How hard is the GMAT?

How hard is the GMAT? Great question! Imagine how difficult it would be to put a giant squid into a half-Nelson or to climb the Matterhorn wearing rollerblades. Thankfully, the GMAT is considerably easier than those.

  • While the test is supposed to be challenging, how hard the GMAT is depends on how you handle a 4-hour test day, the GMAT score you’re aiming for, and how much you need to improve.

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 recommend doing these things:

  • Avoid alcohol during the week leading up to your GMAT.
  • Get not just one, but three or four consecutive nights of 8+ hours of sleep.
  • On test day, drink lots of water, eat healthy snacks, and do 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 are younger, 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?

Often, 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 difficult is the GMAT, and is it possible for you to ace the GMAT? This is the “it depends …” part. To answer that question, it helps to know how others score, and where your score stands.

  • The average score on the GMAT (the numerical mean of everyone who takes the test) is 564.84.
  • Only 27% 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.
  • If you regularly score in the 99th percentile of standardized tests, then getting over a 700 on the GMAT (aka “acing 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.
  • To get a rough idea of your starting point, take the Magoosh GMAT Diagnostic Test.
  • If you’re taking practice tests at home, use the Magoosh GMAT score calculator to figure out your GMAT score.

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. Now that you know how hard the GMAT may be based on your current scores, how do you improve your score?

How Hard is it to Improve Your Score?

It’s one of the biggest GMAT myths that you can get a huge jump in your score really quickly. But can you improve it? Absolutely. How much you can improve it depends on you.

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.  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 acing the GMAT 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, what’s hard about the GMAT is not too different from what’s hard about being a manager charged with important decisions in the business world. You will take risks, be challenged intellectually, experience time pressure, and feel yourself stretched.

This level of difficulty and challenge will become, as it were, your “new normal.” Eventually, whatever 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!

Ready to get an awesome GMAT score? Start here.

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  • Mike MᶜGarry

    Mike served as a GMAT Expert at Magoosh, helping create hundreds of lesson videos and practice questions to help guide GMAT students to success. He was also featured as "member of the month" for over two years at GMAT Club. Mike holds an A.B. in Physics (graduating magna cum laude) and an M.T.S. in Religions of the World, both from Harvard. Beyond standardized testing, Mike has over 20 years of both private and public high school teaching experience specializing in math and physics. In his free time, Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Learn more about the GMAT through Mike's Youtube video explanations and resources like What is a Good GMAT Score? and the GMAT Diagnostic Test.

16 Responses to How hard is the GMAT?

  1. Keosha July 16, 2020 at 6:51 am #

    I am a sophomore. Should I start preparing for GMAT from now?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 24, 2020 at 10:03 am #

      Hi Keosha,

      We generally wouldn’t recommend starting a study schedule until you are ready to commit to taking the test. This is to avoid burnout and allow you to really maximize your study time. The GMAT skills are also very specific, and you run the risk of forgetting important concepts and methods if you take too long to study. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to prepare, though! You can start to use our flashcards to familiarize yourself with some of the content on the exam. You can also work on your general reading comprehension skills by reading high quality articles and taking note of grammar and argument structure. This will help you with the big picture skills that you need for success on the GMAT.

  2. Federico Vazquez August 24, 2018 at 10:38 am #


    I am wanting to major in Accounting or Marketing. I work hard in school and I’m currently in community college right now. I’m worried about the exam because I sometimes get test anxiety when it comes to these high stakes test. I wasn’t a good SAT or ACT taker in high school but will it be the same for GMAT? What should I do right now? I really want to earn a masters since that is my maximum education I am willing to take.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 24, 2018 at 10:53 am #

      Hi Federico,

      The GMAT is similar to the SAT and ACT in many ways. So if you had struggles with the SAT and ACT, you may face similar challenges with the GMAT when you first start studying it.

      Now, here’s the good news: it sounds like your main challenge is test anxiety and perhaps also standardized test strategy. Those challenges can be overcome far more quickly than content-based challenges such as low knowledge of math or vocabulary. 🙂 Not only that, but since you’ve already taken the SAT/ACT, you can look back on how you handled those challenges in the past, learn from that experience, and be much more ready to master strategy and conquer anxiety on your grad school entrance exam.

