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What the Different GMAT Sections Actually Mean

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Newcomers to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) can't be blamed for finding the whole thing a little baffling. If you've not looked at one before, this guide to the sections and scoring system should help you before you proceed any further with your MBA application.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is considered to be one of the clearest indicators of your ability to succeed on a master's of business administration (MBA) course. Over 2,100 institutions around the world use the GMAT exam as part of the selection criteria for their programs.

The test itself is administered in 112 test centers around the world. Applicants apply directly to the center of their choice where they will be required to undertake an examination of up to four hours, which covers the GMAT sections listed below. The overall score is a composite of the sections.

Section one: Integrated reasoning

Integrated reasoning is the newest of GMAT sections to be added to the test, administrated since 2012. It is designed to measure a test taker’s ability to evaluate data presented in multiple formats from various sources.

The integrated reasoning section is broken down into four different question types: table analysis, graphics interpretation, multisource reasoning, and a two-part analysis. Candidates are tested on the following skills:

•             Combining and using information from multiple sources to solve complex problems

•             Synthesizing information presented in graphics, numbers and text

•             Assessing relevant information from different sources

•             Organizing information to see relationships and to solve multiple problems

Section two: Analytical writing assessment (AWA)

Candidates are required to analyze and critique an argument for the AWA section of examination. The test is 30 minutes long and is scored by a computerized reading evaluation and also by a human being at GMAC (the administrators of the test) – this mark does not contribute towards your total GMAT score.

Scores are ranged between 1-6 points with 1 being the lowest and 6 the highest.

Section three: Quantitative

The quantitative section of the examination tends to inspire the greatest level of fear in test takers. However, the math problems are of a secondary school level.

There are two types of quantitative questions: problem solving and data sufficiency. This test measures a student’s ability to analyze data and draw conclusions using reasoning skills. No calculators are allowed for this section of examination – however, candidates are given a wet erase pen and laminated graph paper to answer questions.

Section four: Verbal

Business education is not all about mathematics – you’ll need a wide of skills. The GMAT is designed accordingly. The verbal section measures your ability to evaluate arguments, read and understand written material and adapt samples to standard written English.

The reading passages range between one paragraph to several passages long and cover a wide variety of subject areas such as social sciences, history, business-related areas and physical sciences.

Candidates are required to demonstrate the following:

•             An understanding of words and statements

•             Drawing implications from facts and statements in the reading passages

•             Acknowledging the relationships between significant points and concepts

•             Understanding the author's point of view and their arguments

Critical reasoning questions are designed to test – as the name suggests – the reasoning skills involved in making arguments, evaluating arguments and formulating a plan of action accordingly. Candidates must:

•             Demonstrate argument construction

•             Evaluate arguments

•             Formulate and evaluate a plan of action

GMAT scores

Total GMAT scores range from 200 to 800, with two-thirds of test takers scoring between 400 and 600. The total score is based on your verbal and quantitative scores only, with the analytical writing assessment and integrated reasoning scored separately.

Data released by GMAC says the average GMAT score of all test takers is about 550. You’ll probably need a 600 to be competitive for admission to a top school, and a 700 to contend at an elite one. After completion of the examination, scores will be sent to the programs that students selected within twenty days. Scores can be cancelled right after the test. You can retake the test five times in any 12 month period, but be warned – schools will be able to see all your scores from the past five years, which is how long your score will remain valid.

Aside from GMAT scores, students should also focus on fine-tuning their supporting documents and personable skills when applying to their preferred schools. Admissions teams often wish to enroll candidates who can demonstrate motivation and a driven personality that goes beyond a good GMAT score.

This article was originally published on in May 2015. 

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Helen Vaudrey
Written by Helen V.
Helen is a business, finance and HE journalist based in London. She has written for The Independent, In Good Taste UK and Vinco Sport. among other publications. Helen has won national writing competitions in conjunction with Channel 4 and Media Trust and has appeared on The One Show.. She holds 1st Class Honours from the University of Salford reading Journalism.  

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