GMAT Difficulty

Woman sitting at a table with a laptop feeling overwhelmed by the GMAT exam.

Exam Difficulty

How Hard Is the GMAT?

While the GMAT is a challenging exam, the difficulty is relative and varies from student to student. Depending on their preparation, testing environment, and ability to work well under a time limit, some test-takers may find it more difficult than others.

Understanding and preparing for the challenging aspects of the GMAT can help you navigate this difficult exam and earn better GMAT scores.

Challenging Content

Subject Matter and Study Methods

When it comes to the GMAT, how you study is just as important as what you study. Students may plan to approach this test like they would any other exam.

However, since the GMAT measures your ability to think critically and apply reason to solve complex problems, study methods like cramming and memorizing facts and formulas are ineffective and only increase your anxiety.

Delivery Format

Taking the Exam at a Testing Center

For some students, not knowing what to expect at the test center can also contribute to the GMAT difficulty. Even if you've felt calm and focused while studying alone at home, testing in a public setting can affect your mindset on test day.

The added stress of having an exam proctor in the room making sure you adhere to strict test-taking requirements may make the GMAT seem more difficult as well.

Time Constraints

Setting Your Pace & Finishing Each Section

Students have a total of 3 hours and 7 minutes to complete the GMAT, and each section of the exam has its own time limit:

  • Integrated Reasoning: 30 minutes to answer 12 questions
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 62 minutes to answer 31 questions
  • Verbal Reasoning: 65 minutes to answer 36 questions
  • Analytical Writing: 30 minutes to answer 12 questions

Anxious test-takers may struggle with the GMAT if they're too nervous about the time limits. Students often make careless mistakes as they rush to complete the exam within the designated time frame.

Preparing for each section of the GMAT and practicing effective test-taking strategies can help boost your confidence and alleviate some of the stress of working under time constraints.

Test Length

Staying Focused Despite Distractions

Maintaining focus for the duration of the GMAT requires a lot of mental stamina. Even if they take both of the optional breaks during the test, students may struggle with tuning out small distractions and giving their complete attention to the exam. Taking several GMAT practice tests can train your mind to focus for longer periods.

Increasing Difficulty

Computer-Adaptive Test Structure

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), meaning the difficulty changes depending on the answers you give. If you're doing well on the exam, the questions become more challenging as you go.

Conversely, follow-up questions become easier for those struggling with the test. CAT exams can confuse students unfamiliar with the process, making the test seem more difficult.

Comparison to Other Tests

Is the GMAT Harder Than the LSAT?

The LSAT and the GMAT are both challenging exams. However, there are a few distinctions between LSAT vs. GMAT difficulty. Since the LSAT involves analyzing dense reading material and parsing out minute details, it can be difficult for those who struggle with reading comprehension. Meanwhile, the GMAT may be more challenging if you lack certain mathematical skills.

Difficult Test Sections

Quantitative Reasoning

Many students consider the Quantitative Reasoning portion to be the most difficult part of the GMAT. Rather than asking you to use advanced arithmetic and solve complex equations, this section of the test requires you to solve problems by using logic and analytical reasoning to find relevant data. Proper test prep can be a huge help in overcoming the GMAT quant difficulty.

Verbal Reasoning

Test-takers often struggle with the GMAT's Verbal Reasoning tests simply because it's last. The anticipation of finally finishing the test can make it harder for students to concentrate on the abstract ideas and in-depth arguments in this section. If you think you may have trouble with this portion of the GMAT, consider choosing an alternate test structure that presents the verbal exam sooner.


Overcoming Anxiety & Increasing Your Confidence

If you're asking questions like, "Is the GMAT hard?" try to reframe your view of the exam. Instead of pondering hypotheticals that potentially increase your anxiety, focus on what you can control. Consider using some of GradPrep's GMAT test prep resources and study courses to help you feel confident on test day, maintain focus, and achieve the score you want.

Study Resources

Online GMAT Test Prep

GMAT Test Day Checklist

Registering for the GMAT

Studying for Your Exam