If you’re trying to gain MBA admission, you need to try as hard as you can to crush the GMAT or the GRE. IN this article, I explain how to achieve your personal best GMAT or GRE score.
That’s me on the cover of the word problems book!
I taught for Manhattan Prep for 7 years (there are even some reviews still floating around in the universe of my classes!), so I’ve seen it all – every anxiety, challenge, and triumph you can imagine. I personally helped hundreds of students achieve their personal best scores as an instructor and a one-on-one tutor – from non-native speakers struggling with sentence correction, to English majors stressed out by algebra, to investment bankers grappling with test anxiety, and everyone in between.
So now I’m gonna share my best study tips.
And – perhaps more importantly – how to know when enough is enough with the GMAT.
Not everyone can get a 760. That is just an unfortunate fact. Raw intellect, practice with standardized tests, experience applying the concepts covered, and all manner of biases written unconsciously into the test all conspire to set your max personal best score.
Your goal is to hit that personal max, whatever it is, and then put everything you’ve got into the rest of the application.
Because, as I said in Part 2, your scores won’t get you in. It’s the rest of who you are that determines your success, not that one little number.
But that one little number CAN limit your option set. It can make it easy for schools to reject you from the competitive pool, even if everything else about you is awesome. When they have to reject so many people, a low score makes their lives a bit easier.
But how do you know what your personal best is?
A good rule of thumb is that if you do absolutely everything right, you can raise your score by about 100 points from a totally cold diagnostic. To gauge where you’re starting from, I recommend taking the first practice test you get free at mba.com – the one written by the test writers. Take it cold, without any prep or even knowing how the GMAT works.
Then add 100 points to that score. That is a good benchmark for your personal best score.
(Of course, if you are starting above 700 with a cold test, your potential should be in the high 700s – 800 is nearly impossible these days.)
I’m basing this on years of experience helping people get these kinds of results, so I know it is possible if you do everything right.
What does it mean to do everything right? How can you nail your personal best?
The answer here, once again, is “it depends.” But here’s a good process to follow that works for 80% of people:
1. Take a class
Make sure to choose one, such as Manhattan Prep, that teaches you not just test strategies, but also the content of the test. Yes, you can study on your own with books and skip the class, but be honest with yourself about how much progress you need to make and how much value an accountability system, community, and direct instruction will offer.
Also, resist the temptation to focus only on quant. Yes, the quant score is very important, but for most people, the overall GMAT score carries much more weight, and if you want to score in the upper 700s the verbal will actually be more important, The average GMAT test taker does better on quant than verbal, so you will get extra points on your overall score with strong verbal than you will with equally string quant.
2. After the class ends, spend time completing any parts of the curriculum you didn’t finish during your class and then shift into timed problem drills.
Most people struggle with timing and pacing. Leaving 5 questions blank at the end of a section can cost you 50 points or more from your total score, so it’s imperative you develop intuition for what 2 minutes feels like and then build the courage and confidence to quit and move on when you’re not getting it in 2 minutes. Use only problems from the Official Guide for these drills and do sets of 10 – 20 minutes. And be strict about time. Then review all problems deeply and take notes, even on right answers.
3. Take 1-2 more practice tests to gauge where you’re at. Schedule the test when you feel ready. (For most people it’s 2-6 weeks after class ends.)
Recognize that practice tests are less important than timed drills in this time period. Use practice tests only to gauge where you’re performing.
4. Take the test! Go get 'em tiger!
Now here is where the road forks.
Should you take the test again? My advice is yes, if either of the following is true for you:
- You scored less than 740
- You feel like you can do better
You have an intuition about whether you’ve got more left in the tank. Even if you got a 750 on your first try, if your practice tests were higher and/or you believe you’re capable of better for any reason, take it again.
5. To prepare to take it again, continue primarily with the timed drills I outlined above.
Practice implementing the content you already learned under timed pressure, guessing and moving on when you’re not getting it, and then reviewing everything really deeply. If you’ve exhausted the Official Guide, buy those from previous years. Here’s 2018 and 2017. If you’ve exhausted those, you haven’t been reviewing your work thoroughly enough and you burned too many questions. (Less is more, quality over quantity in this stage.) That’s ok. Go back and solve them again.
6. When ready, take the test again.
7. If you still didn’t get what you believe to be your personal best, plan to take it at least one more time.
If you got a 740 or higher on the second test, go ahead and stop. But if you still feel like there’s more left in the tank, then take it again.
And if you’re still struggling to get anywhere near your goal score (again, 740 for top schools), then this is the point at which you should consider hiring a tutor. I tutored hundreds of people in my GMAT-teaching days, and I can vouch for the difference that a skilled teacher observing your work directly can make in your performance. But a 1:1 tutor is really most useful in the home stretch – after you’ve learned all the content and tackled your weaknesses on your own.
If you’re underperforming for your potential, it’s because you’re doing something wrong and it’s in your blind spot. It could be test anxiety, it could be pacing, it could be one question type that you keep bombing. Whatever it is, a tutor can help you troubleshoot. For a referral to the world’s best tutor, Talk to our team.
You can take the GMAT exam once every 16 calendar days, but no more than five times in a rolling 12-month period and no more than eight times total in your lifetime. Use all of these if you need to in order to achieve your potential.
You know you’re done when you reach 740 OR when you know you’ve done the very best you can do. (Say, for example, your practice tests have all been 680 or lower and you finally score 690 on the 3rd official test you take. That’s probably the best you’re gonna do.)
Here’s the bottom line about your GMAT score.
It really matters. It won’t get you in, but it will influence your option set (AKA the schools at which you are competitive.)
You need to do as well as you can possibly do, so don’t give up until you know you cannot do any better. This might be the most important piece of advice I could give you on the MBA road.
Let’s have a conversation!
Need GMAT prep tips? Our resident GMAT Wizard, Brian, is dishing out GMAT study guides, practice tests, and resources so you can be fully prepared for the big day!
What’s a good GMAT score? Watch this #MBAMonday episode to discover the importance of the GMAT/GRE for your application and what score you need to be considered for admission.
Finally… a GRE-GMAT (and vice versa) conversion calculator that allows you to see the entire score range in one place! Check it out here and decide which test is right for you.
What GMAT score is good enough for you?
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