A 6 minute read

“The greatest difficulty always comes right before the birth of a dream.” – Joel Osteen

The above quote resonates with every individual who aspires to an education at the upper echelons of the business school world (Think HBS, Stanford GSB, Wharton, etc.). And acing the GMAT is the first step in realizing your Top MBA dream. But a lot of aspirants seem to find this a daunting task fraught with obstacles. Thus, in this article, we will try to look at a vital question – “How hard is the GMAT?”

How hard is the GMAT

Here is an outline of the article:

  1. Why is the GMAT hard?
  2. What makes the GMAT hard?
    • Timing Pressure
    • Computer Adaptive Nature
    • Content
    • Format
    • Other Factors
  3. How can you make the GMAT easy?

Why is the GMAT hard?

Before we answer the question, let us take a look at a few statistics:

  1. The GMAT is taken by 200,000+ aspirants every year
  2. The average GMAT score at the top-10 business schools is 720+
  3. Only 6% of test takers score 720 or above in the GMAT.

Thus, from the above data the answer to the question may seem obvious, that yes, the GMAT is hard. Nonetheless, it warrants a further analysis as to why it is so.

At its core, the GMAT is a test of higher-order reasoning skills. Both the GMAC and business schools agree that these reasoning skills are essential to success in business school as well as increasingly competitive business environments worldwide. Moreover, several studies have validated time and again that GMAT scores are good predictors of success in business school.

Thus, for the GMAT to be of value to business schools, it needs to be hard. If it were easy to score in the 700+ range, the GMAT would cease to be of utility as a filtering/separation mechanism for the herd of already successful applicants who take the test.

If you’re not great at taking standardized tests, then the GMAT will be hard for you. Similarly, if you have been away from studying and academics for more than a while, then the GMAT may be hard. However, with the right GMAT preparation and test strategy, the GMAT does become easier. It is quite like what Abraham Lincoln said – “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

In the next section we will look at the specific reasons due to which the GMAT may seem hard.

What makes the GMAT hard?

Following are some reasons why the GMAT may seem hard to aspirants

  • Computer adaptive nature
  • Timing pressure
  • Content
  • Format
  • Other factors

    How hard is the GMAT - The Computer adaptive nature of the test can make the GMAT hard

Computer Adaptive Nature of the GMAT

The GMAT is a computer adaptive test. Which means that it adapts to your performance after each question. Many students are confused as to what this means. In simple terms, “The difficulty level of your next question depends on how you have answered the previous questions.” Thus, if you answer a question correctly, the next question is of a higher difficulty level. Conversely, if you answer a question incorrectly, then the next question is of a lower or similar difficulty level.

Thus, your GMAT score depends not only on the number of questions you have answered correctly but also the difficulty level of the questions. Also, because of the adaptive nature, you cannot go back to the previous question once you have marked your answer.

Learn more about the Computer Adaptive Nature of the GMAT test in this article

Timing Pressure

The content that is tested on the GMAT is of high school level difficulty. This is by design so as to provide an even and fair testing experience to a diverse audience. Adding timing pressure into the mix is one way to make a standardized test such as the GMAT difficult when the content you are tested on is of high school level difficulty. Firstly, the GMAT is just over 3 hours long. This in itself requires a certain level of endurance and stamina.

How hard is the GMAT - Timing pressure makes the GMAT hard

Secondly, you have 2 mins/question in the Quantitative section and ~ 1.8 mins/question for the verbal section. This timed nature of the exam introduces an additional layer of difficulty. Think of it this way, if time wasn’t an issue than the GMAT would not be as difficult as it is now.

Thus, time management on the GMAT is an additional important skill to master if you want to score well.

Content

The content tested on the GMAT is the same as what someone would study in high school. Including basic geometry, algebra, number properties and statistics in the quantitative section and basic grammar, inference and reading comprehension in the verbal section.

Thus, it is not the content, but the traps employed in the questions that make the GMAT difficult. GMAT questions will try to mislead you or trick you into focusing on the wrong things. And if you do fall into such a trap, you end up spending time which is a valuable resource on a timed test such as the GMAT.

In this article, our verbal experts show the 5 strategies that the GMAT uses to distort meaning.

Format

The GMAT consists of 4 different sections:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
  2. Integrated Reasoning (IR)
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Verbal Reasoning

Each section features different question types which test different skills and abilities. Thus, on test day you have to be on top of your game in all sections to receive a good GMAT score.

What is a good GMAT score? Read this article to find out.

Other Factors

Besides the above, there can be several other factors that can make the GMAT hard for you:

  1. Not comfortable with taking standardized tests
  2. Being away from academics for too long
  3. Test-taking anxiety

All the above can make the GMAT seem like a hard nut to crack. However, the solution to all the above factors that make the GMAT hard is preparation with a well-defined test taking strategy.

“Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it.” – Niels Bohr

How to make the GMAT easy?

Following are some tips to make the GMAT easy for yourself.

How hard is the GMAT - Content and format of the test can make the GMAT hard

Knowing the Format and Pattern

Being familiar with the format of the test and its pattern is almost like winning half the battle. Read this article about the GMAT Exam Format to learn more.

Here are some other helpful articles about the GMAT:

  1. How is the GMAT IR section scored?
  2. How to score a perfect 6 in GMAT AWA
  3. Most common GMAT Questions

Creating and following a Study Plan

A study plan helps you keep track of your preparation and monitor your progress on the journey to a 700+ GMAT score. We have created study plans that can be easily customized according to your requirements:

  1. 1-month study plan
  2. 3-month study plan
  3. Working professional study plan

Choosing the right resources for preparationHow hard is the GMAT - Time management can make the GMAT hard

Choosing the right resources for GMAT preparation can make the difference between scoring a 700+ score in your first attempt or retaking the test. Data-driven online courses to reduce GMAT preparation time significantly. Read this article on the best GMAT books and resources to help with your decision.

Improve Time Management on the Test

If you think poor time management is the reason why the GMAT is hard for you then read this article on GMAT time management strategies.

For good measure, read this article on the GMAT time management common myths where we debunk some of the most common myths related to time management on the GMAT.

Beat GMAT Test Anxiety

How hard is the GMAT - Other factors

If test anxiety is getting the better of you on test day, read this article for 10 Tips – How to tackle GMAT anxiety.

Learn how to analyze Mock Tests

Mock tests serve as valuable practice for 2 reasons; they help you in building your test-taking stamina and give insights into opportunities for score improvements. In this article, we show how to analyze mock tests for maximum score improvement.

If you are confused about how many mock tests is too many, read this article to learn an effective mock test strategy and the do’s and don’ts of taking GMAT mock tests.

We hope this article helps allay your fears about the difficulty of the GMAT and gives you the insights required to answer the question, “How hard is the GMAT?”. In case of any other queries related to GMAT preparation and strategy, please write to us at acethegmat@e-gmat.com.

Payal Tandon
Co-founder, e-GMAT
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I am Payal, Co-Founder of e-GMAT.
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