Earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree can be a great investment in your future. Plus, convenient options like the seven online MBA programs offered by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) give you the flexibility to keep working while you earn your degree. This online MBA model can make advanced education much more accessible to modern professionals.

However, even with the convenience of online education, there are still challenges you may face in going back to school, such as the application process. The business school application process takes several factors into consideration. One of them is your score on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) — the makers of the GMAT — recently updated and redesigned the exam to be the GMAT Focus Edition. The new exam reflects the changing proficiencies needed to succeed in business school and the business world beyond, though it will still be known as the GMAT Exam. If you are thinking about applying to an MBA program, you will need to learn the ins and outs of this redesigned and influential test.

What Is the GMAT Focus Edition?

The GMAT Focus Edition provides an objective measure of a candidate’s proficiency in the skills most important to success in business school. These include critical-thinking, problem solving and data analysis skills. The test also measures business school applicants’ command of basic arithmetic, algebra and other quantitative skills.

According to GMAC, the updated exam “continues the legacy of being the only graduate business entrance exam that uncovers motivated and qualified candidates who will be successful in the classroom and beyond.” More than 7,700 business programs at over 2,400 institutions worldwide accept GMAT Exam scores as part of the admissions process.

The New GMAT Focus Edition Exam Structure

The computer-based, multiple-choice test is two hours and 15 minutes long and consists of three 45-minute sections. There is also the option to take one 10-minute break during the test (in between sections). The GMAT Focus Edition produces a composite score ranging from 205 to 805 based on equally weighted scores from the test sections. Each section has an independent score range from 60 to 90. The new GMAT Focus Edition test sections are as follows:

  • Quantitative Reasoning (21 questions)
  • Verbal Reasoning (23 questions)
  • Data Insights (20 questions)

As you may notice, the total score and the individual section score ranges don’t match up directly. Plus, the total score range of the new version of the exam is offset by five points compared to the old GMAT, which had a total score range of 205 to 805. This is due to various reasons:

  • The shifted total score range allows schools and students to differentiate new Focus Edition exam scores from scores on the previous version of the exam.
  • Scores are computed using complex algorithms and percentile rankings based on the entire test-taker population, weighting individual sections, question difficulty and more.
  • Many students used to aim for an 89th percentile score of roughly 700, whereas changes in the scoring structure result in 645 being the new 89th percentile score, reflecting the evolving, diverse body of global test takers.

It is important to research and understand changes to the revised exam and what those changes mean for your GMAT prep and business school application journey.

How to Prepare for the GMAT

The best way to get ready for this exam is with preparatory courses or books and practice tests, whether through GMAC’s official prep program or via free or paid third party providers. These resources help you to understand the structure of the test, the kinds of questions it includes and how to build up your proficiency with the tested subjects.

Many of the books contain practice questions and exams, but taking an online practice exam more accurately simulates the GMAT experience. These tests can provide you with specific feedback on areas for improvement. Additionally, a computer-based online test can better simulate the computer-adaptive nature of the GMAT, giving you a more accurate feeling for how this test design works in action.

Tips for Exam Day

A few basic tips can help you make it through exam day successfully. Understanding unique design concepts that underpin the GMAT can also help you maximize your potential score. Consider the following:

  • It is a computer-adaptive exam. This means the test changes based on the number of questions you answer correctly as well as the difficulty level of those questions. Sections begin with a medium-difficulty question, and the questions get harder if you get the answers correct — and easier if you do not. The computer is homing in on your skill level, and it also weights questions that appear early more than those that appear later. Counterintuitively, a difficult string of questions that are hard to answer may mean you are doing well, and the test is adjusting to challenge you more. Try not to over-analyze — just relax, focus and do your best.
  • Use intelligent guesses. Remember, one of the test objectives is to determine your logic and reasoning capabilities, so use the process of elimination to rule out wrong answers. By doing this, you will increase your odds of identifying the correct answer: it is always easier to guess between two possibilities than three or more.
  • There’s always a faster way. Especially the quantitative section, the GMAT often requires creative problem-solving. This means that doing a problem in the most straightforward way isn’t always the best option. There are often faster ways to solve quant problems with strategies like estimation, back solving, testing numbers and plugging in values. If you find yourself tackling a problem in a way that will likely take longer than two minutes, pause for a few seconds. Ask yourself, is there a faster way to complete this problem?
  • Answer all questions. There is a penalty for unanswered questions. So, guess on any questions you left unanswered, rather than leaving them blank. Because the test is multiple choice, making sure you answer all questions will likely yield a higher score than leaving them unanswered.
  • You can change (some of) your answers. The new GMAT Focus Edition added a “Question Review & Edit” tool. This tool allows you to bookmark tricky questions as you progress through the test. At the end of each test section — if you have time remaining — you can review the questions you flagged and change up to three of your answers. In this way, you can avoid wasting valuable time on challenging questions while taking the test.
  • Remember to breathe. People can get flustered and nervous when taking the GMAT, which can lead to mistakes. It is important to remain as calm as you can. Taking a deep breath every few questions can help. You can also help yourself remain calm by completing adequate GMAT preparation before the test — doing at least five full-length practice exams is a good rule-of-thumb. Finally, make sure that you take full advantage of the optional break during the actual GMAT — whatever you can do to relax, clear your mind or have a little fun can help you start the next section refreshed and ready to succeed.

You May Qualify for a Waived GMAT Requirement

Many MBA programs require that applicants submit either GMAT or GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores for consideration. However, there are conditions under which admissions may waive this requirement. For instance, TAMU-CC’s online MBA programs waive the GMAT requirement for students with a 3.0 GPA or better in the last 60 hours. In addition, applicants with a GPA of 2.75 to 2.99 in the last 60 hours don’t have to submit GMAT scores immediately if they meet further conditional requirements.

As you go through this process, keep in mind that GMAT preparation helps to bridge the transition between where you are now and where you need to be in your preparedness for business school. Whether you are working or have just finished your undergraduate studies, approach the GMAT with this positive attitude and prepare to excel — on the exam and in business school.

Learn more about TAMU-CC’s online MBA programs.