Before evaluating whether you might benefit from working with a GMAT tutor, you should make sure you understand what the GMAT is all about. To that end, we'll give a quick GMAT overview. Again, a helpful starting point is to realize that it’s not an IQ test. It’s a test of critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be prepared for. That said, it’s also not as many students assume, only, or even primarily, a test of mathematics, reading, and English language ability. The GMAT uses those concepts to measure problem solving and critical thinking. In fact, too many GMAT prep companies drill students on math problems and English grammar unnecessarily. The GMAT quantitative (or "quant" for short) section, for example, is not a pure math exam. It’s a test of reasoning skills that uses high school level math concepts.
So, what’s on the GMAT, how is it scored, and what test taking strategies lead to success?
The GMAT exam consists of three main sections: GMAT quant, GMAT verbal, and integrated reasoning.
GMAT Quant Section Topics
It’s important to note that the quantitative concepts you’ll encounter in GMAT quant do not go beyond high school level math. But the questions will be framed in very tricky ways that required high level reasoning and logic skills. You also can’t use a calculator on the GMAT, so mental math capabilities are very important.
Let’s first review the two types of questions that appear on the GMAT quant section: problem solving and data sufficiency.
GMAT problem solving questions are familiar to most test takers. These are simply multiple-choice questions in which you must choose the best answer from five options. GMAT data sufficiency questions are much different, however. They are often considered an “equalizer” because, often times, with GMAT problem solving questions, if you have really high-level math skills, you can leverage that math knowledge to get to the correct answer. But GMAT data sufficiency questions essentially force you to go beyond pure math and apply reasoning skills. You’ll be given a question that involves some type of math concept. Then, you’ll encounter two different statements. These statements are following by five answer choices, which never change:
- Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient but statement (2) ALONE is not sufficient.
- Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient but statement (1) ALONE is not sufficient.
- BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
- EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.
- Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are not sufficient.
You then need to reason through which of the five statements best describes how to answer the question posed. To do well, you must pay close attention to what information is given vs. what you might assume, leverage every little bit of information provided, avoid traps the test makers set to encourage you to over or under leverage some of the information provided.
Whether we are talking about problem solving questions or data sufficiency questions, it’s helpful to know what mathematics are on the exam. Again, it’s all high school level math with no trigonometry or pre-calculus, and certainly no calculus. At the highest level, you’ll encounter four main types of math concepts: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and word problems. But we can also dig deeper to understand how frequently you’ll encounter various math topics within these broader areas. As a general rule, you can expect:
- ~55% of GMAT questions to be word problems of some sort
- ~30% of questions to involve integer properties or arithmetic
- ~30% of questions to involve algebra as well as ratios, percents, and fractions
- 10% to involve two-dimensional geometry
- 10% to involve basic statistics and powers and roots
- 10% to involve probability and combinatorics (which MAY be the one area of the exam that a typical high school math curriculum does not cover and) and inequalities
- 6% to involve sequences and patterns and coordinate geometry
- 2% to involve interpreting data and three-dimensional geometry (i.e., volume questions)
- <1% to involve functions
All of these percentages add up to more than 100%, because many questions cover multiple topics. In fact, almost every single word problem falls into the “word problem” category as well as at least one other category.
GMAT Verbal Section
The GMAT verbal section consists of three main types of questions: critical reasoning, reading comprehension, and sentence correction. In a critical reasoning question, you are provided with a set of facts followed by a conclusion. Then, you are asked a question. Typically, this question asks which of five options strengthens or weakens an argument. It may also ask which option explains why the argument is flawed, or strongly supports or damages the argument.
Reading comprehension questions are more typical of what is seen across many other standardized tests. You’ll read a passage and then be asked to answer questions about what you read. The objective is to measure your ability to understand words and statements, apply logic, comprehend how important points relate to one another, infer things, and follow the development of concepts across text.
The final question type on the GMAT verbal section is Sentence Correction. These questions measure your command of the English language, and specifically, your ability to: a) write sentences that are structurally appropriate and use proper grammar and b) communicate ideas clearly and succinctly.
In these questions, you’ll be presented with a sentence, part of which is underlined. Beneath the sentence are five ways of writing the part that is underlined. Your task is to choose the best way to write an effective sentence from the options presented.
GMAT Integrated Reasoning Section
Integrated reasoning GMAT questions measure your ability to interpret various types of data to understand complex situations. The idea is to measure how you evaluate information when it’s presented in more than one way from several difference sources. The GMAT integrated reasoning section is very different from GMAT quant or GMAT verbal sections and is scored separately.
It contains 4 different question types, for a total of 12 questions. Each question will require multiple responses, and you must get them all right to get the question right. There is no partial credit given, because the idea is to ensure you are integrating knowledge effectively. The four question types are: Multi-Source Reasoning, Table Analysis, Graphics Interpretation, and Two-Part Analysis.
GMAT Analytic Writing Assessment
The Analytical Writing Assessment Section (AWA) of the GMAT asks you to write an essay. In that essay, you must evaluate the reasoning behind an argument and then critique it. Critical thinking and communication skills are being measured. The argument you may be asked to write about could include general business topics or be about a wide range of other subjects. Specific knowledge of the essay topic is not necessary; only your ability to write analytically is assessed.