Study Guides: Passing the GMAT

If you think standardized tests are just for kids, think again. The GMAT -- that's Graduate Management Admission Test -- is an integral part of the admissions process for many MBA programs, and getting a decent score takes more than showing up on time.

If you're worried that your lack of a business background will hurt your chances, don't be. The GMAT is an old-school throwback to the days of No. 2 pencils, filling in bubbles, and proctored exams.

Of course, these days you can leave the pencils at home. While the test is now computerized, it still has more in common with the SAT than The Wall Street Journal. Yes, it's a poor analogy, but guess what? You don't have to worry about analogies on the GMAT.

What do you have to worry about? Here's a rundown of what you need to know.

The logistics

First of all, make sure you actually need to take the test. Many MBA programs require it, but you don't want to take it unless you have to.

One reason for that is the cost of the test -- a whopping $250. With my husband and I both taking the test, we agreed to limit it to one try each. You can retake the test -- but only once every 31 days and no more than five times in a 12-month period.

You can schedule the GMAT on The Web site will walk you finding a testing center and an appointment. Block out at least four hours to take the test (and don't forget about travel time to and from the testing facility). It may not take you that long, but you don't want to find yourself rushing through a question so you won't be late to a meeting.

You can also schedule the test by phone or snail mail. I booked my appointment online and experienced no problems, so I recommend that route. You need to pay for the test at the time of registration.

The GMAT is administered by Pearson VUE testing centers. When I took my test, I wasn't the only one taking the GMAT; people were taking tests to become RNs, realtors, and EMTs. Because of that, checking in can take some time, depending on how many people are there. Get to the testing facility 30 minutes early if you can. You'll need a photo ID to check in.

The trickiest part is determining when to schedule your test. You want to give yourself enough time to review -- trust me. But if you're a procrastinator like me, there's no point in scheduling it too far in advance either. So when you're finding out whether you actually need to take the test, make sure you know the application deadline as well.

Finally: Your score. The computer scores your exam once you're finished, so you'll know your estimated score before you even get up from the computer. Gone are the days of stressfully waiting for your score to come in the mail.

You'll receive a score report in the mail too; the score you get the day of the test is only an estimate. However, the advisor at the school I attend told me that they have never seen a discrepancy between the two, so you're pretty safe going with the first one.

Next time: We'll talk about what to expect on the actual exam.