Archives For Stacey Koprince

harvard gmat score hlep

It’s October again. People are starting to panic because they want to apply second round (early January!) and they don’t yet have the score they want on the GMAT. Let’s talk about what to do.

What’s your goal?

First of all, you need to set a realistic goal for yourself. What is your current score? How far are you from your goal?

We’re only about 2.5 months from most 2nd-round deadlines. In that timeframe, it might be reasonable to make the jump from 550 to 650, from 600 to 670, or from 650 to 700. (The higher you go, the harder it is to go even higher.) Those ranges are just rough benchmarks; some people will be able to make larger jumps, while others unfortunately won’t hit even those rough benchmarks.

If you are currently at a 550 and want to get to 720, it’s likely that you’ll need more time (especially considering that you also have to complete applications in the same 2.5 month timeframe!). You may need to choose between lowering your goal score and delaying your application—to the third round or to next year.

You might also need to reduce the number of applications you’re planning to submit. It would be challenging to apply to 6 schools and commit to a full GMAT study schedule at the same time.

How have you been studying?

Have you already taken the real test? Perhaps you have been studying for months using a comprehensive set of materials but, though you have improved your score, you haven’t reached the level that you want. If this is the case, then you may need specialized help in the form of a class or tutor to help you break through the plateau that you have reached. (Note: this isn’t true in every case, of course, but when you have only a couple of months left and you have to do applications simultaneously, then you need a new approach to help you break the logjam quickly.)

Or maybe you have been studying a bit and know what you need to do, but you haven’t found the time to do a comprehensive review. If that’s the case, it’s time to commit 100%, get your study plan together, and start a daily study regimen.

Finally, perhaps you’ve been procrastinating altogether—life is busy and nobody really wants to study for the GMAT. If this describes you, my best advice is to get yourself into a class immediately. You likely don’t have the time to evaluate the various resources available, put together a full self-study plan, and then execute. At this stage, it’s better to dive into a complete program and get cracking.

The one exception to that is someone who has done very well on standardized tests in the past. If you self-studied for the SAT (or a similar test) and did a great job in a relatively short period of time, then self-study may be the way to go for the GMAT.

What do I need to do to lift my GMAT score?

Finally, we get down to the important question. J

First, the single most important mistake that people make on the GMAT is to treat it as an academic test, especially on the math section, where every question has a right answer (vs. a “best” answer on verbal). The GMAT is not an academic test! I know it feels like one, but it’s not.

This is what the GMAT really tests.

In the past month, I have told multiple of my students to read that article every day for two weeks and to email me on days 1, 7, and 14 to tell me why I gave them this assignment. If you would like to participate in this exercise, come and visit me on the Manhattan GMAT Forums. (I answer the questions in the General GMAT Strategy Questions folder of the Ask An Instructor section.)

If you want to hit your maximum potential, you have to wrap your head and heart around the mindset described in that article. You can’t just know it intellectually; you actually have to believe it, or you are likely to revert to the old “school test” mentality under the stress of the real test.

Next, you of course need to know the content—the facts, rules, and concepts tested on the exam—as well as how to handle the various question types. That’s all the 1st level of GMAT study; if you’ve been studying for a while, you likely have a decent handle on a lot of that material.

Beyond that, you need to learn how to think your way through GMAT-type questions, what we call the 2nd level of GMAT study. If you have hit a plateau in your scoring level, then it may be because you haven’t made the leap to the 2nd level.

I’m going to go back to the “set a realistic goal” idea for a moment. The higher you want to score on this test, the more you will need to master that 2nd level. If you haven’t really begun to study yet, and you want a 700+, then you are setting yourself the task of getting through both levels in 2.5 months (or sooner). That is a very ambitious goal—too ambitious for most people.

So you’re saying there’s not enough time? I should just give up?

No, of course not. You’ve got to try! Just be realistic and, as with anything important in life, have a back-up plan. If you just can’t make it happen this year, you can always apply next year.

