What Does The GMAT Really Measure?

The following is a guest post written by Mark Skoskiewicz, founder of MyGuru Academic Tutoring and Test Prep.

What the GMAT measures

The GMAT, as you probably know, is a standardized exam used by business schools to help them assess the qualifications of candidates for advanced study in business and management (primarily MBA, but it’s also used for PhD applicants).

The GMAT exam measures are designed to test skills that are highly important to business and management programs. It assesses analytical writing and problem-solving abilities, along with the data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills that are vital to real-world business and management success.

You’ll also read that these are skills you have developed and honed over many years through education and work (which may or may not be true). However, the above paragraph really doesn’t tell the whole story.

What the GMAT is not?

Let’s start with what the GMAT is not. The above paragraph gives a good overview of what creators of the GMAT communicate about what the GMAT measures. It’s helpful, but it’s not all-encompassing.

When conducting GMAT tutoring at MyGuru, the way I like to start describing what the GMAT measures are by instead describing what the GMAT is not:

  • a grueling math aptitude test. In fact, the actual math skills tested on the GMAT are generally basic and at the 9th and 10th grade U.S. levels. It’s the framing of the questions and the required in round 2 MBA applications of the relatively basic mathematical skills that make GMAT math seem daunting.
  • a test of the English language. A strong command of English is important and very helpful, but it’s not fundamentally an English test.
  • a test of business concepts or topics. No subject matter knowledge is required to excel on the exam.

It’s not even an IQ test. Being naturally more intelligent (as GMAT measured by IQ) doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a good GMAT score than someone with a lower IQ.

What the GMAT is?

You are now probably wondering what the GMAT is. The GMAT is fundamental:

  • quantitative, verbal, and integrated (i.e., reading and calculating in the context of charts and graphs) reasoning skills that can be built through practice
  • a test of how you think
  • measure GMAT ability using the tools you have and make decisions under time pressure
  • willingness and ability to study for an unfamiliar test

Let’s explore the importance of that last point about it being an unfamiliar test.

The GMAT has a range of math topics that, while basic, must be applied in the context of complex and generally strange word problems. It also tests some math topics that, while basic, you may not have seen for 10+ years. And, in the case of probability and number theory, may address some basic math topics that you’ve actually never been exposed to.

It has a “data sufficiency” question type that is probably unlike anything you’ve seen before. It has an integrated reasoning section that may be completely novel to you. And the reading comprehension section requires you to read detailed, complex arguments and pick apart what’s relevant quickly. It’s a strange and difficult test.

What does the GMAT really measure?

So, with all that said, what does the GMAT really measure? How to measure GMAT ability? I like to say that the GMAT really measures six things:

  1. Analytical skills note, this clearly includes the ability to do relatively simple math calculations quickly in your head, which is a learnable skill, but one which many students need to build over time. The GMAT tests prep your mental math skills.
  2. Reading comprehension skills
  3. Critical thinking skills
  4. Decision-Making skills
  5. Time management skills
  6. Your willingness/ability to study for an unfamiliar test

About the Author

Mark Skoskiewicz earned a B.S. in Business from Indiana University and an MBA from Northwestern-Kellogg. He’s spent 10+ years as a business strategy consultant(most recently at TRC Advisory) and founded MyGuru, a 1-1 tutoring and test prep, in 2009. MyGuru recently partnered with Admit Master to launch a unique small group GMAT class in Chicago.