20 Common GMAT Questions Answered

The GMAT is a computer adaptive test that assesses a student’s analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills. The results are then used in determining a student’s admissions decision to a graduate management program, such as an MBA.

Noodle Pro Craig Cartier is a top GMAT tutor. He has been professionally tutoring for over 15 years. Craig has helped clients earn top scores and gain admission to top 20 MBA programs. Craig himself holds a 99th percentile score on the GMAT. Based in London, Craig is particularly proud of his success in getting students into top European schools like London Business School, INSEAD, IESE, and ESADE.

Here, Craig answers 20 of the most commonly asked GMAT questions.

1) What is a good GMAT score?

Get ready for a phrase you’ll hear often in the MBA: “it depends”. You’ll want a score that’s near or ideally above the average for the schools you’re looking at, and top 10 programs all have average GMAT scores above 700. However, your score will be evaluated alongside your resume and admissions essays. The stronger the latter two, the more GMAT leeway you’ll have: remember that a lower-than-average score won’t disqualify you.

2) But what about the IR and AWA sections? How important are those?

There is nothing unimportant in your application, and these sections shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, they should take second priority to the Quant and Verbal sections. Average GMAT scores (the traditional 200-800 Quant and Verbal score) influence a school’s ranking, so they are under more scrutiny by the admissions committee. You don’t need a great IR/AWA score to get into a top school, but a bad score can hurt your profile. 

3) How much time should I spend studying for the GMAT?

Here it is again: “it depends.” The closer you are initially to your goal score, the less studying you’ll have ahead of you. Most clients I have worked with study for 3-6 months. Study hours are positively correlated with GMAT score, and the average study hours of 700+ exam takers is 121.

4) How should I study – self-study, in a course, or with a 1:1 tutor?

Some students solely self-study, others use a tutor from start-to-finish, while still others may mix-and-match methods. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of each are shown below to guide your decision.

Self study advantages:

  • Lowest investment

Self study disadvantages: 

  • For some students, can be a lower score “return” per hours studied

Course advantages: 

  • More economical than 1:1 tutoring
  • If the course is at your pace, can be a helpful concept review
  • Regular schedule can help study routine

Course disadvantages: 

  • Course can be too slow/too fast for you as an individual
  • Can be difficult to correct individual habits in a course environment
  • Can put too much emphasis on concepts over strategy

1:1 Tutoring advantages: 

  • Helps you get more effective use of your own study hours
  • A good tutor moves at your pace to optimize learning
  • Helps motivate you with individual accountability
  • Every hour you spend can be on the content/strategy area you need most

1:1 Tutoring disadvantages: 

  • Greatest investment

5) How can I find a good GMAT tutor?

A good GMAT tutor will have proven results and extensive experience, but importantly, will also give you a good feeling when you work together and explain things in a way that makes sense to you. Trust your intuition!

6) There are a lot of different GMAT books. What book should I use to study for the GMAT?

Generally, you’ll want two things from your GMAT books:

  1. Relevant GMAT practice questions
  2. Explanations of key GMAT concepts

The “Official Guide” is a great resource for point 1. To cover point 2, go for a book by a reputable GMAT preparation company – most will have all the concepts you’ll need.

7) How can I get started?

Once you have a general idea of the exam format and your books in-hand, take a practice test to gauge your score (there are two practice exams on mba.com, the makers of the GMAT, and a variety of free and paid practice exams online). Check what concepts you’re regularly making errors on and look to refresh those areas first. It’s also important to get into a good study routine. Make your study time consistent and sustainable – the GMAT is a marathon, not a sprint.

8) How do I manage my time on the GMAT?

There are 37 quant questions and 41 verbal questions; each exam takes 75 minutes. That means roughly 2 minutes per question (you see, GMAT-style math really is valuable in everyday life!). But some questions take more time, some less. Check your progress in regular intervals, after every 5 questions for example. If you are behind, best to guess on the next difficult question and make time up.

9) What is a productive way to use practice tests in my studying?

Please don’t torture yourself and take a practice exam every day for the next month (sounds silly, but there are those out there who do!) Rather, take one at regular intervals, every two to three weeks for example, to gauge your progress. And “squeeze the juice” out of each one as a study tool: Do a thorough review of your missed questions. Why did you miss it? What should you do in your studying as a result? Can you explain the problem clearly to a friend now? If you can, you know you’ve got it.

