When it comes to taking the GMAT, preparation is key. On average, students who scored a 700 or above prepared for an impressive 121 hours before taking the exam.
This full GMAT syllabus will help you join that group of well-prepared high scorers. You’ll learn everything you need to know about the GMAT, plus get some key tips on how to design an effective study plan.
Let’s start with a general introduction to the GMAT.
Meet the GMAT: What You Need to Know
Before getting to the complete GMAT exam syllabus, there are a few things you should know about the test. The GMAT is a computer-based test administered at test centers throughout the world. It doesn’t have set test dates, but rather is given on an on-demand basis almost every day of the year.
The entire test is multiple choice, with the exception of the first section, which asks you to write a 30-minute essay. You’ll get one question at a time and can never skip or return to questions.
Each section is strictly timed, and you’ll see a timer counting down how many minutes and seconds you have left. You’re responsible for getting to all of the questions in time, or you’ll face a severe score penalty.
Two of the four GMAT sections are adaptive, meaning that the questions you get are tailored to your ability level. You’ll start out with some medium level questions, and subsequent ones will get easier or harder depending on how you’re doing. Because of this adaptive format, everyone gets a slightly different version of the GMAT.
Before you start the GMAT on test day, you’ll agree to a nondisclosure agreement and choose up to five score recipients. After you take the test, you’ll get to see most of your scores and can decide whether to keep or cancel them. If you decide to cancel them, they won’t show up on any score reports.
Now that you have a general sense of GMAT logistics and what to expect on test day, let’s take a closer look at the structure of the exam itself.
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GMAT Syllabus: Full Structure of the Test
The GMAT has four sections: Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, and Verbal. The AWA and Integrated Reasoning sections are 30 minutes each, while the Quantitative and Verbal sections are 75 minutes.
In total, the GMAT is three and a half hours, plus you have the option of two eight-minute breaks. To break it down for you, the chart below shows the length of each GMAT section, how many questions it contains, and how much time you have, on average, to answer each question.
|Section||Time||Number of Questions||Average Time per Question|
|Analytical Writing Assessment||30 minutes||1 essay question||30 minutes|
|Integrated Reasoning||30 minutes||12 questions||2 ½ minutes|
|Quantitative||75 minutes||37 questions||2 minutes|
|Verbal||75 minutes||41 questions||1 minute and 48 seconds|
|Total time:||3 hours, 30 minutes (not including breaks)||Average time/question:||2 minutes (excluding AWA section)|
This average time per question is just an estimate for your benefit. You’re responsible for getting to all of the questions in time and can divide your time however you see fit. That being said, you don’t want to waste too much time on a single question and then find yourself rushing through the remaining ones.
You get to choose one of three orders for the GMAT sections:
- Option 1: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal
- Option 2: Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
- Option 3: Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
We’ve covered the overall structure of the GMAT, but what do you need to know about each section? Let’s delve into the skills, content, and question types of each section. We’ll use the standard GMAT section order (option 1 above), starting with the syllabus for GMAT AWA.
GMAT Section 1: Analytical Writing Assessment
Your first section on the GMAT exam syllabus is the Analytical Writing Assessment, or essay. First, you’ll get a tutorial with a 10-minute limit that gives you instructions for writing your essay and using the text box.
You can click through at any time to start the essay, at which point the 30-minute timer will start ticking. You’ll get a short prompt that features an argument. Here’s one example of an AWA prompt, but you can find the full list of AWA prompts here.
The following appeared in the editorial section of a monthly business news magazine:
“Most companies would agree that as the risk of physical injury occurring on the job increases, the wages paid to employees should also increase. Hence it makes financial sense for employers to make the workplace safer: they could thus reduce their payroll expenses and save money.”
After the prompt, you’ll get the following instructions:
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion.
You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.
As you can see, your job is not to present your own opinions, but rather to evaluate critically a given argument. What else should you keep in mind as you prepare for the AWA section of the GMAT?
Tips for the AWA section
As with all sections of the GMAT, time management on the AWA section is crucial. You’ll have just 30 minutes to produce a well-structured essay. It can help to divide your time up among planning, drafting, and revising.
For instance, you might spend three to five minutes reading the prompt and outlining your essay. Then, you could spend between 20 and 24 minutes drafting the essay. At the end, leave three to five minutes for editing and revising.
