Foundations Of An Effective Study Routine

Student dude with laptopResearch shows that the single biggest factor for achieving a high score on any test, including the GMAT, is spending productive time studying. The more hours you spend studying the higher your score will be. But some of the hours you spend studying and learning will be more productive than others. Many factors come into play that can affect your studying efficiency.

Your ability to absorb information and comprehend complex reasoning is greatly reduced when you are tired and easily distracted. Being tired or sleep deprived impairs attention and working memory, but it can also affect other functions, such as long-term memory and decision-making. Even mild sleep deprivation can influence attention and especially vigilance (Alhola & Polo-Kantola). These cognitive functions are crucial for learning and retaining information. The GMAT prep courses contain challenging sets of questions and writing tasks that require focussed attention and a well-rested mind. Getting a good nights rest will ensure your mind is focussed, capable of retaining information and dealing with complex information. You’ll need to be fully alert and rested to make the most of any GMAT prep course online, no matter which one you choose.

Sleep routine

A good nights sleep must be part of the plan. Cramming extra hours of study by working late will greatly reduce your capacity to study effectively. You are likely to be tired when studying late at night, which may also affect your ability to have a restful nights sleep. If you don’t plan in advance for your GMAT test date, with several months of study, then you may be tempted to pack too many hours studying late at night and begin a cycle of late nights, poor sleep and inefficient learning. The key is to develop a sleep routine and start your study preparations months in advance.

A sleep routine is a relatively easy thing to do. The basics involve going to bed and waking up at set times, which need to be maintained over the longer term. Having a regular pattern that includes a set bedtime and a set waking time will provide the foundations of a stable and sustainable study routine. Your sleep routine needs to be enforced by setting your alarm clock and getting your day started at the same time every day. In order for your study routine to be at its best you will need to stick to your sleep routine 7 days a week during the months before your GMAT test. Obviously this task is a lot easier if you have the discipline to also make your bedtime a regular time, which may be difficult if you have an active – or over active – social life. An active social life is a healthy use of time but not when it affects your sleep routine and your ability to study and learn effectively.

Regular exercise

After spending some thought into developing a stable and sustainable sleep routine you may also wish to consider including an exercise routine to help with your studies. The character of your activity routine will be greatly dependent on your preferences. Some students enjoy vigorous, frequent and extensive exercise sessions; others will prefer less strenuous activity. Even if you are not sports orientated and do not have a history of physical exercise it is worth considering adopting some regular, ideally daily, activity. Some regular physical activity can also assist with getting a good nights rest.

Less strenuous activities could include a brisk walk in the park, a short hike, and yoga or Pilates. Half an hour a day will give you a break from your study to collect your thoughts, mull over the study material and plan your next session. It may offer the chance of getting outside, take in some fresh air and reconnect with your community and friends. It will provide a positive experience, which will reinforce your positive attitude towards your GMAT test preparations and can even help with avoiding procrastination.

Healthy eating

Your overall health and alertness is also dependent upon a healthy diet. Some students are tempted to cut corners with their diet during periods of intense studying. This can be a mistake. Maintaining a healthy diet is another important aspect of GMAT preparations. Fresh fruit and vegetables and not too many processed foods makes for good choices. Brainwork requires energy but sitting for most of the day is a relatively low-energy use activity. Eating and comfort food with high calories can stress your system and even contribute to poor quality sleep. Smaller quantities of home cooked meals using fresh and low processed ingredients will help maintain and sustain you during your GMAT preparations. Choose nuts, fruit and low calorie drinks for snacks. Eat wisely and in moderation, limit high calorie drinks and frequent snacking. It maybe hard to see a connection with diet and study effectiveness and it certainly is not the most important factor especially over the short term. But getting into good eating habits will be good for your overall health and will reinforce your focus and discipline to achieve your best GMAT ranking.

Sustainable study hours per day

Your study routine is complete when you assign a sensible number of hours a day to go through the test preparation material and lessons. Even when you have optimised your sleep, diet and exercise routines there will still be a limit to how much you can learn and achieve through the course of a study session and through the course of a day. The length of useful study sessions varies quite a lot between students. You will need to be mindful when studying and observe your own limits per session and per day. If you feel yourself loosing focus or needing to repeatedly read the same sentence over again to get the message then you are reaching your session limits. If a break doesn’t restore your focus then you may have reached your daily limits. You can deliberately add variety into your studying routine using a change in study material or a change in studying approach that adds renewed interest and reinvigorates your efforts. Eventually you will run out of steam and the only way to recharge is with a good nights sleep.