(I know that you’ve probably already told people in your life that you’re going to apply this year. You’re allowed to change your mind, and you don’t have to tell people why. Just say that you decided it was better for your career to wait another year—after all, if you can get a substantially better score by giving yourself more time and applying next year, that may very well change your admissions prospects, and that could change your career!)

I’m actually within 50 points of my goal score. I just need a little boost…

If you’ve been studying and are decently close to your goal already, then there are some additional things you can do to try to secure a final boost to your score.

You need to figure out exactly what’s pulling you down. Most people have timing problems on this test. (If your current thought is that you don’t have timing problems, you’re likely wrong. More than 95% of people have timing problems on this test! Many, if not most, are just unaware of it.)

The good news is this: it’s reasonable to pick up 20 to 30 points (sometimes more, if your timing issues are severe) in about 2 months by fixing timing issues alone. Analyze your most recent one or two Manhattan GMAT CATs to determine what your particular timing issues are. Then learn how to manage your time on the GMAT, starting with developing your 1-minute time sense (section 4 of the article).

Next, focus on the low-hanging fruit. Don’t try to turn your biggest weaknesses into strengths—that will take forever. Instead, minimize careless errors. You already know how to get those questions right, so make sure you earn those points! The article in the previous paragraph that details how to analyze your CATs will help you to place your strengths and weaknesses in one of several “buckets.” Focus on bucket 2.

If you want to enlist a tutor to help you over that final hump, the best thing you can do is take a practice CAT (not GMATPrep, but one that actually provides good data to analyze) and have your tutor analyze it. Use that to set up a study plan, making sure to focus on timing as well as low-hanging fruit. When you feel you’ve made good progress on the issues identified in that first CAT (approximately 2 to 3 weeks, if you’re studying regularly), take another CAT, have the tutor analyze it, and start all over again. Repeat until you’re ready to take the real thing.

You don’t have to use a tutor of course—you can analyze your tests yourself, using the article I linked above. Just go through slowly and carefully to give yourself the best shot of catching everything. Expect to take at least an hour for the analysis; if it takes less time than that, then you are probably missing some important clues that could help you in your studies.

Finally, pick your battles. Don’t try to learn everything. Your best strategy for your bucket 3 categories is just to get them wrong fast and use that time and mental energy elsewhere. Don’t bother trying to turn your biggest weakness into a strength. Don’t spend 10 hours studying combinatorics, when most people see 0 or 1 combinatorics question on the real test. Focus on the low-hanging fruit in bucket 2.

In sum…

If you’re within 100 points of your goal score, then you may be able to get there in the 2 to 2.5 months before second-round deadlines. If you’re more than 100 points away, you can (and should!) still go for it, of course, but be realistic and have a plan B. (In fact, I would have a plan B even if I were within 100 points of my goal.)

In general, make sure to:

(1) Cement the GMAT mindset. (It’s not a school test; it’s a business / decision-making test.)

(2) Fix your timing. Everyone has timing issues; figure out your own issues and make them better.

(3) Focus on the low-hanging fruit! Start with careless errors. Next, concentrate on improving moderate weaknesses. Guess quickly on your biggest weaknesses and use that time elsewhere on the test.

Manhattan GMAT

Studying for the GMAT? Take our free GMAT practice exam or sign up for a free GMAT trial class running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

GMAT reading comprehension example problem tips and helpWe’ve done a lot of RC over the years, but a passage contains so much text that I rarely do a full passage with all of its questions.

We’re going to remedy that, starting today! First, we’ll talk about the passage below (from the free problem set that comes with GMATPrep®). Then, we’ll tackle the series of questions that comes with it.

Give yourself approximately 2.5 to 3 minutes to read the below and make yourself a light Passage Map.

* ” The modern multinational corporation is described as having originated when the owner-managers of nineteenth-century British firms carrying on international trade were replaced by teams of salaried managers organized into hierarchies. Increases in the volume of transactions in such firms are commonly believed to have necessitated this structural change. Nineteenth-century inventions like the steamship and the telegraph, by facilitating coordination of managerial activities, are described as key factors. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chartered trading companies, despite the international scope of their activities, are usually considered irrelevant to this discussion: the volume of their transactions is assumed to have been too low and the communications and transport of their day too primitive to make comparisons with modern multinationals interesting.