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Rather than starting to write immediately, you should take a few minutes to write down your two to three main points and supporting examples. Writing a well-structured, well-organized essay is essential for getting a high score, so taking some time to plan before you start drafting is an important first step.
Before the test, you should also learn the 10-minute tutorial so you don’t have to read it too closely on test day. The tutorial gives you useful tips about writing your essay, as it reminds you to,
- Evaluate the argument and plan a response before you begin writing
- Organize your ideas and develop them fully
- Provide relevant supporting reasons and examples
- Remember that you’re not providing your own opinion, but rather evaluating the strength of an argument and what evidence could strengthen or weaken it
You should further familiarize yourself with the rubric that graders (one human, one machine) use to score your essay between 1 and 6. Plus, you can read sample essays to see which ones are successful and which ones fall flat.
Finally, writing your own practice essays under 30-minute time limits will help you sharpen your skills. You can practice with official GMAT prompts and get better at writing well-reasoned, clearly structured essays in just 30 minutes.
Next up is the syllabus for GMAT Integrated Reasoning.
GMAT Section 2: Integrated Reasoning Section
The Integrated Reasoning (IR) section is the most recent addition to the GMAT. It was introduced in 2012 as a way to bring skills of data interpretation into the test.
This 30-minute section asks 12 questions, and it’s not adaptive like the Quantitative and Verbal sections. Each question is multi-part, but there’s no partial credit for IR questions. You must get all parts of a problem correct to get credit.
There are four types of questions in the IR section: table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning, and two-part analysis. You’ll find a variety of graphs, charts, tables, and other graphics throughout the section, as well as short to medium-length passages.
Many of the questions call on you to sort and organize information. You’ll get a variety of drop-down menus that let you rearrange data.
Some questions require you to crunch some numbers, so you’ll have use of an on-screen calculator in this section. IR is the only section on the GMAT where you can use a calculator.
Let’s look at a few sample questions of each of the four types of IR questions.
Integrated Reasoning Sample Questions
As you just read, there are four types of questions in the IR section. Here’s an official sample of each one. Note that the examples below are screenshots of official practice questions. On the real test, you’ll be able to click through tabs, use drop-down menus, and reorganize data to answer the questions.
As you can see, each question type has several parts, and you’ll need to be comfortable interpreting and comparing data from a variety of sources and graphics. What else can you do to prepare for the IR section?
Tips for Integrated Reasoning Section
The IR section is all about data interpretation. You need to be able to read tables, charts, graphs, and passages, to pick out relevant points, and to synthesize data from multiple sources.
To get ready, you should first review how to analyze different types of graphics, like bar graphs, scatter plots, and pie charts. You should become comfortable with these graphics and sharpen your speed-reading skills.
You should also try sample IR questions and take practice tests to familiarize yourself with the unique format of this section. You’ll have to learn how to click through tabs, organize data, and use the on-screen calculator.
These questions ask you to look at multiple sources, analyze evidence, discern main points, and make inferences. The more you practice with realistic IR practice questions, the more prepared you’ll be to tackle this tricky section.
Now that you know the basics of the IR section, let’s move on to the GMAT quant syllabus.
GMAT Section 3: Quantitative Section
The Quantitative section asks 37 math questions in 75 minutes. It’s your first adaptive section, so the difficulty levels of the questions will go up and down along with your performance.
GMAT math questions mainly ask about arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. You’ll also get some word problems. Unlike the IR section, you can’t use a calculator here. You will get note boards and markers to write out your work.
There are two types of questions in the Quantitative section, problem solving questions and data sufficiency questions. Problem solving questions are typical math problems that you’ve probably seen on dozens of math tests in or after high school. Here’s one example of a problem solving question that involves fractions and percentages.
Data sufficiency questions are a bit more unusual, as they ask you whether or not you have enough information to solve a problem. You don’t actually have to come up with an answer, but rather have to determine whether you have “sufficient data” to answer a problem.
The following example is a typical data sufficiency question.
All data sufficiency questions will have these same exact five answer choices, so you should go into the test already knowing what your task is. What else should be on your GMAT maths syllabus?
Tips for the Quantitative Section
The GMAT math section is daunting to a lot of people, especially those who haven’t taken a math class in years. If you’re one of those people, you should rest assured that GMAT math doesn’t test very advanced concepts. In fact, you probably learned most of these topics in high school.
