GMAT Exam | What Is It And Who Is It For?

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The further you advance your education, the more specialised it gets and the less the qualifications and any exams that need to be done become common knowledge. This is particularly the case when it comes to the GMAT exam as you’ve probably not heard of it unless you needed to. Without further ado, let’s delve into what the GMAT exam actually is.

In short, the GMAT exam is an admissions exam for graduate programmes at business schools. This is particularly the likes of MBA programmes, Master of Finance programmes and Master of Accountancy programmes. This exam is used worldwide by over 2,000 different universities as it allows admissions officers to see the academic potential of the applicant. This is as they are tested in the areas of quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning and analytical writing.

Continue reading to learn more about the GMAT exam from how the exam is actually set up to how it compares to other graduate admissions exams.

What is the GMAT exam?

The GMAT exam is used by over 2,400 universities and other higher education providers worldwide and has been around for over 60 years, introduced in 1953. However, what you might be wondering now is what exactly it is and why it’s so widespread.

The GMAT exam is an exam created by business schools for business schools. Having been created and developed by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), an international body of top business schools. You can learn more about GMAC in this page on their website.

It is used by admissions officers in these and other business schools to predict an applicant’s academic success and to compare different applicants to see which would be the best fit. The GMAT is in some ways like an aptitude test as it is designed to test the skills of the applicant that will be needed within a graduate business and management programme, including both hard and soft skills.

More specifically, the GMAT tests applicants’ hard skills, such as analytical writing, statistics, data handling, geometry and other quantitative concepts. As well as their soft skills, such as problem solving, logic and critical reasoning.

You can learn more about the GMAT exam in this page on the GMAC website. You can also check out this article by Kaplan Test Prep.

What does GMAT stand for?

Now that we’ve looked at what exactly the GMAT is, you might be wondering more about its name and what this actually means.

While it is commonly referred to as the GMAT exam, this is actually just an abbreviation. GMAT actually stands for Graduate Management Admission Test.

“Graduate” refers to the fact that as previously mentioned, it is designed to be used by applicants to graduate programmes. In this case, graduate is referring to postgraduate courses, such as a postgraduate degree or even a postgraduate certificate or diploma. You can learn more about postgraduate degrees and courses in this Think Student article.

Due to this, it also means that in order to do the test, it is a prerequisite, that the test taker already has some form of degree.

“Management” refers to the exam being used for business and management programmes. One of the most common types of programmes that this applies to is the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. You can learn more about this type of master’s qualification in this Think Student article.

“Admission” refers to the fact that the GMAT is taken before applying to one of these graduate business and management programmes. In some ways, this is similar to how some undergraduate courses, particularly ones like Medicine, have entrance exams. You can learn more about these in this Think Student article.

Who is the GMAT exam for?

As previously mentioned, the GMAT exam allows business school admission officers to compare applicants and predict their academic success in their course. However, you might be wondering what kinds of applicants this includes.

The GMAT exam is for people, who are looking at going to a business school to study some form of postgraduate course. The GMAT is particularly needed for applicants to postgraduate business programmes.

This is particularly for the Master of Business Administration (MBA) course, the Master of Accountancy course or even the Master of Finance course.

You can learn more about this by checking out this article by Shorelight.

What is the format of the GMAT exam?

The GMAT exam is computer-based, rather than being paper-based as most exams are. Other than being computer-based, the GMAT is also computer-adaptive.

This means that the computer selects each question for the test taker depending on their ability. Therefore, even if taken at the same time, different test takers are likely to experience different questions.

You can learn more about these features of the GMAT by checking out this article by Kaplan Test Prep. For more on what computer-adaptive means, look at this page on the GMAC website.

The GMAT exam is made up of 4 sections:

  • Quantitative reasoning– In this section, general mathematical skills are being tested, particularly in areas of maths, such as arithmetic, basic algebra and basic geometry.
  • Verbal reasoning- In this part of the GMAT exam, a wide range of language and comprehension abilities are being tested, with grammar, logic skills and comprehension from a text.
  • Integrated reasoning– This section of the GMAT exam is once again mathematically based. You won’t be tested on topics like algebra as you were in the quantitative reasoning section. Instead, it tests abilities in data handling and making inferences from data in charts, graphs and tables.
  • Analytical writing assessment– This section of the GMAT is slightly different as test takers will need to write an argument on business or a topic of general interest.

The total exam lasts 3 hours and 7 minutes or 3 and a half hours, if including the optional breaks and the instructions. Overall, it is scored between 200 and 800. Look at the following table to see a breakdown of each section.

Section Duration Number of questions Scoring
Quantitative reasoning 62 minutes 31 6- 51
Verbal reasoning 65 minutes 36 6- 51
Integrated reasoning 30 minutes 12 1- 8
Analytical writing assessment 30 minutes 1 0- 6

You can learn more about the format of the GMAT exam by checking out this page on the Princeton Review website. Look at this page by to see more on the GMAT scoring.

You can also check out this Think Student article, which will breakdown what the scores mean, and which are good.

Is GMAT all multiple choice?

The GMAT exam isn’t all multiple choice, although the majority of it is. To better understand this, let’s delve into the details of the question types of each section of the GMAT exam.