“In reality, however, early trading companies successfully purchased and outfitted ships, built and operated offices and warehouses, manufactured trade goods for use abroad, maintained trading posts and production facilities overseas, procured goods for import, and sold those goods both at home and in other countries. The large volume of transactions associated with these activities seems to have necessitated hierarchical management structures well before the advent of modern communications and transportation. For example, in the Hudson’s Bay Company, each far-flung trading outpost was managed by a salaried agent, who carried out the trade with the Native Americans, managed day-to-day operations, and oversaw the post’s workers and servants. One chief agent, answerable to the Court of Directors in London through the correspondence committee, was appointed with control over all of the agents on the bay.

“The early trading companies did differ strikingly from modern multinationals in many respects. They depended heavily on the national governments of their home countries and thus characteristically acted abroad to promote national interests. Their top managers were typically owners with a substantial minority share, whereas senior managers’ holdings in modern multinationals are usually insignificant. They operated in a preindustrial world, grafting a system of capitalist international trade onto a premodern system of artisan and peasant production. Despite these differences, however, early trading companies organized effectively in remarkably modern ways and merit further study as analogues of more modern structures.”

What did you get out of the passage? My thoughts (by paragraph) are on the left and my notes are on the right:

Continue Reading…

how-to-set-up-your-gmat-scratch-paperA student in one of my classes recently asked me how best to set up his scratch paper while taking the exam, so my first task is to give a shout-out to Robert and thank him for giving me the topic for this article!

I shared a few things with him during class and I’ll share these things with you below. Plus, now that I’ve had a chance to reflect, I have some other ideas for you.

What’s the Scratch Paper like?

You’ll be given a bound booklet of 5 sheets of legal-sized paper (that’s the overly long paper often used for legal documents). This yellow graph paper will be laminated, so you’ll use a special marker to write on it. (If you’re in one of our classes, then you received your very own scratch paper booklet as part of your books and other materials.)

While the booklet technically has 10 faces (front and back of 5 pages), the first page has a bunch of writing and instructions on it, so in practice you’ll have 9 faces on which to write. You can have only one booklet at a time, but you are allowed to exchange the booklet for a new one during the test.

AWA (essay)

The test is divided into four sections. Chances are that you won’t need much scrap paper, if any, during the essay section. In fact, I recommend typing your notes right onto the screen as you read the essay prompt. For example, every time I find a flaw in the argument, I type up a note, then hit enter. When I’m done, I look through the list of flaws, decide which ones to keep, and cut and paste to reorder them. Now, I have a template for what I’m going to write for each paragraph.

Integrated Reasoning (IR) and Organizing Your Page

You will definitely use your scrap paper during the IR section, but there are only 12 question prompts and 9 sheets of paper, so you should have plenty of space.

Organization, though, will be important, since most IR question types have two or three parts. Plan to spend about half a page per problem and keep that work discrete. In fact, I recommend drawing a horizontal line halfway down the page to force yourself to work in a discrete space and keep your steps organized.

Have you ever done this?

[Internal monologue] Hmm, there’s not a lot of room left on this page, but I think I can squeeze one more problem in here. Oh, there isn’t quite enough room after all, but if I turn the paper sideways and write in this blank space between some other work over here, I can finish it off. Argh, none of the answers match. I must’ve made a mistake…let me check my work… Wait, am I looking at work from this problem or from the last problem?

I’m one of the worst offenders on this on quant. Check this out. I just went and found an old piece of scrap paper (I did not create this just for this article—I promise!):

269 - Set up Scratch Paper image

I don’t even know whether that’s one problem or two different problems. Either way, that is NOT good scrap paper practice. I think this might have been one of our challenge problems and I was definitely struggling to figure the problem out.

