GMAT Difficulty – How Difficult Is The GMAT Really?

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT Difficulty - How Difficult Is The GMAT Really

Every year, more than 200,000 people take the GMAT, yet only 6% of them get a score of 720 or above. These data points help us to realize that the GMAT is a challenging test, and achieving a 700+ score requires work. Many applicants struggle to get the GMAT target scores of 720+ required by top-notch business schools. But that is no reason to be worried if you are studying right. Let’s have a closer look at GMAT difficulty, why it is so challenging, and what you can do to nail it anyway.

GMAT Difficulty and Reasons for it Being a Difficult Test

The GMAT is primarily a test of elevated thinking abilities. These abilities, according to the GMAC and business schools, are crucial for success in business school and in today’s globally competitive corporate contexts. Additionally, several studies have repeatedly confirmed that grades are reliable indicators of success in business school.

Therefore, the GMAT must be challenging in order for business schools to find it useful. The exam would lose its value as a filtering/separation tool for the mass of already eligible candidates who take the test if it were simple to achieve scores in the 700+ level. However, the GMAT does get significantly simpler with the right GMAT study plans and test-taking techniques.

Factors that Make the GMAT Challenging

The following are some factors why applicants may find the GMAT difficult. Obviously, whether these factors apply to you depends on your personal mindset and skillset. Let’s go through some of the reasons behind the difficulty of the GMAT.

Computer Adaptive Nature

The GMAT is an exam that is computer adaptive, which implies that it changes according to how you respond to each inquiry and one of the main reasons for how difficult the GMAT is. This is the foundation of the GMAT scoring system. The meaning of this is unclear to a lot of students. Simply said, how you answer the previous question determines the difficulty level of the following questions you’ll get. As a result, the next question is harder if you properly answer the previous one. In contrast, if you respond poorly to a question, the following one will be easier or of a similar degree of difficulty. As a result, in addition to the number of questions you successfully answered, the complexity of the questions also affects your score.

The CAT’s (Computer Adaptive Test) other problem is that you must proceed through the exam in a linear way, choosing an answer to each question as it is provided to you since the level of difficulty of the GMAT questions depends on how you answered the one before it. You are unable to answer a question later if you leave it unanswered. You cannot go back and amend your response to question 10 if you suddenly realize it while working on question 20. The GMAT does not allow for backtracking or skipping. Your response to the first query is “on the books” once you go on to the second.

Limited Time for Each Section

Despite the length of the test, you aren’t allowed extra time to answer each question, which contributes significantly to the GMAT’s difficulty. Let’s look at it:

GMAT Section (default order)Number of QuestionsAllotted Time
Analytical Writing Assessment1 Essay30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning   12 Questions30 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning31 Questions62 minutes
Verbal Reasoning36 Questions65 minutes

An atmosphere with timeliness is, by definition, more pressure-filled than one without timing. You are aware of the passing time. You need to learn how to keep track of how long it takes you to answer each question without allowing the timer to divert your attention.

According to the exam’s layout, you’ll get about two minutes for each question in the verbal and quantitative portions and two and a half minutes for each question in the IR section. Naturally, some queries will take less time to answer than others. Nevertheless, the rigorous time constraints make every question more challenging because you must not only provide the correct response but do it in two minutes or less.

No Calculator for Quant

Today, most individuals utilize calculators or software like Excel to conduct mathematical operations; therefore, the GMAT’s quant part may be a little more challenging without the aid of a calculator. But in actuality, people’s perceptions of this additional challenge are typically considerably bigger than they are throughout the GMAT. GMAT quantitative problems are intended to be answered in under two minutes without the use of a calculator, so do not stress too much. The key to mastering the Quant portion of the exam without a calculator lies in approaching questions right. You are not expected to provide a solution that is 100% correct and provide every digit; you only have to figure out the right ballpark and exclude wrong answers. This may already drastically reduce GMAT difficulty for you.

Misleading Questions

The material examined on the GMAT is equivalent to what is covered in high school. The quantitative component should include fundamental geometry, algebra, number properties, and statistics, while the verbal section should cover fundamental grammar, inference, and reading comprehension.

These contents are not exactly rocket science. Therefore, the true reason behind the GMAT difficulty is based on little traps and complicating factors in the questions rather than the exam’s content. GMAT questions are designed to fool you into paying attention to the incorrect things. If you do slip into such a pitfall, you will waste time—a precious resource—on a timed exam.

Time Period Out of School

Many of your GMAT-related abilities can be rusty if you haven’t used subjects like geometry, algebra, and subject-verb agreement in a while. Naturally, it may take longer for you to brush up on your knowledge the longer it has been since you studied those subjects.

Therefore, if there has been some time since you took GMAT-related classes, as it has for many individuals taking the exam, you might want to give yourself a little additional time to study before your exam so you can make sure you fill in any knowledge gaps that have developed since you graduated from college.

Test Day Anxiety

Your admittance to business school and future employment prospects may be significantly influenced by your GMAT score, and as we’ve seen, the test has a lot of difficult components. Therefore, it is understandable why many test takers—if not all—experience some anxiety linked to the GMAT. It is unrealistic and unnecessary to completely eradicate such anxiousness in order to perform well in the exam.

However, for some test-takers, their GMAT-related anxiety goes beyond a tolerable amount of jittery energy in preparation for a significant event; it turns into a significant barrier to their ability to effectively prepare for the GMAT and excel on test day. If you’ve previously taken standardized tests, you likely have some understanding of how susceptible you are to test anxiety and may even be familiar with certain techniques to overcome it. Of course, being so fully ready that you have nothing to worry about is the best method to eliminate test anxiety.

