Get the Inside Scoop on the GMAT Exam from GMAC Representatives

The GMAT exam is an important part of the admissions process for Wharton’s executive MBA program so it’s not surprising that we get a lot of questions about it. We recently asked Joanna Graham, GMAC’s director of field marketing for the Americas, and Eric Chambers, GMAC’s school research and relations director for the Americas, to share insights on this unique exam as well as preparation tips. Our conversation is below. For more information about the GMAT, we invite you to attend a special “Focus on the GMAT” session with Joanna and Eric at Wharton | San Francisco on Sept. 6 and to contact us with questions at any time.

Q. What is the GMAT exam and how is it structured?

Joanna: The GMAT is a high-stakes standardized assessment used by more than 6,000 graduate management programs around the world as part of their admissions processes. It’s a 3.5-hour exam, but with breaks and check-in time, it’s closer to a 4-hour experience. It includes four sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.

Q. How does the GMAT help both applicants and admissions committees?

Joanna: The GMAT helps students in the classroom because every skill tested on the exam is something they’ll need to leverage during their first year of business school.

Eric: As for admissions committees, the GMAT is a strong predictor of academic performance and how well someone will handle the academic demands of the program. For candidates further removed from school, like EMBA applicants, a strong GMAT score can help mitigate a low undergraduate GPA as it is a more current indicator of your abilities.

Q. What trends are you seeing in terms of business schools requiring the GMAT?

Eric: Generally, the GMAT is accepted by the vast majority of schools whether or not it’s required. Wharton’s policy of requiring it is in line with rigorous programs with high admissions requirements because it is a predictor of academic success. If you’re not willing to study for the GMAT, how will you get through an MBA program?

Q. What type of math skills are measured on the GMAT?

Eric: The GMAT evaluates quantitative reasoning skills, which require a basic level of high school math including algebra and geometry. You don’t need advanced statistics or calculus.

Joanna: The quant section is not an assessment of content skills, but rather your higher order reasoning skills. We try not to further complicate questions by requiring mastery of more difficult subjects such as trigonometry or calculus.

Q. How much preparation do you recommend for the GMAT?

Joanna: I’m a big advocate of quality prep over quantity. You want to carve out a two- to three-month period where you can dedicate a significant and consistent amount of time to quality preparation. I recommend prepping five to six days a week; even thirty minutes daily  will serve you much better than cramming in a five-hour session on a Saturday. It’s similar to training for a marathon.

Eric: It also depends on how comfortable you are with the material and question formats. For example, data sufficiency and integrated reasoning are unique to the GMAT. You should become comfortable with the way questions are asked so that when you read the question, you’ll understand what is expected.

Q. How should applicants prepare for the GMAT?

Eric: GMAC has developed free practice software called GMATPrep that provides 90 practice questions and two full-length computer adaptive exams that utilize the same scoring algorithm as the real GMAT. Further, candidates have the ability to customize question sets and utilize various diagnostic tools.

Joanna: A few days before the exam, do a dry run. Drive to the center to learn where it is, how long it takes to get there and where you’ll park. Also, think about what breakfast and snacks you’ll need to keep your energy up. You’ll have two optional eight-minute breaks during the exam. This is when you can get up to use the restroom and have a snack, but eight minutes passes very fast. Think about how you’ll spend that time and then practice it. If you go over the limit, you’ll lose time on the next section of the exam. Also, focus on pacing.  It’s a computer adaptive test and every question is designed to challenge you. Half of the battle is knowing how to best utilize your time and when you need to take an educated guess and move on. There will always be some questions that you are not going to be able to solve in the allotted time; don’t let those become “time-sucks.”

Q. Can students see their scores before deciding whether to submit their score to a school?

Joanna: Yes, we recently changed our policy so you can now preview your score before you accept it and send it to schools. But after taking the GMAT, your brain will feel like spaghetti because that is just the nature of computer adaptive testing; you’re constantly being challenged. So do your homework ahead of time. Research schools and think about what score you (and they) would deem acceptable, and stick to that game plan.

Eric: If you do cancel your score, then get a good night’s sleep and change your mind, you can reinstate that score for up to 60 days after the test although there is a fee for that service. The other thing to keep in mind is that schools see a full range of scores so you shouldn’t remove a school from your list based on your GMAT score. Have a conversation with an admissions officer who can discuss your individual case and give you feedback.