Staying motivated and positive

Taking care of these controllable factors will form a solid foundation for achieving your goals. These routines will help you with the physical demands and will also assist with staying highly motivated. Maintaining your connectivity with friends and family are important. It may seem tempting to isolate yourself a little but keeping connected will help with positive motivation. Try to enjoy the process of studying and learning. Learning is central to your development and it should make you feel happy about building yourself and your future.

Acknowledge the improvements and new understandings you have achieved. Use those achievements to inspire yourself to conquer the next set of knowledge.

The discipline to make the necessary changes and to stick with them is the key for establishing the routines that will form the foundations of an effective and efficient studying program. Make the most of the resources at your disposal and make an informed decision regarding a GMAT prep course online. Gaining admission into one of the top business schools will provide an excellent starting point for your business and finance career.

Let us know if you found this article useful. We’d love to hear from you.

And good luck with your GMAT!

Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. 2007. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 3(5): 553–567.

GMAT Information

Preparing to take the GMAT takes effort, timing, and a plan.

You will need to study hard and learn to cope with stress as you schedule your exam and keep an eye on application deadlines in addition to your other school or work obligations.

We’ve compiled a list of useful information about the process to help you in your mission to getting an excellent GMAT score and into the business school of your choice.

What is the GMAT?

The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is a standardized test used by business schools and programs around the world as an entrance exam to get your MBA. This 3 hour and 30 minute computer adaptive test is developed and administered by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), and is designed to predict how successful a student will be in business school. It is considered a very important part of your application, and students interested in attending a top business school will need a great GMAT score to be admitted.

How Hard is the GMAT?

The GMAT measures a variety of analytical and problem solving skills and abilities that are considered critical in business and management. Even if you are good at math and have strong verbal abilities, you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the structure and types of questions on the exam. Although it is not impossible to do well on the GMAT without studying, studies show a correlation between how many hours individuals study and their scores.

The GMAT is scored on a scale between 200-800 (a combination of the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the exam). To give you an idea of how challenging the test is, the most selective schools like to see scores of 710 or higher, but only approximately 10% of test takers score between 700-800. A score between 650 and 720 (77th-94th percentile) is still very competitive and is generally strong enough to get into the top 25% of business schools.

GMAT Sections

The 4-part GMAT includes a Quantitative or “Quant” section (75 minutes), a Verbal Section (75 minutes), an Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) essay, and an Integrated Reasoning (IR) section (30 minutes each).

Each section of the GMAT contains specific types of questions.

  • AWA Section: you will have to analyze and write a critique of the reasoning behind an argument provided on the test. This section measures critical thinking skills and your ability to communicate those in writing.
  • IR Section: you must answer questions related to graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, table analysis, and multi-source reasoning. This section measures your ability to integrate data to solve complex problems.
  • Quant Section: This section attempts to test your content knowledge of essential math skills and measures how well you analyze data and use reasoning to draw conclusions. There are two types of questions in this section: Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving. Data Sufficiency questions typically consist of a question and 2 statements of data, and you must decide if those statements provide enough data to answer the question. Problem solving questions require knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
  • Verbal Section: You must answer the Reading Comprehension questions, Critical Reasoning questions, and Sentence Correction questions that appear in this section. Reading Comprehension questions evaluate how well you understand, analyze, and apply information and concepts based on reading a text. Critical Reasoning questions involve using reasoning skills to formulate and evaluate arguments and plans of action. In Sentence Correction questions, you have to determine which version of 5 possible sentences is the most grammatically correct.

GMAT Test Dates

The GMAT is offered year-round in most locations around the world on every weekday throughout the year, except Sundays and holidays. You can go to the GMAC website ( to locate a test center near you and search for available test dates and times (many test centers allow you to schedule either a morning or an afternoon test.)

Although there are no specific dates and times you have to keep track of when it comes to registering and scheduling an appointment for the GMAT, don’t wait too long because test centers and appointment times can fill up quickly and you might not be able to get a date or time that is convenient for you.

Make sure to check with the MBA programs you are applying to so that your exam results will be submitted on time to meet each school’s application deadlines. You will receive an unofficial score report as soon as you finish the exam, but official reports are submitted to schools up to 20 days after your test date. Your registration fee includes GMAT score submissions to 5 schools or programs of your choice, which you enter the day you take the exam. You can order additional official score reports for a fee, and you will receive a copy of the score report as well.

