How Hard is the GMAT?

How hard is the GMAT? Simply put, it can be very difficult. But you can prepare for it and make it significantly easier on yourself.

The GMAT is short for Graduate Management Admissions Test and is the main standardized test used to gain admissions to MBA graduate programs.

Summary: We will review the difficulty of the GMAT and how you can make it easier. To begin studying, consider investing in a GMAT prep course.

Is the GMAT Hard?

The GMAT is a challenging exam. The exam is adaptive which means the questions get harder as you answer them correctly.

The point of this test is to see if you have the skills that will be important to you in a graduate program.

The GMAT examines a wide range of skills – from math (geometry, arithmetic, algebra,) to critical reasoning and grammar.

You will not be able to focus your studies on one subject and do well on it – you have to have a well-rounded understanding of many different topics.

Bottom Line: Ask yourself how selective the program you’re trying to enter is. If you want to get into a top program that requires scores in the 90th percentile, (a score of 710 or higher out of 800) than you’re likely going to need to put in additional study time.

You can begin preparing by taking our free GMAT practice test. You can also review our what is a good GMAT score article.

What Makes the GMAT Hard?

The GMAT is hard because it requires you to think differently under various constraints.

The following items make the GMAT so challenging:

  1. Computer Adaptive
  2. Timing
  3. Formatting
  4. Being Out of School

Computer Adaptive

When taking the GMAT, you will find that some questions seem easier or harder than others. That is because the exam is computer adaptive.

As you answer questions correctly, they will become more challenging in nature. This can be surprising to a lot of individuals and throw them off.

Because of this, your score does not depend on the number of questions you answered correctly. It is based off the number of questions you answered correctly and the difficulty of those questions.

In addition, you cannot return to the previous question after you have answered it.

Timing

The GMAT is both a marathon and a sprint. It can be compared to a marathon because the exam will take a little over 3 hours to complete – some students may struggle to keep their focus the whole time.

The exam can be compared to a sprint because each of the sections are timed. A big aspect that makes the GMAT hard is the time constraints for each section.

Many individuals will waste precious time just trying to understand the questions before answering them. The key to managing your time is keeping a strong pace.

You will have the following time limits for each section:

SectionMinutesNumber of QuestionsMinutes Per Question
Analytical Writing Assessment301 essay 
Integrated Reasoning30122:30
Quantitative62312:00
Verbal65362:48

Formatting

There are 4 sections on the GMAT:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment
  2. Integrated Reasoning
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Verbal Reasoning

Each of those sections will ask questions in a different way or format. These questions are very different from questions you have seen on other exams. It throws many individuals off.

You can become more prepared for these questions by taking a GMAT practice test beforehand. You can also find out more information by reviewing our what is the GMAT guide.

Being Out of School

A lot of times, individuals who are taking the GMAT have been out of school for a couple of years. Once you get out of that academic mindset, standardized exams and studying can become very challenging.

You can combat this by focusing on getting back into that academic mindset. One great way to do that is by investing in a prep course. 

Our team reviewed the best GMAT prep courses to help individuals find the best option for their needs.

Making the GMAT Less Challenging

The GMAT does not have to be challenging. There are some steps you can take to make the exam a little easier. Those steps are:

  1. Take practice exams
  2. Invest in the right prep materials
  3. Give yourself enough time to study
  4. Become familiar with the exam

Take Practice Exams

Taking practice exams is our #1 recommended tip to doing well on this exam. The questions asked are so different from questions on other standardized exams.

Taking a practice exam will help you learn how the questions are asked, the amount of time you can spend on each question, and how to answer the questions.

In addition, you can also review your score reports to see which sections you struggled on the most. This will help you narrow down your studies and study in a more efficient manner.

You can get started by taking our free GMAT practice test.

Invest in the Right Prep Materials

It is important to invest in the right prep materials. Some students may not need to invest in anything and can self-study.

Other students may prefer to learn via online lectures, videos, or textbooks. The most important thing is to invest in a resource that fits your specific needs.

This will help you save precious study time and increase your chances of doing well on this difficult exam. You can review the different options by checking out our list of best GMAT prep courses.

Give Yourself Enough Time to Study

If you have to cram for an exam, odds are you will not do well. The GMAT has exam dates year-round, so there is no reason you should have to cram.

It is generally recommended that you give yourself 2-3 months to prepare for your exam. However, everyone is different.

Review our GMAT test dates article for more information on how to pick a test date and what to consider when doing so.

Become Familiar with the Exam

Becoming familiar with the exam can help you with your test-day anxiety. If you know what to expect, and are comfortable with the exam, you should not be as anxious on test day.

You can use practice tests and your study resources to become familiar with this exam inside and out. You should know exactly what to expect before going in to take your exam.

Make sure you are comfortable with the following:

  1. Types of questions asked
  2. Time limits and the amount of time you can spend on each question
  3. Trick questions and other things to look out for when taking the exam

If you are aware of those 3 things, you should be on the right path to getting a good score.

GMAT Difficulty FAQs

The verbal section is quite difficult for people whose strengths are not grammar and following arguments. If you’re more math oriented, you should be wary of overlooking this section which accounts for a half of your score.

The verbal section has three question types

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Critical Reasoning
  • Sentence Correction

The quantitative section, while extremely challenging, is the easiest to prepare for. There are a limited number of question types, and therefore, given enough prep time, you can prepare for all of them. The quantitative section has 31 questions and students will be given 62 minutes to complete this section – this breaks down to 2 minutes per question.

There are two question types in this section:

  • Data Sufficiency
  • Problem Solving

The AWA is a formulaic essay. It is arguably the easiest aspect of the GMAT – first, because you will be asked to analyze an argument that is presented to you.

You won’t be making your own argument, but rather critiquing the one that is given to you. It’s important to practice this skill ahead of time so you’re prepared for the question type on test day.

Second, the test takers want you to follow a standard form and use standard structural wording, which means with a bit of research online and some practice tests and essays, you should be able to churn out this essay type fairly easily.

First of all, it’s important to know the Integrated Reasoning section of the test is not computer adaptive, meaning it will not get harder (or easier) as you complete the section. That being said, it’s an extremely difficult part of this test – because you are typically given too much information, and you’re forced to focus on what matters.

For the IR, time will more likely than not be your enemy. You may have to read long passages in order to even have a chance at answering questions. What does this mean? You need to strategize.

Being a difficult section of the test, the IR section will not be defeated by “brute strength” but rather, you must practice using your time efficiently. This means employing strategies like reading the question first, and searching for the relevant information.

The IR section has the largest range of possible answer types, ranging from simple true/false questions to multiple-choice and more advanced question types. It’s important to familiarize yourself with them before test day.

Trevor Klee
Trevor is our GMAT and GRE expert. Trevor runs his own tutoring company and scored in the 99th percentile of the GRE and GMAT.