Continue Reading…

gmat-quant-help-tips-problemHow did it go last time with the rate problem? I’ve got another story problem for you, but this time we’re going to cover a different math area.

Just a reminder: here’s a link to the first (and long ago) article in this series: making story problems real. When the test gives you a story problem, do what you would do in the real world if your boss asked you a similar question: a back-of-the-envelope calculation to get a “close enough” answer.

If you haven’t yet read the earlier articles, go do that first. Learn how to use this method, then come back here and test your new skills on the problem below.

This is a GMATPrep® problem from the free exams. Give yourself about 2 minutes. Go!

* “Jack and Mark both received hourly wage increases of 6 percent. After the wage increases, Jack’s hourly wage was how many dollars per hour more than Mark’s?

“(1) Before the wage increases, Jack’s hourly wage was $5.00 per hour more than Mark’s.

“(2) Before the wage increases, the ratio of Jack’s hourly wage to Mark’s hourly wage was 4 to 3.”

Data sufficiency! On the one hand, awesome: we don’t have to do all the math. On the other hand, be careful: DS can get quite tricky.

Okay, you and your (colleague, friend, sister…pick a real person!) work together and you both just got hourly wage increases of 6%. (You’re Jack and your friend is Mark.) Now, the two of you are trying to figure out how much more you make.

Hmm. If you both made the same amount before, then a 6% increase would keep you both at the same level, so you’d make $0 more. If you made $100 an hour before, then you’d make $106 now, and if your colleague (I’m going to use my co-worker Whit) made $90 an hour before, then she’d be making…er, that calculation is annoying.

Actually, 6% is pretty annoying to calculate in general. Is there any way around that?

There are two broad ways; see whether you can figure either one out before you keep reading.

First, you could make sure to choose “easy” numbers. For example, if you choose $100 for your wage and half of that, $50 an hour, for Whit’s wage, the calculations become fairly easy. After you calculate the increase for you based on the easier number of $100, you know that her increase is half of yours.

Oh, wait…read statement (1). That approach isn’t going to work, since this choice limits what you can choose, and that’s going to make calculating 6% annoying.

Second, you may be able to substitute in a different percentage. Depending on the details of the problem, the specific percentage may not matter, as long as both hourly wages are increased by the same percentage.

Does that apply in this case? First, the problem asks for a relative amount: the difference in the two wages. It’s not always necessary to know the exact numbers in order to figure out a difference.

Second, the two statements continue down this path: they give relative values but not absolute values. (Yes, $5 is a real value, but it represents the difference in wages, not the actual level of wages.) As a result, you can use any percentage you want. How about 50%? That’s much easier to calculate.

Okay, back to the problem. The wages increase by 50%. They want to know the difference between your rate and Whit’s rate: Y – W = ?

“(1) Before the wage increases, Jack’s hourly wage was $5.00 per hour more than Mark’s.”

Okay, test some real numbers.

Case #1: If your wage was $10, then your new wage would be $10 + $5 = $15. In this case, Whit’s original wage had to have been $10 – $5 = $5 and so her new wage would be $5 + $2.50 = $7.50. The difference between the two new wages is $7.50.

Case #2: If your wage was $25, then your new wage would be $25 + $12.50 = $37.50. Whit’s original wage had to have been $25 – $5 = $20, so her new wage would be $20 + $10 = $30. The difference between the two new wages is…$7.50!

Wait, seriously? I was expecting the answer to be different. How can they be the same?

At this point, you have two choices: you can try one more set of numbers to see what you get or you can try to figure out whether there really is some rule that would make the difference always $7.50 no matter what.

If you try a third case, you will discover that the difference is once again $7.50. It turns out that this statement is sufficient to answer the question. Can you articulate why it must always work?

The question asks for the difference between their new hourly wages. The statement gives you the difference between their old hourly wages. If you increase the two wages by the same percentage, then you are also increasing the difference between the two wages by that exact same percentage. Since the original difference was $5, the new difference is going to be 50% greater: $5 + $2.50 = $7.50.

