Tag Archives: GMAT studies

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.


Looking ahead to fall admissions season? Start in January.

It’s the dead of winter right now, and 2013 first-round MBA deadlines won’t be here for another eight months or so. That’s almost enough time to bring a baby to term, so if you’re looking ahead to the next admissions cycle, then you still have plenty of time to worry about the GMAT and your MBA applications, right?

As crazy as it may sound, I would argue that you should probably think about starting your GMAT prep before the snow starts to melt. If your goal is to produce the best MBA applications you possibly can—without turning your life into a stressed-out nightmare right before the application deadlines—then summer might be too late to start your GMAT studies.

Unless you’ve already been humbled by the GMAT, you’re probably thinking, “Come on, you stupid ninja dude! If I start in June, I’ll still have TONS of time for applications.”

You might be right. And you might be desperately wrong. In an effort to scare the poop out of you, here are two stories about guys who started their GMAT prep in June, but still didn’t have enough time to produce their best MBA applications the following January.

In May 2011, I received a phone call from a gentleman—let’s call him Mr. U, since he’s from upstate New York—who planned to quit his (thoroughly unsatisfying) job so that he could focus exclusively on the GMAT beginning in early June. He intended to spend the summer pounding the GMAT into submission, and then he would spend the fall writing amazing MBA application essays.

And guess what? Stuff happened. His arithmetic and algebra skills were an utter disaster, and he needed far more study time than he’d hoped. He needed an extra couple of weeks to fully transition out of his job. He ended up having some unexpected family obligations as the summer and fall wore on. He got distracted by some home repair projects. Some unavoidable trips—mostly for out-of-town weddings—interrupted his GMAT studies. And because his math skills were so crappy, Mr. U battled burnout after a couple of months of studying, and had to take the GMAT twice to get his target score.

Between the GMAT struggles and the non-GMAT distractions, Mr. U didn’t start writing his MBA application essays until late December, and he pulled a few late nights in early January to get everything done. His applications weren’t very polished, and he definitely suffered through some unnecessary MBA essay agony.

It all worked out for him in the end—Mr. U currently attends a top-ten MBA program, and his life is pretty awesome—but he suffered through the harrowing process of receiving rejection letters from five of his six target MBA programs. If he had started earlier, Mr. U might have had some extra options, and he definitely would have saved himself some pain and stress.

The second story involves a more recent applicant—let’s call him Mr. FP, since he loves skiing in fresh powder, just like everybody else in Colorado. Mr. FP started working with me in June 2012, and earned his 730 in August. No problems there. He figured that he would have the entire autumn to work on his MBA applications.

But again, life got in the way. His boss gave him some summer evenings off to focus on the GMAT, but autumn was payback time, and Mr. FP ended up working ridiculously long hours from late August through the end of December. A few family dramas also ate some of his precious free time and, just like Mr. U, Mr. FP ended up finishing some of his second-round MBA applications at literally the last minute on January 3. In the end, his MBA applications weren’t perfectly polished, and we’ll both be sweating unnecessarily as we await decisions this spring.

Please don’t let this happen to you. You might think that the GMAT and MBA application process will take just a month or two, but all sorts of things can derail your progress: a bad GMAT test day, a sick family member, MBA essay writers’ block, a natural disaster, unexpected work issues, a marriage proposal from your significant other, or a promotion that requires extra hours. Or your underlying GMAT skills might be worse than you expected. As Mr. U painfully discovered, weak quant fundamentals or weak reading skills can substantially delay your GMAT test date.

(Incidentally, even the official GMAT blog agrees with me on this:  at the end of this post, the GMAT brass encourages you to start your prep early.)

So if you’re truly serious about your MBA goals, make sure that you give yourself enough time to weather every possible distraction. If you start in January but succeed in achieving your dream GMAT score in February, that’s wonderful—you’ll have time for some Colorado ski trips this winter, and plenty of time for b-school visits in the spring and summer. But it takes a ton of time to write great MBA applications, and if your life isn’t perfectly smooth during the course of your GMAT studies and the MBA application process, you’ll ultimately be thrilled that you started working on the GMAT early.