Tag Archives: GMAC

GMAC says you probably won’t improve your GMAT score

If you’re like most people who stumble across my little corner of the GMAT blogosphere, the GMAT has already punched you in the gut, and you’re probably preparing to retake the test.  But if you’re starting at a 600 or above, the researchers at GMAC have a message for you:  you’ll probably fail in your quest to improve your score.

In a brief article published in 2011 and an accompanying GMAT blog post, the GMAT’s chief psychometrician, Lawrence Rudner, tallied up some numbers on repeat test-takers, and came up with some interesting data:

  • nearly 25% of repeat testers actually score lower on their second GMAT test
  • the overall average gain on the second test is 33 points, but the vast majority of these gains are enjoyed by test-takers who scored below 600 on their initial exam
  • test-takers who score between 700 and 790 gain an average of only 8 points on their second exam, and their scores actually decline slightly on the third and fourth attempts
  • test-takers who score between 600 and 690 on their first GMAT exam gain an average of only 20 points on their second exam, and their scores barely improve at all on the third and fourth attempts

So basically, the guys who write the GMAT are saying that you probably won’t achieve a meaningful score improvement, especially if you’re already starting in the 600s or 700s.

In a way, GMAC has a point:  the GMAT isn’t a content-based test, and the reasoning skills required for success are extremely difficult to develop.  To make things worse, the test-writers specifically design the GMAT for “reliability,” meaning that test-takers should be expected to perform similarly on repeated testings.

So it’s definitely tough to achieve GMAT score improvements, but I can introduce you to hundreds of successful test-takers who have enjoyed huge gains on the GMAT.  Nearly all of them worked their asses off for the privilege, but it can definitely be done. With enough effort, it’s always possible to beat the odds.

Still, the statistics suggest that a large percentage of repeat test-takers are wasting their time, and GMAC is telling you that you’re likely to fail. Now please go out and prove them wrong.

 

GMAT Focus quirks

For the most part, I’m a fan of GMAC, the company that produces the GMAT. I’ve spent a good chunk of the last decade working as an SAT, ACT, GRE, and TOEFL tutor, and I respect that fact that the GMAT is much more complicated, precise, and nuanced than any of the aforementioned exams. And GMAC is also fairly generous about publishing retired test questions; some of us whine about the GMAT OG’s lack of hard questions, but the official guides for GRE and TOEFL are far worse, offering only a handful of (ancient, moldy) practice questions. So while I generally think that GMAC does its job really, really well, they seem to have been a little bit sloppy with GMAT Focus lately.

In some ways, GMAT Focus is the best of the GMAT practice material. Sure, it’s overpriced ($25 for one test, or $65 for three… basically, you’ll pay almost $1 per question). And I think it’s weird that they sell the tests in groups of three–you can actually take the test four times before questions start to repeat. And you’re given only 45 minutes to complete 24 questions–a little bit odd, since you’ll ultimately need to get used to doing 37 GMAT questions in 75 minutes. But GMAT Focus still contains an impressive bank of difficult, fresh GMAT questions; I’m convinced that GMAT Focus questions are much closer to the real thing than any other practice resource available. If you’re serious about improving your quant score, GMAT Focus is absolutely not optional.

Unfortunately, the GMAT Focus questions are no longer all that unique. Many of them appear in the 12th edition of the official guide, and I have a funny feeling that even more will show up in the next edition of the Quantitative Review guide. So you might be paying $1 for questions that you’ve already purchased in another book. That’s really annoying, especially if you’re already paying for a GMAT tutor.

Even more annoying: the GMAT Focus might not be as representative of the real test as I once thought. For a long time, it seemed that the GMAT Focus would give you a pretty good idea of the composition of the quantitative section–specifically, GMAT Focus included a lot more tricky logic, combinatorics, and “creative algebra” questions than the official guides, and GMAT Focus seemed to be an extremely accurate representation of the actual test. Sadly, something might have shifted, at least a little bit. In the past month, several of my students (all with quant raw scores above 40) whined that the real test didn’t have any of the tough combination/permutation/probability questions that appear on GMAT Focus. It makes me wonder whether the GMAT Focus is becoming somehow less indicative of the actual test. Again, I find that a little bit irritating–if it’s actually true.

Here’s the strangest report of all: one of my GMAT students swears that he saw a GMAT Focus question on the real exam last weekend. He claims that the question was absolutely identical, with the same numbers and everything. He didn’t share the details of the question (that would be illegal), but I find that pretty alarming if it’s true. Is GMAC getting sloppy? Was the “retread” GMAT Focus question tossed back into the real test as some sort of experiment, or as a statistical control for other questions? Or was my student just hallucinating after a long, stressful few hours of test-taking?

Either way, it’s interesting. I still think that it’s worth spending $90 for all four GMAT Focus tests, but I couldn’t really blame a budget-conscious GMAT student who comes to a different conclusion.