GMAT vs ISAT: Which Test is Right for You? Understanding the Key Differences

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT vs ISAT & Key Differences - Which Test is Right for You

A GMAT vs ISAT comparison is crucial when deciding which road to take on your academic journey. And it’s best not to make such a career-defining decision without the facts. As such, you’ll want to know how the exams differ based on the skills assessed, test structure, and scoring system.

Some universities and colleges require candidates to take the GMAT and ISAT exams for admission. Think of these exams as a measure of how well you will perform in the program you apply to. The GMAT tests your analytical, quantitative, and communication skills. And students pursuing an MBA often sit for it. On the other hand, the ISAT applies to students undertaking healthcare-related programs, assessing thinking and mathematical skills.

This blog post outlines the key differences between GMAT and ISAT exams. We’ll assess each exam individually and then dive into their differences based on criteria such as academic level and skills tested. We’ll also discuss the level of difficulty in this GMAT vs ISAT comparison. But, before diving into our GMAT vs ISAT comparison, let’s take a closer look at the GMAT exam.

What Is the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)?

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computerized adaptive test (CAT) taken for admission to a graduate management program. Say you plan to apply for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. In that case, you’d take the GMAT to support your application.

With the GMAT, your analytical, verbal, quantitative, writing, and reading skills in written English are put to the test. However, the newly introduced GMAT Focus Edition puts less weight on one’s writing ability and more on future skills such as data analysis.

Those skills are considered essential to conducting business in the real world and successfully managing a team. However, before entering the business world, your GMAT scores will show college admission committees your readiness for the program.

It’s not only about your ability to pass your courses. But it’s also about whether you have the required skills and abilities to handle the requirements of a demanding business program.

So, which business schools accept or require applicants to take the GMAT for admission? If you guessed Harvard and Stanford University, you’re right. But over 7000 programs at more than 2000 universities in 110 countries include GMAT scores in their selection criteria.

The GMAT score required for admission ranges from one university to the next. For example, Stanford requires an average GMAT score of 733. However, Florida State University College of Business has a lower requirement of 545.

Do you want to get into an Ivy League school? Or would a reputable university with international acclaim suffice? The GMAT score you aim for should come down to where you want to study.

GMAT Structure

The GMAT exam assesses your analytical, verbal, quantitative, writing, and reading expertise required to ace a graduate management program. In 2023, the GMAT exam underwent a makeover, making it shorter and more aligned with global business and technological advancements.

In the current version of the exam, you’d encounter the following four sections:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
  • Integrated Reasoning (IR)
  • Quantitative Reasoning (QR)
  • Verbal Reasoning (VR)

However, in the updated version of the GMAT, there are only three sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Data Insights. Let’s take a closer look at the current and updated elements in the units below.

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) tests your ability to present a coherent argument and articulate your thoughts. It’s where you’ll have to lean into your writing skills. And where you show admissions committees that you can express your ideas effectively while being persuasive.

You’ll be given an essay prompt and 30 minutes to complete this section. Your job is to construct a well-reasoned opinion that speaks to the prompt. Not only will you have to explain your argument, but you’ll also need to point out possible areas of improvement to strengthen it.

This skill will come in handy in a professional setting. You’ll use it when writing academic research papers, business proposals, and even marketing strategies. Articulating your thoughts and supporting claims with evidence is essential to professional success.

It’s important to note that this AWA section falls away entirely in the new GMAT Focus Edition. This adjustment may come as a relief to anyone who dreads essay writing.

Integrated Reasoning (IR) / Data Insights (DI)

This section covers graph analysis, data interpretation, and multi-source reasoning. It tests your ability to solve interrelated and complex problems, organize and analyze data, and manipulate data points and information. Therefore, you can expect to work with graphs, tables, or interactive elements in this part of the test.

Twelve multiple-choice questions make up this section in the current GMAT test version. And you’ll have 30 minutes to complete it. With the changes to the exam, expect 20 questions and 45 minutes to complete the unit in the GMAT Focus Edition test.

Perhaps you’re wondering: Does Integrated Reasoning or Data Insights have real-world applications? Absolutely. You’ll encounter complex data sets and multiple information sources in various professional settings.

For instance, as part of your job, you may have to analyze inputs, identify patterns, and draw significant conclusions from data. Integrated reasoning is also invaluable when overcoming business obstacles and making strategic decisions.

Quantitative Reasoning (QR)

The Quantitative Reasoning (QR) section tests your numerical abilities. And in this part of the test, you’ll encounter 31 algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and data analysis questions.

