GMAT Exam – Alberta MBA Application Series

What is the GMAT?

The exam is designed to apply to Graduate Business education and looks at a cross-section of skills required to be successful in an MBA program.  The GMAT is a proven predictor of academic success in an MBA program.  The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test that comprises four distinct sections: Analytical Writing, Integrative Reasoning, Quantitative, and Verbal.

GMAT Test Section* # of Questions Question Types Timing
Analytical Writing Assessment 1 Topic Analysis of Argument 30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning 12 Questions Multi-Source Reasoning
Graphics Interpretation
Two-Part AnalysisTable Analysis
30 minutes
Quantitative 37 Questions Data Sufficiency

Problem Solving

75 minutes
Verbal 41 Questions Reading Comprehension
Critical ReasoningSentence Correction
75 minutes

* From

The Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, and Verbal sections are all multiple choice (including True/False or Yes/No).  The Analytical Writing section involves crafting and writing a critique of an agreement or position that you are presented with.  Each section is scored and reported separately on your GMAT score report.  However, only two sections (Quantitative & Verbal) comprise the Total score reported on the GMAT.

Total scores can range from 200 – 800, with two-thirds of all test takers scoring between 400 and 600.  We look for a Total score of 550 of higher.

Why do we ask for the GMAT?

We require applicants to submit a number of items as part of their application, including a GMAT score.  There are a few reasons why we ask candidates to submit a GMAT score.  First, it is a predictor of academic success during the MBA program.  The exam covers a range of skills that are required to be successful in an MBA program – looking at not only quantitative abilities, but also writing, communication, reasoning, and analytical abilities.  While not a perfect predictor, a candidates GMAT score is a good indicator of how successful a candidate will be on the academic side of the MBA program.

Secondly, the GMAT is in many cases the only common item across all applications.  In our program, we do look to have a fairly diverse student body from a wide range of backgrounds and industries.  For instance, in class you can run into both an individual with an Engineering degree and technical engineering experience and a Bachelor of Arts grad who has been working in the non-profit sector.  While both individuals would bring a lot into the program, the education and experience they have had would be quite different.  The GMAT acts as a common application measure between all candidates and also acts as a way to evaluate the abilities an individual may not have been able to demonstrate as clearly in their previous studies.  For an engineering grad, they may have had a lot of quantitative courses, but not many ways to demonstrate their analytical and verbal abilities in their degree.  For a Bachelor of Arts grad, the quantitative section may offer a chance to demonstrate their abilities that they didn’t complete coursework on in their studies.

The GMAT is only one part of our application and we do look at all aspects when evaluating applications.  A high GMAT score doesn’t guarantee that someone will be admitted into our program, just as a lower GMAT score doesn’t necessarily mean someone would be turned away.  It is, however, a valuable measure in evaluating applicants from diverse backgrounds.

How to approach the GMAT?

There isn’t one specific approach to preparing for the GMAT.  You will know yourself best and know how you are best able to learn and prepare.  If you learn and prepare best within a structured environment and with in-person instruction, you may want to consider a GMAT prep course.  These would allow you to learn from an instructor and go over each section of the exam.  You would also be in class with others preparing for the GMAT and these would be great individuals to form a study group with to help keep you motivated and accountable.  However, the cost of in-person prep courses is going to be higher than some of the online or self-study options out there.

Online prep courses offer the benefit of structured lessons and instruction, but can be completed on your own time and schedule.  They are also typically cheaper than in-person options.  However, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to ask questions and get some personalized and timely help from an instructor.

Self-study would typically involve using the free GMATPrep tool available through the GMAT website and working through problems in a GMAT study guide (in addition to the official guide put out by GMAT, there are many others put out by third parties).  GMAT study guides are also available through most libraries (for example, the Edmonton public library has over 40 different guides available).

Chris’s Self-Study Approach

The very first thing I did when preparing for the GMAT was to sign up with and pick a test date.  This gave me a deadline to work towards and also gave me access to their two practice tests (this has since been expanded to include a number of additional practice questions and a study guide).  I wrote one of the practice tests prior to studying or looking at the exam questions in detail.  While I obviously didn’t do very well, this was helpful in that it gave me a feel for the exam itself and also which areas I would really need to focus on while preparing for the exam.

I then bought a copy of the official study guide and committed to spending ~1 hour every day for the next month studying/preparing for the exam.  I decided to focus most of my prep time on the areas where I didn’t do well on the initial practice test, spending small amounts of time on the sections where I did well.  I just worked through some of the problems every day.  As I got closer to the exam date, I did the second practice test and based on my score felt confident heading into the exam.  I had booked a morning slot for writing the GMAT and made sure to get a good night’s sleep the day before and arrive earlier for my time slot.  In the end, I was quite pleased with my final score.

Resources to help you prepare?

The links below are to variety of sites designed to help you prepare for the GMAT.  Some are from the GMAT website, while others are from for-profit test preparation companies and free online tools.  These aren’t official endorsements, but links that may be useful.

Timeline and Study Schedules

Official GMAT Prep Timeline

GMAT Study Schedule (Magoosh)


GMAT Prep Courses

University of Alberta Faculty of Extension – GMAT Prep Course

Official GMATPrep Software

Magoosh (Online Course)

Kaplan GMAT Test Prep

Oxford Seminars  GMAT Test Prep


GMAT Clubs/Forums


Beat the GMAT


For more information on the Alberta MBA please click here.