10) I’m not sure if my GMAT score is high enough. Should I retake it?

It depends (if that answer makes you want to throw something at your screen 10 questions into this blog, try holding it together when a classmate says these words a year into your MBA!) Refreshingly, the average score improvement from a re-taken exam is 30 points, but it’s important to ask yourself a couple of questions: Will you realistically improve? What will you do differently in your studying to reach that higher score?  If you haven’t used a tutor, sometimes that can help unlock your full potential.

11) When should I cancel my score on the exam?

Very rarely. Most schools allow you to use your best GMAT score, and some even take your “superscore” – your best Verbal and Quant scores from any sitting. Even if you’ve scored poorly, if you later retake and improve, that improvement looks good for your profile. If you’re retaking the exam and ended up with a lower score, on all subsections, than your best to-date, then it might be time to cancel.

12) How can I prepare for the Verbal section concepts?

For sentence correction, you’ll want to review the rules of grammar.  Only “rely on your ear” (pick the answer that sounds the best) as a last resort. For Critical Reasoning, learn how to identify the main parts of an argument. For reading comprehension, one of the best things you can do is regularly read articles from publications with advanced English, like the Economist or the New York times. Summarize the article afterwards – how would you explain the point of the article to a friend?

13) How can I prepare for the Quantitative section concepts?

I recommend focusing on one topic at a time. Focus first on really getting the concepts down for a topic like Exponents and Roots, then try your skill at GMAT-like questions. When you’ve mastered one topic, move on to the next.

14) How important is the GMAT vs Essays and Resume to my application?

It dep…now you know why one of my classmates started charging whenever anyone answered this way…ends. If you’re further in your career, your Resume may tell more of your story. If they’ve named the school library after your Auntie, your essay mentioning this fact will probably hold some weight. But the GMAT will always matter to some degree, and a higher score is always better.

15) I’m struggling with Data Sufficiency – what would you suggest?

Stay with it! Data Sufficiency questions aren’t something you see often outside of the GMAT, which can make them tough at first. However, you might end up preferring DS questions over time, as they tend to rely more on logic than number crunching. One thing you should NOT do is answer intuitively, that is “this seems like enough information”. Use algebra or logic to prove to yourself that a statement is or isn’t sufficient.

16) Do you have any advice for test day?

The day pre-exam, please don’t spend the entire day before studying. You don’t see Olympic athletes running a “practice marathon” the day before the big race! Take it easy and trust that the practice you’ve done over the long haul will come through on test day. On the day itself, “warm up” before the exam with a few practice problems from the official guide – pick ones you know well to remind yourself of the key concepts.

17) I got my goal GMAT score, what should I do with my Official Guide?

I recommend evaluating the below two courses of action and taking the one that is likely to bring you more satisfaction:

  • Sell your official guide on Amazon.com for $10
  • Ceremonially burn your official guide as the main event at a “GMAT party” and vow never to do a Data Sufficiency problem again (not recommended for residents of California during a drought)

18) Do you have advice for applying to top non-US schools?

Non-US schools typically have comparatively lower average GMAT scores compared to their US counterparts, but also typically have a student body with more international business experience. You’ll want to show that you “belong” at a school like this, emphasizing your time working, living, and/or studying abroad, and show that your career goals are clearly linked to attending an international programme.

19) What are the characteristics of the students who are most likely to meet their GMAT goals:

  • They establish a focused and sustainable study routine
  • They prioritize GMAT for 3-6 months of their life
  • They know that GMAT is a marathon, and improve through incremental progress
  • They make changes in their study process when necessary
  • Oddly, they very rarely have a fondness for smelly French cheese, which is quite unfair – they should hold their nose and give it a shot!

20) Do you have any other advice for students?

Try to make it fun!  People do crosswords, logic puzzles (i.e. Sudoku), and even math problems for fun, because as humans we love to develop and be challenged! Yes, there will be times when the GMAT isn’t fun, but if you can find a nugget of enjoyment in your studying, not only will you feel better, but studies show you’re more likely to retain information as well.

Good luck!

Noodle Pro Craig Cartier has been tutoring for over 15 years. His students have attended top business schools around the world, but Craig is particularly proud of his success with top European schools like London Business School, INSEAD, IESE and ESADE.