Category Archives: GMAT

Overcome a Low Quant Background in MBA Admissions

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on The MBA admissions process is a holistic one. If it weren’t, every MBA cohort would be full of finance wizards and accounting gurus – not …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

The MBA admissions process is a holistic one. If it weren’t, every MBA cohort would be full of finance wizards and accounting gurus – not an especially well-rounded group.

These days, business schools seek a diverse array of students to fill their classes, knowing that the unique life and career experiences they bring will enrich the classroom experience for everyone.

Applicants with undergraduate degrees in the humanities are welcomed at all of the elite business schools, but, unlike their business major peers, will need to prove to the admissions committee that their relatively minimal academic experience in quantitative subjects won’t be a hindrance once they hit those core courses.

[Learn how to sell yourself to MBA admissions committees.]

Your GMAT or GRE score is the first and most obvious piece of the puzzle that indicates your ability to handle MBA-level course work, so allow yourself plenty of time to study for the exam.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, the average amount of study needed to achieve a score between 600 and 690 is 92 hours and getting above that brass ring score of 700 is 102 hours.

What can you do if you’ve put in the time, taken the test and still receive a so-so score? Schools look favorably upon taking the GMAT more than once.

In my experience, this dedication to improving your score is often interpreted by the admissions committee as a sign that you’ll do whatever it takes to prove you’re ready for business school. So sign up for that prep course or hire a GMAT tutor to help you bump up your score a few notches.

[Try one of these fixes for a low GMAT score.]

At Harvard Business School, the median GMAT score was 730 out of 800, but the lowest accepted GMAT score for students entering in fall 2014 was 550. If you find your score has settled at the lower end of the spectrum, I would encourage you to find other ways to demonstrate your quantitative competence.

Take a college-level calculus class and score a B-plus or better. Focus on the essays, extracurriculars and working with your recommenders so that they support your quant aptitude in their recommendation letters with real-life examples.

If you have strong quantitative work experience and can show a solid grasp of quantitative subjects, then a weak GMAT score may not be overly problematic. The admissions committee will sometimes give candidates the benefit of the doubt if other aspects of their application are exceptionally compelling.

An MBA Podcaster episode on MBA quantitative skills notes that business schools regularly report that many soon-to-be first-year students lack some basic quantitative skills. To remedy this, several top MBA programs offer so-called math camps for accepted students during the summer as a refresher of critical concepts.

[Look beyond top business schools when applying for an MBA.]

Carolyn Sherry, a first-year student at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business who attended math camp last summer, wrote a blog post in the fall addressing precisely this topic.

“If you’re worried about your quantitative skills, here’s my advice,” she writes. “Most importantly, don’t underestimate yourself. Did you do well in college? Do you have a demanding, complex job where you excel? Can you grasp concepts pretty quickly? … These attributes will see you through a rigorous curriculum!”

Ultimately, the GMAT or GRE is just one component of the application, and a high score doesn’t guarantee success in business school. MBA hopefuls should do all they can to offset a lackluster test performance by demonstrating they can handle the work, highlighting a high GPA from a respected undergraduate school and wowing the admissions panel with their compelling extracurricular and leadership activities.

Convince your target business school why an MBA is the best next step in your career progression, and prove to them that you have what it takes to succeed.

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Why Can’t I Score Above 700 on the GMAT?

By Kevin Rocci, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep. Every test taker seems to covet a 700+ score on the GMAT. For good reason too, since a score of 700 means …

By Kevin Rocci, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep.

Every test taker seems to covet a 700+ score on the GMAT. For good reason too, since a score of 700 means that student broke into the 90th percentile—a big deal when the average GMAT score is a 545. Although a 700 is not a guarantee of getting into a grad program, it will make the admission committee notice you. And if anything, it will keep your application out of the rejection pile.

But how to score 700 if you are stuck in the 600s? Let’s examine the common habits of students who score in the 700 range and dispel some common myths that test takers have to help you succeed.

Practice GMATS are not the Real GMAT

First, to score in the 700 range, let’s calibrate our expectations. Taking mock tests is a crucial part of preparing for the test, but don’t expect your performance on a practice test to match your performance on the real GMAT. Every practice test was not created equal and every practice question is not necessarily a strong representation of actual GMAT questions.

So don’t put too much weight in a practice test result unless it is the GMATPrep Software from the test makers. Make sure that you know what the best GMAT prep books are and use them. Don’t waste your time with flawed resources.

Multiple Attempts

The real test can cause more stress, which leads to a loss of focus and an increase in mistakes compared to a practice test. So do not expect to reach a 700 score in one, two, or even three attempts. Many students need multiple attempts to see an increase from 600 to 700 (one student didn’t see improvement until he took the test eight times!).

