How to Prepare for the GMAT

How you perform in the GMAT will impact which universities will consider your application, so it’s important that you know how to prepare.

This guide walks you through the key information you need to know and how to go about preparing for the GMAT. Our GMAT experts have helped students get into top universities and business schools, including London Business School, LSE, Imperial, Oxbridge, and more. If you’re in need of additional support with your university application, reach out to our team today.

 

What is the GMAT?

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is an admissions test used by many UK universities to assess students’ suitability for postgraduate Management and Business-related degree courses.

Why is the GMAT important?

 

The GMAT helps universities and business schools to assess your academic potential and gives a more consistent point of comparison between applicants from a range of academic and professional backgrounds. Your GMAT score is also one part of the application process you can control (you can improve your score through hard work and effective preparation) so it gives business schools an insight into your work ethic.

For these reasons, the GMAT is often a mandatory requirement for top universities/business schools. It’s important to work towards achieving the strongest possible score in order to show your commitment to your chosen course and to help you stand out amongst many competitive applicants from the outset.

 

What is included in the GMAT?

 

While the GMAT does test your knowledge of grammar and quantitative concepts (including arithmetic, algebra, statistics and geometry), the exam is designed to be a test of your critical thinking skills. It assesses your ability to analyse and evaluate quantitative and verbal material, think in a logical way, and solve problems under time pressure.

In total, the GMAT lasts for just over 3 hours (3 hours and 7 minutes to be precise). You also have the option of taking two 8-minute breaks if required. The total time is split across four sections, each of which is explained in the table below.

SectionDescriptionNo. of questionsTime allocated
Quantitative reasoningThis section tests your general knowledge in arithmetic, basic algebra and basic geometry.
The section is non-calculator and consists of two question types: Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving.
Data Sufficiency questions consist of one question and two statements of data. You are required to determine whether the statements provide sufficient data to answer the question.
Problem Solving questions consist of one question and five possible answer choices. Problem Solving questions test your mathematical understanding and skills and require you to identify what the question is asking and avoid answer traps.
31 multiple-choice questions62 minutes
Verbal reasoningThis section tests grammar, logic skills, and your ability to answer questions about a reading passage.
This section consists of three different types of questions: Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and Sentence Correction. Reading Comprehension questions require you to read a passage about a certain topic and answer 3-4 questions about that passage. Critical Reasoning questions also start with a passage, however this passage will be a written argument and you will be required to answer one multiple-choice question about the argument presented. Finally, Sentence Correction questions present you with a sentence that has some portion (or all) of it underlined. You then need to select the best version of the underlined portion of the sentence in the multiple-choice options provided.
36 multiple-choice questions65 minutes
Integrated reasoningThis section tests your ability to make inferences based on data presented in various charts, graphs, and tables. Calculators are allowed in this section and can be used on each of the four question types: Multi-Source Reasoning, Table Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, and Two-Part Analysis questions.
Multi-Source Reasoning questions measure your ability to examine data from multiple sources, such as text passages, tables, and graphics, as well as to carefully analyse sources of data to answer multiple questions.
Table Analysis questions measure your ability to sort and analyse a table of data (similar to a spreadsheet) to determine what information is relevant and/or meets certain conditions.
Graphics Interpretation questions measure your ability to interpret information presented in a graph. Two-Part Analysis questions measure your ability to solve complex quantitative and/or verbal problems.
12 multiple-choice questions30 minutes
Analytical Writing Assessment (ASA)This section involves writing an analysis of an argument on business or a topic of general interest. Specific knowledge of the essay topic is not necessary, as only your ability to write analytically will be assessed.1 essay topic30 minutes

Which order do you need to take the GMAT sections in?

There are three options to choose from when it comes to choosing which order to take the GMAT in. These are:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal
  • Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

The order is completely up to you and there is no right or wrong way to complete the GMAT. However, generally we find that students perform most optimally when choosing the order that starts with their weakest section and moves onto sections they are stronger in.

 

Which universities require the GMAT?