      The other good news is that you have a lot of time to become GMAT-ready. If you’re in community college right now, you must be at the equivalent of first or second year in a bachelor’s degree. This gives you at least 2-3 years before you’d have a bachelors and have possible eligibility for a Masters. So you have 2-3 years to start getting acquainted with the GMAT and build up those grad school entrance exam skills.

      In fact, you may have even more time. Typically, someone with a degree in accounting and marketing works full time for a while after graduation, before going back to their MBAs. This can even be a necessity, as many top MBA programs require a certain amount of work experience as well as a good GMAT score. As you work, youc an also continue to build GMAT skills in your spare time.

      So you’ve got plenty of time. Use that time well, and I’d say your prospects of getting a good GMAT score are very hopeful. 🙂

  3. Shweta January 31, 2018 at 11:32 pm #

    There is any negative marking opt a wrong answer?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 2, 2018 at 12:49 pm #

      Hi Shweta,

      Good question. 🙂 Strictly speaking, no, there is not any negative marking. But as the test adapts based on every answer you give, some might argue that this is sort of negative marking because you may lose points according to the algorithm’s assessment of your performance.

  4. Ben Parker December 4, 2017 at 4:21 am #


    Very Informative post. I have one question. Can studying for 8 hours a day improve my GMAT score?

    Waiting for your reply.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 4, 2017 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for reaching out! With all due respect, I think you are asking the wrong questions here 😀 The key to success in the GMAT is not so much quantity as quality. Of course, it’s always better to study for more hours (we recommend between 100-170 total, you can read about it here), but it’s also important to spread out your studies over several weeks or months because it allows your brain to process the information, make connections, and learn more effectively. So, for example, it’s better to study 4 hours a day over 8 weeks than 8 hours a day over 4 weeks, because your brain has more time to remember, connect and learn. It’s very difficult to learn effectively for 8 hours straight, so your study time will not be as efficient, and you have a greater possibility for burn-out 🙂

      That being said, everyone’s GMAT timeline is different, and everyone learns in different ways. I encourage you to consider this as you plan out your studies for the GMAT. And remember: those hours are wasted if you don’t use high quality study materials and strategies! Our study schedules gives you an idea of what is required for success on the GMAT, and provides you with resources and advice to make the most of this time 🙂 Good luck!

  5. ปั้มไลค์ February 15, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    I blog frequently and I seriously thank you for your
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    • Pascal February 10, 2017 at 2:13 pm #

      It’s not peaked, it’s piqued. Just fyi.

      • Drew Moore June 18, 2017 at 5:05 pm #

        lol I literally was typing this when I read your comment. Good catch.

  6. Jeremy January 30, 2016 at 6:16 am #

    Thank you for your feedback, this is exactly what I was looking for. Maybe what could be added is the difficulty according to where you come from : business school, engineering school and other fields.

  7. Mohammed Umar khan January 2, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    i am a gmat aspirant …and was looking for something as clear and motivating as this…all the areas of my doubts are covered.
    Thank you mate.

  8. Mauricio November 26, 2015 at 8:49 pm #

    Is it true that your score in the GMAT is related to your IQ level or Math ability? I once heard a GMAT teacher say that no matter how hard you work, if you have an average IQ, you will never get a great GMAT score (not precisely meaning 700 but even less). I’ve read a couple of Magoosh blogs on the topic and when you talk about how good can you do in the GMAT, it seems you only need hard work, responsibility, focus, etc; but you never mention IQ or natural ability for Math. Don’t you think this is the true key element? Thanks!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 2, 2016 at 6:53 am #

      Hi Mauricio,

      Sorry for the very late reply to this! I think it is an interesting question, though, and I want to answer it for you and anyone else wondering the same thing.

      There is likely some kind of relationship between IQ and test scores, but your IQ/intelligence is only one part of what a test like the GMAT measures. You also must understanding test-taking skills, be part of a culture that values tests, know the way the test will ask you questions, and understand the goals of the test itself. Not everyone can get a perfect score, but anyone can improve their performance and learn to do better by working hard and focusing on their shortcomings. I believe what separates classes of students more than anything is their determination to continue trying and their ability to be introspective and recognize how to address weaknesses.

      I hope that sheds some light on our approach to test prep. Not everyone can get an 800, but any student can improve and score their best through thorough study!

  9. Vinodh June 25, 2015 at 1:17 am #

    Very useful information and good guidelines provided, thank you for sharing your experience…

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

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