The GMAT is an essential part of your application, so it’s worth putting in the effort to get the best results you possibly can. We recently spent some time canvassing our MBA alumni to find out how they personally prepared for the GMAT, what they were most anxious about on the day, and what they would do differently. Read on to get a summary of their own advice, and great tips from our admissions team on how to prep for test day.
Written on 03 March 2020.
You’ve decided to do an MBA, you’ve researched the schools and you’re looking at the application process. It’s time to face the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Here at EDHEC, a good result in the GMAT not only contributes to your admission into the Global MBA programme but could also make you eligible for an advantageous scholarship worth up to 50% of your tuition fees.
It’s always a little nerve-wracking when you need to pass a test — especially if it’s been a few years since you finished your formal education. Although the GMAT has a particular format, at the end of the day it’s like any other test. If you plan ahead, take the time to study and practice, and understand what the questions are evaluating, then you’re setting yourself up for success.
The GMAT format is specifically designed to assess your quantitative, verbal and integrated reasoning skills; not your IQ, business knowledge or career potential. There is no fail or pass score, and each school has its own minimum GMAT score threshold for MBA candidates.
The test is taken in English only and takes place in approved test centres and you will receive your score immediately after sitting the test. The questions and scoring system may take a little getting used to (check tip #6 for more about this). It’s also likely to be rather unlike any test you have taken before so read on to make sure you are fully prepared.
The GMAT is often mandatory to enter a quality MBA programme, but it is just one of several application requirements, and each school has its own process for admissions. For the Global MBA at EDHEC, for example, we view candidates as more than just a GMAT score; we also want to hear about your motivation, your experience your goals and your background. A high score doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be the right fit for a programme, however, it can open up opportunities for a more beneficial scholarship, so make sure you plan ahead to give it your best shot.
Your GMAT test requires a lot of time, effort, study and practice, but once taken, it’s valid for 5 years. Planning ahead gives you the means to achieve the best score that you can, and once you have it, you can use it for all your applications for the duration of its validity.
If you decide to aim for a higher score once you’ve already taken the test — for a better scholarship, for instance — then you can always re-take it once you’re ready.
Planning ahead can also help you to save money. Some schools offer reduced application fees or other discounts when you apply or pay early. Our early-bird discount is one example. In any case, it’s always important to know what each school’s deadline is for submitting your GMAT results so that you don’t miss out on an opportunity.
Having a clear strategy will help you to improve the most in the least amount of time, and to stay focused. There’s nothing worse than doing practice test after practice test and having the impression that you’re not making much progress.
Start by checking the required GMAT score with the schools you’ll be applying to, so as to determine a minimum target score for yourself. Then take a practice test to see what your starting level is; there are plenty of great resources online including practice tests using real GMAT questions. This will help you get a feel for the test format and identify your strong points, as well as areas that you will need to work on.
Each of the test’s four sections is timed, which is why getting used to the format and practising for speed is key. The sections are; verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, integrated reasoning, and an analytical writing assessment.
Once you’ve done your first practice test (or two), you can assess how far off-target you are from the score you want or need. From here, make a realistic study plan that includes time for both learning and practice, and that fits in with your day-to-day responsibilities. Remember that the test is over 3 hours long, so you’ll need to be able to block out this length of time for practice tests too.
While you study, it can be useful to keep a note of the questions or topics that you score lower in or find more challenging. This way you can integrate time into your study plan to give them a little extra attention. Some people find that booking an official test date helps motivate them to stick to their study plan.
A great place to start is with online tools such as the Official GMAT Starter Kit on www.mba.com. This is free of charge and allows you to sample 90 real former GMAT questions and take two practice exams, which work with the same mechanism that you will experience in the GMAT.
Starting with a practice test like this will help you familiarize yourself with how the questions work and how much time you need to complete the test, as well as see your starting score.
The GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test, meaning that the questions get harder or easier, depending on how you answered previously. The more correct answers you get, the more difficult the questions are and the more points you earn. However, dedicating too much time to the first questions in each section is a common pitfall, putting you in danger of not leaving enough time for the rest of the questions. See tip #6 for more details.
It’s essential that you make time to study each type of question — not just the ones you struggle with. The real test requires spending over 3 hours in front of the screen, which can be hard on your concentration. Being extra fast and comfortable with the questions you’re already doing well will give you more space and time for the harder ones.
As with any exam, investing time to train always results in better outcomes.
“It is really important to take practice tests as often as possible to familiarize yourself with the GMAT format so that you will be better prepared on test day. Remember to stay calm, pace yourself and manage your time. Ideally, we recommend that you do your GMAT test as early as possible so that you have the opportunity to re-take it if needed. This reduces the pressure and also gives you an opportunity to get a higher score second time around to benefit from a better scholarship.”
Aude THEOBALD, Head of Admissions MBAs & Business Development, EDHEC
This might sound obvious, but it’s one of the best tips for improving your GMAT score. Being able to instantly recognise what each question is testing you on means that you can jump straight in, rather than spending too much time on figuring out the best approach. It will save you precious time, and help you get the right answer fast.
Practising enough will also get you accustomed to the terminology used in the GMAT test. Even if you’re a native English speaker, it’s important to get used to the way questions are formulated, and it will help you recognise what is being assessed straight away.
Each section tests different skills, and within each section, you’ll have different types of questions. The more familiar you are with the style and structure of the questions, the easier it will become to recognise them.
“Understanding how the questions work and what concepts are being assessed is the first key to be successful in the GMAT.”
James Barker, Market Development Manager - Europe for GMAC
Finishing the test is crucial; if you don’t finish it you’ll be penalised, so keeping an eye on the clock throughout the test is essential. It can be hard to balance going fast with giving each question enough attention, but practice makes this easier, as mentioned in tip #5 above.
Remember that you can’t go back once you’ve given your answer, so, despite the emphasis on speed, it’s important to read and fully understand the whole question and all the answers before submitting yours.
Start by identifying what is being asked, then concentrate on the answers. If the correct answer doesn’t immediately stand out, first eliminate all those that you recognise as wrong. This will save you some time by making the choice easier. Above all, don’t panic! Decide on the most probable answer by elimination and move on. The time you save is likely to be more valuable than that one question you get stuck on.
When you officially take the test at a test centre, you’ll be able to take a short break after each of the sections. It’s a good idea to follow this format at home as well, so as to reproduce the actual test as closely as possible. It’s also good to know that you’ll be given a laminated scratchpad and non-permanent marker to make notes — not a pen and paper. This may come as a surprise to some, so try using these at home to get used to them as well.
We hope that these tips will help you on your GMAT journey, and we wish you the best of luck. If you are interested in finding out about alternatives to the GMAT, EDHEC’s Global MBA programme also accepts applications with a GRE score. For any additional information about the Global MBA or the application process, feel free to contact us.
Read the related article: "Six steps to GMAT Success"