The students who break into the 700 range are working hard to do so, and often take the test multiple times. Remember that a score of 700 means that you are doing better on the GMAT than 90% of the people who take the test. This is an elite group, and you won’t make it there without hard work, dedication, and probably multiple attempts.

Practice Questions aren’t Enough

Plenty of students think that if they answer 1000+ practice questions, they will be ready for the test. This is a myth. The best test takers, the students who do score in the 700 range, not only answer a lot of practice problems, but they also read The Economist and The New York Times regularly.

The are challenging themselves by choosing articles that they normally wouldn’t read so that they are comfortable with new, strange, foreign reading passages. These students have made a habit of improving their skills outside of doing practice problems and learning grammar points. Make practicing for the GMAT more than just opening a test prep book or logging into your test prep software.

Pacing is Key

Not only are they expanding their skills outside of practice problems, but these students also have a very strong understanding of the questions types, the common wrong answer traps for each question type, and the strategy for each type of question. This knowledge, like knowing the answer choices and how to eliminate them in Data Sufficiency, ultimately, saves them time.

And this is the last piece: students scoring in the 700 range have a strong pacing strategy, know how to save time, and use time efficiently. Not feeling rushed is a key to success, which comes with practice problems for sure. But not just answering questions correctly, but also setting a timer for questions and answering them correctly. If you lack a pacing strategy, it is time to start coming up with one.

Focused, Targeted Practice

Each time you sit down and study, you need to have direction and purpose. The big difference between a 600 and a 700 is targeting weakness and improving. So that means sitting down to study, and working on those weakness.

You need to be constantly on the look out for weakness. Be honest with yourself and keep track of your weaknesses in a notebook. Then when it comes to practice, focus on improving those skills. For example, if you struggle with identifying assumptions in arguments, then you need to spend your time generating assumptions and doing practice problems that are about assumptions.

Or if you struggle with statistics, you need to spend time watching lesson videos that teach the basics, like Khan Academy. Without a strong foundation in the basics of math and grammar, you cannot expect to break into the 700 range.

Do you even need a 700 on the GMAT?

But, let’s step back from this problem. Do you even need to take the GMAT and get a 700 to actually get into a graduate program? Plenty of business schools now accept the GMAT or GRE, so even before you invest all of your waking hours to preparing for the GMAT, look into the GRE. Take a practice GRE test and see how you do. If you do better on the GRE, you might want to pivot your preparation to the GRE.

For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog

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GMAC Survey Finds Uptick in Demand for Traditional MBA Programs

Graduate programs in business and management are drawing a wider range of applicants, and these aspiring students are more likely to have a single program type in mind for either an MBA or non-MBA master’s …

Graduate programs in business and management are drawing a wider range of applicants, and these aspiring students are more likely to have a single program type in mind for either an MBA or non-MBA master’s degree, according to Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2013 Prospective Students Survey.

Over the past four years, the percentage of student candidates considering both types of programs has declined from 33 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2012.

New reports from the survey provide data on a wide range of topics including:

Program Demand: As more millennials consider management education, the proportion of potential students interested in specialized master’s programs in business continues to rise, from 42 percent in 2011 to 44 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the proportion of aspiring students interested in full-time two-year MBA programs is up one percentage point and the proportion interested in part-time programs is down one percentage point.

Recruitment Planning: Although a growing proportion of prospective students consider cost the most important factor in their decision making, concerns about financing have declined. This is seen in declining percentages of prospects concerned about the cost being more than they can afford as well as their declining potential debt burden (each down four percentage points in the past four years).

School Appeal: Criteria for school selection vary greatly by program type and student demographics, but quality and reputation continue to be the top factor, ranked most important by 39 percent of potential students.

The worldwide survey of prospective management students includes data from more than 31,000 individuals who registered on, the GMAC web portal for those interested in graduate management education and the GMAT exam, surveyed over the past two years.

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GMAT Idioms and Phrases: More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

This guest post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh. There’s a great deal of claptrap floating around on the internet that you don’t need to know about idioms for the GMAT.  …

This guest post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh.

There’s a great deal of claptrap floating around on the internet that you don’t need to know about idioms for the GMAT.  Many websites broadcast the dubious message, “The GMAT no longer tests idioms,” and yet, the GMAT Official Guide is stuffed to the guppers with questions about idioms.  What’s the straight dope?

GMAT idioms

Let’s make a fine distinction here.   One sense of the word “idioms” connotes colorful metaphorical expressions, such as “claptrap“, “stuffed to the guppers“, “straight dope“, and “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”   These colorful expressions, while they pepper colloquial English, are quite informal, and thus have never been the focus of the GMAT. These idioms are definitively not going to be on the GMAT.  By contrast, another sense of the word “idiom” connotes the idiosyncrasies of the syntax of a language: what prepositions follow what verbs, or what combinations of words are or aren’t used.