 

Most universities and business schools require students to take the GMAT for MBA courses and some other postgraduate level Business, Management and Finance-related courses. The table below shows the top 10 schools for Business and Management Studies in the UK and what the average GMAT score is for each.

RankingUniversityAverage/minimum GMAT score
1London Business School708 (av)
2University of Cambridge687 (av)
3University of Oxford690 (av)
4London School of Economics (LSE)680 (av)
5University of Warwick650 (av)
6Imperial College London600 (min)
7University of Manchester600 (min)
8City, University of London653 (av)
9Lancaster University580 (min)
10University of Leeds600 (min)

 

How is the GMAT marked?

 

The raw marks you achieve in the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GMAT are converted into an overall score between 200 (lowest) and 800 (highest). Two thirds of test takers score between 400 and 800. You are also given individual scores for the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the test, with each score ranging from 0 to 60. Most test takers score between 8 and 51 in these sections.

You will also be given a separate score for the Integrated Reasoning section (between 1 and 8) and the Analytical Writing section (between 0 and 6). The Analytical Writing Assessment is evaluated by two readers (one human and one computer) and the two scores are averaged and rounded to the nearest 1/2 point. Your Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing scores do not count towards your overall GMAT score.

 

What is a good GMAT score?

 

A ‘good’ GMAT score is relative depending on your current ability and the average score of your chosen business school/university. It’s helpful to look at the average GMAT score of successful applicants to your ideal course for a benchmark on what a good score looks like for you. Universities sometimes post their current class average on their website (many are also included in the table above).

Top business schools and universities in the UK typically look for GMAT scores above 650, with many averaging scores above 700 (such as London Business School and LSE). The average GMAT score of top business schools in the US is often even higher, exceeding 700 for schools like the University of Columbia (727), UCLA (719), Duke University (705), and the University of Pennsylvania (732).

More generally, a score might be considered good if it is in the top half of all scores achieved (600+). The table below shows the percentile rankings of scores ranging from 800 to 200.

ScorePercentile ranking
80099%
75098%
70087%
65070%
60050%
55034%
50022%
45013%
4008%
3504%
3002%
2501%
2000%

Over many years of support, The Profs’ GMAT experts have acquired knowledge on what score is most likely to secure you an offer for the top programmes in the UK. If you’d like to know more about how we can help, reach out to our team today.

 

When is the GMAT taken?

 

You can take the GMAT both online (remotely) and in a test centre. If you take the test online, you are able to take the GMAT at almost any time or date throughout the year. If you would prefer to take it in a test centre, you will need to book a specific date and time.

You should plan when you take the GMAT carefully to ensure that you give yourself enough time to prepare as well as enough time to submit your course application/s. We recommend finding the application deadline for your chosen course and working backwards from that date – you should aim to have your GMAT score ready at least three months before you submit your application.

 

Where is the GMAT taken?

 

You can either take the GMAT online or in a local test centre. There are more than 530 GMAT test centres around the world, and you can use the GMAT website to find the most convenient one for you.

 

How much does the GMAT cost?

 

To take the GMAT in the UK, you will need to pay a fee. If you’re taking the test in a test centre, the GMAT costs £250. If you are taking the GMAT online, it will cost you £275. If you need to cancel your test, you’ll forfeit some of the fee depending on how much notice you provide.

 

5 tips on preparing for the GMAT

 

1. Find out when you need to apply and leave plenty of time

Although you can take the GMAT at any time, it’s important that you leave plenty of time to prepare for it, as the score you get will impact which universities and business schools you have a realistic chance of getting into. We suggest working backwards from the application deadline for your chosen courses, leaving at least three months between when you take the GMAT and when you submit your application.

2. Learn and practise each section individually

Each section of the GMAT is very different and requires different skills. Practising each section individually is a great way to identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie and ensure that you are prepared for every element to maximise your overall score.