GMAT Registration

In order to register for the GMAT online, go to the GMAC website to create an account and follow the instructions to register online. You can also register by phone (phone numbers can be found on the GMAC website), by mail, or by fax. Note that there is a $10 surcharge for registering by phone.


The cost to register for the GMAT is $250. If you need to reschedule the GMAT appointment, you will be charged an additional $50. Additional score reports (beyond the 5 that are included in the regisration fee) cost $28 each.

If you cancel the GMAT more than seven days prior to your scheduled appointment time, you will receive a refund of $80. If you cancel by phone, you will also be charged a service charge of $10. (So essentially, you will only get $70 back from your initial $250 registration fee if you cancel by phone 7 days in advance.)

If you cancel your appointment less than seven days before your exam, you will not receive a refund, and  you may be charged an additional $10 service fee for canceling.

If you miss your scheduled appointment, your registration fee will not be refunded.

If you need to retake the GMAT because you think you can do better, you can take the exam once every 31 calendar days, for a maximum of 5 times in 12 months.

Forms of Payment

You can pay to register with a credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or JCB) or debit card (Visa or MasterCard only). If you mail in your registration form, you can also pay with a cashier’s check, money order, or personal check. Payments by check must be in US dollars and drawn on banks within the United States.

What to Expect the Day of the Test

How Long is the GMAT?

The length of the actual exam is 3 hours and 30 minutes, but you will need to arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes early to complete check in procedures and to complete administrative tasks prior to the exam. You are also allowed to take two optional breaks during the exam.

What to Bring to the Test Center

When the day of your GMAT arrives, make sure you are prepared with all of the required paperwork and identification you need to be admitted to the test center. Your name on your identification papers must appear exactly as the name you used when you registered for your appointment.

Acceptable forms of ID must be valid and unexpired and include: a passport, a government-issued driver’s license, a government-issued national/state/province identity card (including European ID card), or a Military ID card. (If you are testing outside of your country of citizenship, you must present a valid passport).

You should also bring your appointment confirmation letter or email from Pearson VUE (if you don’t have it, you may still take the test if you have a scheduled appointment).

Lockboxes are available at most test centers to safeguard any personal items you may not bring in to the exam room (e.g. cellular phones, pagers, notes, scratch paper, calculators, watches, etc.)

Be sure to also check with on what to bring and not bring on the day of your test.

Your GMAT Score

Immediately after you complete the GMAT exam and before you leave the test center, you will receive your unofficial GMAT score report, which contains unofficial scores from the Verbal, Quantitative, and Integrated Reasoning Sections, as well as the Total score.

The unofficial score report also contains the authentication code you will need to access your Official Score Report. Make sure to keep the authentication code in a safe place, as this is the only time you will receive the code!

For more information about how the GMAT is scored, see our article on GMAT scoring.

Preparing for and taking the GMAT is a challenging process that will require advance planning, consistent hard work, and determination. We hope the information above is helpful as you begin your journey to taking the GMAT and getting into the MBA program of your choice.


Studying for the GMAT


The GMAT was designed to measure students’ analytical and problem solving skills and other abilities that are considered critical in business and management. If you familiarize yourself with the types of questions on the test and practicing them, you can achieve a good score if you plan in advance and are determined to work hard.

GMAT Study Plan

Your GMAT study plan should include taking enough time to prepare for the test. Business schools weigh the GMAT heavily in the admissions process. Studying in advance allows students to learn the format of the test and become adept at the different types of questions in each section. The exam takes 3 hours and 3o minutes, so you should practice taking several sections at once so you are used to focusing for that long on the day of the exam.

It pays to practice under the same conditions you will experience on test day. This means taking several full-length practice exams exactly as you would the day of the exam. You should time yourself to simulate the pressure you will experience on the test. If you typically study alone in a quiet place, consider taking a full practice test in a public area, such as a student center or coffee shop, to acclimate yourself to having people and mild noise around while you are trying to focus on test questions.

We have compiled a list of the best GMAT prep courses, most of which provide full-length practice tests with timers and analytic software to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to explore different test prep options, including in-person and live online courses, on-demand video lectures, private tutoring, practice questions, drills and strategies for each section.

How Long Should I Study for the GMAT?

The amount of time you will need to study to achieve a good score on the GMAT will vary depending on your abilities and your experience and comfort level with taking standardized tests. A student with a knack for taking standardized tests and good math skills probably won’t have to study as many hours as someone who is less confident in his or her mathematical abilities and dislikes standardized tests.

