Category Archives: Test Prep Advice
January 26, 2015
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com While I occasionally hear tales of MBA applicants offered admission in a top business school with a 640 GMAT score, the truth is that accepting students …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
While I occasionally hear tales of MBA applicants offered admission in a top business school with a 640 GMAT score, the truth is that accepting students with stellar scores of 700 or higher is more the norm at the most competitive programs.
Before you start to panic and become hung up on achieving the highest score possible, or fixate on the average GMAT score reported by the schools, I urge test-challenged clients to focus instead on aligning their scores within the 80 percent range, which schools usually list within their admitted class profile.
Many experts in the test prep industry advise all students to plan on taking the test twice. If your score after the first attempt is already at or above your goal, you can always cancel the second sitting. Remember, top schools want to see scores in the 80th percentile in the quantitative section. So if you score 100 percent in verbal and low in quantitative, you would want to retake the exam, especially if you don’t have a strong quantitative background outside of the GMAT.
[Learn about ways to fix a low GMAT score.]
There is absolutely no reason to retake the GMAT when you score over 700, test prep company Magoosh says emphatically. You’ve already proven you can handle the quantitative component of the curriculum, so turn your focus toward ensuring all of the other parts of your application are as strong as possible.
Keep in mind that this high number is primarily for those targeting a top-tier MBA program. If you scored a 680, the decision to retake should be carefully considered, as you may be better off focusing on your essays or coaching recommenders instead. Applicants looking at programs in the top 20 or 50 should check the average scores of admitted students to determine their personal target GMAT score.
If illness, nerves, exhaustion, or simply a lack of adequate preparation resulted in a low score, then a second attempt becomes a necessity. Repeat test-taking, with additional preparation, typically results in a higher score as students become familiar with the experience, and therefore, less stressed out.
Although the Graduate Management Admission Council allows you to take the test as many times as you like, you must wait 31 calendar days before retaking the exam. Make sure to check your target schools’ application deadlines in order to allow enough time to send in your final scores.
Applicants self-report their highest score, and it’s worth noting that the admissions committee doesn’t have an issue with students taking the exam more than once. In fact, committees may look positively on the dedication you’ve shown to improve upon your prior performance. Mind you, I’m talking about a score report with two or three scores, max – not one that shows you’ve sat for the GMAT seven times.
After your first test, it’s time to go over your entire GMAT performance to determine your weaknesses and double-down in those areas as you resume your studies. Don’t completely ignore the sections you did well on, however. You wouldn’t want to improve in one area but do worse in another the next time.
If you studied alone or took a class for your initial preparation, you might consider studying one on one with a GMAT tutor for the second go-round. A test prep expert can work around your schedule and tailor the curriculum to your needs.
Finally, some people aren’t natural test-takers and have a less-than-optimal performance no matter how well they know the material. One of the primary causes is stress under pressure, and it may help to watch this video tour of the GMAT Test Center and detailed explanation of all procedures to increase your comfort levels about what to expect.
If that familiarity still isn’t enough to calm your nerves come test day, consider using relaxation techniques such as meditation and visualization to reduce test anxiety. Also, taking the GMAT in the same center will help you feel more comfortable with the test-taking process and any logistics that may have thrown you off the first time.
Business school hopefuls can be incredibly hard on themselves when they make mistakes on the GMAT, but each error is a learning opportunity and a chance to improve. So don’t become discouraged if your first score isn’t where you’d hoped. Relax, and think of it as a dress rehearsal for a stellar performance to come.
January 2, 2015
If you were a Round 1 applicant this season, over the last few weeks you may have received great news, upsetting news or a mix of both— otherwise known as placement on the waitlist. First of all, the waitlist is great feedback. It means that you are qualified to attend the program, and that the school was interested in your application and your profile. Unfortunately, it was a competitive year and they couldn’t offer you a solid place in the class. No matter the reason, the waitlist is still a tough place to be.
Will I get in?
There is almost no way to know if you will be admitted off the waitlist. It certainly does happen, often, yet you have little information about the ranking of the waitlist, how many people are on the waitlist, or whether the school will reach the yield they are looking for with regular applicants. Therefore, being on the waitlist means a certain comfort with ambiguity. Hopefully you were admitted to another school and can decide whether to remain in limbo or not.
