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How to Get a High Score on the GMAT on Your First Try

21 May

When applying for admission to an MBA program at many business schools, including the University of Kansas online MBA program, you are required to submit a score from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). The GMAT assesses your quantitative, reading, analytical and verbal skills, and your performance on it is considered to be one of the best predictors of success in an MBA program—in fact, it is a key driver in many admissions decisions. It’s scored on a scale from 200 to 800, with an average score of 556.1 The higher your score, the stronger your candidacy for admission to a great MBA program, so it’s worth preparing thoroughly for the exam so you can do well on your first try.

The GMAT Format

The GMAT is a computer-based test, administered in a testing center, and it takes 3.5 hours to complete. It is a computer-adaptive test, meaning that the computer adjusts the test questions based on your responses to previous questions. The more questions you answer correctly, the harder the test gets—but the lowest possible score you can achieve also increases with every correct answer, so it’s best not to skip questions. You don’t lose points for incorrect answers, but because every correct answer increases your score, a few educated guesses could really pay off.

With the exception of the writing section, which requires you to compose essays that answer specific questions, the GMAT is a multiple-choice exam. Each section includes several categories of questions. In the quantitative section, for instance, you can expect to find questions on algebra, geometry and arithmetic, while the verbal section focuses on sentence correction, reading comprehension and critical reasoning.

Because they are unique to the GMAT, the data sufficiency questions in the quantitative section can potentially trip up many test takers. These questions present an equation or problem and ask you to determine whether you have enough data to answer the question. Most students find that focused preparation on this area is important for a high score on the test.2

Preparing for the GMAT


When preparing for the GMAT, don’t skip subjects because you feel like you already have a good foundation in that area. The questions on the GMAT may be formatted in an unfamiliar way, and understanding how the questions are constructed and what they are actually looking for can help you avoid incorrect responses.

Some students may focus most of their prep time on the quantitative portion of the exam, believing that their score on this section will be weighted more heavily by admissions committees. However, the verbal section is just as important as the quantitative section. Your verbal score demonstrates your command of the English language, and it can provide crucial evidence that you have the communication skills to succeed in a business environment where clarity is key. And your quantitative and verbal scores are combined in your final score anyway, so a poor verbal performance will lower your overall score.

There is an abundance of resources available to help you prepare for the GMAT. The Graduate Management Admissions Council, the developer of the test, provides some study resources on its website, including downloadable software with practice tests, to help you prepare. You can also pick up study guides at your local library or bookstore to help you get a feel for the types of questions on the test and the material it covers.

No matter what resources you use, though, it helps to make a thorough study plan. MBA.com notes that more time spent preparing tends to correlate to higher scores, and that those who spend around 100 hours preparing achieve the highest scores of all.3 Of course no amount of preparation can guarantee a particular score, but consistent, attentive, structured study can only help.

Should You Take a Course?

Some students opt to take a test prep course to improve their chances of scoring high on the GMAT. These courses can be quite expensive, and they’re certainly not required to do well on the test. However, if you have been out of school for some time, you have test anxiety or you need a basic refresher on the topics covered by the exam, a course may be helpful.

And if you know that you especially need to brush up on your skills in a certain area, it may be worth enrolling in a community college or continuing education course before the exam. Not only can this help you earn a higher score, but building those skills before you start you MBA classes can help you perform better once your course work begins as well.

Testing Day

Before your test, be sure to get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast before heading to the test center. Don’t try to cram before the test; studies show that cramming is typically a less effective mode of preparation than spaced out, structured study.4 Spending time actually learning the material will improve your understanding of it, rather than just making it momentarily familiar.

And remember that while the GMAT is important, it’s just one part of your MBA application. Even if your score isn’t as high as you want it to be, a solid transcript and resume, a well-written personal statement and strong recommendations can tip the balance in your favor. Learn more about what it takes to be admitted to KU’s online MBA program here.