What is the GMAT test?

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer adaptive test (CAT) required for admission to most MBA programs. The GMAT is owned by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), developed by ACT Inc, and administered by Pearson VUE.

According to GMACís webpage, the GMAT ďmeasures basic verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that you have developed in your education and work.Ē The GMAT does not test business knowledge, and is not intended to measure how successful one will be in business. Rather, GMAT results, along with other information such as past academic performance, are used by admissions committees to gauge an applicantís likely success in an MBA program.

The Format

The GMAT consists of three sections, and including optional breaks, the GMAT exam can last as long as three hours and fifty minutes. The entire exam is computer-based. The sections are always presented in the same sequence:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA): (two essays, 30 minutes per essay). The AWA is the only section of the exam which is not multiple choice. The first essay is an ĎAnalysis of an Argumentí. In this section test takers are required to evaluate how well reasoned a short written argument is and write a response in thirty minutes. The second essay is an ĎAnalysis of an Issueí. In this section test takers will be presented with a point of view and must write a response in thirty minutes discussing the extent to which they agree with that point of view.
  • Quantitative Section (37 questions, 75 minutes): The Quantitative section of the exam consists of 37 multiple choice questions which test elementary mathematics- algebra, number properties, geometry and other topics. There are two types of Quantitative problems: Problem Solving questions and Data Sufficiency questions.
  • Verbal Section (41 questions, 75 minutes): The Verbal section of the exam consists of 41 multiple choice questions which test fundamental English language verbal skills. There are three types of Verbal problems: Sentence Correction questions, Critical Reasoning questions and Reading Comprehension questions.

Between each section, test takers may take an optional ten minute break.


GMAT Test Question Types: Quantitative Section

An average GMAT Quantitative section will consist of 20 Problem Solving questions and 17 Data Sufficiency questions. Each question is multiple choice, with five answer choices.

Problem Solving questions present a mathematics problem along with five answer choices. The test-taker must select the correct answer to the problem presented.

Data Sufficiency questions are unique to the GMAT. A Data Sufficiency question presents a question which cannot be answered without further information. In addition, two facts are presented. The test taker must determine whether the question could be answered using either of the facts individually, whether both facts would be required to answer the question, or whether even with both facts it would still be impossible to answer the question.

GMAT Test Question Types: Verbal Section

An average GMAT Verbal section will consist of 14 Reading Comprehension questions, 11 Critical Reasoning questions, and 16 Sentence Correction questions. Each question is multiple choice, with five answer choices.

Reading Comprehension questions present a passage of between 300 and 600 words. The test taker is required to answer a set of questions about the structure of the passage, the information in the passage, and what conclusions may be drawn from that information.

Test takers can view the passage while answering the questions.

Critical Reasoning questions present a brief written argument, and ask a question about that argument. The question may ask about the structure of the argument, any assumptions made in the argument, what facts might strengthen or weaken the argument, or what could logically be inferred from the argument.

Sentence Correction questions present a single sentence, a portion of which is underlined. The test taker is asked to select, from the five answer choices, what would best replace the underlined portion to improve the clarity, grammar or style of the sentence. The first of the five answer choices is always identical to the underlined portion.


The GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test

Both multiple choice sections of GMAT are computer adaptive. This means that the test adapts to the test takerís ability. When a test taker answers a question correctly, the next question is typically more difficult. When a test taker answers a question incorrectly, the next question is typically easier. The test is trying to determine the precise difficulty level at which the test taker is able to successfully answer questions, and this is what determines the test takerís score. A test takerís score is not simply determined by the number of correct responses, but rather by the difficultly level of the questions answered correctly and incorrectly. This type of test scoring is sometimes compared to evaluations of athletic performance in events like the pole vault: the bar is set higher and higher until the athlete is unable to clear it. The higher the bar is set, the better the performance.

Computer Adaptive Tests are different from pencil and paper tests in several important ways. Because the test uses a test takerís responses to past questions to select which questions to display, the test taker cannot review past questions, and he or she must answer the question presented before being allowed to see the next question. In addition, because the difficulty level of questions is at the core of the scoring algorithm, question difficulty must be precisely determined. This is done by presenting Ďexperimentalí or Ďdiagnosticí questions during each GMAT exam. These questions are randomly interspersed among a test takerís Ďrealí questions, and do not contribute to a test takerís score; they are included so that their difficulty level can be determined for use as Ďrealí questions on future GMAT tests.

GMAT Score Report

Because the GMAT is computer adaptive, a test taker will receive a nearly complete score report immediately after completing the test. This report is considered unofficial, but is in most cases identical to the official score report the test taker will later receive. The only score that cannot be reported in the unofficial score report is the score on the AWA (essay writing) section of the test.

An official GMAT Score Report will present:

  • An AWA score, out of 6, in half point increments. The AWA score averages the individual scores assigned to the two AWA essays. Each essay is graded by one human reader and one Ďmachine readerí (a computer program). When the human and machine readers disagree substantially, a second human reader evaluates the essay. The AWA essays are evaluated based on how well the writer develops ideas, uses supporting examples, and commands the English language. The current mean AWA score is 4.4, but nearly half of GMAT test takers score a 5 or above. MBA programs not only receive a test takerís AWA score, but also have the option to view the essays the test taker wrote during this section of the test. A test-takerís AWA score does not influence the test takerís Overall score on the /800 scale.
  • A Quantitative Scaled Score. The maximum possible Quantitative Scaled Score is 51, and the current mean Quantitative Scaled Score is 35.6. Scaled scores tend to be clustered around the mean, and scores far from the mean are rare. The score report will also provide a percentile score, indicating how the test-takerís score ranks against the rest of the GMAT-taking population. A 39 scaled score in Quant, for example, corresponds to the 55th percentile, which means 55 percent of GMAT test-takers score below 49 on the Quant section.
  • A Verbal Scaled Score. The maximum possible Verbal Scaled Score is 51, and the current mean Verbal Scaled Score is 27.8. In general, Verbal scores tend to be significantly lower than Quantitative scores. As with Quantitative scores, Verbal scores are clustered around the mean, and scores far from the mean are rare. The score report will also provide a percentile score for this section; a 39 scaled score in Verbal, for example, corresponds to the 87th percentile.
  • A Total Score. A test-takerís performance on the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the test determines the test-takerís Total Score. The two sections are equally important. Total Scores are on a 200-800 scale, with a current mean of 535.2. Total Scores are clustered around the mean, and roughly two thirds of all test-takers score between 410 and 650. Less than ten percent score 700 or above, and less than one percent score 760 or above.


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