Non-native speakers of English will probably have to spend more time learning and practicing for the Verbal sections of the exam than those whose first language is English. Even if you are good at math and English grammar, it pays to study. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), just over half of all GMAT test takers in a 2013 prospective student survey studied at least 51 hours before they took the exam. The survey found that, on average, those who spend more time studying for the GMAT tend to perform better on the exam (See the Stats Here).

GMAT Syllabus

In order to perform well on the GMAT, you should set up a systematic study plan to address all sections of the exam instead of randomly studying practice questions here and there whenever you have a few minutes. There are free and low-cost study materials available online and in print, and you can design your own syllabus.

In addition, most commercial test prep companies offer a carefully-designed interactive syllabus that takes the guesswork out of what you should study, when you should study, and for how long. Many prep courses offer analytic feedback based on your input to determine which areas you should spend the most time on.

GMAT Schedule

Only you can determine the best GMAT schedule for your lifestyle and needs. Make sure to plan ahead for how many weeks or months you will study for the test so that it will fit into your schedule along with your other obligations, such as school and work.

In addition to quantity, the quality of your study hours matters. Studying consistently for a set time each day over several weeks or months with a careful plan and quality materials will likely yield better results than trying to cram in a lot of study hours at the last minute without a plan.

When to Take the GMAT

You will need to take the GMAT early enough to meet the admissions deadlines. Make sure to check with each MBA program to which you will apply so that your exam results will be submitted on time to meet that school’s specific application deadlines. You will receive an unofficial score report in the testing center as soon as you finish the GMAT, but official reports are submitted to schools up to 20 days after your test date.

It is always a good idea to take the GMAT several months earlier than the application deadlines in case you want to take the test again to improve your score. Factor in additional study time and/or time to complete a prep course to maximize an increase in your score.

When and How do I Register for the GMAT?

The GMAT is offered year-round in most locations around the world on every weekday throughout the year, except Sundays and holidays. You can go to the GMAC website ( to locate a test center near you and search for available test dates and times. You can register by phone, mail or by fax.

Although you do not have to keep track of specific dates and times when it comes to registering and scheduling an appointment to take the GMAT, don’t wait too long because test centers and appointment times can fill up quickly and you might not be able to get a date or time that is convenient for you. For additional information, please see our GMAT Information article.

GMAT Prep Course

Taking a GMAT prep course is an excellent idea if you need a program to keep you motivated and on track while you study for this challenging exam. Prep courses organize GMAT study material and practice questions in a systematic way so that you can learn the material in a way that makes sense based on your current strengths and weaknesses. Quality materials that are similar to those on the actual exam and experienced tutors can make all the difference in your GMAT score.

GMAT Practice Questions & GMAT Sample Tests

The best prep courses include hundreds or even thousands of GMAT sample questions and sample tests for you to gauge your ability and track your progress over time. Many test prep companies also offer a selection of GMAT questions and a GMAT sample test for free on their websites. Often, GMAT prep courses include a GMAT mock test that simulates the actual exam and provides test-takers with specific analytic feedback on areas of weakness to indicate which areas would benefit most from additional practice.

GMAT Tutors

Students who have already taken the GMAT once or are struggling with GMAT study material and are concerned about their score should consider hiring a GMAT tutor for guidance and instruction that is tailored to their specific needs. Taking advantage of personal GMAT coaching by expert instructors (typically, instructors employed by the best test prep companies have scored in the 98th or 99th percentile of the GMAT themselves) is an excellent way to improve your score in a targeted way.


The best way to get a great GMAT score is to practice as many authentic GMAT questions you can under simulated test conditions. You can consult GMAC’s The Official Guide for GMAT Review (available at the GMAC website’s online store and from other online booksellers) for a comprehensive overview of the exam and practice materials.

If you are considering a test prep course, you should make sure that the course you choose offers specific tips, strategies, and opportunities to practice the kinds of questions you will see on the test. For example, if you are trying to improve your score in the Verbal section of the GMAT, you should make sure the course offers GMAT sentence correction tips, GMAT critical reasoning tips, and GMAT reading comprehension tips, because those are the three types of questions that appear in that section of the exam.

For the Quant section of the exam, make sure you have the opportunity to learn specific strategies and GMAT problem solving tips, GMAT data sufficiency tips, and GMAT integrated reasoning tips. Many courses break each section of the exam down into individual question types and offer specific video lessons or live online lectures on those types of questions, followed by practice with such questions and detailed explanations on how to solve them.

GMAT essay tips are also valuable for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) portion of the exam. Some prep courses provide essay-grading software or personalized feedback from GMAT instructors to help students craft essays that will earn them a top writing score.