(Note: this would work exactly the same way if you used the original 6% given in the problem. It would just be a little more annoying to do the math, that’s all.)

Okay, statement (1) is sufficient. Cross off answers BCE and check out statement (2):

“(2) Before the wage increases, the ratio of Jack’s hourly wage to Mark’s hourly wage was 4 to 3.”

Hmm. A ratio. Maybe this one will work, too, since it also gives us something about the difference? Test a couple of cases to see. (You can still use 50% here instead of 6% in order to make the math easier.)

Case #1: If your initial wage was $4, then your new wage would be $4 + $2 = $6. Whit’s initial wage would have been $3, so her new wage would be $3 + $1.5 = $4.50. The difference between the new wages is $1.5.

Case #2: If your initial wage was $8, then your new wage would be $8 + $4 = $12. Whit’s initial wage would have been $6, so her new wage would be $6 + $3 = $9. The difference is now $3!

Statement (2) is not sufficient. The correct answer is (A).

Now, look back over the work for both statements. Are there any takeaways that could get you there faster, without having to test so many cases?

In general, if you have this set-up:

- The starting numbers both increase or decrease by the same percentage, AND

- you know the numerical difference between those two starting numbers

? Then you know that the difference will change by that same percentage. If the numbers go up by 5% each, then the difference also goes up by 5%. If you’re only asked for the difference, that number can be calculated.

If, on the other hand, the starting difference can change, then the new difference will also change. Notice that in the cases for the second statement, the difference between the old wages went from $1 in the first case to $2 in the second. If that difference is not one consistent number, then the new difference also won’t be one consistent number.

Key Takeaways: Make Stories Real

(1) Put yourself in the problem. Plug in some real numbers and test it out. Data Sufficiency problems that don’t offer real numbers for some key part of the problem are great candidates for this technique.

(2) In the problem above, the key to knowing you could test cases was the fact that they kept talking about the hourly wages but they never provided real numbers for those hourly wages. The only real number they provided represented a relative difference between the two numbers; that relative difference, however, didn’t establish what the actual wages were.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

gmat-quant-help-tips-problemIn the past, we’ve talked about making story problems real. In other words, when the test gives you a story problem, don’t start making tables and writing equations and figuring out the algebraic solution. Rather, do what you would do in the real world if someone asked you this question: a back-of-the-envelope calculation (involving some math, sure, but not multiple equations with variables).

If you haven’t yet read the article linked in the last paragraph, go do that first. Learn how to use this method, then come back here and test your new skills on the problem below.

This is a GMATPrep® problem from the free exams. Give yourself about 2 minutes. Go!

* “Machines X and Y work at their respective constant rates. How many more hours does it take machine Y, working alone, to fill a production order of a certain size than it takes machine X, working alone?

“(1) Machines X and Y, working together, fill a production order of this size in two-thirds the time that machine X, working alone, does.

“(2) Machine Y, working alone, fills a production order of this size in twice the time that machine X, working alone, does.”

You work in a factory. Your boss just came up to you and asked you this question. What do you do?

In the real world, you’d never whip out a piece of paper and start writing equations. Instead, you’d do something like this:

I need to figure out the difference between how long it takes X alone and how long it takes Y alone.

Okay, statement (1) gives me some info. Hmm, so if machine X takes 1 hour to do the job by itself, then the two machines together would take two-thirds…let’s see, that’s 40 minutes…

Wait, that number is annoying. Let’s say machine X takes 3 hours to do the job alone, so the two machines take 2 hours to do it together.

What next? Oh, right, how long does Y take? If they can do it together in 2 hours, and X takes 3 hours to do the job by itself, then X is doing 2/3 of the job in just 2 hours. So Y has to do the other 1/3 of the job in 2 hours. Continue Reading…

GMAT-sentence-correctionWelcome to the third part of our series focusing on the First Glance in Sentence Correction. If you haven’t read the previous installments yet, you can start with how to find a starting point on a Sentence Correction problem when the starting point doesn’t leap out at you.