Should I stay on the waitlist?
The decision to stay on the waitlist depends on your interest level in the MBA program you have been waitlisted for. If it is your top choice, you may be willing to remain on the list until school begins, especially if you are willing to move quickly and give up a deposit on a school that has offered you firm admission.
If the waitlisting program is not your first choice, or you would like to settle your MBA plans before school starts, you may choose to remove your name from the list. It is a great service to another applicant if you do so promptly, allowing someone else a chance at their MBA dream.
Can I improve my chances of admission from the waitlist?
You may be able to improve your chances. The number one rule of waitlists is to follow directions. The school provided you with instructions about how to handle the waitlist process, and you must follow these directions to avoid having a negative impact on your standing with the admissions committee. If the school tells you that no additional materials are required, no additional materials are required, and you should not submit any under any circumstances.
If the MBA program does provide the option of submitting additional materials, apply consistent application strategy to the task. The AdCom may welcome letters of recommendation, improved GMAT scores or additional essays/letters from you. Carefully consider your strengths and weaknesses and what may be most beneficial in your situation.
If you have recently been promoted at work, have accomplished a personal goal, or have completed an academic class with a strong grade, it may be worth writing a letter to update the admissions committee with your news. Try to keep your essay or letter factual, and do not repeat information that was already included in your original application.
A supplemental recommendation may add information about you to strengthen your position on the waitlist. If you have been involved in an extracurricular activity, know someone associated with the school, or can use a letter to strengthen a part of your application, the letter may be the right direction to proceed in. Make sure your additional recommendation is brief, focused and adds significant additional information to your overall profile.
Factual information like improved GMAT scores or transcripts from successful business related classes could go a long way towards bolstering your chances.
While the waitlist may be frustrating, it is a positive indication for your application, and you may be fortunate enough to receive final admission from your chosen program.
November 28, 2014
Guest post by Rich Cohen, Co-Founder, EMPOWERgmat The process of putting together a study plan for tackling the GMAT can be a daunting one. First, there are a myriad of different resources. Second, it’s tough …
Guest post by Rich Cohen, Co-Founder, EMPOWERgmat
The process of putting together a study plan for tackling the GMAT can be a daunting one. First, there are a myriad of different resources. Second, it’s tough to predict how much time will be required. Third, there’s no way to know if your plan is actually going to help you succeed until you get deep into it (and realize that you may have made some ineffective choices along the way).
After putting together a reasonable plan and studying for some appreciable amount of time, the nightmare situation happens: you’re STUCK at a particular score level! Maybe it’s the 500s, maybe it’s the low-to-mid 600s, but you can’t seem to get past it. So now what?
The above situation is arguably the most common problem to strike GMAT test takers during their studies. Thankfully, the solution isn’t that hard to come by, but some serious adjustments must be made.
1) Acknowledge that what you’ve done so far has not gotten you to your goal. Continuing to approach the GMAT in the same way is NOT going to magically fix your problem. Investing in new materials and lessons, and putting in the necessary practice to change how you approach the GMAT, is what’s required.
2) The little areas that you “cheat” on (or skip altogether) during practice are costing you BIG when you take the GMAT. The “reality” of test day should not be ignored. For example, the GMAT requires you to face the Essay and IR sections, so you should include those sections when you take your practice CAT tests. Think about all of the little details that will occur on your test day and do your best to mimic them during practice.
3) YOU are likely causing your pacing problem. Maybe you keep rereading and rereading and rereading prompts. Maybe you don’t take enough notes. Maybe you’re trying to solve a problem the “long” way when faster, more efficient methods are available.
4) Mental acuity is tied to physical well-being. If you have trouble focusing or you lose your will at the end of the Verbal section (and think “I just want this test to be over”), then your problem might actually be physical.
The EMPOWERgmat Score Booster has become wildly successful in helping thousands of test takers to improve on their existing scores, and it’s currently free to try out at www.empowergmat.com. Studying for the GMAT is a BIG task, but it doesn’t have to be a hard one. With the right tools and the proper guidance, you can get “unstuck” in a hurry.
November 11, 2014
Are you heading to business school and thinking about taking the GRE? Our friends at Magoosh have created a nifty infographic to help answer the million dollar question: what is a good GRE score? The …
Are you heading to business school and thinking about taking the GRE? Our friends at Magoosh have created a nifty infographic to help answer the million dollar question: what is a good GRE score?
