Lessons Learned Surviving The GMAT

Arif Harbott
Arif Harbott

Last week after much preparation I took the GMAT exam and I thought I would share the lessons I learned for anyone else who is thinking of taking this beast of an exam.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is a computer adaptive test that business schools use to assess admissions for MBA programmes. If you want to apply to a business school chances are you will need to take this test.

It is a mammoth 4 hour exam, which places you under massive time pressure:

  • 60 minutes – two essays of 30 minutes each, one is an analysis of an argument and one is an analysis of an issue. These are not a particularly important part of the exam
  • Optional 8 minute break
  • 75 minutes – 37 maths based questions on problem solving and data sufficiency
  • Optional 8 minute break
  • 75 minutes – 41 verbal questions on reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction

The test is adaptive so if you get a question wrong it gives you an easier question, if you get one right it gives you a harder question, in this way it tries to hone in on your level of knowledge. All of your answers and difficulty are weighted and you are given a total score at the end of the test. Most admissions require a score of at least 600.

Preparation is key

Do not underestimate the test; it is very taxing and you will need to be on top form to conquer it. Ideally you will need several months to prepare and learn the nuances of how the test works. I tried various books, tools and online resources some were good some were not so good.

The best way to prepare is to:

  • Learn about the mechanics of the test
  • Learn the syllabus of content
  • Do lots of practice questions
  • Practice mini timed tests
  • Practice full-length timed tests

I bought several books but the ones I found most useful were:

The Kaplan live book gives you access to lots of online practice tests that helped me a great deal in preparing once I was comfortable with the syllabus.

There are many places to get access to full-length timed exams, the MBA.com  site has free preparation software that includes a couple of full length tests. Timing is everything on the GMAT and a couple of really key points I learned on timing were:

  • Don’t time yourself on each question. Some questions are harder than others so you will naturally spend more time on some questions. I timed myself over a set of 10 questions so for the maths section I made sure that every 20 minutes I had done 10 questions.
  • Don’t get behind. You will be heavily penalised if you do not complete all the questions. If you feel that you cannot do a question in the allotted time, use an educated guess and save your time for questions you can do.

In the month before the test I only did practice questions. By the last month the syllabus should be in-grained so you need to try as many different question styles as you can. After a while you will begin to see a pattern and this will help you a lot on test day.

Personally I like to relax the day before a test to make sure my mind and body are well rested, if you do not know something the day before it is unlikely you will learn it and be able to apply it under pressure in one day.

On the day of the test I had a good breakfast and started the test at 8.30am, I booked an early exam as I am at my best in the morning. There was no food or drink allowed in the exam so make sure you drink a lot beforehand and use the optional breaks to top up on water and snacks.

If you are taking the GMAT and have any questions please let me know and the best of luck on the big day.

Lessons Learned Surviving The GMAT

4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned Surviving The GMAT

    1. The motivation was that when I started thinking about this in February I was hell bent on doing a part-time or distance MBA, as I love learning and expanding my knowledge. Now five months later I am not so sure I have the time to commit to it. I think if you are going to take on a MBA course you need to do it full-time or executive (3-4 days per month). Also it needs to be aligned with your career goals, what are you going to get out of it and will that help you achieve your goals.

  1. I did the GMAT too… in the noisy London holborn test centre, ended up with a OK score of 720..

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