About the GMAT

GMAT Basics

The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is a computer-based standardized test taken as part of the process of applying to graduate-level business programs. More than 5,800 programs in 82 countries use the GMAT as part of their admission criteria, including 409 schools in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The GMAT is used for admission to MBA programs, Masters of Accountancy, Masters of Public Administration and PhD programs in business as well as other graduate level business degree programs. Worldwide, the test is taken more than 250,000 times a year. The GMAT is owned and administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a non-profit council of business schools.

The number of GMAT exams taken in Western Europe is on the rise. The test was taken approximately 25,000 times in Europe last year, a 25 percent increase from four years earlier. More than 10,000 of those exams were taken in Switzerland and neighboring countries, including 4,163 in Germany, 3,768 in France, 2,030 in Italy, 559 in Switzerland and 341 in Austria. While GMAC only breaks out data on the European countries with the largest numbers of test takers, a look at some of Switzerland's neighboring countries paints a picture of some of the trends in Western Europe. For example, Swiss neighbors France, Germany and Italy were the three countries with the youngest graduate business school candidates. In each of those three countries 63 percent of GMAT takers were under the age of 25. Contrast that with the UK and Spain, where 29 percent and 23 percent of test takers respectively were under the age of 25. Although Switzerland is not among the top ten European countries in terms of number of people taking the GMAT, it appears to be a popular place to attend graduate business school. Switzerland is the sixth most popular European country to which test takers send their GMAT scores (after the UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany).

The GMAT is computer-based and administered in English. It lasts four hours (including optional breaks between sections). The test assesses skills such as analytical reasoning, quantitative thinking and communication of complex concepts – all of which are considered necessary skills for graduate-level business study.

Many prospective business school students plan to take the GMAT for the first time in the late spring or early summer so that if they are unsatisfied with their scores, there is time to retake the test before applications are due, usually in September or October. The GMAT can be retaken 31 days after the last time it was taken. On average, scores improve 30 points between the first and second time taking the test. Test takers may cancel their scores immediately after taking the test and before their scores are tabulated. (Once test takers have seen their scores they are no longer allowed to cancel them.) The 31-day waiting period for retaking the test applies even if scores are cancelled.

The GMAT Component of the Business School Application

The GMAT is a requirement for many business schools and it is an important part of the application. Many schools view the GMAT as an equalizer because it enables students from different majors, different schools and different countries to be measured using a common standard.

Most business schools publish the average GMAT scores of their last incoming class. Students can use these published average scores as reference points to identify what scores would make them viable candidates for their target schools. The average total GMAT score is around 540. IMD business school in Lausanne, for example, lists an average GMAT score for its 2012 incoming class of 670, and reports that 80 percent of candidates scored between 610 and 750. Stanford Graduate School of Business lists the highest average GMAT score at 729. Stanford says the 729 average was based on GMAT scores for accepted candidates that ranged from 550 to 790.

GMAT Format

The GMAT is administered by computer and the test is computer-adaptive. This means that as questions are answered correctly, the test gets more difficult; when test takers get questions wrong, subsequent questions become easier. The computer-adaptive format requires that test takers answer questions in order. The computer-adaptive model does not allow test takers to skip questions and return to them later. Once the test taker has moved on to the next question, the previous answer is finalized and can't be changed. The GMAT is scored based on the number of questions answered correctly as well as the level of difficulty of the questions.

The GMAT contains four sections: the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), the Integrated Reasoning section, the Verbal section and the Quantitative section.

The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment is always the first section of the test. It contains one essay topic and has a 30-minute time limit. The essay topic is in the form of an argument, and test takers must write an essay that either supports or disputes the argument's conclusion. The essays are scored partially based on content and organization – in other words, how well the writer critiques the argument and organizes thoughts to compellingly explain the argument's merits or flaws. It is also evaluated based on writing style, including grammar, punctuation and clarity of writing. The AWA score is not factored into the main total score of the test. It has it's own score that ranges from zero to six at half point intervals.

The GMAT Integrated Reasoning section, which was added to the GMAT in 2012, is designed to measure the reasoning skills used in a data-driven world. The questions in this section require test takers to interpret graphics, analyze tables, integrate data from multiple sources and solve complex problems with multiple variables. The Integrated Reasoning section contains 12 questions and has a 30-minute time limit. Like the Analytical Writing Assessment, the Integrated Reasoning section is scored separately and its score is not factored into the total score. The score for this section ranges from zero to eight in single-digit intervals. As this section is still relatively new, it is hard to say how much weight schools put on it's score, however the Integrated Reasoning score is expected to grown in significance in coming years.

The GMAT Verbal Reasoning section and GMAT Quantitative Reasoning section of the GMAT are the two most established sections. They are also the two longest, as more than 70 percent of the time taking the test is spent on these two sections. The Verbal and Quantitative sections contain 41 and 37 questions respectively and each section is 75 minutes long. The Verbal section includes reading comprehension questions, sentence correction questions that test grammar and language usage, and critical reasoning questions that measure the ability to evaluate arguments. The Quantitative section contains mathematical problems as well as "data sufficiency" questions, which ask whether there is enough information present to solve a problem. These two questions types are intermingled throughout the Quantitative section. Both question types cover a variety of mathematical areas including arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data interpretation. The GMAT total score, which is the most widely used score from the test, is made up the scores of the Verbal and Quantitative sections only.

Swiss GMAT Test Locations

The GMAT is offered in three locations in Switzerland:

Helidux Academy
Alderstrasse 40
8008 Zurich

University of St. Gallen
Gatterstrasse 3
9010 St. Gallen

Avenue des Boveressses 52
1010 Lausanne

The GMAT is offered year-round on an on-demand basis. Appointments to take the test must be scheduled centrally through the official GMAT Web site at www.mba.com.

Registering for the GMAT in Zurich

To schedule an appointment to take the GMAT in Zurich, Lausanne, St. Gallen or anywhere else, test takers must first set up an account at the official GMAT site www.mba.com. Once an account has been established, test takers must click the "find a test center" button, and enter "Zurich" or "Switzerland" into the search field. They will then see a list of testing locations in the area. In fact, the site will list the test centers over a fairly wide radius, often an area of about 250 km.

Upon selecting a location for taking the test, a calendar of available time slots will pop up and test takers can simply click on a preferred time slot and book the appointment. The process is relatively simple and can be done quickly. Rescheduling or cancelling test appointments must also be done through the Web site.