verbal (original order)
  • Verbal, Quantitative, IR, AWA
  • Quantitative, Verbal, IR AWA

So, identify your strengths and weaknesses, know what you can do with them, and then use your powers for the greater score.

Accuracy is the name of the game

The best laid battle plans for timing and strategy are worth zip if you end up making mistakes. GMAT is a Computerized Adaptive Test (CAT), meaning you will only get as good as you get. The implication is that if you make mistakes on easy questions, you will not be given a difficult question, affecting your final score. As far as the IR section is concerned, it is not computer adaptive. Each of the 12 IR questions have multiple parts and you will not get partial credits if you answer any part incorrectly. So, focus on accuracy.
5 most common GMAT mistakes and how to avoid them

So, is the GMAT really hard?

The GMAT is not hard if you are prepared well. After all, the exam is designed for filtering out future managers. The basic concepts of problem solving, time management, stress management, and even fair-play, feature in this first step towards a career that extrapolates on these qualities.

Miracles happen only a couple of times in a century and there is no reason to believe that one will occur on the day of your exam. So, train yourself to handle the physical and mental exhaustion associated with GMAT.

Eat well, sleep well, and certainly pray that you get to experience life in the top percentile.

Good Luck!
Some references for your GMAT body and mind workout!

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8 thoughts on “How hard is the GMAT?”

  1. hello
    sir i have completed my Bachelor in computer applications and passed out in 2016.i have done 15 years education rather than 16.i have no work experience .i gave CAT and scored 85 percentile in 2017 but i want to prepare for GMAT now.please help we with the same.
    will i be able to get top universities for MBA after two years of drop and no work experience ?

  2. Does Rotman, ivey, schulich, sauder, Mccgill, type of B schools will give admission if I have total 7 years of work experience in top Pharma companies in sales and marketing In India, if I apply without Gmat score for there full time MBA courses. I’m Pharmacy graduate. Pls reply its very critical Info for me.

  3. Hello Sir !
    I have completed my graduation in B.COM (H) in 2017 with 66%.
    I gave a few entrance exams for regular MBA but couldn’t get admission in any of them.
    GMAT is the last hope for me now .I don’t have any work experience .Can you please suggest me that should i go for GMAT or not ?
    If yes, what is the minimum score for admission in good B-schools in INDIA .

    If no, what should i do further ?
    Please help, I’m really in a mess.

  4. Hi ,
    I am working as a clerk/junior associate in a nationalized bank , will be completing my 4th year soon .
    I want to apply for gmat and purse mba from isb …but what creates hinderance in mind is my screwed up graduation marks i.e, 53.5% in the class of 2012
    please help with your views ?

  5. Hi Sameer,

    It is really nice that you are guiding people so well and helping them to establish there career in a better way.
    And I am one of them haha..
    Currently I am working in a IT Industry and has an experience of 4.5 years in all.
    Done BTECh – 79.8 % approx (ECE)
    12th 75%
    10 83.5 %

    Now i am giving interviews for job change but have found that my growth has got stagnant now and not getting much opportunities to work in new Tech Domain.
    So one of my friend suggested to prepare for GMAT & pursue MBA for better career growth.
    Can u please suggest me that is it a right option and how can i start preparing for GMAT?
    How much time shall i plan to prepare for GMAT and till what time i should start my MBA?

    Good Luck !!


  6. @Shelly & Riya: Most bschools will not consider an applicant who doesn’t have work experience. And you’ll have to explain why there’s a 2 year gap.

    @Gaurav: All the good MBA programs in Canada (and across the world) will insist on a competitive GMAT or GRE score.

    @Lakshay: We’ve written about how to deal with low percentage in college:

    @Himanshi: Don’t take the decision just because your friend suggested it. It’s expensive and risky. So, spend some time trying to understand whether it’s the right move for you. Here’s more on GMAT prep.

  7. Hi i have done B tech and presently working as senior manager in a public sector bank with 7years work experience.
    How much gmat score i will require for MBA from canada

  8. Hi!
    I am persueing B tech in biotechnology. Currently, I am in third year. I basically wanted to know if there is any field in GMAT related to biotechnology so that I can persue MBA in biotechnology??


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