About the GMAT
WHAT DOES THE GMAT MEASURE?
The GMAT is an aptitude test. Like all aptitude tests, it must
choose a medium in which to measure intellectual ability. The GMAT
has chosen math, English, and logic.
The question is--does it measure aptitude for business school?
The GMAT's ability to predict performance in school is as poor as
the SAT's. This is to be expected since the tests are written by
the same company (ETS) and the problems are quite similar (though
the formats are different). However, the GMAT also includes two
types of questions--Arguments and Data Sufficiency--that the SAT
does not. Many students struggle with these questions because they
are unlike any material they have studied in school. However, the
argument and data sufficiency questions are not inherently hard,
and with sufficient study you can raise your performance on these
No test can measure all aspects of intelligence. Thus any admission
test, no matter how well written, is inherently inadequate. Nevertheless,
some form of admission testing is necessary. It would be unfair
to base acceptance to business school solely on grades; they can
be misleading. For instance, would it be fair to admit a student
with an A average earned in easy classes over a student with a B
average earned in difficult classes? A school's reputation is too
broad a measure to use as admission criteria: many students seek
out easy classes and generous instructors, in hopes of inflating
their GPA. Furthermore, a system that would monitor the academic
standards of every class would be cost prohibitive and stifling.
So until a better system is proposed, the admission test is here
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FORMAT OF THE GMAT
The GMAT is a three-and-one-half hour computer adaptive test (CAT).
There are four sections in the GMAT.
||Analysis of Issue Essay
The GMAT writing sections always begin the test. You will type
your essay on the computer, using a very basic word processor.
Each question must be answered before you can go to the next question.
Further, you cannot return to a question once you go to the next
The GMAT is a standardized test. Each time it is offered, the test
has, as close as possible, the same level of difficulty as every
previous test. Maintaining this consistency is very difficult--hence
the experimental questions (questions that are not scored). The
effectiveness of each question must be assessed before it can be
used on the GMAT. A problem that one person finds easy another person
may find hard, and vice versa. The experimental questions measure
the relative difficulty of potential questions; if responses to
a question do not perform to strict specifications, the question
About one quarter of the questions on the GMAT are experimental.
The experimental questions can be standard math, data sufficiency,
reading comprehension, arguments, or sentence correction. You won't
know which questions are experimental.
Because the "bugs" have not been worked out of the experimental
questions--or, to put it more directly, because you are being used
as a guinea pig to work out the "bugs"--these unscored questions
are often more difficult and confusing than the scored questions.
This brings up an ethical issue: How many students have run into
experimental questions early in the GMAT and have been confused
and discouraged by them? Crestfallen by having done poorly on a
few experimental questions, they lose confidence and perform below
their ability on the other parts of the GMAT. Some testing companies
are becoming more enlightened in this regard and are administering
experimental questions as separate practice tests. Unfortunately,
ETS has yet to see the light.
Knowing that the experimental questions can be disproportionately
difficult, if you do poorly on a particular question you can take
some solace in the hope that it may have been experimental. In other
words, do not allow a few difficult questions to discourage your
performance on the rest of the GMAT.
THE CAT AND THE PAPER & PENCIL TEST
The computerized GMAT uses the same type of questions as did the
Paper & Pencil Test. The only thing that has changed is the
medium, that is, the way the questions are presented.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the GMAT CAT. Probably
the biggest advantages are that you can take the CAT just about
any time and you can take it in a small room with just a few other
people--instead of in a large auditorium with hundreds of other
stressed people. One the other hand, you cannot return to previous
questions, it is easier to misread a computer screen than it is
to misread printed material, and it can be distracting looking back
and forth from the computer screen to your scratch paper.
Although time is limited on the GMAT, working too quickly can damage
your score. Many problems hinge on subtle points, and most require
careful reading of the setup. Because undergraduate school puts
such heavy reading loads on students, many will follow their academic
conditioning and read the questions quickly, looking only for the
gist of what the question is asking. Once they have found it, they
mark their answer and move on, confident they have answered it correctly.