Many GMAT exam information and prep sites offer features such as the GMAT Question of the Day or a GMAT Forum for additional practice and go over questions, seek advice from other students or expert instructors, and provide more general information about getting an MBA and applying to business school.

In summary, there is no shortage of available study materials to help you get a great score on the GMAT. Whether you choose to study on your own with free or low-cost materials, or decide to enroll in a commercial test prep course, there are many ways to achieve a high score on the GMAT to improve your chances of getting into a top MBA program.

GMAT Scoring

The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is a 4-hour standardized test used by more than 2,100 universities and institutions all over the world in their admissions decisions process. The purpose of this computer adaptive test is to predict how successful a student will be in business school.

It measures various analytical and problem solving skills along with other abilities that are considered critical in business and management. The 4-part GMAT includes a Quantitative or “Quant” section (75 minutes), a Verbal Section (75 minutes), an Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) essay, and an Integrated Reasoning (IR) section (30 minutes each).

How Is The GMAT Scored?

The GMAT has a more complex scoring system than many other standardized tests.

For the two longest sections (Quantitative and Verbal) your score will be on a scale of 0-60. The Verbal and Quantitative scores are then combined into a Total score on a scale of 200-800. These two sections are part of the computer adaptive test.

This means that as you answer questions in one of these sections, computer software evaluates each answer, updates your score, and chooses the next question from a question bank by adapting to your apparent skill level. You may not skip or return to questions.

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) essay is not computer adaptive and is scored on a scale of 0-6.

The Integrated Reasoning (IR) section is also not computer adaptive and is scored from 1-8 in full point increments. The IR and the AWA are scored separately, and they are not included as a part of the 200-800 score for the combined Quant and Verbal sections.

To summarize, your score report will contain 5 different scores:

  • An AWA score between 0-6
  • An IR score between 1-8
  • A Quantitative score between 0-60,
  • A Verbal score between 0-60, and
  • A total score between 200-800 for the combined Verbal and Quant sections

An official score report will be mailed to you (in addition to an email with a link to the official score report online), however, unofficial scores from the Verbal, Quantitative, and Integrated Reasoning sections and the Total score are available as soon as you finish the test. You should keep the unofficial report, which includes an authorization number that you will need to gain access to your official scores. At the beginning of the test you can select 5 programs to receive your Official Score Report; they will get the report within 20 days of your exam date.

GMAT Score Range

The number that most universities and programs list when they publish admissions statistics is the Total score, which is the combination of the Quant and Verbal sections and ranges from 200-800. For example, Harvard Business School reports that the GMAT score range of its most recent incoming class was 510-790, and the median GMAT score was 730.

The highest GMAT score you can get is an 800, but scores between 760 and 800 are all in the 99th percentile.

GMAT Percentiles

Your score report will also include your percentile rank, which indicates the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than you for the previous three years. Each exam taker’s score is updated with the most recent year’s percentiles. For example, if you have a Total score of 690, that puts you in the 87th percentile. This tells admissions committees that your Total score was better than 87 percent of all GMAT test takers over the past three years.

What Is A Good GMAT Score?

The mean Total GMAT Score over the last 3-year period is 547.35

Here are the mean scores by section:

  • Integrated Reasoning: 4.33
  • Quantitative Section: 38.03
  • Verbal Section: 27.04
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: 4.34

To determine your target score for the GMAT, you will need to know the average GMAT scores of accepted students at the business schools and MBA programs to which you plan to apply.

Typically, a score above 710 puts you in the running for the most selective schools, and anything above 750 is considered extremely high. Don’t forget that schools also base their admissions decisions on other parts of the application too. For example, your work experience and references, your undergraduate GPA, how well you did in your interview, and your essays are all important factors committees will consider.

Even the best GMAT score won’t get you into your first choice school if the other parts of your application are lacking. Remember also that the median GMAT score for a particular school is not the minimum score you need to get in, and that roughly half of the applicants who were admitted had GMAT scores that were lower.

A score between 650 and 720 (77th-94th percentile) is still very competitive and puts you in the running for the top 25% of business schools, whereas a score between 600 and 650 (61st-77th percentile) will generally get you into schools in the top 50%.

You can use a GMAT score calculator to predict your Total score based on practice exams, and to see which schools accept candidates in your score range. Score calculators are available online from various test prep companies and MBA informational websites. You are typically asked to enter your section scores to generate a total score and are then matched with schools.

Most Competitive Schools by GMAT Score

The top 10 U.S. business schools admit students with median GMAT scores of 714 and above.

