GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) for PhD Study – A Guide |
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GMAT for PhD Study

Written by Ben Taylor

The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is a standardised test used to help select students for some Masters and PhDs at universities and business schools around the world.

It’s most commonly associated with MBAs and other Business Masters, but the GMAT is sometimes part of the entry requirements for doctoral programmes in Business, particularly in North America.

GMAT is changing from 31 January 2024

The GMAT will be replaced by the GMAT Focused Edition on 31 January 2024. This is the date you can book a GMAT exam appointment until, after that, only GMAT Focused Edition appointments will be available. If you already have a GMAT exam appointment scheduled for after 1 February 2024 then you can contact your centre and switch over to the GMAT Focus Edition. Previous GMAT exam scores will remain valid for five years after your test date.This guide has been updated to include details about the GMAT and new GMAT Focus Edition.

How does the GMAT work?

The GMAT is a computer-based test that measures candidates’ aptitude in written, numerical and reasoning tasks. Its four sections take just over three hours to complete:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment (30 minutes / 1 question) – This part of the GMAT consists of a short piece of writing that analyses a given argument.
  • Integrated Reasoning (30 minutes / 12 questions) – You’ll be tested on your ability to solve problems with several different kinds of data.
  • Quantitative Reasoning (62 minutes / 31 questions) – This section measures your mathematical skills, with questions on arithmetic, geometry and algebra. You won’t have access to a calculator during the test.
  • Verbal Reasoning (65 minutes / 32 questions) – You’ll answer questions that test your ability to understand and evaluate written material.

The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections of the GMAT are both ‘computer adaptive’. This means that your performance during the test will alter the difficulty of subsequent questions.

For example, if you answer a problem incorrectly, the next question will be slightly easier. If you answer correctly, the following question will be slightly more difficult. Candidates will therefore receive a tailored set of questions, with the GMAT software adapting the exam to their ability.

How does the GMAT Focus Edition work?

The GMAT Focus Edition is a computer-based test that consists of three sections, taking 45 minutes to complete each, so two hours and 15 minutes in total:

  • Quantitative Reasoning (21 questions, 45 minutes) – This is the most mathematical part of the exam, and requires good general knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. This section no longer covers questions on data sufficiency.
  • Verbal Reasoning (23 questions, 45 minutes) – This section is designed to test your reading comprehension and critical reasoning. It no longer covers questions on sentence correction.
  • Data Insights (20 questions, 45 minutes) – This section is new for the GMAT Focus Edition and tests your ability to analyse data and apply it to real-world situations. You’ll look at data sufficiency, multi-source reasoning, analysing tables, interpreting graphs and you’ll be tested on your ability to solve complex problems.

One of the main differences between the GMAT Focus Edition and the previous GMAT exam is that there is no longer an essay section.

Your GMAT Focus Edition score is determined by the number of questions you’ve completed, the number of correct and incorrect answers, and the difficulty level of each question. All three sections are weighted equally towards your overall score.


The GMAT is aimed at students applying for postgraduate Business programmes, while the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is designed for students in a range of disciplines, from the Arts and Humanities through to the Sciences.

Will I need to take the GMAT for my PhD?

In most cases, it’s possible to apply for a PhD without a GMAT score. However, if you want to study a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) or other doctoral degree in Business or Management, you might find that the entry requirements for your prospective programme mention the GMAT.

It’s fairly common for North American and Australian business schools to require a GMAT score for admissions to Business-based PhD programmes. Usually, universities won’t specify a particular GMAT score in their entry requirements, but instead publish the average GMAT results of previous cohorts.

Admissions teams will look at your GMAT score alongside the rest of your application, so a below average result shouldn’t put you off from applying, particularly if you have an especially strong research proposal or academic performance.

Some institutions may offer a GMAT waiver for PhD students who have an exceptional academic background or years of professional experience. However, this isn’t common practice.

What GMAT score do I need?

Score profiles vary greatly between institutions and PhD programmes. The majority of candidates score between 400 and 600, with an average score of 582.34. Students on more competitive business and finance programmes typically have an average GMAT score of over 700.

What GMAT Focus Edition score do I need?

The maximum GMAT Focus Edition score is 805. Your scores are valid for five years and you can view an unofficial score immediately following the exam. You’ll then receive an Official Score Report typically within 3-5 working days (but this can take longer during busy periods so be patient). Once you’ve received the official report, you can send five free reports to universities within the first 48 hours. Additional score reports will be available for a fee.

GMAT preparation

Even though the GMAT tests your reasoning rather than your general knowledge, there are plenty of ways to revise and prepare for the exam. Practice papers and questions are available from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), the company that organises the GMAT. Their free starter kit is a good place to begin your preparation, with two exams and computer adaptive technology.

You’ll receive a result for your mock exam that should hopefully give you an idea of where you stand in relation to your target score. If you decide that you need a more comprehensive preparation package, these are available too.

GMAT Focus Edition preparation

With the GMAT Focus Edition being more streamlined than it’s predecessor, you can prepare for the exam within six weeks. A great place to start is by using the free six-week planner in the starter kit.

You can take a free practice exam to work out where you’re at and what you need to work on. You might need to develop your knowledge of what the question is actually asking you so use the guide and online questions bank to help!

GMAT test centres

You can take the GMAT at hundreds of test centres around the world, offering a selection of dates throughout the year in which to sit the exam. From 1 February 2024, you will only be able to take the GMAT Focus Edition. The current GMAT will stop after 31 January 2024. Once you registered an account with (a website run by the GMAC) you can choose a convenient date and location for your GMAT.

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Last Updated: 01 December 2023