However, according to sources, geometry questions in the new GMAT Focus Edition test will no longer be included. In fact, this section will likely focus more on your problem-solving capabilities. And instead of the usual 31 questions, the GMAT Focus Edition delivers 21 problems to solve within 45 minutes.

In the current GMAT exam, your data sufficiency skills are also assessed in Quantitative Reasoning. This means you’ll be provided multiple data statements and must identify relevant information to answer a specific question. However, all data sufficiency questions might be included solely in the data insights unit in the updated GMAT exam.

While this section sounds challenging, you won’t be tested beyond what you learned in your senior year of high school. The point is to apply mathematical concepts to real-world scenarios and solve problems.

Understanding numbers and data in the real world is crucial. And it’s a skill you’ll find relevant to any industry, including marketing, finance, operations, and other business functions. For example, you’ll need to tap into these skills when making data-driven decisions, analyzing market trends, or compiling budgets.

Verbal Reasoning (VR)

To successfully navigate the Verbal Reasoning (VR) portion of the exam, you must be able to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate written material. This section of the GMAT exam tests the following:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Sentence correction
  • Critical reasoning

You’ll encounter these three assessments in the current GMAT version. However, sentence correction will likely no longer be tested in the new GMAT Focus Edition exam. Instead, only your critical thinking and reading skills will be assessed.

Moreover, in the current GMAT version, you’ll be given passages to read and 36 questions to complete within 65 minutes. But the new GMAT Focus Edition will present students with 23 problems to answer within 45 minutes.

So, why is verbal reasoning critical? Well, your speaking skills affect how you communicate in professional settings. This includes interpreting reports, engaging in meaningful discussions with coworkers, and writing persuasive emails.

They also help you understand and interpret written material. For instance, if legal documents or a research paper come across your desk, you’ll tap into your verbal reasoning skills to make sense of it.

The Pros and Cons of Taking the GMAT Exam

When comparing GMAT vs ISAT, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of the GMAT are essential. That way, you can make an informed decision aligned with your career aspirations.

The Pros

  • Computer-based and available at over 600 testing centers around the world
  • Improves your chances of admission to top graduate programs
  • Widely accepted by graduate programs worldwide
  • Can be retaken up to 5 times a year

The Cons

  • Costly, especially if you take it multiple times and use a prep course
  • Requires adequate preparation, so it can be challenging for some
  • Location and schedule limitations

What Is the International Student Admissions Test (ISAT)?

The International Student Admissions Test (ISAT) is a mandatory assessment for entry into Australian and Irish universities’ medicine and other healthcare-related programs. This includes:

  • University of Limerick – Speech and Language Therapy
  • University of Western Australia (UWA) – International Student Undergraduate Entry to Medicine & Dentistry
  • Monash University, Melbourne & Malaysian campus – Undergraduate Medicine
  • University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Undergraduate Medicine
  • University of Tasmania – Undergraduate Medicine

Developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the test measures the cognitive abilities of international students. In other words, it doesn’t test your knowledge of specific academic courses.

Instead, it’s used to assess whether you can understand and analyze the material given to you. And this could be anything from a written passage to tables of data.

Also, the ISAT is not a pass-or-fail exam. However, some universities will require a minimum score for admission. For instance, the University of New South Wales requires a minimum ISAT score of 150. While Monash University in Melbourne considers a total score of 170 or above, with a minimum of 165 in both units, ideal.

Still, it’s best to consider your ISAT exam an essential component of your application process. But bear in mind that you won’t be penalized if you don’t answer a question correctly. So, it’s in your best interests to attempt each question of the test.

ISAT Format

When carrying out a GMAT vs ISAT comparison, you’ll notice a significant difference in the tests’ structures. We’ve covered the various sections of the GMAT exam above. And the ISAT is split into two sections, as follows:

1. Critical Reasoning

Critical thinking is a vital skill for healthcare professionals. For that reason, this section of the ISAT will test your ability to think critically and weigh arguments. You’ll be tasked with evaluating information, drawing conclusions, and making sound judgements.

In the real world, you may encounter complex medical cases requiring you to analyze symptoms and review medical histories. In these instances, your critical reasoning skills will help you diagnose patients and develop treatment plans.

The questions for this section draw upon material from the areas of humanities and social sciences. And this should offer insight into how to prepare for the ISAT.

2. Quantitative Reasoning

This section is all about your mathematical skills. And the questions are derived from mathematics and the sciences. Therefore, expect to analyze and apply information and solve problems with math.