The first step in your GMAT maths syllabus, then, is to review the fundamentals of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and word problems. You should review concepts and reinforce your understanding with lots of GMAT practice problems. Official practice problems are the best ones, and they will teach you how to apply your knowledge specifically to GMAT questions.
You should prioritize practice tests as part of your GMAT Quant syllabus, as working quickly and efficiently is half the battle. The more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become at managing your time.
As you take the test, try not to worry about the adaptive format. You can’t really game the system or get a handle on how you’re doing as you go along. If questions feel like they’re getting easier, don’t freak out!
Just keep working on the problem in front of you, and forget about ones that have already gone past. You’ll see your scores at the end of the test, so you should waste mental energy trying to evaluate your performance as you go along.
Finally, let’s go over the syllabus for GMAT Verbal.
GMAT Section 4: Verbal Section
The Verbal section is your final section on the GMAT, and like the Quantitative section, it’s also adaptive. You’ll get 41 questions in 75 minutes.
There are three types of Verbal questions, reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence corrections. They all call on your understanding of English language and grammar and ability to evaluate arguments.
Reading comprehension questions ask you to read a passage and answer several questions about its meaning, logic, and argument. They may also ask you what kind of evidence would strengthen or weaken its central point. Here’s one example of a reading comprehension passage and sample question.
Schools expect textbooks to be a valuable source of information for students. My research suggests, however, that textbooks that address the place of Native Americans within the history of the United States distort history to suit a particular cultural value system. In some textbooks, for example, settlers are pictured as more humane, complex, skillful, and wise than Native Americans. In essence, textbooks stereotype and depreciate the numerous Native American cultures while reinforcing the attitude that the European conquest of the New World denotes the superiority of European cultures. Although textbooks evaluate Native American architecture, political systems, and homemaking, I contend that they do it from an ethnocentric, European perspective without recognizing that other perspectives are possible.
One argument against my contention asserts that, by nature, textbooks are culturally biased and that I am simply underestimating children’s ability to see through these biases. Some researchers even claim that by the time students are in high school, they know they cannot take textbooks literally. Yet substantial evidence exists to the contrary. Two researchers, for example, have conducted studies that suggest that children’s attitudes about particular cultures are strongly influenced by the textbooks used in schools. Given this, an ongoing, careful review of how school textbooks depict Native Americans is certainly warranted.
Which of the following would most logically be the topic of the paragraph immediately following the passage?
- (A) specific ways to evaluate the biases of United States history textbooks
- (B) the centrality of the teacher’s role in United States history courses
- (C) nontraditional methods of teaching United States history
- (D) the contributions of European immigrants to the development of the United States
- (E) ways in which parents influence children’s political attitudes
Critical reasoning questions are similar, except instead of a passage, they just present a brief argument. You’ll have to analyze the argument, as well as look closely at its logic, premise, conclusion, and assumptions. The following is an example of a critical reasoning question.
The cost of producing radios in Country Q is ten percent less than the cost of producing radios in Country Y. Even after transportation fees and tariff charges are added, it is still cheaper for a company to import radios from Country Q to Country Y than to produce radios in Country Y.
The statements above, if true, best support which of the following assertions?
- (A) Labor costs in Country Q are ten percent below those in Country Y.
- (B) Importing radios from Country Q to Country Y will eliminate ten percent of the manufacturing jobs in Country Y.
- (C) The tariff on a radio imported from Country Q to Country Y is less than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Y.
- (D) The fee for transporting a radio from Country Q to Country Y is more than ten percent of the cost of manufacturing the radio in Country Q.
- (E) It takes ten percent less time to manufacture a radio in Country Q than it does in Country Y.
Finally, sentence corrections are grammar questions. You’ll get a wordy sentence that has a certain word or phrase underlined. Your job is to decide whether it has an error and if so, what it should say instead.
As in the sample question below, the first answer choice will always match the underlined portion of the sentence. You would choose the first answer if there’s no error and the sentence is correct as is.
While larger banks can afford to maintain their own data-processing operations, many smaller regional and community banks are finding that the cost associated with upgrading data-processing equipment and with the development and maintenance of new products and technical staff are prohibitive.
(A) cost associated with
(B) costs associated with
(C) costs arising from
(D) cost of
(E) costs of
Besides reviewing grammar rules, what else can you do to get ready for the GMAT Verbal section?