For example, the words “able” and “ability” always take the preposition “to” — you might have an “ability to do something”, but never an “ability for doing something”.   These fundamental constructions appear even in formal language, and thus are very much part of what the GMAT verbal sections tests.  In this latter sense, knowledge of idioms is absolutely essential on the GMAT.

How to study for GMAT Verbal

If you want a good GMAT score, particularly on the Verbal section, you need to understand the basic parts of speech — verb tenses, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs.  You need to understand the more complex and exotic constructions — infinitive phrases, participle phrases, and various clauses.

For each verb, each adjective, each phrase, you need to understand what combinations, what accompanying prepositions, the syntax of English supports — in other words, you need to know the proper idioms.  This can be hard even for a native speaker, and can be very challenging for folks who speak English as a second language.  The more folks can read GMAT-level material, the more they will accustom their ear to the idioms they need to learn.

In order to know how to study GMAT verbal, it’s important to have a GMAT study schedule.  The Manhattan GMAT book on Sentence Correction offers a truly excellent discussion of idioms.   Here’s a free GMAT ebook that gives a valuable overview.  Avail yourself of the best GMAT books and resources available, and with practice, you can achieve the mastery you will need to have a successful performance on the GMAT verbal section.  Make use of all these resources and you will be in the catbird’s seat!

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Guest Post: Reviewing the 3 Main GMAT Prep Options

Hopefully you know the GMAT is a very important test, especially for those aiming for Top 10, and especially Top 5, business schools. Although, as a side note, it’s less important than most people assume …

studying for the GMAT Hopefully you know the GMAT is a very important test, especially for those aiming for Top 10, and especially Top 5, business schools.

Although, as a side note, it’s less important than most people assume ”“ you don’t need a 770 to go to Harvard and the GMAT really is just one of about 5 key elements to the application.  But, this blog post is about GMAT prep options, so I’ll stick to that.

There are fundamentally three ways to study for the GMAT:

1)      Study on your own

2)      Take a GMAT prep class

3)      Work with a private tutor

The GMAT assesses core math, reading comprehension, writing, and analytical skills, yet it also has unique features and quirks.  So, you’ll do much better if you put in the time to properly prepare for the particular problem types which the test writers love to use year after year.   You can perform extremely well on the GMAT by choosing any option above, but folks in specific situations may fare better choosing one option over another.

Studying on your own is a good option when”¦

1.       You can score at least in the mid 500s (which is an average score) when taking a practice test “cold.”  And, you are at least about average in all of the sections. You also aren’t obsessed with scoring well above 700 by the time you take your official GMAT.

The GMAT will make you remember the rules of triangles, how to factor equations, how to read critically, and many other skills you may not have used since college.  If you can comfortable score about average right off the bat on a practice test, you’ll probably be able to score well above average after studying on your own for a few months.

2.       You have a lot of time.

Let’s just say it takes 35-50 hours of studying for most people to reach their full natural ability on the GMAT.  Well, if you don’t have too stressful of a job, and you have 6 months until you plan on taking the GMAT, you’re in a better position to figure things out on your own.

3.       You are naturally an independent worker.

You prefer working on projects by yourself.  You didn’t mind classes in college where the professor didn’t explain things very well, or at all.  You are a natural at digging in and figuring things out.

4.       You are naturally very structured and organized with your time.

To properly study for the GMAT, you need to develop a plan of attack and stick with it.  Each week, you need to devote 3-4 hours to studying for it.  You need to ensure you methodically review each of the sections and then do and review practice problems.  If you have trouble structuring your time or aren’t generally very organized, you’ll find it hard to study on your own.

5.       You are not rich.

A good test prep class will cost you $500 to $1,500 per hour.  Private tutoring tends to cost ”“ and I’m not joking – $25 to $250 per hour.  Obviously, self-study costs much less ”“ perhaps $25 for the Official Guide to the GMAT, $30 for some additional practice tests, and $50 for a supplemental bank of practice questions.

With this in mind, let’s review the two other GMAT prep options available to you.

So, when would someone take a GMAT Prep Class?

It’s not quite as simple as taking the inverse of the above five points, but it’s close.  A GMAT prep class is a good option for someone who:

  1. Scored below average when taking a practice GMAT cold ”“ this means they are missing a few (perhaps not too many) core skills that will be tested on the GMAT, and a prep class can provide a reasonably priced review of those skills.
  2. Has at least as much time as it takes to work through the prep class.  Most classes meet once per week for a few hours for 8 weeks or so.
  3. Benefits from having a teacher explain key concepts.  You won’t get truly customized instruction from a prep class teacher ”“ after all there are 10-30 other people in the room ”“ but you will have somebody explaining the material.
  4. Needs the structure that the prep class naturally provides.  You’ll show up each week at a given time, review new content, and be assigned practice problems to complete.
  5. Is willing to spend some money to do well on the GMAT.  Some prep classes are expensive, but it’s a reasonable middle ground between self-study and private tutoring.

