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by Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions | March 10, 2009


You may have heard that the GMAT is a test of classic math formulas from high school math class. The GMAT definitely tests some of your old favorites from high school, however, there is a lot more to the GMAT exam than memorizing formulas, and to get a competitive score needed for acceptance to a top business school, thorough preparation in many areas is key.

GMAT Exam Overview

The GMAT consists of three sections, each providing a subscore that contributes to your overall score:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Quantitative
  • Verbal
  • Overall score: 200-800

Analytical Writing Assessment

  • Two 30-minute typewritten essays
  • Topics tested include: Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of an Issue
  • Analytical Writing score: 0-6 (does not impact 200-800 score)


  • 75 minutes
  • 37 multiple-choice questions
  • Question types include: Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency
  • Topics tested include: Arithmetic, algebra, geometry
  • Quantitative subscore: 0-60


  • 75 minutes
  • 41 multiple-choice questions
  • Question types include: Reading Comprehension, Sentence Correction, and Critical Reasoning
  • Topics tested include: reading critically, grammar, and analytical reasoning
  • Verbal subscore: 0-60

Preparing for the GMAT

Because the GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT), realistic practice is crucial to your success on the exam. The CAT is more than just a computerized version of a paper and pencil test. In this format, the computer actually adapts to your performance as you're taking the test. Understanding how the CAT works and knowing the test-taking strategies appropriate to this particular format can have a direct, positive impact on your score.

Applying to business school is an extremely competitive process, and your GMAT score can carry a lot of weight in the admissions decisions. Therefore it is important not to underestimate the amount of preparation needed before taking the GMAT. The average preparation time is 2-3 months, and your preparation should focus efforts on three areas: content, critical thinking, and crisis prevention.

Focusing on GMAT Content

The GMAT will test your skills in specific content areas, in both the quantitative and verbal sections. It would be extremely difficult to do well on the GMAT without a solid understanding of the content that is tested, and part of your preparation will be spent reviewing and possibly re-learning the content areas that are frequently tested on the GMAT.

The Quantitative section has the most content to review. When preparing, you should work on skills in the frequently-tested math areas such as algebra, arithmetic, geometry, & basic statistics. Certain topics, such as algebra and arithmetic, will show up in a majority of your math questions, so you will want to do your best to master these topics. You also want to know what topics are NOT tested on the GMAT (such as trigonometry or calculus), so that you dont waste your time in these areas.

The content knowledge required on the Verbal section is centered on key grammar rules for the Sentence Correction questions. Commonly-tested grammar topics on the GMAT include questions with errors in verb usage, pronoun usage, parallel constructions, modifiers, comparisons, and idioms.

Focusing on Critical Thinking

If the GMAT were just a test of content, anyone could pick up a high school math textbook, learn it, and get a great score. Actually its a bit more complicated than that, as the GMAT is also a test of your critical thinking skills, in addition to just your content knowledge, and part of the challenge of GMAT questions is deciphering what the question is truly asking.

For many GMAT questions, there is more than one approach to answer the question, and strong critical thinking skills help you to choose the best approach at that given moment for that question type. Critical thinking skills are developed through continued practice with GMAT-style questions, as opposed to solely reviewing content, and through learning proven strategies for specific question types and applying them in realistic test-like environments.

Focusing on Crisis Prevention

To score high on a standardized test like the GMAT, it is important that you remain calm and confident throughout the exam. To this end, you should become comfortable with the test experience during your study period, by taking full-length adaptive practice tests in a realistic setting. Kaplan students, for example, take a practice GMAT test (the Ultimate Practice Test) at the actual GMAT testing facility, as a final dry-run of the test day experience. The GMAT is a time-pressured exam, and managing your stress and anxiety levels on test day can make a difference to your final score.

The GMAT Exam: The Whole Picture

In addition to testing your knowledge of math formulas, reading comprehension, grammar, and other directly-tested skills, the GMAT also indirectly tests skills such as time management, prioritization, problem-solving, and decision-making, skills that are extremely important in business school and in the business world. Some would argue that these critical thinking and crisis prevention skills are even more important to your success in business than the math formulas and other content. In any case you need skills in ALL of these areas (content, critical thinking, and crisis prevention) to do well on the GMAT, so be sure to incorporate each of these aspects into your GMAT preparation.

For more information about GMAT preparation options and business school applications, please see

About Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions

Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, a division of Kaplan, Inc., is a premier provider of educational and career services for individuals, schools and businesses. Established in 1938, Kaplan is the world leader in the test prep industry. With 4,000 classroom locations worldwide, a comprehensive menu of online offerings and a complete array of books and software, Kaplan offers preparation for more than 80 standardized tests, including entrance exams for secondary school, college and graduate school, as well as English language and professional licensing exams.

To prepare students for the GMAT exam, we offer a variety of comprehensive, realistic preparation options, including: one-on-one private tutoring, classroom courses with flexible schedules, Advanced classes for high-scoring students, online courses for the ultimate option in flexibility, and admissions consulting to help you submit compelling applications to business school. Our website features tips on each aspect of the business school application, free GMAT practice, and free event listings.

Our mission is to help every student realize their potential and achieve their educational and career goals. We're eager for the opportunity to help you do the same.


Filed Under: Education|Grad School

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