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How Hard is the GMAT?


How Hard is the GMAT?


How difficult is the GMAT? Simply told, it can be really challenging. You can, however, prepare for it and make it much easier on yourself. 

The Graduate Management Admissions Test, or GMAT, is the most widely utilized standardized test for entrance to MBA graduate programs. 

You can take the GMAT five times every year, but only eight times in total — so while you have some leeway to do well, you should study as much as possible before taking the first test. 


The GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test, which implies that it will become more difficult as you perform well on it, or easier as you struggle. You don’t have to be concerned about performing poorly on the first few questions and having your grades suffer as a result. 

The method that determines your score is complicated, and it does not grade questions in the order in which they are answered. What this means is that if you’ve prepared well, you can expect the test to become increasingly difficult. 

The test has numerous portions, which we’ll go over below, but the combined score of your quantitative and verbal sections is the most essential (and the one that many graduate programs pay particular attention to). 

These are also the longest, most difficult areas of the test, and the ones you should spend the most time studying for. 

The goal of this test is to assess if you have the abilities that will help you succeed in graduate school and in the professional world. As a result, it assesses a broad variety of abilities, including math (geometry, arithmetic, algebra), critical reasoning, and grammar. 

In this way, the test is challenging – it’s not as if you can just study for one subject and do well on it; you must have a broad understanding of a variety of areas. 

You should spend the majority of your time preparing for the sections that you find the most difficult – given the length of the test and the speed at which questions must be answered – not having a firm grasp on a topic will make the entire test more difficult; however, because it is a standardized test, you can prepare and expect to do fairly well. 

When it comes to evaluating how challenging the test will be, the bottom line is to consider how selective the school you’re applying to is. If you want to get into a top school that demands a 90th percentile score (a score of 710 or higher out of 800), you’ll have to put in a lot more effort on the test than if you merely need a 600. 


Research the typical GMAT scores for students accepted into the schools you’re interested in to get a better idea of how difficult the GMAT will be and how much effort you’ll need to put in. For additional information, see our guide on what constitutes a good GMAT score.

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What is the GMAT’s purpose? 

The GMAT is a logic test at its foundation. Yes, you’ll need to master a lot of high school arithmetic and grammar topics to answer GMAT questions properly; nevertheless, a top GMAT score is improbable unless you have fine-tuned critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills. The GMAT expects test-takers to reason their way through difficult problems in a short amount of time, so doing long, complicated arithmetic computations to solve a GMAT quant problem, for example, won’t get you very far. The use of logic – comprehending what a GMAT question is truly asking you to do — is the key to “unlocking” GMAT questions. Because the GMAT doesn’t just evaluate your understanding of content and concepts; it also asks you to apply that knowledge to problems in a clever and efficient manner, your use of logic is critical. 

With all of this in mind, it’s understandable that business schools place a premium on GMAT scores when evaluating an applicant’s potential to thrive in their programs.


Why is the GMAT so hard? 

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is a computerized adaptive test (CAT) 

A Computerized Adaptive Test, such as the GMAT, adjusts its level of difficulty to each test-level taker’s of aptitude, as you may already know. So, what does all of this mean? The difficulty of the GMAT increases or reduces question by question: if you answer a question properly, the following question will be a little harder; if you answer a question poorly, the next question will be a little easier. 

GMAT test takers will, of course, find this to be a difficulty. Consider this: even if you are performing exceptionally well on the GMAT, properly answering every question in each section, you will eventually be presented with a question that is too difficult for you to answer. Remember that when you correctly answer the questions, the difficulty of the questions increases. So, doesn’t it seem to reason that they’ll get so complex that even someone with a high skill level won’t be able to answer them in the time allotted? Fortunately, you can get some difficult questions wrong on the GMAT and still receive a good score. 


The Test Center’s Setting 

GMAT test facilities can be pretty uncomfortable environments for a three-and-a-half-hour exam, with fluorescent lighting, hard chairs, and air conditioning on full blast. When you add in tight test-taking protocols, an exam proctor scrutinizing your every move, and your competition working all around you, it’s no surprise that test-takers are worried and stressed in the test center. Even getting to the testing site and going through the check-in process can be stressful, and then there’s the exam itself! 

