How Hard Is The GMAT Really?

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Written by John Reed
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It can be easy to underestimate the amount of effort required to get a decent score on the Graduate Management Admission Test.

From the surface level, the test content appears rather straightforward, right?

But so many test takers, year in and out, tend to find the GMAT tough to crack, with others opting out of sitting for the exam altogether!

So how hard is the GMAT really?

Quick Summary

  • The GMAT is not necessarily a hard test, but It is tricky and mentally exerting. 
  • This exam does not necessarily require subject knowledge or memorization. Instead, more than anything, the GMAT tests your ability to reason and problem-solve within tight time constraints.
  • Scoring highly on the GMAT requires consistency and momentum going into the examination.
  • Don’t underestimate any of the sections, especially those that you assume to be easy.
  • GMAT skills and test-taking strategies can be improved, but you will need a lot of patience and dedication.

How Hard Is The GMAT?

The GMAT Focus Edition is wildly different from the previous version of this exam. The current test is shorter and even has fewer sections.

So now that Analytical Writing Assessment and Integrated Reasoning are no longer part of the test, you may be tempted to think that the GMAT has become a little easier, but that may not necessarily be the case. 

What Makes The GMAT Challenging?

You may have been performing rather well in other practice tests, but then when it comes to the Focus Edition mock tests or even the real exam, your performance ends up being underwhelming. 

So exactly what is it that contributes to the GMAT difficulty?

1. Time Pressure

Like all other standardized tests, the GMAT is a time-sensitive exam, and completing the different sections in good time is one area where many GMAT test takers tend to struggle.

Even when you have a strong foundation in the concepts, time management may still prove to be a huge challenge and a major hurdle in getting your desired GMAT score. 

How the GMAT is structured is that you have 45 minutes designated for each section of the exam, as illustrated below:

GMAT Section

No. Of Questions

Time Limit

Recommended Time Per Question

Quantitative Reasoning

21 Qns.

45 Min.

1m 50s

(Leaving 6 minutes for review)

Verbal Reasoning

23 Qns.

45 Min.

1m 44s

(Leaving 5 minutes for review)

Data Insights

20 Qns.

45 Min.

2m 15s

As you can see, it can be quite the tall order attempting to finish questions in under 2 minutes, and as such, this time constraint certainly adds a layer of difficulty to this exam.

You will need to display quick thinking and decision-making while discerning which questions to prioritize, and which ones to skip and review later.

2. Adaptive Format

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, and what this means is that throughout the exam, the difficulty level of the questions adapts successively based on your responses.

Simply put, if you are presented with a question of ‘medium’ difficulty, and you answer that correctly, then the next question will be a ‘hard’ one. If you answer it wrong, however, you will get an ‘easy’ question next.

If you answer the first question right and the next one wrong, the difficulty of the third question will balance somewhere between the levels of the difficulty of the first two questions. 

GMAT scores aren’t purely based on how many questions you get right.

Rather, it all depends on which questions you get right or wrong, how difficult these questions are, and which questions you may have left unanswered.

The complex algorithm used in the adaptive nature of administering and scoring the exam, certainly makes this exam challenging.

Some test takers score 675 with 18 wrong answers overall, while others may score a meager 635 with just 12 mistakes. 

3. Critical Thinking & Analytical Skills

From a purely content-based point of view, the GMAT isn’t challenging. It really isn’t. 

This test assesses a wide range of skills and knowledge areas, namely: 

  • Basic math skills in arithmetic and elementary algebra, and application of logic and analytical skills to these question types.
  • Your ability to read and comprehend written material and to reason and evaluate arguments.
  • Digital and data literacy, and the ability to analyze and interpret data and apply it to real-world business scenarios.

The English and Math knowledge tested is not especially difficult, and you can get by with knowledge of basic math concepts and adequate data analysis and verbal reasoning skills.

The real challenge comes in the application of this knowledge, whereby the GMAT requires you to display logical reasoning and make complex judgments while applying critical thinking, problem-solving, and data analysis and interpretation skills.

GMAT Critical Thinking & Analytical Skills

These skills can be challenging to develop, as they don’t come naturally to everyone. But even beyond that, in a GMAT scenario, you need to be able to apply them effectively under the pressure of a timed test. 

