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What makes GMAT unique

Unlike in the Common Admissions Test (CAT), candidates appearing for this computer-adaptive exam can’t skip even a single question

education Updated: May 29, 2012 12:47 IST
Naveenan Ramachandran

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer adaptive test in mathematics and English language. It is intended to measure a candidate’s ability to succeed academically in graduate business programmes. It is administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) via various test centres across the world.

Knowing the structure of the test is an important step in preparing for it.

What is an adaptive test?

Adaptiveness applies only to the quantitative and verbal sections of the GMAT.

This is how it works — the GMAT test software has access to a huge repository of questions and each question has a difficulty level associated with it. The software selects a test with medium difficulty to start with. The candidates provide their answers to the questions. You cannot skip any question. The test software scores your answer and uses the accuracy of the answer to decide the difficulty level of the next question. Each question thus gets selected on the basis of the accuracy of the responses to the previous questions and candidates should realise the importance of every question in the test.

Parts of the whole

The GMAT, which is overall a four-hour test, has three parts:
* Analytical writing assessment — this involves writing two essays in 30 minutes each
* Quantitative section — answering 37 maths questions in 75 minutes
* Verbal section — answering 41 English questions in 75 minutes. All the questions in the second and third sections are multiple choice questions with five options each.

There is an optional eight-minute break between each of the three sections.

No skipping questions
In direct contrast to the CAT, where candidates are trained to only answer those questions that they are completely confident about, the GMAT does not offer candidates the luxury of picking and choosing the questions. Each question has to be answered and until one answers the question, the test software will not move on to the next question.

No going back
The other impact of this adaptive methodology is that students cannot go back to a previous question after answering it and moving on to the subsequent questions.

Consider a candidate who chose ‘B’ as an answer to question number 25 in the mathematics section. Let us assume that the correct answer was, in fact, ‘E’. Upon receiving a confirmation for ‘B’, the test software evaluates it, realises that the response is inaccurate and uses this piece of information to decide the next question. While working on question number 26, if the candidate realises that the answer to the previous questions was choice ‘E’, there is nothing that he or she can do about it. Accuracy is essential in the GMAT because you get only one chance at attempting a question.

No selecting the order of questions
Questions are issued one after the other without giving candidates the option to retract to previous questions. In CAT, if you are more comfortable with reading comprehension, you can attempt all those questions before answering the other questions. GMAT does not allow this. Questions cannot be answered in any random order, but only in the order they are served in.

Rahul Nath, age 29 an MBA from Wharton and now an associate at a management consultancy at New York

I did my high school in Dehradun, my hometown, from St Joseph’s Academy. I left India after Std 10 in Dec 1998 when I accepted the Singapore Airlines Youth scholarship for a two-year Junior College programme at Temasek Junior College, Singapore. (Junior college is equivalent to Class 11 and 12 in India). I completed my GCE Advanced level there and then did my bachelor’s degree (B.E.) in computer engineering with a minor in business from NTU.

I graduated with an MBA degree from Wharton in May 2011. My time at Citi (Citibank Singapore Ltd) was a great learning experience but I wanted to get an MBA to upgrade my skills as well as transition into a career in management consulting, a profession I had long been curious about. I took my GMAT in 2008. I spent around six weeks preparing for it -- on my own. I read the Princeton GMAT prep book from cover to cover and did practice questions from that as well as from the Original GMAT Guide book published by the GMAC. I also took a couple of mock tests online to test my timing as well as to get used to the format of the exam. On average I spent around 1.5-2 hours every day after I got back from work. Towards the last few days I put in three-four hours on average.

I think Indian students in general have a strong quantitative foundation and do well on the quantitative part — the maths is pretty basic, no advanced concepts. It’s more about application, getting used to the language and format of the questions and not making careless mistakes on easy-looking questions. That is pretty much about practising. Timing is an important factor too and keeping your nerve under the constant time pressure is key.

The verbal part is more challenging. I found it really helpful to carefully read through all the chapters of the Princeton Review that related to the verbal sections.

Again, practising several questions allows you to get familiar with the way the questions are asked and there are some helpful tips in the Original GMAT guide as well.

Lastly, in the online tests, I tried to simulate the test situation as closely as possible and kept a close check on time. That was really helpful in the final test where I had midway checkpoints on timing to track my progress.

Coordinated by Rahat Bano

The author is an alumnus of IIM-A and is currently running 4GMAT in Mumbai.