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Preparing for the challenges that a test center setting brings is a vital element of GMAT preparation, because your mindset and mood can have a significant impact on your performance and, as a result, your GMAT score. Practice GMATs that closely resemble testing settings, a dry run of your drive to the test center, and a checklist of the materials you’ll need on test day can all help you feel less stressed leading up to and during the exam. 

Taking an exam in a test center can never be fully pleasant, but the essential thing is to not let the unfamiliar and unfriendly environment deter you from giving it your all. 

Of course, taking the GMAT at home comes with its own set of problems, so be sure to read our guide to the online GMAT. 


Sections are timed 

Consider how much easier the GMAT would be if you had unlimited time to answer all of the GMAT questions. In fact, despite the length of the exam (which we’ll discuss next), you aren’t given much time to answer each question, which adds to its complexity. 

You’ll have around two minutes each question in the quant and verbal portions, and two and a half minutes per question in the IR section, due to the exam’s layout. Of course, some questions will take less time to answer, while others will take longer. Regardless, time constraints add another element of difficulty to every question you encounter – you don’t just need the proper answer, you need it in two minutes or less. 

A timed setting, on top of that added obstacle, is intrinsically more pressure-filled than an untimed one. You’re aware that the clock is ticking. What you need to find out is how to keep track of how long it takes you to answer each question without being distracted by the clock. 


This is where the value of practice and training comes into play. Once you’ve mastered the content, you’ll want to practice answering questions while a timer is running. Furthermore, you must devise a sound plan for determining how much time to devote to the many questions you encounter, as well as when to cut your losses if you don’t receive a response. Check out our article on timing methods for a higher GMAT quant score and how to improve faster at solving GMAT problems for professional tips on overcoming the challenges of time constraints on the GMAT. 


The examination is lengthy. 

On test day, a GMAT test taker will generally spend around four hours in the testing center, with three and a half of those hours spent taking the test. Only two eight-minute pauses are provided between hours of looking at the GMAT computer screen and tackling difficult GMAT problems, during which you can use the restroom, refuel with a snack, hydrate, or simply catch your breath. 

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In short, passing the GMAT necessitates a high level of mental (and physical) stamina, which must be built through taking full-length practice tests under realistic testing conditions and at key moments throughout your GMAT preparation. This will assist you in becoming acclimated to the testing experience’s rigors and avoiding a typical score-killer among GMAT students: mental tiredness. 


There is no calculator for Quant. 

People nowadays rely on calculators or programs like Excel to execute mathematical operations, so being unable to use a calculator on the quant component of the GMAT may add to the exam’s difficulty. However, throughout the GMAT, this increased difficulty frequently looms much larger in people’s imaginations than it actually does. GMAT quant questions, on the other hand, are designed to be answered in under two minutes without the aid of a calculator. 

Yes, you’ll have to do some math with the scratch pad and pen given in order to answer GMAT questions, but as we’ve already stated, the GMAT isn’t concerned with your ability to crunch numbers. While you may need to brush up on your fundamental math abilities, especially if you haven’t used them in a while, you will not be expected to execute complex calculator tasks by hand. 


Using a Marker and a Laminated Pad to Take Notes 

You will be handed a laminated scratch pad and a non-permanent marker at the GMAT test center to utilize for note-taking during the exam. If you’ve never used these writing instruments before, taking nice, legible, and structured notes with them can be difficult. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until test day to practice your “pen and paper” skills. On websites like, you can buy laminated pads and markers that look exactly like the ones used on the GMAT, so get one and start using it as soon as possible for completing GMAT practice questions. 

Above all, use the scratch pad and pen every time you take a full-length practice exam to accurately recreate the test-taking experience. Using a laminated pad and a marker on test day won’t be difficult at all. 

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Time spent away from school 

Because at least some of the subject matter examined on the GMAT can be traced back to high school math and English, many of your GMAT-related skills may be rusty if you haven’t touched courses like geometry, algebra, and subject-verb agreement in a while. Of course, the longer it has been since you studied those topics, the more time it will take to refresh your memory. 


So, if it’s been several years since you studied GMAT-related classes, as it has for many people taking the exam, you might want to give yourself a little more prep time before the exam to make sure you fill in any gaps in your knowledge that have developed in the years since you graduated.


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