Length of the Test

On test day, a GMAT test-taker will likely spend a total of four hours in the testing facility, of which three and a half will be used to complete the exam. How difficult the GMAT is depends on its length as well. Only two eight-minute intervals, during which you may use the toilet, have a snack to replenish your energy, drink some water, or just take a breather, break up those hours spent looking at the GMAT computer screen and tackling challenging GMAT problems.

In essence, passing the GMAT demands a lot of mental (and physical) stamina, which must be acquired through passing full-length practice exams under actual test settings and at key intervals throughout your GMAT preparation. By doing this, you’ll be able to adjust to the demands of the exam and prevent mental tiredness, a typical score-killer for GMAT candidates.

Difficulty of GMAT Depending on Skillset

The perceived difficulty of the GMAT differs for every single person and strongly depends on the person’s mindset and skillset. While some may claim that the exam is rather straightforward, others may say that it is really tough.

The GMAT may be simple for you if you excel at grammar, while you struggle with speaking English or are not a native speaker since it places greater emphasis on grammar.

Math is the central focus of the exam’s quantitative section. However, the GMAT is only concerned with business and makes the premise that you must have a strong background in arithmetic in order to be successful in your field. As a result, the test contains a lot of challenging arithmetic problems that call for original thought and strong mathematical logic. The GMAT also prohibits the use of calculators while doing math problems; thus, this section might be a challenging task for the candidate who is not familiar with performing calculations without a calculator. Those who are already adept at numbers will usually have much less trouble with the GMAT Quant section.

The GMAT’s essay section isn’t ideal for those who want to express their opinions, make a statement, or otherwise feel heard on a specific topic. It’s designed for people who can think logically and speak clearly and concisely. In essence, this kind of writing is more typical of a mathematician than a creative writer.

The candidate’s skill set determines whether the GMAT is simple or tough. If you believe you lack the GMAT’s prerequisite abilities, you could choose the GRE instead, which is often perceived as an easier alternative especially if you struggle with Quant.

Tips and Tricks to Overcome GMAT Difficulty

Even though the GMAT is challenging, there are several things you may take to improve your performance. Check out the advice listed below to maximize the impact of your studying and make sure you’re totally ready on test day.

Understanding the Format

Understanding the format is the key to controlling your tension before the GMAT. You may recreate exam settings as closely as possible by using GMAT preparation software from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, especially if you’re worried about the computerized adaptive format. When you take practice exams, make a note of the question types and forms that challenge you in addition to the subject that you find most challenging. Put these question types first throughout your preparation.

Practice Verbal Component

Start reading challenging material as soon as you can if the verbal component gives you anxiety. You may get a head start on the sort of reading you’ll be asked to complete on the GMAT by reading academic publications that cover business, the humanities and arts, social sciences, physical sciences, and natural sciences, newspapers, nonfiction pieces, and legal and business documents. You will have a limited amount of time on the test, so you will need to be able to swiftly identify significant points, locate textual support, and draw valid conclusions. You can more effectively accomplish this and assimilate complicated knowledge by reading high-level stuff.

Rest Before and During the Test

Since the exam requires stamina, ensure that you are well rested not just on the day of the test but also, if at all possible, the week prior. Take advantage of the two optional breaks, and bring ample food and drinks to store in your locker when you get to the exam site. Additionally, you may bring “comfort goods,” such as cough pills and a lightweight jacket or sweater. To prevent distractions, comfort is essential. While this may not reduce GMAT difficulty, it will move you into a position from which you can handle with it properly.

Practice Calculations Without a Calculator

Do as many mental computations as you can to start getting ready for the Quant part. You will find it extremely easy to navigate the exam if you can estimate, round, and perform rapid arithmetic in your head. You will be able to complete the problems much more quickly and precisely if you have these abilities since you won’t have to spend time doing laborious manual calculations on scrap paper.

Improve Time Management

On the GMAT, time is just as crucial as comprehending the problems themselves. Do timed exercises for yourself to get practice answering questions properly and quickly. For instance, you may attempt to do 10 phrase correction exercises in 20 minutes. Try to accomplish 10 sentence corrections in 15 minutes on your second attempt, and then aim to finish the same amount in 10 minutes, as each sentence repair question should take no more than a minute to complete. With the questions that take the longest or are the hardest for you, practice “beating the clock” in this manner.

Branch Out Your Practice

It’s a smart option to experiment with various practice materials to see what works for you so that you don’t lose concentration and are keeping your brain active in a number of ways. You should prepare every day with quick drills, quizzes, or flashcards in addition to your regular test sessions and computerized adaptive practice exams (even if only for 10 minutes on days you haven’t scheduled a longer study session).

Download GMAT applications so you can study for the GMAT when you’re in line at the store or stuck in traffic. Making your own flashcards allows you to remember grammatical points or unfamiliar terminology when you take practice exams.

Concluding Thoughts

The GMAT is unquestionably intended to be a difficult exam. In order to provide the most realistic picture of your present skills and talents, it adjusts to your abilities and tries to identify your areas of weakness.

However, the difficulty of the GMAT does not imply that it is an impossible task. You will succeed if you give yourself enough time to study and take enough practice exams, test prep classes, and self-study to overcome the difficult of the GMAT. The test is challenging but not insurmountable.

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