4. Test-Taking Strategies

Expect a huge chunk of your GMAT preparation time to be dedicated to learning how to employ test-taking strategies to the different test sections and question types.

You may have solid content knowledge in the subject areas but still struggle to get an above average GMAT score and the reason for this is that GMAT does not purely test intelligence.

Rather, there are many other skills that come into play if you wish to get a good GMAT score, which is where effective test-taking strategies come in handy.

Some of these GMAT strategies include:

  • Understanding the question formats
  • Correct pacing and time management
  • Mastering the art of making educated guesses when necessary
  • Learning how to  quickly and confidently answer each question, rather than spending time decoding what is being asked

The GMAT essentially boils down to a mastery of speed and accuracy, and developing the necessary strategies for this can be a challenge in itself.

Which Is The Hardest Section On The GMAT?

Ultimately, different test takers have differing opinions on which is the hardest section on the GMAT.

While those with a strong math background may breeze through the quant section, non-native English speakers may struggle with the verbal section.

Nevertheless, most test takers find quantitative reasoning to be the hardest GMAT section.

The reason behind this tends to be one of, or a combination of the following aspects:

  1. Encountering concepts that you haven’t studied before.
  2. Not fully understanding certain concepts.
  3. Seeing familiar questions that you know the answers to but feeling pressured by time.
  4. Making trivial mistakes on easy questions. 
  5. Inability to maintain a long attention span on the questions. 
  6. Completely misunderstanding what you are reading.

Most test takers who find verbal reasoning to be the hardest GMAT section typically struggle with time management whereby students struggle to find the correct pacing for the critical reasoning questions.

Data Insights is a relatively new addition to the GMAT exam, but students who have encountered it have admitted that this section turned out much tougher than they had imagined.

The two-part analysis questions are deceptively tough, whereas the multi-source reasoning questions take up a lot of time.

How Rare Is A Perfect GMAT Score?

GMAT Focus Edition is scored on a scale of  205 – 805, with 205 being the lowest score and 805 being the highest score you can attain on this test. 

Your cumulative score is based on all sections of the exam i.e. Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Data Insights, with all 3 sections being weighted equally towards the total score. 

A perfect GMAT score would translate into scoring above the 99th percentile, therefore placing you in the top 1% of overall test takers.

On the GMAT Focus, a perfect score translates to anything above 705 which is the 99th percentile marker.

GMAT Focus Edition

Total Score

Percentile Ranking

735 - 805


705 - 725








Attaining a perfect GMAT score is an extremely rare feat, typically reserved for GMAT tutors who have been honing their test-taking skills for years. 

GMAT Perfect Score

The reason why a GMAT score of 805 is nearly unobtainable, is because answering 100% of the questions correctly on an adaptive test such as the GMAT is an incredibly difficult task that may rely on a healthy dose of luck. 

The good news, however, is that a perfect GMAT score isn’t required to secure admission into a prestigious business school. 

Why Is It Hard To Score Above 730 On The GMAT?

As per the GMAT score concordance table, a 730 on the GMAT Classic version is equivalent to a 685 on the GMAT Focus Edition, both of which fall in the 97th percentile.

Scoring in the top 3% of test takers on the GMAT requires a higher level of precision in your work, including how you approach questions, and finding ways to make your problem-solving more efficient. 

This requires determination and persistence, as you regularly assess your progress through the official GMAT practice tests and continuously adjust your strategies as needed, for utmost efficiency.

Scoring a 730+ on the GMAT  will require you to answer all the easy and intermediate questions correctly, with absolute speed and accuracy, and then you can invest the extra time on the hard questions.

Ideally, this kind of elite score demands improved methodology and focus on logic, as well as confidence in your responses.

How Long Does It Take To Prepare For The GMAT?

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, it takes 6 weeks to prepare for the GMAT, if you study using the official GMAT Focus Prep materials.

If you are aiming to score above the 75th percentile, however, you are going to need significantly more study time to work on your skills and strategies, perhaps about 3 months or so. 

How To Make The GMAT Less Challenging

To make the GMAT less challenging, you will need to develop a mastery of every aspect of this exam. 

