Applying to MBA Programs – Step 2: Prepare for GMAT

Last week, I discussed the first step in applying to MBA programs –  Why MBA? Today, I am going to discuss the second step. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, you decided that an MBA is right for you. You are about to embark on a challenging yet rewarding experience. Now it’s time to move on to the next step in the process of applying to MBA programs – Prepare for the GMAT.

For some, this can be the most difficult part of applying to MBA programs. If you struggle with standardized tests, you should start preparing for the GMAT as soon as possible.  The GMAT format is scheduled to change in the near future, but I am going to discuss the current test format. Currently, the GMAT is broken down into three sections:

1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
2. Quantitative Section
3. Verbal Section

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

In this section of the GMAT, you have to write two essays.  The first essay is an analysis of an issue and the second essay is an analysis of an argument.  You have 30 minutes to complete each of the essays.  This section is scored on a scale from 0 to 6.

Quantitative Section

The quantitative section of the GMAT has 37 multiple choice questions. There are two different types of question formats in the section – problem solving and data sufficiency.  Within these two question formats, you will see problems related to algebra, arithmetic, and geometry. This section is scored a scale from 0 to 60.

Problem Solving
Each problem solving question will have five answer choices. The topics in this section can include ratios, exponents, time/distance, geometry, roots, and many other topics. As you can see, there are a wide range of topics and it is imperative that you study these prior to taking the GMAT. You can find a sample problem solving question on the MBA website.

Data Sufficiency
I can say with certainty that you’ve never come across a question type like this before.  This section is designed to see if you can identify what information is relevant and how much information is needed to solve a problem.  In data sufficiency questions, you will be given a question and two statements.  You must determine whether the question can be answered from the statements given. The answer choices for each question are as follows:

• Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked.
• Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked.
• BOTH statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question asked, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question asked.
• Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question asked, and additional data specific to the problem are needed.

This section can be difficult because it forces you to use each statement both separately and together to attempt and answer the question.  It is very easy to combine information from the statements and make a careless mistake.  Take a look at the sample question the MBA website to get a better idea of the question format.

Verbal Section

The verbal section tests your ability to read and comprehend material, evaluate arguments, and correct sentences to conform to written English.  The verbal section of the GMAT consists of 41 multiple choice questions broken into three question types – Reading Comprehension, Sentence Correction, and Critical Reasoning. This section is scored on a scale from 0 to 60.

In this section you will be questions based on a passage. The passages cover a wide range of topics. However, all of the information that you need to answer these questions is found in the passage.  Take a look at a sample reading comprehension question on the MBA website.

Sentence Correction
In this section, you will be given a sentence with an underlined phrase and five answer choices. The first answer choice will be a repeat of the underlined phrase.  You must determine if the phrase conforms to written English rules. If not, you must choose the correct answer from the other four choices.  Take a look at a sample sentence correction question on the MBA Website.

Critical Reasoning
In this section, you will be given a paragraph that presents information on specific subject and a question.  The questions in this section will ask you to construct an argument, evaluate an argument, and form and evaluate a plan of action. Take a look at a sample sentence correction question on the MBA Website.

Now you know a little about the format of the GMAT. It’s time to get ready for this grueling test.  There are a number of ways to prepare for the GMAT. Personally, I decided to self-study for the test. I know a lot of others who registered for a review class.  If you are not very motivated and won’t study on your own, a class might be in your best interest. Regardless of which decision you make, you should buy the latest edition of the Official Guide for GMAT Review.  This book has hundreds of retired actual GMAT questions.  However, This wasn’t enough for me.  I needed some books that reviewed the actual concepts that would be tested on the GMAT.  Here is a list of books that I recommend:

• Official Guide for GMAT Review
• Manhattan GMAT Strategy Guides
• PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible
• GMAT Prep Program (This is software with 2 practice tests. These practice tests are the best representation of the actual GMAT. I recommend taking these tests shortly before taking the actual GMAT.)

If you’re going to self-study for the test, these are some of the books that you should look into. They are very comprehensive and should be all you need to prepare for the GMAT.  Additionally, you should keep an error log of every single practice question.  This will really help you identify the question types that you are struggling with so you can focus more time on those subjects. Also, head over to Beat The GMAT and sign up for an account.  There are a lot of helpful resources on that site for preparing for the GMAT.  Additionally, there are many experts on forum that will answer any GMAT related questions you have.

I ended up taking the GMAT two times.  I had a good score on my first attempt, but I had a specific score in mind and decided I wanted to take the test a second time.  Here is the breakdown of my two attempts:

First Attempt
Overall 690 (88 percentile)
Verbal 41 (92 percentile)
Quantitative 44 (69 percentile)
AWA 4.5

Second Attempt
Overall 710 (92 percentile)
Verbal 39 (87 percentile)
Quantitative 48 (83 percentile)
AWA 5

If you took the GMAT, how did you prepare? Did you get a score you were satisfied with?

Edwin C

Edwin is a marketer, social media influencer and head writer here at Money In The 20's. He manages a large network of high quality finance blogs and social media accounts. You can connect with him via email here.

5 thoughts on “Applying to MBA Programs – Step 2: Prepare for GMAT”

• April 26, 2011 at 11:23 am

Nice detail, David. This would definitely be helpful to anyone preparing for the GMAT. I haven’t taken the GMAT, but I did take the GREs, which I think is similar. I didn’t prepare a whole lot, but I managed to do reasonably well. I think the best advice I can give for preparation is to know the instructions and format ahead of time. This saves you the time and trouble of trying to understand what they want you to do while your already in the test session. For example, I think it would be immensely helpful to have some background on the Data Sufficiency section you talked about above.

• April 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Excellent…I really wish I had this laid out for me prior to taking the GMAT’s… I had no problems getting entry, and only did the GMAT once, but I was nervous while waiting for my score. The preparation book I bought didnt do a very good job of explaining the steps of the exam and what I should really expect. This cause me to spend too little time on the writing assignment, and too little on the rest. Thankfully several years later it worked out.

• May 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

I took a lot of practice tests from a few different books (with different publishers) and was really happy with my score which was better than average at my school of choice. I think it’s important to get a few very different books since their approaches vary and, more importantly, the difficulty of their practice tests vary as well.