Tips for the Verbal Section
The Verbal section tests your ability to interpret and simplify complex information. You’ll need to have solid reading skills. Since you have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it in, you should strengthen your speed reading skills. You might do better looking for big picture issues, like main point, tone, and structure, rather than paying close attention to each and every word in a passage.
For critical reasoning questions, you may find that process of elimination is helpful. Look for answer choices that are unrelated to the line of reasoning in the excerpt. All of the answer choices may be true in some way, but only the right one will be relevant to the line of reasoning that the author uses in her argument.
For sentence corrections, you should try decluttering the wordy sentence. Try to mentally cross out extra phrases and words that are only there to distract you from the task at hand.
You may also find process of elimination a useful strategy here. If two answer choices serve the same exact grammatical purpose, then neither can be the correct answer.
As you get ready for the Verbal section, review grammar rules, read widely, answer sample questions, and take timed practice tests. Develop your verbal skills and practice applying them to GMAT questions.
Beyond these study tips specific to GMAT section, what do you need to know about designing your full GMAT syllabus? Read on to find out.
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GMAT Exam Syllabus: How to Design a Personalized Study Plan
The GMAT is a challenging test, and preparation is key for achieving your goals. There’s no one size fits all study plan. Instead, the best study plan is customized to your individual strengths and weaknesses.
People who struggle in math will benefit from focusing most on math review and sample questions. The same goes for those who need to grow their verbal skills.
Your study plan also depends on your particular goals for business school, as well as the amount of time you have to study. As you design a customized GMAT syllabus, keep the following 10 tips in mind.
#1: Do Some Research on Business Schools
First and foremost, you’re taking the GMAT to get into business school. Knowing where you want to apply, then, is a key factor in designing your GMAT study plan.
Write down your application deadlines, and determine whether you’re applying for Round 1, Round 2, or Round 3 admissions. Round 1 is usually best, unless you feel that waiting will significantly strengthen your application.
Once you know your deadline, you can choose a test date that ensures your scores will arrive in time. You want to take the GMAT at least a month before your first application deadline. If you think you might need to retake the GMAT, then you should leave yourself even more time.
Once you’ve chosen a date, you’ll know how much time you have to study. Try to set aside a certain amount of time each week for GMAT studying and make a routine of it. If you’re aiming to study a total of 120 hours, then you could do 10 hours a week for three months.
In addition to figuring out your deadlines, you should also look for the average scores of accepted students. Most business schools don’t set a GMAT score cutoff, but they do share data on the average GMAT score of students who they accept into their programs. Once you have this information, you know what GMAT scores you’re working towards.
#2: Set a Goal Score
Once you’ve found the average scores of accepted students at business schools you’re interested in, you can set your own target scores. What would make you a competitive candidate? What do you need to score to send off a strong application?
Setting a goal score is also important when you eventually take the test. You’ll see your Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal, and total scores right in the testing center, and then you have a couple of minutes to decide whether you want to keep or cancel your scores. By going in with a set goal, you’ll know right away whether or not you’re satisfied with your results.
#3: Collect Study Materials
What are the best GMAT study materials? The best ones come from the test makers themselves. GMAC offers a useful and free GMAT Prep Software with a bunch of sample questions and two full-length practice tests.
Since the practice tests are adaptive and draw from a big pool of questions, you can actually take each one more than once. However, you might start to see some repeat problems, so the first time you take a practice test will be your most realistic experience of the GMAT.
GMAC also sells GMAT prep books that are useful for content review. Some high-quality third party companies are Kaplan and Manhattan Prep, though third party questions can never be quite as realistic as official ones.
As you prep, look for full length practice tests that you can take on the computer and have the same timing and format as the real test. You should also think carefully about how you learn best to decide whether self-study, an online prep program, a class, or a private tutor would be the best approach for you.
#4: Take a Diagnostic Practice Test
Before you can figure out your study plan, you need to know your current scoring level. You should set aside three and a half hours to take a GMAT practice test, perhaps one of the tests offered for free by the GMAT Prep Software.
Head to a quiet place and follow the time limits, perhaps even giving yourself two eight-minute breaks as you would on test day. Once you’ve finished the test, you’ll see your IR, Quantitative, Verbal, and total scores.
Since you’ve already set your target score, this initial practice test will tell you how many points you need to improve and how long you should study.
