If you score well, the GMAT exam can help you be competitive in the MBA Admissions process (most North American MBAs and European English-language business schools require GMAT scores). The GMAT exam for MBA Admissions tests your abilities in graduate-level reading, writing, and math.
But how hard is the GMAT? While the test is supposed to be challenging, how hard the GMAT is depends on how you handle a 4-hour test day, the GMAT score you’re aiming for, and how much you need to improve. We’ll explore each of these aspects in this post!
Is Taking the GMAT Hard?
Great question! Let’s establish some general parameters for this. Imagine how hard it would be to put a giant squid into a half-Nelson or to climb the Matterhorn wearing rollerblades. Well, the GMAT is considerably easier than those.
If you imagine how hard it is to tie your shoes or how hard it is to eat ice cream, well, then the GMAT is harder than those. OK, OK, I am being a little facetious, but a large part of the answer to the question “How hard is the GMAT?” is the frustratingly ambiguous statement “It depends …” Let me explain.
The Physical & Logistical Demands
Simply in terms of showing up and taking the test, the GMAT is hard. From the moment you walk into the testing center and they relieve you of any indication of your individuality, until you finally emerge, it will be, at minimum, a little over four hours—four long, difficult hours.
Just to maintain concentration and focus during this, you need to be in good physical shape, well-rested, and well-nourished. I recommend doing these things:
Avoid alcohol during the week leading up to your GMAT.
Get not just one, but three or four consecutive nights of 8+ hours of sleep.
On test day, drink lots of water, eat healthy snacks, and do some stretching during the breaks.
During my own GMAT experience, I found myself running out of gas by the end of the test—this may have something to do with the fact that I am old enough to remember Nixon‘s presidency! If you are younger, then your youthful vigor will certainly help you, but even then, do not underestimate the GMAT’s difficulty—both mentally and physically.
How Difficult is it to Get a Good GMAT Score?
Often, this is really the question people are asking when they ask, “How hard is the GMAT?” Sure, any slob can waltz into the GMAT exam with no preparation, do shoddy work, and get an abysmal score without much effort. The GMAT is relatively easy if you simply don’t care how you do.
But what if you do care? Then how hard is the GMAT? This is the “it depends …” part. To answer that question, it helps to know how others score, and where your score stands.
The average score on the GMAT (the numerical mean of everyone who takes the test) is 561.
Only 27% of GMAT takers score over 650, and only 12% cross that magical 700 threshold. Something above 700 is generally what folks have in mind when they consider a “good” GMAT score.
If you regularly score in the 99th percentile of standardized tests, then getting over a 700 on the GMAT shouldn’t be too difficult with moderate preparation.
If you regularly flub standardized tests, then acing the GMAT will be that much more difficult.
To get a rough idea of your starting point, take the Magoosh GMAT Diagnostic Test.
If you’re taking practice tests at home, use the Magoosh GMAT score calculator to figure out your GMAT score.
Whatever you score cold, on a dry run before any preparation, assume it will not be hard to score this much after preparation on the real test. Now that you know how hard the GMAT may be based on your current scores, how do you improve your score?
How Hard is it to Improve Your Score?
Pushing yourself beyond what you already have achieved, pushing yourself toward your own excellence—this is always hard. Improving on the GMAT takes focus, responsibility, dedication, determination, and commitment. If these are qualities you don’t like to exercise, then the whole idea of management in the modern business world might not be for you. If you are ready to do the hard work of improving, then avail yourself of the best GMAT resources.
How much you will improve depends very much on how disciplined and how thorough you are willing to be in your preparation. Many folks dream about a spectacular performance but do only moderate preparation. Remember the Great Law of Mediocrity: if you do only what most people do, you will get only what most people get. If you want to stand out, you have to take outstanding action.
If you are willing to do outstanding work in your preparation for the GMAT, that’s very hard, but with good material, the results will really pay off.
So, How Hard is the GMAT? Hard and Not so Hard.
An ordinary soldier fears his enemy, but a samurai in kensho would experience no separation between self & other, friend & enemy, life & death.
While that mindset might seem somewhat extreme, what’s hard about the GMAT is not too different from what’s hard about being a manager charged with important decisions in the business world. You will take risks, be challenged intellectually, experience time pressure, and feel yourself stretched.
This level of difficulty and challenge will become, as it were, your “new normal.” Eventually, whatever appeared hard about the GMAT will be simply normal. When you routinely expect challenge as a matter of course, nothing is hard. That perspective is exactly what I would wish for you as you prepare for the GMAT!
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