The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer adaptive examination conducted in English and administered year-round at test centers throughout the world. The GMAT exam measures verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills developed over a long period of time. It is specifically designed to help graduate management programs assess the qualifications of applicants for advanced study in business and management, but it is not a measure of specific management content areas, nor does it measure achievement in any particular subject area. GMAT scores are used by approximately 4,700 graduate management programs at more than 1,900 schools. The GMAT exam is sponsored, owned, and directed by GMAC, a global nonprofit organization composed of graduate business schools located in the United States and around the world.
The GMAT is a computer adaptive test (CAT) which implies that the questions are not premeditated but are dynamically selected as you take the test depending on your prowess. The test is of 3 hours duration and spread across the 3 sections viz. Analytical Writing Skills (AWA), Quantitative and Verbal Sections. The AWA comprises 2 essay writing sections viz. Analysis of an Issue and Analysis of an Argument, to be accomplished in 30 mins each. The Quantitative section consists of 2 broad categories of questions Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. The Verbal section has 3 types of questions viz. Reading Comprehension, Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning. Let us understand the rationale for the various sections because therein lie the clues to strategize.
AWA - The AWA is designed to gauge your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas in an organized manner. Analysis of an Argument calls upon your ability to formulate an appropriate and constructive critique of a specific conclusion based upon a specific line of thinking. The Analysis of an Issue on the other hand urges you to explore the complexities of an issue or opinion and more often than not, take an informed position, supporting the same with the help of examples. It is a useful technique to follow the PREP (point, reason, example, point) methodology of putting forth your ideas in each paragraph, in support of your stand. You may also keep in mind that the section tests overall quality and potency of your ideas rather than linguistic flourish. However avoid spelling errors, keep sentences short to avoid grammatical pitfalls, and vary use of words to avoid repetitiveness. Keep a few minutes to plan the essay by jotting down ideas and supporting arguments. Building analytical skills is paramount.
Quantitative Section – This section measures your ability to solve quantitative problems, and interpret graphic data. It tests your mathematical skills and understanding of elementary concepts of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. The best approach for the Problem Solving section is to break down the problem into numbers and guess estimate the answer. In graphical problems, spend about 30 seconds scrutinizing the graph before moving to options. For the Data Sufficiency section, it is a good idea to get familiar with the answer options, as these are constant. Also weigh each option in isolation and then together. Sometimes looking at the answer choices first helps because if the answer options are far apart, you know you can count on an intelligent guess and if the options are close, you need to actually work out the answer.
Verbal Section - This section tests your ability to traverse different subject matter and prove your ease with the language. For the Reading Comprehension section, it is a good idea to read the first paragraphs of the passage carefully and skim over the rest to gather central idea and the thought flow. Look out for typically misleading options using extreme words like ‘always’ or ‘never’ and eliminate these quickly. For the Sentence Correction section, 20 percent of the time the original sentence is correct. When in doubt go with the more pithy option rather than the verbose. Again gut feel is more important than tedious application of rules. Critical reasoning can prove less overwhelming if you learn to identify common flaws in arguments. Remember to keep your own knowledge aside while attempting this section and attempt it solely in the light of information provided.
Time Management - Although not an official section of the GMAT, you will be "tested" for your ability to think quickly in each section. A time management strategy is of critical importance. The more you are familiar with the test and its pattern, the more your efficiency in managing time. So try and get as much practice in real time on the types of questions and their directions and pace yourself to move across the sections with ease. Typically you have about 1 3/4 mins for a verbal question and 2 mins for a quantitative question. It is a good idea to keep moving ahead rather than getting stuck at any one question, it is imperative to know when to use intelligent guessing (ball parking a final answer) and elimination techniques and move on to the next question. This helps you avoid the scenario where you resort to arbitrary guessing towards the end of the sections because of a time crunch, which invariably leads to lower scores.
How to Prepare - Let us move into the actual preparation for the GMAT and what it entails. We shall break up this stage into a step wise plan of action.
Step 1 - Take a practice test
Take a practice exam from any of the authorized sites easily accessible on the net.
Step 2 - SWOT
Analyse your scores to arrive at a strength weakness diagnosis of where you stand in each test area. Go through the answer explanations. This is by far the most crucial stage of your preparation and provides key insights into focus areas. It will also help you decide whether you need coaching in certain areas and the number of hours you need to allocate to master each area. When to start preparation would also depend on the kind of inputs and effort required. About 50 hours of preparation time is an average requirement.
Step 3 – Coaching
While schools of thought differ on the better form of coaching, the choice between whether to opt for classroom or online is entirely a personal decision. Some of the factors the choice would hinge on are:
Location of the coaching centre – A lot of times the coaching centres are not convenient to access, then it makes sense to reduce commuting stress and opt for online.
Your location – If you are located in remote areas and do not have access to classrooms then online is a good idea.
Level of self motivation - If you are reasonably self motivated and disciplined then you do not need fixed class room hours to adhere to a study routine. Online should work well for you.
Other occupations – If you are already working, or at school for a better part of the day then finding a suitable time for classroom coaching may pose a challenge. Similarly if you have children you may find it tough to make arrangements for them in order to attend a class. Online then is the wiser choice.
Pace of learning – Online coaching allows you to pace the learning as per your own requirements.
It may be a wise idea to adopt a healthy mix of the two i.e. supplement online material with books and reference material. GMAT being a CAT test it does make it a prudent choice to get familiar with the electronic medium and how to navigate online.
There no shortcuts to being prepared for the test. Take as many simulated tests as possible including the essay writing sections in timed conditions. Remember that even though your starting scores may have been far from encouraging, practice can change the picture dramatically. While attempting the test begin on a sound note and spend extra time on the first few questions because their accuracy can very well define the range of your score. Make sure you manage your time efficiently and finish the test because there is a huge penalty for not finishing. Lastly, a good night’s sleep before the test day can go a long way in fructifying the effort that went into preparation.