Monday, May 24, 2010

GMAT Guidance

When I talk to folks thinking about applying to an MBA program the part of the process that I get the most questions about is the GMAT. People are downright fearful of this standardized exam. Mostly, I find people just don't know much about the GMAT, so here's your two minute primer.
  • GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. It's a standardized assessment in a computer-adpative format you take in a test center on a computer. You can schedule an appointment online to take the exam whenever your local test center has an opening. It costs $250 to take the test.

  • There are three sections on the test: Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing. You will also receive a "Total" score. This Total score is the number on a 200-800 scale that is most freqently referred to as your "GMAT score." You may not use a calculator while taking the GMAT. The test is timed, and the ability to answer questions both accurately and efficiently is key to your success.

  • This is a secure test. You will be fingerprinted and photographed (or other security measures). This sometime unsettles people, but it is completely normal. You cannot leave the testing area to go to the bathroom or get a drink other than at designated break times.

  • You'll find out your unofficial verbal, quantitative, and Total scores the day you take the exam. Your official score report, which includes your Analytical Writing score, will come within 20 days; it takes approximately the same amount of time for a school to receive your report (then it has to be matched to your application).

  • You can take the test once every 31 days.

  • You can download free test prep software for the GMAT if you register on

If you think you want to apply to business school, you should plan to take the GMAT sooner rather than later, and you should plan to study prior to taking the exam. Ideally, you want to take the exam once and feel your score is a good representation of your abilities. I've seen many last minute GMAT takers over the years- this does not turn out well. I've also had plenty of people tell me that he/she "took the GMAT to familiarize myself with the exam" or "took it cold just to see how I could do without any prep". This also doesn't turn out well. There are plenty of materials available to help you familiarize yourself with test content and format without actually taking the test, and I've seen many people take it cold only to have the experience completely shake their confidence for a future re-test. Don't wing it. Keep in mind that many test prep services will allow you to visit a center to take a practice exam for free before deciding whether to enroll in a prep class; use that option instead. However you choose to prepare, please prepare.

If you're looking at deadlines and your busy, busy life and you're not sure how long you can wait to take the test in order to make a deadline but still allow yourself the maximum amount of prep time call the school and ask. This is not an uncommon question. We want you to do well, so we're happy to help.

Yes, the GMAT can be daunting, but if you take it one step at a time it doesn't have to be. I know you can do it!