THE GRADUATE Management Admission Test - better known as GMAT - is required by most business schools, both in Hong Kong and overseas. If you want to get into one of the top business schools in the United States - the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Columbia or Harvard - your scores should probably top the 700 mark. At local schools, something in the 500-plus range would probably do. The School of Business at the University of Hong Kong, for example, requires a minimum score of 550, and the average last year was 610. But while GMAT scores are important, they are not the only factor. Business schools generally want a good mix of students - in terms of industry, job category, gender, ethnicity and country of origin. They also want students with demonstrable leadership potential, and they know that not all leaders are good test-takers. For this reason, admissions departments will look at a variety of factors, including essays, undergraduate majors and professional experience. They do not want a classroom full of geeks. So how you perform in face-to-face interviews will also be key. Still, GMAT scores do help admissions officers separate the wheat from the chaff. They help them distinguish between candidates that get shortlisted for serious consideration and those that get put in the 'only if we're desperate' pile. So, standards can vary depending on the number of applicants in a given year. 'Your GMAT score is very important if you want to get accepted to a competitive school,' Grace Wong, director of the Princeton Review Hong Kong, said. 'It is required by most B-schools worldwide; it is not just required by B-schools in the US.' Measuring basic analytical writing, quantitative and verbal skills, GMAT also tests your test-taking skills; it has been completely overhauled in recent years. Taking four hours to complete, it is what is known as a 'computer-adaptive test'. That means your performance on previous questions determines which questions you will be asked next. 'The software calculates your score based on the number of questions you answer correctly, the difficulty of the questions you answer and the number of questions you complete,' Ms Wong said. 'Questions that appear early in the test impact your score to a greater degree than do those that come towards the end of the exam.' GMAT is divided into four sections, starting with two 30-minute sections that test writing skills. This is followed by a 75-minute maths section and a 75-minute verbal section. 'While the format of the GMAT has not changed, the test writing will change starting from January 1, next year,' Ms Wong said. Students can prepare for GMAT in a variety of ways. They can purchase preparation books, which are widely available at bookstores, consult online materials at www.mba.com and attend commercial test preparation courses, such as the ones offered by the Princeton Review. 'We have a long track record of raising students' GMAT scores,' Ms Wong said. 'Students will learn how to master all concepts tested on the exam by following our proven test-taking strategies. We'll also teach students how to master the GMAT's tricky computer-adaptive format. 'All of our instructors completed intensive training and are certified by a Master Trainer. The Princeton Review GMAT course features four full-length, diagnostic, computer-adaptive GMAT exams with detailed score reports and comprehensive materials, including training manual and workbook.' Students can take the GMAT no more than once in any calendar month and no more than five times within a 12-month period, and they are advised to take the test more than once. 'Students usually show improvement on their scores,' Ms Wong said. 'However, taking the GMAT more than three times is discouraged.' For most students, GMAT is not simple, it takes months of preparation. 'Students should start preparing for GMAT nine months before they apply to B-schools,' Ms Wong said.