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Test Prep: 6 Tips for GMAT Success

Think you're ready for business school? Not until you've mastered the GMAT. Here are 6 tips to help.

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The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is the standardized test most used by business schools across the country and it's an integral part in the business school admissions process. Though it seems a business-focused exam would be heavy on math, the GMAT is designed to test your overall academic aptitude—verbal and written communication are just as important in the business world as your ability to put in long hours crunching numbers.

Like the SAT and GRE, the GMAT consists of sections that will test your verbal, mathematical, and writing proficiency. Test takers are allotted three-and-a-half hours to complete the three-section test. The analytical writing section allots 30 minutes apiece for the completion of two separate essays: an analysis of an issue and an analysis of an argument. The quantitative section, which is comprised of 37 multiple-choice questions that concern data sufficiency and problem solving, follows. Students have up to 75 minutes to finish the questions. The test concludes with the verbal section. Again, students have 75 minutes to complete the 41 questions in the section, which focus on critical reasoning, sentence correction, and reading comprehension. Unlike the SAT and GRE, the score you receive is cumulative and not broken down by section. The analytical writing section does not factor into the final score, which is on a 200-to-800 point scale.

Use these six tips to help prepare for the GMAT:

1. Take it early, take it often. You saw most of the math covered in the GMAT in high school. Rather than waiting to take the GMAT after you've graduated college or even well into your working life, it's best to take the test in your sophomore or junior year of college, says Shadna Wise, executive director of graduate programs for the Princeton Review. By taking it earlier, the concepts you learned in high school, which may or may not have been revisited in an intro math class in college, are fresher in your mind and should lead you to a better score than if you are forced to relearn the material. Taking it during your years as an undergraduate is not detrimental, even though many B-schools require applicants to have a few years of work experience before applying. Your GMAT scores remain active for five years, so even if you take the test as a junior, you have a three-year window after graduating to garner the work experience that schools value before your GMAT score expires. "It's smart for someone, knowing the GMAT is going to cover those basic math principles—algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics—to actually take the GMAT while you're still in school," says Wise.

[See our Q&As with admissions officials from business schools around the country.]

2. Take economics and statistics in college. Some questions on the GMAT will test your knowledge of statistics, which isn't required in some high schools. It's best to take an intro statistics class early in college so that the content is fresh in your mind before taking the GMAT, testing experts say. Also, the GMAT doesn't directly test economics content, but a working familiarity of the subject's basic principles will help you better understand and interpret the business-focused content of the test. "[Taking an] economics [class] is good because it gives you real-life scenarios that you might see in a reading passage," says Wise. "Economics helps you take a business perspective when reading a problem, so it helps for [the] verbal [section]."

3. The verbal section matters more than you think. While there may be an emphasis on mathematics in many business school classes, precise communication skills are a necessity if you want to be a success in the business world. Not only that, they're much needed if you wish to score high marks on the GMAT. Because the quantitative and verbal scores are lumped together to create the final score, a poor showing on the verbal section can harm your overall score whether you're a math whiz or not. "If the student has suffered abysmally in English, they're not going to be able to communicate well in the form of E-mails, letters, press releases," says Wise. "If you're low in the verbal, your score is going to be lower, period. So, you want to nail it all."

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