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Is Taking the GMAT Hard?

Basic Information About Taking the GMAT

The GMAT exam can help you be competitive in the MBA Admissions process, if you score well. Most North American MBAs and European English-language business schools require GMAT scores. The exam tests your abilities in graduate-level reading, writing, and math. But how hard is it to do well in these skills, and how hard is it to get a competitive score? This brings us to our main question….

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.

how hard is the gmat

The GMAT as a Challenge, Not an Obstacle

Yes, the GMAT is challenging.  It’s supposed to be challenging.  It’s supposed to be hard.  In mythology, the hero, at the outset of her journey, encounters the “Guardian of the Threshold,” the initial challenge she must face in order to undertake her adventure – what the Tusken Raiders were to Luke Skywalker, or what the first Nazguls were to Frodo & friends at the Prancing Pony.  This is precisely what the GMAT is for anyone keen to undertake the adventure of earning an MBA and pursuing a career in the business world.  In any context, part of the role of the Guardian of the Threshold is to separate the daring from the lily-livered, the bold & adventurous from those who would prefer to be sheepish followers.  The GMAT is hard — in preparing for it and taking it, you will take risks, experience pressure, and feel yourself stretched.  If you are the sort of person who doesn’t like risks, doesn’t like pressure, and doesn’t like to feel stretched, then it’s an excellent question why you are pursuing an MBA and a career in management in the first place!

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 would recommend no alcohol for the week leading up to your GMAT.  I would recommend not just one, but three or four consecutive nights of 8+ hours of sleep.  I would recommend lots of water, healthy snacks, and 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 remember no presidents before Clinton, 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?

In many ways, 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? To answer that question, it helps to know how others score. Only 25% 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. The average score on the GMAT (the numerical mean of everyone who takes the test) is 556.  That score won’t turn any heads for you. How hard is it to get a GMAT score of a higher caliber?
This is the “it depends …” part.  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.   If you remember the percentile of any previous standardized test, the percentile of your SAT score for example, then imagine you score at the same percentile on the GMAT—you can use this official chart to gauge what an equivalent score on the GMAT might be and the Magoosh GMAT score calculator to figure out your GMAT score.  You could also take the Magoosh GMAT Diagnostic Test, to give yourself a rough idea of your starting point.  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.  The question is: how do you improve your score?

Improve your GMAT 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.  Again, 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, consider that what’s hard about the GMAT—the intellectual challenges, the time pressure, etc.—is not too different from what’s hard about being a manager charged with important decisions in the business world: in other words, what’s “hard” about the GMAT is, in many respects, the same as what’s “hard” about the life & career you are choosing for yourself by pursuing an MBA.   If you pursue this life, that level of difficulty and challenge will become, as it were, your “new normal”—get used to this “new normal” now, and what had 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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