SectionHow to Prepare
Quantitative ReasoningThis section is arguably the most important to excel at as business schools will often look at your overall score as well as your Quantitative Reasoning score when making decisions on who to offer places to. You should therefore aim to get the highest possible score in this section.
You will not be allowed a calculator during this section of the GMAT, so it’s important to develop your mental maths as part of your preparation. Not only will mental maths improve your ability to answer complex questions, but it will also save you valuable time.
Another skill to develop for the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GMAT is your visual literacy – i.e. your ability to read symbols, charts and tables and interpret visual data quickly and accurately. You may also encounter non-standard mathematical notations in this section of the GMAT, so it’s important that your visual literacy is strong and that you can remain calm and composed in the face of these types of challenges.
Verbal ReasoningFor the Verbal Reasoning section of the GMAT, you will need to know a number of English grammar rules. Many of these you may already know – albeit subconsciously – but some are less obvious. Many test takers struggle with Sentence Correction in particular, so it’s a good idea to practise these kinds of exercises to avoid dropping marks in this section.
Another great way to prepare for the Verbal Reasoning section is to get into the habit of reading from reputable sources (particularly if you are a non-native English speaker). Familiarising yourself with the kind of ‘sophisticated’ English found in publications such as The Economist, National Geographic, and Business Standard will give you a head start when it comes to quickly reading, understanding and interpreting the key information in passages of this style.
Ultimately, your preparation should aim to build strong foundations in both the concepts and techniques related to the full range of Verbal topics you may encounter
Integrated ReasoningThis section is not often one that business schools look at specifically, however it is still important to get the best score possible.
Visual literacy is also important for the Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT, which involves analysing data and interpreting information displayed in various formats. In preparation for this section, you should also familiarise yourself with the four types of IR problems: Multi-Source Reasoning (MSR), Table Analysis, Graphical Interpretation, and Two-Part Analysis.
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)This section is the least structured section of the GMAT and asks you to craft your own written essay based on a topic or argument. However, there are still plenty of tips you should follow to maximise your score.
The AWA will ask you to write a critique of an argument presented to you. It’s important that you write your answer objectively and avoid presenting your own views, as your assessors will want to see strictly analytical writing. Your AWA essay should also have a formal, confident tone that presents your findings in a clear, concise and compelling way.
It’s important to practise writing similar types of essays in your GMAT preparation in order to develop your analytical skills.

Top tip: While the scores from the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) and Integrated Reasoning sections do not contribute to your total GMAT score, they are important aspects of the test, so you do need to prepare for them. Universities and business schools will receive all scores from your GMAT test, and some admissions panels will read and evaluate these sections in addition to your Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections.

The AWA essay in particular is often the only written element your admissions panel receives that is written under test conditions, so it may be used to assess the quality of your ideas and your ability to organise, develop and express those ideas under time pressure.

3. Know what score you’re aiming for

As the table in the section above shows, the average score of applicants to even the top 10 universities and business schools differs greatly. For instance, the average GMAT score for London Business School is 708, while for Oxford and Cambridge, a score around 690 is average.

It’s important to know not only what score you are aiming for, but what you’ll need to do in order to get there. We suggest taking an initial practice test before beginning your preparation to help identify which areas in particular need improvement and formulate an effective plan. An experienced GMAT tutor will also be able to help you identify where you currently are and where best to focus your efforts in the days and months leading up to your GMAT test.

Top tip: If you are applying to a top business school in the US, the average score of successful applicants is often higher than that of UK business schools. For example, the University of Pennsylvania has an average score of 732: a score better than 98% of test takers. Bear this in mind when choosing which courses to apply for and make sure that you have the necessary resources in place (i.e. an established GMAT expert) to help you prepare effectively.

4. Take practice tests under timed conditions

You do not get an abundance of time in the GMAT. In fact, the exam is specifically designed to test your thinking and problem solving skills under time pressure, rather than your knowledge of the content itself, and even requires a level of ‘heuristic guessing’ (an approach to problem solving using ‘a calculated guess’ based on previous experiences) in order to get a near-perfect score. With this in mind, it’s important to use the time you do have in the most effective way, and the best way to do this is by preparing with timed practice tests.