The chart below shows some of the top ranked business schools in order of having the highest average GMAT score for enrollment.

(Chart Source: U.S. News )

Average GMAT Scores For Top 20 Business Schools

The top 10 business schools in 2015, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, include Stanford University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), the University of Chicago (Booth), MIT (Sloan), Northwestern University (Kellogg), the University of California-Berkeley (Haas), Columbia University, Dartmouth College (Tuck), and the University of Virginia (Darden).

For entrance into the top 20 business programs in the country, you will typically need a GMAT Total score above 680. The following schools were ranked #11-20: New York University (Stern), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ross), Duke University (Fuqua), Yale University, University of California-Los Angeles (Anderson), Cornell University (Johnson), University of Texas-Austin (McCombs), University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler), Washington University in St. Louis (Olin), and Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper).

As a prospective business student, you should research the MBA programs that most interest you and tailor your application to each school. Find out as much as you can about the application process and the strengths and specialties of each particular program, and use that information to your advantage.

Read the information and instructions from each school carefully, take advantage of business student forums, and follow the advice that is often provided by prep course companies on the application process. Success is often the result of diligent research and hard work. If you study hard, research your options, and focus on preparing the best application you can for each school, your chances of getting into your dream school are much higher.


Which Programs Recognize the GMAT & GRE?

The decision used to be simple: individuals who planned to attend business school took the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), and those pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities or sciences took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Recently, many business schools have begun to accept the GRE along with the GMAT for various reasons.

According to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) – the company that develops, administers and scores the GRE – more than 900 MBA programs in the US now accept the GRE and the GMAT, as do several hundred more programs worldwide. An up-to-date list of all MBA programs that accept the GRE can be found on the ETS website. So, which exam should you take if you want to go to business school and get your MBA?

1. Call Schools to Find Out Which Exams They Accept

It is always a good idea to contact the admissions department of any graduate school that interests you to to get the most up-to-date information about their admissions and MBA requirements. If they accept both the GRE and the GMAT, find out if the department prefers one exam to the other and why. You should also ask if they compare the two tests and which scores they consider to be equivalent. Sometimes, a particular exam is used to qualify students for scholarships or other benefits, so you’ll want to make sure you are taking the right test to maximize your chances for admissions and any additional perks.

2. What Do You Plan to Study?

Taking the GMAT indicates that your sole ambition is to go to business school. Students who take the GRE may also be applying to other types of graduate programs. Of course, those who are interested in a dual degree program (e.g. business and political science or public administration) may find it to their advantage to take the GRE if that exam is accepted by both programs.

On the other hand, taking the GMAT demonstrates that you are committed to getting a business degree because the GMAT is only accepted by business schools and cannot be used to apply to other kinds of graduate schools.

Which is Harder, GMAT or GRE?

When you are applying to business school, your test scores will need to be very competitive because business schools factor scores heavily into their admissions decisions. The general consensus is that neither exam is objectively harder, but many individuals will perform better on one exam than on the other, based on their particular background and skills. If you have solid math skills and think word problems are a breeze, the GMAT is the more traditional choice and may carry more weight with business school admissions committees. If your math skills are weaker, consider taking the GRE because the Quant sections are considered to be slightly easier than those on the GMAT.

On the other hand, if vocabulary and language usage have never been your strong suit, you may prefer the GMAT to the GRE’s more subtle and complex Verbal sections.

If you are not sure which exam is the best choice for you, you can take a free practice exam of each. The ETS website provides access to two full-length GRE practice tests, and two full-length GMAT practice tests are available at, the official GMAT website.

The GRE is offered in more cities and countries around the world than the GMAT. As such, it may be more convenient for you to register for and take the GRE, depending on where you live.

GMAT Format

The GMAT is a standardized, computer adaptive test that measures a number of different analytical and problem solving skills as well as other abilities considered important in the field of business and management. Admissions committees have a lot of experience with the GMAT because it was the only accepted standardized exam by business schools for many years. It is considered relatively good at predicting how well students will perform in business school.

GMAT Sections

The four parts of the GMAT include:

  • An Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) essay
  • An Integrated Reasoning (IR) section
  • A Quantitative or “Quant” section
  • A Verbal section

GMAT Length

The GMAT takes approximately 3 1/2 hours to complete. The four different sections are broken down as follows:

  • AWA: You have 30 minutes to write an essay on one topic
  • In the IR section, 12 questions must be answered in 30 minutes
  • In the Quant Section, 37 questions must be completed in 75 minutes
  • In the Verbal Section, 41 questions must be answered in 75 minutes

GMAT Subjects & Question Types

There are several different types of questions in each section of the GMAT. In the AWA Section, students are tasked with analyzing and providing a critique of the logical reasoning of a specific given argument. This section evaluates critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate an argument in writing.