Quantitative reasoning has various applications in healthcare, from medical researchers who use statistical analyses to evaluate clinical trial data to administrators who use it to allocate resources.

The Pros & Cons of Taking the ISAT Exam

Like the GMAT, the ISAT has its advantages and disadvantages. Knowing these can point you in the right direction when establishing your educational and career goals.

The Pros

  • Only 3 hours and 100 multiple-choice questions
  • Computer-based, so it can be taken anywhere worldwide
  • Designed for international students so it’s accessible to non-native English speakers

The Cons

  • Not as widely accepted as other exams, e.g. the GMAT
  • Only one annual testing window
  • Rigorous testing setup requirements
  • Only applicable to Australian universities and the University of Limerick

GMAT vs ISAT: What Are the Key Differences?

Understanding what the GMAT and ISAT entail is just one piece of the puzzle when determining which exam is right for you. Doing an ISAT vs GMAT exam comparison will help you distinguish between the two, allowing you to make an informed decision.

This section will explore the differences between GMAT and ISAT based on various criteria. This includes the scoring system and the GMAT vs ISAT difficulty. Here’s a summary of our comparison:

Target audienceGraduate management program candidatesInternational students applying to healthcare-related programs
Academic levelGraduate levelUndergraduate and graduate level
Skills assessedAnalytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and readingCritical thinking and statistical analysis
Test durationCurrent: 3 hours and 7 minutes New Focus Edition: 2 hours and 15 minutes3 hours
Content & StructureCurrent exam: Various testing formats, including multiple-choice questions. Four sections: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning New Focus Edition: Multiple-choice questions. Three sections: Data Insights, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning.100 multiple-choice questions with two sections: Critical Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning.
DifficultyModerate to DifficultDifficult
Scoring and score interpretationRanges from 200 to 800 for the current GMAT exam. Each section has specific scoring criteria, with a total score generated from AWA and IR. All three sections factor into the total score for the new GMAT Focus Edition, ranging from 205 to 805.Ranges from 100 – 200. One overall score is presented, and separate scores for the Critical and Quantitative sections.
Accessibility and availabilityAvailable online and in person. Widely located test centers worldwideOnline: conducted via Remote Proctoring

Now, let’s dive deeper into each of these criteria.

Target Audience and Academic Level

The GMAT and ISAT tests are taken at different points in one’s academic career and for differing reasons. In the case of the GMAT, you’d take it once you’ve completed your undergraduate studies to pursue a graduate management program.

If the sciences are more your area of focus, be it at an undergraduate or graduate level, the ISAT is for you. International students looking to study a health-related program at an Australian or Irish university are required to take this test. However, not all universities consider the ISAT in their selection criteria.

Overall, while there’s an overlap in academic levels for the GMAT and ISAT, they’re taken for different career trajectories.

Skills and Knowledge Assessed

When comparing GMAT vs ISAT, the skills assessed are another consideration. The GMAT assesses a wide range of skills in written English. This includes analytical, verbal, and reading skills.

In contrast, the ISAT focuses on critical thinking and reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Therefore, these exam questions are aligned with different approaches. Let’s explore this particular differentiation in the next part.

Test Duration

The current GMAT exam is 3 hours and 7 minutes long, with a reduction to 2 hours and 15 minutes for the GMAT Focus Edition. While the ISAT is 3 hours.

Content and Structure

There are evident differences in terms of content and structure when exploring a GMAT vs ISAT comparison. The GMAT prepares you for the business world. This is a world where drawing up business proposals or talking to investors may be the norm. Therefore, the test is split into four sections and structured as follows:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment: 1 argumentative essay, 30 minutes total
  2. Integrated Reasoning: 12 various questions around multi-source reasoning, two-part analysis, and graphics and table interpretation, 30 minutes total
  3. Quantitative Reasoning: 31 multiple-choice questions, 62 minutes total
  4. Verbal Reasoning: 36 multiple-choice questions, 65 minutes total

However, those are the units for the current GMAT exam. The GMAT Focus Edition is setup as follows:

  1. Quantitative Reasoning: 21 multiple-choice questions, 45 minutes total
  2. Verbal Reasoning: 23 multiple-choice questions, 45 minutes total
  3. Data Insights: 20 multiple-choice questions, 45 minutes total

Moreover, when you arrive at the test center, you can choose which order to take the exam from the following three:

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

You’ll be glad to know you can start with any section if you’re sitting for the new GMAT Focus Edition. Therefore, if numbers are your strong suit, you might want to begin with Quantitative Reasoning.