Later, many are startled to discover that they missed questions
because they either misread the problems or overlooked subtle points.
SCORING THE GMAT
The two major parts of the GMAT are scored independently. You will
receive a GMAT verbal score (0 to 60) and a GMAT math score (0 to
60). You will also receive a total GMAT score (200 to 800), and
a GMAT writing score (0 to 6). The average total score is 500.
In addition, you will be assigned a percentile ranking, which gives
the percentage of students with scores below yours.
If you can eliminate even one of the answer-choices, guessing can
ORDER OF DIFFICULTY
Most standardized paper-&-pencil tests list problems in ascending
order of difficulty. However, on a CAT test, the first question
will be of medium difficulty. If you answer it correctly, the next
question will be a little harder. If you answer it incorrectly,
the next question will be a little easier. Because the GMAT "adapts"
to your performance, early questions are more important than later
THE "2 OUT OF 5" RULE
It is significantly harder to create a good but incorrect answer-choice
than it is to produce the correct answer. For this reason usually
only two attractive answer-choices are offered. One correct; the
other either intentionally misleading or only partially correct.
The other three answer-choices are usually fluff. This makes educated
guessing on the GMAT immensely effective. If you can dismiss the
three fluff choices, your probability of answering the question
successfully will increase from 20% to 50%.
Example: "2 out of 5" rule
During the late seventies when Japan was rapidly expanding its
share of the American auto market, GM surveyed owners of GM cars
and asked, "Would you be more willing to buy a large, powerful car
or a small, economical car?" Seventy percent of those who responded
said that they would prefer a large car. On the basis of this survey,
GM decided to continue building large cars. Yet during the '80s,
GM lost even more of the market to the Japanese.
Which one of the following, if it were determined to be true, would
best explain this discrepancy?
(A) Only 10 percent of those who were polled replied.
(B) Ford which conducted a similar survey with similar results continued
to build large cars and also lost more of their market to the Japanese.
(C) The surveyed owners who preferred big cars also preferred big homes.
(D) GM determined that it would be more profitable to make big cars.
(E) Eighty percent of the owners who wanted big cars and only 40 percent
of the owners who wanted small cars replied to the survey.
Only two answer-choices have any real merit--(A) and (E). The argument
generalizes from the survey to the general car-buying population, so the
reliability of the projection depends on how representative the sample
is. At first glance choice (A) seems rather good, because 10 percent does
not seem large enough. However, political opinion polls typically are based
on only .001 percent of the population. More importantly, we don't know
what percentage of GM car owners received the survey. Choice (E), on the
other hand, points out that the survey did not represent the entire public,
so it is the answer.
The other choices can be quickly dismissed. Choice (B) simply states
that Ford made the same mistake that GM did. Choice (C) is irrelevant.
Finally, choice (D), rather than explaining the discrepancy, would give
even more reason for GM to continue making large cars.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When is the GMAT given?
The GMAT is given year-a-round during normal business hours. There is
often one week during each month in which the test is not offered.
How important is the GMAT and how is it used?
It is crucial! Although business schools may consider other factors,
the vast majority of admission decisions are based on only two criteria:
your GMAT score and your GPA.
How many times should I take the GMAT?
Most people are better off preparing thoroughly for the GMAT, taking
it one time and getting their top score. You can take the GMAT as often
as you like, but many business schools will average your scores. You should
call the schools to which you are applying to find out their policy. Then
plan your strategy accordingly.
Can I cancel my score?
Yes. When you finish the GMAT test, the computer will offer the option of
canceling the test or accepting it. If you cancel the test, neither you
nor any school will see your score. If you accept the test, the computer
will display your GMAT score and it will be available to all schools.
Where can I get the GMAT registration forms?
Most colleges and universities have the forms. You can also get them
directly from the Graduate Management Admission Council by writing to:
Attention: GMAT Program
PO Box 581907
Minneapolis, MN 55458-1907
or calling 1-800-717-4628