The exam is intended to measure verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that the examinee has developed over a long period of time in his or her education and work; test-takers answer questions in each of these three areas. In general, the test takes about four hours to complete.
Although GMAT will supply scores from as long ago as ten years, unless more recent ones are available, most schools do not accept scores from more than five years ago.
The maximum score that can be achieved on the exam is 800. Over the 3 years concluding in March 2011, the mean score has been 542.3
The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) is the first section of the test. This is followed by the Quantitative section, and the test concludes with the Verbal Ability section.
The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section of the test consists of two essays. In the first, the student must analyze an argument and in the second the student must analyze an issue. Each essay must be written within 30 minutes and is scored on a scale of 0–6. The essay is scored by a human and by a computer program; each scorer marks the essay with a grade from 0 to 6. If the two scores differ by one point or less, they are averaged. If the two scores differ by more than one point, the essay is scored a third time by a human reader.
The first scorer is “IntelliMetric”, proprietary software by Vantage Learning, which purports to analyze creative writing and syntax by using a number of linguistic and structural features. The second and third readers are humans, who evaluate the quality of the examinee’s ideas and his ability to organize, develop, and express ideas with relevant support. While mastery of the conventions of written English factor into scoring, minor errors are expected, and evaluators are “trained to be sensitive and fair in evaluating the responses of examines whose first language is not English.”
Each of the two essays in the Analytical Writing part of the test is graded on a scale of 0 (the minimum) to 6 (the maximum):
- 0 An essay that is totally illegible or obviously not written on the assigned topic.
- 1 An essay that is deficient.
- 2 An essay that is flawed.
- 3 An essay that is limited.
- 4 An essay that is adequate.
- 5 An essay that is strong.
- 6 An essay that is outstanding.
Over the last 3 years concluding in March 2011, the mean score has been 4.4.
The quantitative section consists of 37 multiple choice questions, which must be answered within 75 minutes. There are two types of questions: problem solving and data sufficiency. The quantitative section is scored from 0 to 60 points. Over the 3 years ending in March 2011, the mean score has been 36.2/60; scores above 50 and below 7 are rare. Calculators are not allowed.
This tests the quantitative reasoning ability of the examinee. Problem-solving questions present multiple-choice problems in arithmetic, basic algebra, and elementary geometry. The task is to solve the problems and choose the correct answer from among five answer choices. Some problems will be plain mathematical calculations; the rest will be presented as real-life word problems that will require mathematical solutions.
The data sufficiency section of the GMAT evaluates quantitative reasoning ability. The examinee is given a question with two associated statements that provide information that might be useful in answering the question. The examinee must then determine whether either statement alone is sufficient to answer the question, whether both are needed to answer the question, or whether there is not enough information given to answer the question.
Data sufficiency is a unique type of math question created especially for the GMAT. Each item consists of the question itself followed by two numbered statements.
The verbal section consists of 41 multiple choice questions, which must be answered within 75 minutes. There are three types of questions: sentence correction, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension. The verbal section is scored from 0 to 60 points. Over the 3 years ending in March 2011, the mean has been 27.9/60; scores above 44 and below 9 are rare.
The sentence correction section tests a test taker’s knowledge of American English grammar, usage, and style.Sentence correction items consist of a sentence, all or part of which has been underlined, with five associated answer choices listed below the sentence. The first answer choice is exactly the same as the underlined portion of the sentence. The remaining four answer choices contain different phrasings of the underlined portion of the sentence. The test taker is instructed to choose the first answer choice if there is no flaw with that phrasing of the sentence. If there is a flaw with the original phrasing of the sentence, the test taker is instructed to choose the best of the four remaining answer choices.
Sentence Correction questions are designed to measure a test taker’s proficiency in three areas: correct expression, effective expression, and proper. Correct expression refers to the grammar and structure of the sentence. Effective Expression refers to the clarity and concision used to express the idea. Proper Diction refers to the suitability and accuracy of the chosen words in reference to the dictionary meaning of the words and the context in which the words are presented.
The critical reasoning section tests logical thinking. Critical thinking items present an argument that the test taker is asked to analyze. Questions may ask test takers to draw a conclusion, to identify assumptions, or to recognize strengths or weaknesses in the argument. It presents brief statements or arguments and asks to evaluate the form or content of the statement or argument. Questions of this type ask the examinee to analyze and evaluate the reasoning in short paragraphs or passages. For some questions, all of the answer choices may conceivably be answers to the question asked. The examinee should select the best answer to the question, that is, an answer that does not require making assumptions that violate common sense standards by being implausible, redundant, irrelevant, and inconsistent.