#5: Write Down Your Study Schedule
If you don’t find a way to make yourself accountable, you might find yourself doing more procrastinating than studying. One way to motivate yourself is to actually write down your GMAT exam syllabus.
Whether you use a calendar or a planner, set aside the amount of time on the same day each week. Think about when you have time, when you’re most alert, and how much time you need to study each week to meet your target number of study hours.
Not only will writing down your study schedule help you develop a routine and stick to it, but you can also look back on it to see all the progress you’ve already made.
#6: Review Fundamental Concepts
While the GMAT is largely a reasoning and problem-solving test, you still need to have certain base knowledge. For instance, you need to understand fundamental concepts in algebra, geometry, and arithmetic. You have to know parallel structure, subject-verb agreement, and other rules of grammar, and you must be able to read a bar graph or scatter plot.
The best GMAT prep materials will present lessons in fundamental concepts for each section of the GMAT. You should spend time reviewing all of these lessons, especially any ones that you haven’t encountered in a long time.
Many test takers take the GMAT a few years after graduating college, and their academic skills have gotten rusty. Take time to review core concepts to make sure you can apply them to solving GMAT problems.
#7: Keep an Error Log
One of the best ways to improve your skills is to pay close attention to what you’re getting wrong. You should take notes on any concepts that confuse you or any practice questions you get wrong.
Once you’ve logged your error, think about the source of your confusion. Are you unclear on a certain concept? Did you make a careless mistake? Did you run out of time in a section?
Once you understand why you made an error, you can take specific steps to fix it.
#8: Try Out Test-Taking Strategies
Doing well on the GMAT isn’t just about having great verbal, math, and critical thinking skills. You also need to be a strategic and efficient test-taker. With only two minutes per question, you’ll need to show up on test day with seriously sharpened test-taking skills.
One of the best ways to improve your skills is to take practice tests. You should also try out various strategies, like speed-reading and process of elimination, to boost your efficiency. With enough practice, you’ll be able to train your laser focus and work both quickly and carefully throughout the test.
#9: Assess Your Progress As You Go Along
While you should write down your GMAT syllabus and stick to it, you also shouldn’t be afraid to adjust your approach as time goes on. You may have initially thought you needed mostly math review but then found that the verbal section is also quite challenging.
As you go along, you should reflect on your progress. Pay most attention to your weak areas, even if they’re not where you expected they’d be.
One good way to gauge your progress is to take a GMAT practice test every few weeks. You can see your score improvement (or lack thereof) and figure out what to do next. If progress has stalled, try to identify what’s going on.
You can keep altering your approach to make it most effective for you in the months leading up to your test.
#10: Get Ready for Test Day
Once you’ve reached the finish line and test day is almost upon you, hopefully you feel confident that you’ve done all of the studying you can to this point. Don’t spend the night before the GMAT cramming. Instead, take a break, relax, and get a good night’s sleep.
Head to the test center early, and make sure you know the route. Showing up late or getting lost would just add more anxiety to an already stressful day!
Try to eat a nutritious breakfast, avoid excessive caffeine, and wear comfy clothes. You might also bring healthy snacks and water to reenergize during the breaks.
Finally, you should go in with clear target scores in mind. That way, you’ll know right away whether you want to keep or cancel them at the end of the test. If you do end up disappointed, you can figure out where you fell short this time around and design a more effective study plan for next time.
As long as you spend time getting ready, you’re fully capable of meeting your GMAT goals. As we finish up, let’s go over some of the key takeaways you should remember about your GMAT syllabus.
GMAT Syllabus: Key Takeaways
The GMAT is a three and a half hour computer-based exam that measures your math, verbal, and critical reasoning skills. You’re responsible for managing your time so that you answer all of the questions in each section.
The GMAT a challenging test, and many students spend months getting ready for it. If you have time before your test date, then just a few hours each week can add up to a significant amount of study time.
Before you get going, you should take time to think about your strengths and weaknesses and design a personalized GMAT syllabus. Set specific goals and figure out what steps you can take to achieve them.
By sticking to your study plan and using high-quality practice materials, you can make progress toward your target scores. By the time test day rolls around, you’ll be well acquainted with the structure, concepts, and question types on this challenging exam.
Have you chosen a GMAT test date yet? Before you register, check out this guide on choosing the best test date and time of day to take the GMAT. Once you’ve decided on a date, check out our article on how to register for the GMAT.