New students and prospective students planning to go to grad school to get an MBA (or other advanced business degree) often ask me, how hard is the GMAT, really? Some people say it’s hard, while other say it’s easy. The GMAT is unusual in this way. With other grad school tests, such as the LSAT or MCAT, most students assume they are facing a tough exam. Determining the difficulty of the Graduate Management Admission Test is confusing because it has unique features that make it hard to compare to other exams.
The Content of the GMAT Should Be Familiar
MBA programs like to welcome students from a wide variety of backgrounds. If the GMAT tested high-level math, it would give an unfair advantage to engineering and math majors. If it tested obscure vocabulary words, literature majors might have the upper hand. Instead, the makers of the exam only use material they expect everyone taking the GMAT to have studied.
You probably learned all of the math on the GMAT while you were in high school, and the same goes for the basic economic terminology you’re expected to understand. But that’s an example of why the difficulty of the GMAT is hard to determine: do you remember everything you learned in high school? The good news is that a refresher course is always easier than learning from scratch.
The GMAT Is Different From High School, and That’s Bad
The curriculum level of GMAT is essentially high school material, true. In fact, if you were an honors student in high school, you probably went well beyond the algebra and geometry seen on the GMAT. Yet the GMAT is different in several key ways. In high school, timing on tests is usually not a big deal, and many teachers might give you as much time as you need. They want to test your knowledge, not your speed. On the other hand, the GMAT is meant to test your speed (among other things).
The other major difference also has to do with time, but rather than how little of it they give you to answer the questions, the issue is how much total time the test takes, which is over four hours. A big part of GMAT preparation is getting used to working under the pressure that the strict clock brings, as well as building up the mental and physical stamina to stay sharp throughout the long exam.
The GMAT Is Different From High School, and That’s Good
There are also ways that the GMAT is easier than a 9th grade algebra test. For one thing, you don’t have to “show your work.” As long as you end up with the right answer, it counts. Plus, the test is multiple choice, and this format opens up the possibility to use tricks and shortcuts that would make your 9th grade algebra teacher scream, or at least shake her head in disapproval.
So… How Hard is the GMAT?
The GMAT isn’t necessarily hard, but it does require specific skills. What really matters is not how hard it is, but how you do compared to your peers. Remember that unlike the SAT, which most teenagers take, the GMAT is taken only by people who have already done well in college, meaning the competition is tougher this time around. So don’t take this test lightly. But with the guidance of an expert GMAT test prep tutor who understands your strengths and weaknesses and the nuances of the test, you’ll be on your way to acing the exam and earning your graduate degree.
Marcus S. tutors online for a variety of subjects. He has been trained and certified to teach classes and give individual tutoring to students in the SAT, GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for the Princeton Review. Learn more about Marcus here!
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