OK, so who should hire a private GMAT tutor?

If you’ve read through this blog post so far and don’t feel like you fit in one of the above categories, then a private GMAT tutor might work for you.  Specifically, a private GMAT tutor works well for folks who:

Scored either well below or well above average on an initial practice GMAT, taken cold.  If you are well below average, the prep class might not be enough instruction to get your skills up.  If you are well above average, you might already know most of the stuff taught in the prep class.   After all, a prep class has to make sure it is covering concepts that the average person in the class needs to be taught.  So, if you aren’t somewhere close to average, a prep class is probably not for you.

  1. A side note ”“ if you are trying to score above 700 on the GMAT, then you’ll encounter some pretty difficult questions.  Many people find that a tutor can quickly reveal the core concepts at play in these seemingly difficult questions, oftentimes in cases where self-study or a prep class simply would have failed.  So, if you’re dedicated to trying to break 700, a tutor starts to become a better option.
  2. You may not have much time because you’re literally taking the GMAT in 4 weeks.  Or, you may be taking it in 3 months, but you work 80 hours a week, leaving little free time to prep.  If you don’t have much time, a private tutor is the most efficient way to fill in the gaps in your knowledge base.  A tutor can quickly assess your situation, and focus on the areas in which you need help in a laser-like manner.
  3. If you don’t mind listening to someone else explain something (vs. desiring the satisfaction of having figured it out completely on your own), a private GMAT tutor will work well for you.
  4. When it comes to being organized and structured with your time, almost anyone can benefit from a private GMAT tutor.  Why?  If you aren’t naturally organized, the tutor can help you develop and stick to a plan.  If you are, you can use the tutor to answer specific questions or review questions you had trouble with while following your own plan.
  5. Unfortunately, a good GMAT tutor can be expensive.  With some research, you can find a good tutor for between $50 to $100 per hour.   But, if your score improves from 630 to 700, and you ultimately get into a Top 5 business school, the $1,000 to $2,000 you might spend end up being very well worth it.

Have I missed any other major ways to study for the GMAT, or any other key considerations? What are your thoughts?


Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a boutique provider of customized, 1-1 GMAT tutoring, as well tutoring for most other standardized tests.  He also has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.



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B-Schools Give GMAT’s New IR Section Mixed Reviews

According to a recent poll of 265 business school admissions officers, early opinion of the GMAT’s newly introduced Integrated Reasoning (IR) section is decidedly mixed. As a new season of applicants prepares to submit the …

According to a recent poll of 265 business school admissions officers, early opinion of the GMAT’s newly introduced Integrated Reasoning (IR) section is decidedly mixed. As a new season of applicants prepares to submit the first set of applications with GMAT scores that include the IR section, Kaplan Test Prep‘s 2012 survey reveals that more than half of MBA programs still aren’t sure how important IR scores will be in the evaluation process.

While 54% responded “undecided” to the question “How important will a student’s Integrated Reasoning score be in your evaluation of their overall performance on the GMAT?”, 22% say IR scores will be important, and 24% say IR scores will not be important.

The four question types found in GMAT Integrated Reasoning ”“ table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning and two-party analysis ”“ feature scatter plots, sortable tables, and multi-tabbed data.  Such question types, introduced in the new section in June, 2012, are novel compared to the formats traditionally seen on graduate school-level admissions exams such as the GRE, LSAT and MCAT.

Among the major findings:

  • In Kaplan’s 2012 survey, 41% said IR would make the GMAT more reflective of the business school experience, a big drop from the 59% who answered that way in Kaplan’s 2011 survey.
  • Those who weren’t sure if IR would make the exam more reflective rose from 37% in 2011 to 49% in 2012.
  • Admissions officers who said IR would not make the exam more reflective increased from 5% in 2011 to 10% in 2012.
  • Somewhat similarly, 54% “do not know” if Integrated Reasoning makes the GMAT more reflective of work in business and management after business school; 36% say it does; and 10% say it doesn’t.

“Schools generally prefer to gather performance data on a new test or test section before fully incorporating it into their evaluation process,” says Andrew Mitchell, director of pre-business programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

“Not all applicants in 2012 will submit GMAT scores with an IR component,” Mitchell adds. “We can expect that, as more data is available, schools will determine clear policies, in which Integrated Reasoning may play a key role. In the meantime, GMAT test takers should not take GMAT Integrated Reasoning any less seriously than the Quantitative or Verbal sections.”

Mitchell notes that because test takers receive a separate score for the Integrated Reasoning section, poor performance can’t be masked by stronger performance on other sections of the test.

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