The IR Section contains questions related to graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, table analysis, and multi-source reasoning. It tests students’ ability to integrate data in order to solve problems.

The Quant Section is designed to test basic knowledge of essential math skills and evaluates how good tests takers are at analyzing data and using reasoning skills to form conclusions. This section features two types of questions, Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving. Data Sufficiency questions usually include a question and 2 statements of data, and students must decide if those statements contain enough data to answer the question. Problem Solving questions draw on test-takers’ knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.

The Verbal Section contains Reading Comprehension questions, Critical Reasoning questions, and Sentence Correction questions. Reading Comprehension questions are designed to measure how well test takers understand, are able to analyze and apply information and concepts after reading a short passage. Critical Reasoning questions demand the use of reasoning skills to create and analyze arguments and plans of action. Finally, Sentence Correction questions ask test takers to select the best, most grammatical version of 5 possible sentences.

GRE Format

The GRE revised General Test is a standardized test that is designed to test your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills to gauge how capable you are of graduate level work. Until recently, the GRE was primarily required for admission to graduate programs in the humanities and sciences, but it is now accepted by many business schools as an alternative to the GMAT.

Like the GMAT, the GRE is a computer-adaptive test, however, the GRE revised General Test is adaptive only at the section level. This means that the difficulty of the second Verbal Reasoning or  Quantitative Reasoning section on your GRE will relate directly to how well you performed on the first section of that type. For this reason, you can skip or go back to questions and change your answers within the same section on the GRE, but on the GMAT, you cannot go back to any question once you have answered or skipped it because every answer you provide on the GMAT determines the difficulty of the very next problem.

GRE Sections

The GRE measures your skills in three separate areas:

1. Verbal Reasoning

2. Quantitative Reasoning

3. Analytical Writing

GRE Length

You are given just under 4 hours (plus a 10 minute break) to complete the GRE on the day of the exam. The timed sections are broken down in the following way:

  • Analytic Writing: 2 essay questions, 30 minutes for each section
  • Verbal Reasoning: 2 sections of approximately 20 questions each, 30 minutes for each section
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 2 sections of  approximately 20 questions each, 35 minutes for each section
  • Unscored Experimental section: either 30 or 35 minutes, depending on whether it is Verbal or Quantitative.

GRE Subjects

As on the GMAT, each section of the GRE contains specific types of questions. In the Analytical Writing section, you are provided with two essay topics; an “Analyze an Issue” task, and an “Analyze an Argument” task. The Analyze an Issue task measures your ability to critically evaluate claims made about a general topic and asks you to write a response based on specific instructions. You will most likely be asked if you agree or disagree with a particular claim and why.

The “Analyze an Argument” essay task attempts to evaluate how well you understand, can analyze and determine the validity of a particular line of reasoning and how effectively you can communicate your analysis in writing. You asked to discuss how logical the given argument is, and must determine if  enough evidence is present to support the claims.

The Verbal Section measures how well you can interpret and evaluate written material and understand the information contained with in it. You must analyze relationships among different parts of sentences, and must identify relationships among words and concepts.

Three types of questions are found in the Verbal Section: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. For the RC questions, you have to read the passage and answer the questions that follow correctly. Alternatively, you are asked to click on a sentence in the passage that meets a specific description. Text Completion questions involve filling in the blanks in sentences when given various options for each blank. In Sentence Equivalence questions, you have to select two answers that complete a sentence that a) fit the meaning as a whole, and b) produce a sentence that is similar in meaning.

The Quantitative Section of the GRE tests how well you can understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information, solve problems with the help of mathematical models, and whether you can apply basic mathematical concepts and skills by using arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. Unlike the old version of the GRE, the revised test includes an on-screen calculator for students to use on the exam.

In the Quantitative section, Quantitative Comparison (QC) questions ask you to compare two quantities and determine the relationship between them. You will also see Problem Solving (PS) questions; these involve basic math skills and concepts. Some PS questions are based on information provided a set of charts or graphs. These are referred to as Data Interpretation Questions.

You should be aware that (unlike on the GMAT) not all Quant questions will be straightforward multiple choice. In each quantitative reasoning section you will encounter a combination of problems that require you to select one answer from a list of multiple-choice options, select one or more answers from a list of options, and numeric entry problems that require you to type in an answer that you reach on your own.