Before diving into the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections, you’ll be given the option to take an 8-minute break. However, expect a longer 10-minute break option with the GMAT Focus Edition. While some might argue that a break will interrupt your flow, it might prove an ideal opportunity to recharge before tackling the remaining sections.

As for the ISAT, there are 100 multiple-choice questions with 4 or 5 options. The two units are:

  • Critical Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

Difficulty Level

The GMAT vs ISAT difficulty is relative to the student’s ability level but is considered moderate to difficult by most. Since the GMAT is computer adaptive, its difficulty level depends on your answers. This means if you ace the first question, the next one will be harder. However, if you answer it poorly, the next question will be of the same difficulty level or easier.

Besides the computer-adaptive nature, test takers also find the GMAT difficult because there’s limited time for each section. Test-day anxiety is also a common reason some test takers find the GMAT more difficult than others.

The GMAT Focus Edition may get a better rep for its difficulty level. While it’s still computer-adaptive, you can bookmark answers you’re unsure about and edit up to three later. This is the new Review and Edit feature, which is a complete game-changer to question-adaptive testing.

In the case of the ISAT test difficulty, it also varies from one student to another. Still, many label it as a difficult test. The questions are lengthy and can take time to read and comprehend. And since it tests one’s critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities, it may be challenging for some students.

Other factors also play a role in the ISAT vs GMAT exam difficulty, including the following:

  • Level of preparation
  • Testing environment
  • Ability to work within a time limit

Nonetheless, with adequate preparation and a test strategy, the GMAT difficulty level and ISAT test difficulty won’t deter you. Therefore, do as many mock exams as possible and enroll in a prep course if possible.

Also, the GMAT can be taken up to five times a year with a maximum of eight lifetime attempts. As such, you have plenty of opportunities to ace it.

Scoring and Score Interpretation

Understanding the differences between GMAT and ISAT scoring is also crucial when comparing the two exams. The current GMAT exam has the following scoring system and score interpretation:

  • Total GMAT Score: Based on your calculated performance before the Verbal and Quantitative sections are scored. It ranges from 200 to 800.
  • AWA: Professional essay raters and a machine algorithm score this section. It’s computed separately from multiple-choice answers of the exam. And it doesn’t affect other sections’ scores and the Total GMAT Score.
  • IR: Based on the number of questions answered correctly. The score is not included in the Total GMAT Score but is provided as an independent score.
  • QR and VR: Based on the number of questions answered, the correctness of answers, and difficulty and other parameters of questions answered. These scores are included in the Total Score.

With the new GMAT Focus Edition exam comes an updated scoring system. All three sections (QR, DI, and VR) will account for your total score ranging from 205 to 805.

A percentile ranking is assigned to the score for each section. This indicates the percentage of test takers you outperformed. For instance, a ranking of 65% means 35% of test takers did as well or better than you. While 65% performed lower than you.

The ISAT is scored on a scale of 100 to 200. Your score report will show the overall score and a score for the exam’s critical reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections. And as with the GMAT exam, your report will include a percentile rank.

Accessibility and Availability of Test Centers

Examining the GMAT vs ISAT test center accessibility and availability, both exams are widely accessible. However, the GMAT provides an in-person testing option on top of being able to take it online. In fact, there are over 500 test centers in more than 100 countries worldwide where you can take the GMAT.

In contrast, the ISAT test is administered through remote proctoring using the ProctorU platform. This involves taking the test under live supervision using your own computer. Therefore, regardless of where you live, you can take the ISAT.

Choosing Between the GMAT and ISAT: Which Test Is Right for You?

Now that you know the differences between GMAT and ISAT, you may wonder which test to take. Your north star will be your academic goals. Ultimately, you should ask yourself whether you want to gain a business or healthcare-related qualification.

The GMAT is appropriate for the former academic route, while the ISAT is ideal for the latter. If you completed an undergraduate degree in business, the next obvious step for you might be the GMAT. However, if you recently finished high school or are considering a career change with a healthcare-related focus, the ISAT could be ideal.


Exploring the GMAT vs ISAT can provide clarity on your academic journey. And it can point you in the right direction if you’re unsure what your next move should be.

The GMAT is ideal for anyone applying for a graduate management program such as an MBA. While the ISAT is used for admission to medicine, dentistry, and other healthcare-related programs in Australia and Ireland.

These tests differ in academic level, scoring, score interpretation, and test center availability and accessibility. Therefore, you should consider those differences when deciding which suits you.

The ISAT test difficulty and GMAT difficulty level are also worth considering. And you should consider whether your target universities require you to take the exam before applying for a program.

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