don’t let the GMAT forums fool you

If you poke through popular GMAT forums like Beat the GMAT or GMAT Club, you’ll quickly encounter dozens of tales of GMAT glory.  You’ll read about people who improved from 580 to 710 or from 440 to 630.  You might even encounter the amazing story of the guy who got a 420 on his first practice test, and eventually made it to Harvard.  These “I just beat the GMAT!” stories seem to be everywhere, and some of them make beating the GMAT sound awfully easy.

Almost every week, somebody contacts me about GMAT tutoring, and asks me why they haven’t been able to crush the GMAT like everybody in the GMAT forums.  And the first part of my answer is always the same:  there really aren’t that many forum participants crushing the GMAT.  It just looks like it.

The triumphant tales of GMAT success receive tons of comments, and end up getting bumped to the top of the forums.  But for every loud “I just clobbered the GMAT!” story with 40 comments, there are at least five (mostly unnoticed) GMAT forum posts that begin or end with “please help!!!” And I’m sure that there are exponentially more GMAT forum “lurkers” who have been demoralized by the GMAT, but choose not to post anything online.  The people who get ripped to shreds by the GMAT either post a very quiet “um, how do I improve?” query on the boards, or they don’t say anything at all.

So whatever else you do over the course of your GMAT preparations, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you suck because “everybody else is beating the GMAT.”  They aren’t.  Only a very small percentage of people who retake the GMAT actually improve their scores substantially.  Most GMAT test-takers are suffering, just like you.  And most of the guys who made huge GMAT score improvements also suffered, just like you.

So while the GMAT success stories are absolutely wonderful if you’re looking for some inspiration, keep them in perspective: we read these stories because they’re relatively rare.  That’s why they get all of the attention on the GMAT forums.

If you’re having a hard time with the GMAT, you’re definitely not alone.  Spend some time in the darker corners of the GMAT forums, and you’ll find plenty of people just like yourself, who are working their butts off to achieve their goals.  The GMAT may be easy for a very small handful of people, but if you want to improve by 100 points or more, you’ll have to work like crazy.  But at least you’ll have plenty of company.

6 responses to “don’t let the GMAT forums fool you

  1. I posted this comment without read the article.

    I already agree solely reading the title 😀

  2. So very true..
    I have a question, Charles! You talked about the ability to improve by 100 points in your above post.
    I took a mock gmat on old gmatprep and scored a 570 with 44 in Q and 28 in V.
    I have a feeling that old gmatprep and the latest gmatprep softwares are very different. I got a 44 in Q with hardly any preparation and after studying very hard over the course of several months, I got 43 on the real exam.

    So, there clearly seems a difference.

    What do you say?
    Had I taken the mock on latest gmat, would I have scored 470?
    If this is the case, then I have already improved by 200 points and so it seems that I have hit the plateau/wall!


    • Charles Bibilos

      The bad news is that the GMATPrep software didn’t actually change very much. I think they tweaked the algorithm slightly (questions seem to appear in different places than they used to), but the question banks are the same, and the changes to the scoring system appear to be extremely small.

      The bigger variable is probably your own performance from day to day. I’m sure that you learned some content and techniques that strengthened your ability to answer questions correctly… but then you probably make unnecessary errors that cancel out your gains. It’s not because of the software, though. Sorry for the bad news.

  3. Now I read the article.

    This is what I think not from the first second I engaged with this ridiculous (just because is utterly mad) exam but rather from the the first minute (the time to be accustomed to it): I do not care about this stories and I do not care about each of them: sincerely speaking, everyone has his/her story and have to have his/her strategy because we are all different.

    I do not have nothing less than other people (My exam for Certified Public Accountant is really crazy here…and I beat it): it is only an exam that you can handle and beat with passion and effort. that’s it

    Find your own way to do.

    Thanks Charles 🙂

  4. Well written, to the point and in fact pointing to the crudest facts. I could not have agreed any less to GMATNINJA.
    I am struggling too, at times these posts of success stories do add to my motivation level, but also truly said they dont represent a consensus that I can rely on. % of such success stories are so small, rather negligible and thus needs to act as buffer and not sacrosanct.

  5. I’ve been a full time tutor for over 7 years. Most of my students have been GMAT students. I see a lot of what this article is speaking of but I also see it from recommendations.

    For instance, I had a student who went from a 480 to a 690; she was accepted to HBS. She appreciated the help I provided her and has highly recommended me to many of her friends. The problem is that she neglects to tell her friends that she quit her job and studied GMAT full time for 9 months. She did 3 private courses with me as well as 2 other courses before meeting me. She did every book that was out there so many times that she would recognize the questions. In the end, I had to generate new questions for her to actually be challenged. That level of effort and dedication is almost unheard of.

    Then along come her friends who do no homework, assignments, CATs, etc. They just show up to class and expect to go from a 500 to a 700. When that doesn’t happen, they seem surprised.

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