The fact is, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Depending on the programs you’re applying to, a “good score” could take on various amounts. The infographic is organized by grad school programs, so you can quickly scroll through to find the average test scores necessary to get into any engineering, physical sciences, business, and more, grad programs.
So take a look at the Magoosh infographic and learn to answer the loaded “what’s a good GRE score?” question with ease!
October 29, 2014
Guest post from Josh Jones of Test Prep Unlimited, a private GMAT tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area. His students have reported score increases as high as seven points per tutoring hour.
How to and how much you should study depends on your starting/target scores and the amount of time you have, but this guide should give you a good sense of how to structure your study. It’s best to use multiple GMAT resources, but be deliberate about how you use them to maximize your efficiency. If after reading this you still have questions, you can ask me at the Facebook Page for Test Prep Unlimited.
Your first step is to learn how to speed-read. Your words per minute should be at least 400 (with >95% comprehension). Faster is better; 500+ would be great. Here’s a test for you: What speed do you read?
Next, download the free, official GMATPrep® Software from the makers of the test. Read a little bit about the format and structure of the test, do 1 easy, 1 medium, and 1 hard question of each type (but save the rest of the questions and exams for later!), then take a full-length diagnostic exam under semi-realistic testing conditions (no outside reference or calculator, no pausing the exam to think about questions, etc).
On timing: You’ll want to spend about two minutes per Quant question (perhaps more for Data Sufficiency and less for Problem Solving) and 2.5 minutes per Integrated Reasoning question. For Verbal, 75-90 seconds for each Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning, 2-3 minutes for each Reading Comprehension Passage, plus 90 seconds each for the three or four questions that follow. The Verbal numbers will vary slightly depending on your strengths and weaknesses, but you have about 1 minute 49 seconds per Verbal question.
If your starting score is under 550, you will want an entire foundational overview. I would recommend using Manhattan’s Foundations of GMAT books. Attempt some of the drills at the end of the section, and if they take you more than 15 seconds each, read the section beforehand and try again. Then you can move onto comprehensive strategy guides.
If you’re between 550-650, you will still want that foundational overview, but you can do it more quickly. Then you can move onto comprehensive strategy guides.
If you’re between 650-700, you can skip the foundational overview and work on the comprehensive strategy guides.
If you’re already above 700, just focus on the 700-800 level questions, and on the specific subjects you need help with. Kaplan has a GMAT800 book, MGMAT has an Advanced Quant book, Veritas has a Data Sufficiency book, an Advanced Verbal book, etc.
Books and Resources: The two most popular sets of comprehensive strategy guides are MGMAT and Veritas Prep. I personally prefer Veritas’s books; They have a better understanding of the test and their questions are closer to real GMAT questions. MGMAT’s guides are farther from the GMAT. They are a good first step, and are useful if you don’t need to gain more than 100 points, but they are far from ideal. They’re just marketed better, so they are more widely known. As for online resources, there is also GMATPill, Magoosh, and Economist GMAT Tutor.
You cannot neglect studying Verbal! This is true even if you are a native English speaker (or even an English major!). The reasons are a) The Verbal skills cultivated in college are not exactly what the GMAT measures, and b) Many international applicants with superior Quant but weaker Verbal skills take the GMAT and skew the results so that the tail is much longer above V45 than for Q45.
So if you have a solid Verbal score, you can still break 700, even with a less-than-stellar Quant score. For example, with a 40 in Quant, you could still break 700 with a 45 in Verbal. (In practice this is extremely difficult to attain, even for most native English speakers.) But it’s better and safer to have a more balanced score.
If your Verbal score is below 40 and you have the time to do so, start your Verbal prep by using ACT and SAT verbal prep materials (take all of their practice tests). Yes those are for high-schoolers applying to college, but what is more important here, your MBA or your ego?
If you want to be a Verbal superstar, which is required to be above 750, do the Verbal sections from past LSAT‘s, as they are harder than the GMAT’s Verbal. These are good for Reading Comprehension and especially Critical Reasoning, but not Sentence Correction. Don’t do the LSAT Analytical Reasoning (as there is no parallel in GMAT), just the Reading and Logical Reasoning (which is similar to GMAT to Critical Reasoning).