The “total score”, composed of the quantitative and verbal sections, is exclusive of the analytical writing assessment (AWA), and ranges from 200 to 800. About two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600. The score distribution resembles a bell curve with a standard deviation of approximately 100 points, meaning that the test is designed for 68% of examinees to score between 400 and 600, while the median score was originally designed to be near 500. In the 2009/2010 period the mean score was 544, increasing 3% since 2000/2001 when the mean was 527.
The quantitative and verbal sections compose acomputer-adaptive test. The first question may be difficult. The next few questions in each section may be around the 500 level. If the examinee answers correctly, the next questions are harder. If the examinee answers incorrectly, the next questions are easier. The questions are pulled from a large pool of questions and delivered depending on the student’s running score. These questions are regularly updated to prevent them from being compromised by students recording questions.
The final score is not based solely on the last question the examinee answers (i.e. the level of difficulty of questions reached through the computer-adaptive presentation of questions). The algorithm used to build a score is more complicated than that. The examinee can make a silly mistake and answer incorrectly and the computer will recognize that item as an anomaly. If the examinee misses the first question his score will not necessarily fall in the bottom half of the range.
Because GMAT is a CAT, Computer Adaptive Test, the next question is based on the previous answer, through a testing algorithm, modifying the difficulty of every question; therefore, the best effort should be made on any question. It is not possible to go back to the previous question to verify or to correct it. This is a major contrast to theSAT, which has a wrong-answer penalty. Each test section also includes several experimental questions, which do not count toward the examinee’s score, but are included to judge the appropriateness of the item for future administrations.
Verbal and Quantitative Section scores range from 0 to 60. Analytical Writing Assessment scores range from 0 to 6 and represent the average of the ratings from the two GMAT essays. The essays are scored differently from the Verbal and Quantitative sections and are not included in the total score.
All scores and cancellations in the past 5 years will be on a student’s score report, a change from the previous policy of the last three scores and cancellations being kept on the score report.
Most schools do not publish a minimum acceptable score or detailed statistics about the scores achieved by applicants. However, schools do generally publish the average and median score of their latest intake, which can be used as a guide.
The average score for nearly all of the top business schools, as commonly listed in popular magazines and ranking services, is in the upper 600s or low 700s. For example Harvard Business School’s average is around 720 as per US News’ Business School rankings.
In 1953, the organization now called the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) began as an association of nine business schools, whose goal was to develop a standardized test to help business schoolsselect qualified applicants. In the first year it was offered, the assessment (now known as the Graduate Management Admission Test), was taken just over 2,000 times; in recent years, it has been taken more than 200,000 times annually. Initially used in admissions by 54 schools, the test is now used by more than 1,500 schools and 1,800 programs worldwide.
After 2005, GMAC is administrating the exam. On January 1, 2006, GMAC transitioned vendors to a combination of ACT Inc, which develops the test questions and CAT software, and Pearson Value, which delivers the exam at testing centers worldwide.
On June 23, 2008, a cheating scandal was acknowledged by GMAC involving some 6,000 test takers who subscribed to the website ScoreTop.com and may have viewed “live” questions in-use on the GMAT. GMAC has announced severe measures that include invalidating the scores of subscribers, notifying schools who have received their scores, and banning them from future tests. On June 27, GMAC reassured applicants that only those who knowingly cheated using Score top’s website would be affected. The Wall Street Journal later reported that the scores of 84 test takers were canceled in the wake of the scandal.
Also, in response to cases of “proxy” or “ringer” test-taking, where students pay somebody else to take the test on their behalf, GMAC has introduced Fujitsu Palm Secure(the palm vein scanning technology) at all testing centers.
GMAC has announced plans for a Next Generation GMAT set to launch in June 2012. Changes to the exam include the removal of one of the two essays in the Analytical Writing Assessment, and the addition of an Integrated Reasoning section. International differences will be taken into consideration more strongly.
The examinee may register for the GMAT either online or by calling one of the test centers. To schedule a test, an appointment must be made at one of the designated test centers.
- Third-party study preparation aids are available, including self-study using GMAT books, classroom GMAT preparation courses (live or online), or private tutoring.
- The cost of the exam is $250.
- The GMAT may not be taken more than once within 31 days, even if the scores are cancelled.