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is the best way to simulate the environment you will be faced with in the real exam. It also allows you to try out time management strategies, such as backsolving, making up numbers, and estimating, and figure out which areas require more preparation than others. For instance, test takers often find that it’s easier to achieve a near-perfect score on the Quantitative section than it is to achieve that same score in the Verbal section, however a top score in both is required to achieve a competitive score overall.

Good quality practice tests and preparation resources are not always reliable or easy to find. London Business School offers free micro, mini and full practice GMAT tests, and you may be able to find other mini practice tests elsewhere. However, when it comes to resourceful preparation, nothing compares to The Profs’ specialised GMAT tuition. Over many years of successfully tutoring business school applicants, our tutors have developed a wealth of knowledge and resources to help you prepare for every element of the GMAT, from specific question styles to time management skills. Get in contact with our team today to find out how we can help you.

Top tip: Remember that there is a penalty for not completing each section of the test, and your score could decrease with each question you leave unanswered. Practising your time management skills helps you to avoid falling into the trap of overthinking your answers and ensures that you are able to stick to an effective pacing strategy. We advise that you don’t invest more than two and a half minutes on any one question and, if you’re stumped, make a strategic guess.

5. Work with an expert GMAT tutor

Preparing for the GMAT can be stressful, especially if there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain score in order to get into your dream business school. Unlike school or even university exams, you won’t receive a structured learning plan that ensures you are prepared for all of the content in the GMAT, or teachers who understand the test specifications – that’s all down to you. The solution to this is to work with a qualified GMAT expert.

Working with a GMAT tutor will provide so many benefits to your preparation, including:

  • Identifying and focusing on areas in which you need extra support.
    It can be tricky to identify your own weaknesses, especially if you don’t know what exactly your examiners are looking for. Our experienced GMAT specialists can help you tailor your preparation to areas where it’s most needed.
  • Offering insider knowledge on the test and what the assessors will be looking for.
    The Profs’ admissions test tutors have first-hand experience of the specific GMAT structure and content, as well as the wider admissions process for top universities and business schools, all of which will be invaluable to your preparation.
  • Making the preparation more fun and engaging.
    It can be difficult to stay self-motivated and engaged when you’re juggling GMAT preparation with normal work and all of the other requirements of applying for a university course. Ensuring the preparation process is enjoyable will take some of the pressure off while still maximising your chances of success.

More than 90% of students who work with us get into their first or second choice university. Give our postgraduate admissions team a call or submit a contact form today to get the first-class support you deserve.

Top tip: Don’t forget about any potential interviews! You don’t need to wait until invites are sent out after completing your GMAT to begin interview preparation. Preparing for any interview early will leave you with more time and make sure all of your hard work in the GMAT and wider application is worthwhile. Our admissions experts can help you with all areas of the application processes for business school, so get in touch to access immediate support.

 

FAQs

 

What is the difference between the GMAT and GRE?

Many business schools and universities accept both GMAT and GRE scores for Management and Business related courses. Both tests are designed to assess a similar set of skills, however there are some differences. For example, the GRE requires you to write two essays in 60 minutes, while the GMAT only includes one 30-minute essay. The rest of the GRE is structured slightly differently too, with two 30-minute Verbal Reasoning sections, two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections, and a 30-35 minute experimental section that can be either Verbal or Maths-based.

As a general rule, the GMAT tends to suit applicants who have strong quantitative and analytical skills and excel at interpreting data presented in charts, tables, and text to solve complex problems. The GRE tends to suit applicants who prefer essay writing over Maths, as there is a longer essay section and its Quantitative sections tend to be more straightforward (calculators are also allowed).

How long does your GMAT score last for?

Your GMAT score remains valid for five years. If you have taken the GMAT several times, GMAC will report all GMAT scores from the past five years.

Is GMAT required for MBA?

The GMAT is an entry requirement for most MBA courses at top universities in the UK and US. Some universities also accept GRE scores instead of a GMAT score, however this is not always the case and the GMAT tends to be the preferred test. In some cases, a GMAT/GRE score may not be required (or may be waived) so long as you meet other entry requirements, such as an internal university admissions test or particularly strong qualifications or work experience.