How To Efficiently Prepare For The GMAT Exam

Step 1: Start by deciding what a suitable GMAT score is according to you. This will help give you purpose and clarity of action.

Step 2: Take a diagnostic test so you can assess the gap between your current level of preparation, and your target score.

Step 3: Gather your study resources, whether that’s GMAT books for self-study, a tutor, or a prep course.

Make sure you pick the right study materials and ensure to make use of the official GMAT prep material provided by GMAC.

Step 4: Develop a comprehensive study plan that encompasses all 3 GMAT sections.

Keep in mind that you will need to study frequently, consistently putting in hours of focused study time. 

Step 5: Every week, make a point to drill your skills by taking mock full-length practice tests and thoroughly analyzing your performance thereafter.

The goal here is to not only assess your study progress but also allow yourself to try out different strategies.

Practice regularly, almost obsessively even, focusing on time management and accuracy. 

GMAT Consistent Practice

Step 6: In addition to finding a GMAT study buddy, make use of online resources such as the GMAT Club.

The GMAT is a mentally challenging test that requires adequate commitment and practice. 

You need to stay consistent, patient, and focused, dedicatedly drilling your skills and developing efficient strategies so that these become second nature to you.

Tips And Strategies To Ace The GMAT

  • Familiarize yourself with the GMAT syllabus and the GMAT exam pattern.

Most questions on the GMAT are pattern-based, generally, especially when it comes to quantitative reasoning. Only the hardest questions aren’t pattern-based.

As such, covering the GMAT Official Guide will help familiarize you with the exam’s question structure, by exposing you to a wide array of question types you are likely to encounter on the GMAT.

In the OG, you can bet on seeing most of the easy and medium patterns, and even some hard ones as well. 

Besides question patterns, make a genuine attempt to really understand the answer explanations provided, so you can get a better idea of the type of answers GMAC is looking for. 

  • Develop your internal clock.

The more you look at the clock or think about timing strategy during the exam, the less mental energy you will have to solve problems.

The key to success in GMAT time management is to develop your internal clock. 

By internalizing benchmarks and skipping strategy during your GMAT prep, you should be able to get a reasonably accurate sense of how long you’ve spent on a question and how much time you have left to find your answer.

  • Be flexible.

You will need to be adaptable during the test, adjusting your strategy based on the question type and difficulty. 

Don’t obsess over one tricky question you cannot seem to find the answer to. Rather, recognizing when to move on is essential.

FAQs About The Difficulty Of The GMAT Test

How Hard Is GMAT Compared To GRE?

Overall, the GMAT is harder than the GRE.

Compared to the GRE, the GMAT has a harder quantitative reasoning section, and the data insights section is also very business-focused, demanding data literacy from test takers.

Not to mention that many GMAT questions require logical reasoning, which isn’t the case with the GRE. 

How Hard Is It To Pass The GMAT?

It is not too hard to pass the GMAT. However, scoring highly on the GMAT requires significant preparation and dedication.

The real challenge comes in whereby getting a high GMAT score requires you to deal with tough questions during the exam, and seeing as this is an adaptive test, the questions only get tougher as you go along.

As such, handling these kinds of questions demands high-level skills of knowledge application, and honing these skills takes significant practice, time, and patience. 

Can The GMAT Be Difficult For Non-Native English Speakers?

Yes, the GMAT can be slightly difficult for non-English speakers, particularly when it comes to the verbal reasoning section. 

That being said, the GMAT doesn’t test your flawlessness in understanding English grammar. So you can do just fine with a basic understanding of English.

Is A 700 GMAT Good Enough For Harvard?

Harvard Business School does not have a minimum GMAT score requirement. 

That being said, according to their most recent class admissions profile, the average GMAT score of admitted students was 740.

So yes, a 700 GMAT may be good enough for Harvard, but there are no guarantees. 

Can I Retake The GMAT If I Am Not Satisfied With My Score?

Yes, the GMAT allows for 5 exam attempts during a rolling 12-month period, and you can take the test up to 8 times in your lifetime.

John Reed
The chief editor of I am an alumni of the university of Pennsylvania and my goal with the website is to help future graduates with their tests.

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