How Long Should You Study for the GMAT?

There is no magic number of hours that will guarantee a good score on the GMAT. Your success and the amount of time you will need to study will depend on your background and your unique set of skills.  A student with a knack for taking standardized tests and good math skills probably won’t have to study as many hours as someone who is less confident in his or her mathematical abilities. Students whose first language is not English may need to spend extra time practicing their language skills to achieve a good score on the Verbal section and AWA.

GMAT Study Hours

A recent GMAC prospective student survey found that slightly more than half of all GMAT test takers studied at least 51 hours to prepare for the exam. The survey also indicated that on average, those who studied more hours before the GMAT got higher scores. For example, those who received a score of 700 or more studied 102 hours on average, and those who received a score between 400 and 499 studied for 70 hours on average (these times are only estimates because the survey asked students to self-report their study hours rather than actually timing students while they studied (See Chart Here).

How Long Should You Study for the GRE?

As with the GMAT, the number of hours you need to study to get a great score on the GRE will depend in part on how well you take tests and whether you have already honed some of the skills that are tested on the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the exam. Non-native speakers of English may need to study much longer than native speakers of English to perform well on the Verbal sections.

GRE Study Hours

Most prep course companies recommend that you set aside a minimum of several weeks to a few months to become familiar with the various sections of the exam and prepare yourself adequately. If you haven’t been out of school for a long time and you are pretty good at math, a few weeks of practice might be all you need. On the other hand, if you take a free practice exam and are unhappy with your score, you may want to dedicate up to a few months to studying for the GRE or enroll in a commercial prep course.

In addition to quantity, the quality of your study hours will matter. Studying consistently for a set time each day over several weeks or months according to a plan and using quality materials will almost certainly lead to a better score than trying to cram in a lot of GRE study hours in a haphazard fashion at the last minute.


When it comes to the cost of the GMAT and GRE, the GRE is the less expensive option.

GRE Cost: The standard fee for an on-time registration for the GRE is $195.

GMAT Cost: The standard registration fee for the GMAT is $250.

GMAT Scoring

The GMAT is scored slightly differently from most other standardized tests.

Both the Quantitative and Verbal Sections are scored on a scale of 0-60. Next, these two scores are combined into a Total score on a scale of 200-800. The Verbal and the Quant sections are computer-adaptive. This means that as you answer each question in The Verbal and Quant sections, computer software evaluates your answer, updates the score, and selects the next question from a question bank depending on how well you answered the preceding questions in an attempt to hone in on your apparent skill level. As a result, you may not skip or return to questions you have already answered. Once you have answered a question and moved on to the next one, the computer has already calibrated and updated your score.

The AWA is scored on a scale of 0-6, and the IR Section is scored on a scale from 1-8. These two sections are not computer-adaptive. They are scored separately and are not included as a part of the 200-800 score that represents the combination of the Quant and Verbal sections.

For more information about GMAT scoring and reporting, click here.

GRE Scoring

The GRE reports three different scores, one for each of the sections described.

Verbal Reasoning is scored on a scale from 130-170 in one-point increments. Quantitative Reasoning is scored on a scale from 130-170 in one-point increments. The Analytical Writing score is reported on a 0-6 score scale in half-point increments (for example, it is possible to get a 4.5 on the essay).

GRE to GMAT Conversion

On the ETS website, there is a tool designed to help institutions (such as business schools) interpret GRE scores in comparison to GMAT scores. The GRE Comparison Tool for Business Schools enables the relatively reliable prediction of GMAT scores based on applicants’ GRE Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning Scores. (The tool generates a predicted score range instead of specific scores because GRE scores may not be the exact equivalent of scores test-takers would have achieved on the GMAT given the statistical measurement of error in both tests.)

A GMAT to GRE Conversion tool is not available, but it is theoretically possible to work your way backwards by using the tool on the ETS site to approximate the range of scores you might receive on the GRE based on your specific GMAT scores.

For more information about GRE scoring, click here.


Taking the GMAT or the GRE is an essential part of the business school application process. Some programs have minimum cut-off scores to determine which students’ applications will even be reviewed and considered for admission. Your best bet is to contact the business schools that interest you most to  find out if those programs prefer one test over the other, and for what reasons. If either test is accepted, you should go with the test that you feel most confident taking. To get the highest possible score and maximize your chances of getting into your first choice school, you should consider enrolling in one of the many excellent online prep courses for the GRE or GMAT. Check out some of the best prep options today!