For every 50 hours of study that you do, take another practice test under exam conditions and review the solutions. GMATPrep has four, and you’ve used one already, so if you plan on taking several practice tests, use others first then come back to the GMATPrep exams at the end.
Don’t burn through your practice tests without significant study in between, unless you’re already at the 750+ range, because you’re just using up your practice tests without gaining much in between.
If you can afford it and would benefit from doing so, hire a private tutor to structure, motivate, and expedite your study (this will cost between $1,000-10,000 dollars). Be aware though: Tutoring companies take a large percentage of the tutor pay—70% or more—so if you can find an independent tutor with excellent credentials, teaching experience, and reviews, that’s a much more cost-effective route. Students in remote areas, countries outside the U.S., or with severe budget constraints, may benefit from online adaptive learning software such as Economist GMAT Tutor ($500-1,000).
You can also take a class, but if you’re disciplined about your GMAT studies, you won’t get much more out of it than you would by following the program I’ve outlined, especially if you’re ahead or behind the curve for the class, as you will not move at your optimal pace. Actually the primary potential benefit of a class in this case is the potential for community you can form with your peers, but you will have to take that initiative and there is no guarantee you’ll get what you’re looking for.
Finish your study with GMAC materials, first with The Official Guide for GMAT Review 2015 and the supplemental Quant and Verbal guides, then with GMATPrep. Always try to do the question first without looking at the solution, but don’t spend more than 5 minutes trying to solve a question if you’re stumped. Try to keep in mind actual test pacing, but spend as much time on each question as is necessary for you to complete it and understand the solutions provided (which are often not the best or fastest way to do the problems, by the way). In other words, first focus on getting questions right, then focus on getting them right quickly.
Take another practice exam (see the timing suggestions at the beginning of this post), go over the answers, then do *ALL* of the GMATPrep questions in exam mode. Then take another practice exam, look at the solutions, and repeat as necessary until you feel satisfied with your results.
Since OG and GMATPrep are real GMAT questions from the makers of the test, you will develop appropriate habits for test day as opposed to using test prep company materials which are imitations of, rather than substitutes for, real questions. So if you’re going to use multiple materials, DO NOT START YOUR STUDIES WITH GMAC MATERIALS!!! Once those questions are gone, they’re gone, and if you’re unsatisfied with your score, you’ll have to wait until either you forget these materials, or they release an entirely new set of questions (which will take years, since the updated questions are not for the entire set).
Come test time, relax the day before the test (don’t cram!) and make sure you eat a healthy meal and sleep well. Know your biological clock and pick a 4 hour block for the test when you will be most alert and energetic, one that doesn’t require you to skip a meal. Bring healthy snacks, and stay hydrated, focused, and positive. Good luck on your studies and on your dreams!
October 21, 2014
First off, congratulations to all of the R1 applicants to Michigan Ross School of Business who received an invitation to interview yesterday! MBA admissions director Soojin Kwon discusses the subject of retaking the GMAT in …
First off, congratulations to all of the R1 applicants to Michigan Ross School of Business who received an invitation to interview yesterday! MBA admissions director Soojin Kwon discusses the subject of retaking the GMAT in her latest blog post, noting that the question also frequently comes from candidates who have already submitted an application.
Perhaps not surprisingly, her answer to whether someone should retake the GMAT is, “It depends.” The tried-and-true advice is to aim for a score in the 80% range, which at Michigan Ross is 650-750. But, 10% of Ross admits have scores below 650, and Kwon explains what an applicant would need to have in order to counterbalance a low score.
That 10% looked something like this:
- had undergrad/post-undergrad records that demonstrated solid academic achievement including in quantitative skills and/or they took post-undergrad courses to demonstrated quantitative ability;
- had a strong track record of professional achievement that demonstrated an ability to contribute to class discussions;
- submitted essays that were well thought-out and well-written with rec letters that demonstrated a fit with Ross’ collaborative, initiative-taking community; and
- solidly reinforced all of the above in their interview. If you look like this, then you may be fine. Keep in mind that there may be many other applicants who look like this.
If applicants wish to retake the GMAT exam and can get their scores submitted to Michigan Ross reasonably close to the application deadline, Kwon says the program will consider the updated score. However, a new score won’t change an admissions decision once it has been made.
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