The quantitative reasoning section of the GMAT is made up of 2 question types. These are problem solving questions and data sufficiency questions. Both types are multiple choice.

For the problem solving questions, the exam taker will need to solve the problem and pick the best answer out of the 5 options given. For the data sufficiency question, the exam taker will be given a question and 2 statements. To answer this, they will need to decide if the statements are enough to answer the question or if only one is or if neither are.

For the verbal reasoning section, there are 3 types of question: reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction. Once again, all 3 of these types are multiple choice questions.

For the reading comprehension questions, the exam takers need to answer questions based off the passage that is provided. For the critical reasoning questions, you will be given a short passage of 100 words or less and then need to choose the best option to answer the question, which will be related to the argument of the text.

For the sentence correction questions, you will be given a sentence, part of which will be underlined, and then given options on how to correct this to make it more effective and grammatically correct.

For the integrated reasoning section, there are 4 different types of question: multi-source reasoning, table analysis, graphics interpretation and 2-part analysis. Once again, all of these question types are multiple choice. However, some of these may require more than one answer.

For the analytical writing assessment, the exam taker will need to discuss and analyse an argument. Due to this, it is a single essay rather than a multiple choice type of question.

You can learn more about the question types of the GMAT by checking out this page on the website.

Do you have to take the GMAT exam to do an MBA?

While not particularly recommended, it is possible for applicants to apply for an MBA course without having done the GMAT exam. This will primarily come down to 2 main factors: whether they have done an alternative exam and which university they’re applying to.

In terms of alternatives to the GMAT, universities may accept the applicant’s score for a different admissions exam that is designed for the same purpose and is on the same level. This exam will most likely be either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Executive Assessment (EA), although different universities may only accept one of these or may accept different ones as well.

You can learn more about this by checking out this page on the Wharton, University of Pennsylvania website.

Otherwise, some business schools may not require any admissions exam for entrance onto an MBA programme. This is more likely to be for online MBA programmes, although some in-person programmes may also allow applicants to forgo the GMAT or other admissions exams.

While it may be possible, in-person programmes tend to be a lot more competitive and so it is recommended that you do the exam even if not required to give your application a bit of a boost. You can learn about this on this page of the website.

Which universities do not require the GMAT?

There is a wide range of business schools that don’t require the GMAT to be accepted onto at least certain programmes. The best way to see if one of the universities you’re interested in requires it is to check on their website.

Look at the following list for some examples of business schools in the UK that don’t require the GMAT for at least certain programmes.

  • Aston Business School
  • Birmingham City Business School
  • Cranfield School of Management, University of Cranfield
  • Durham University Business School
  • Henley Business School at University of Reading
  • Lancaster University Management School
  • Middlesex University
  • Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University
  • Warwick School of Business, University of Business
  • University of Bradford, School of Management
  • University of Central Lancashire
  • University of Gloucestershire Business School
  • University of Hertfordshire Business School
  • University of Liverpool Management School
  • University of Reading
  • University of Roehampton Business School

You can learn more about these in this article by Edvoy.

Which is easier GRE or GMAT?

As previously mentioned, there are alternatives to the GMAT exam, such as the GRE and the EA exams. In this section, we’ll particularly focus on the GRE, explore how it compares to the GMAT and see which, if either, is easier.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is another admissions exam for graduate programmes. However, while still being used as an admission exam to business schools, it is also commonly used for graduate law schools, in the US and Canada.

The exam itself is primarily computer-based. Also, like the GMAT, it is designed to test the candidates’ abilities in analytical writing, maths and vocabulary.

The GRE is older than the GMAT, having been introduced in 1936, and is currently run by ETS. You can learn more about the GRE exam, in this article by Investopedia.

Look at the following table to see how the GRE compares to the GMAT.

Admissions test Duration Format Number of questions Scoring
GMAT 3 hours and 7 minutes 4 sections: quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning and analytical writing assessment. 80 (79 multiple choice and 1 essay) 200- 800 (overall)
GRE (from September 2023) 1 hour and 58 minutes 5 sections: 1 analytical writing section, 2 quantitative reasoning sections and 2 verbal reasoning sections. 55 (54 multiple choice and 1 essay) 130- 170 (quantitative reasoning),


130- 170 (verbal reasoning),

0- 6 (analytical writing)

GRE (before September 2023) 3 hours and 45 minutes 6 sections: 1 analytical writing section, 2 quantitative reasoning sections, 2 verbal reasoning sections and 1 unscored section (either unidentified or research). 82 (80 multiple choice and 2 essays) and unscored section 130- 170 (quantitative reasoning),


130- 170 (verbal reasoning),


0- 6 (analytical writing)

You can learn more about the exam set up of the GRE exam in this page on the ETS website. For more on the scoring, have a look at this page of the ETS website.

While comparing their formats, it would appear that the older GRE is much more difficult than the GMAT and that the newer one is much easier, due to the number of questions and the time given for these. However, due to the fact that both the GMAT and the GRE are computer-adaptive, the level of difficulty is dependent on the test taker, thus making it comparable and neither easier.

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