Try out the First Glance on the below problem and see what happens! This is a GMATPrep® problem from the free exams.

* “Most of the purported health benefits of tea comes from antioxidants—compounds also found in beta carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C that inhibit the formation of plaque along the body’s blood vessels.

“(A) comes from antioxidants—compounds also found in beta carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C that

“(B) comes from antioxidants—compounds that are also found in beta carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C, and they

“(C) come from antioxidants—compounds also found in beta carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C, and

“(D) come from antioxidants—compounds that are also found in beta carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C and that

“(E) come from antioxidants—compounds also found in beta carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C, and they”

The First Glance definitely helps on this one: comes vs. come is a singular vs. plural verb split, indicating a subject-verb agreement issue. Now, when you read the original sentence, you know to find the subject.

So what is the subject of the sentence? It’s not the singular tea, though it’s tempting to think so. The subject is actually the word most, which is a SANAM pronoun.

The SANAM pronouns: Some, Any, None, All, More / Most

These pronouns can be singular or plural, depending on the context of the sentence. Consider these examples:

Continue Reading…

GMAT-sentence-correctionLast time, we talked about how to find a starting point on a Sentence Correction problem when the starting point doesn’t leap out at you. If you haven’t read that article yet, go ahead and do so.

The first step of the SC process is a First Glance, something that didn’t help out a whole lot on last week’s problem. Let’s try out the First Glance again and see what happens!

This GMATPrep® problem is from the free exams.

* “Often incorrectly referred to as a tidal wave, a tsunami, a seismic sea wave that can reach up to 150 miles per hour in speed and 200 feet high, is caused by underwater earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

“(A) up to 150 miles per hour in speed and 200 feet high, is

“(B) up to 150 miles per hour in speed and heights of up to 200 feet, is

“(C) speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and 200 feet high, are

“(D) speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and heights of up to 200 feet, is

“(E) speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and as high as 200 feet, are”

What did you do for the First Glance? The glance is designed to give you an upfront hint about one issue that the sentence might be testing before you actually start reading the full sentence. Take a look at the beginning of the underline, including the beginning of all five answer choices.

The split is between up to and speeds of up to. There isn’t an obvious grammar rule here, so the issue is likely to revolve around meaning: do we need to say speeds of or is it enough to say just up to?

Think about this while reading the original sentence. What do you think?

The phrase reach up to could go in several different directions—is it going to say up to 150 miles in length? up to 150 feet high?—so it’s preferable to clarify right up front that the wave is reaching speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.

In addition, the sentence contains parallelism:

can reach up to X [150 miles per hour in speed] and Y [200 feet high]

The portion before the parallelism starts must apply to both the X and Y portions, so the original sentence says:

can reach up to 200 feet high

That might sound kind of clunky and it is: up to and high are redundant.

Okay, answer (A) is incorrect and answer (B) repeats both issues (it neglects to specify speeds of up to 150 and it contains faulty parallelism.).

Check the parallelism in the other choices:

“(C) speeds of up to [150 miles per hour] and [200 feet high]

“(D) [speeds of up to 150 miles per hour] and [heights of up to 200 feet]

“(E) speeds of [up to 150 miles per hour] and [as high as 200 feet]”

In answer (C), the Y portion is the measurement (200 feet), so the X portion should also be the measurement…but it’s nonsensical to say speeds of up to 200 feet high. Likewise, in (E), the Y portion is a prepositional phrase, so it matches the prepositional phrase in the X portion. Now, the sentence says speeds of as high as 200 feet—equally nonsensical.

The only one that makes sense is answer (D): speeds of up to 150 and heights of up to 200.

The correct answer is (D).

You might also have noticed, in the original sentence, that the last underlined word is the verb is. Sentence Correction problems always have at least one difference at the beginning of the underline and at the end, so glance down the end of the choices.

Interesting! Is vs. are. What subject goes with this verb? Here’s the original sentence again:

Often incorrectly referred to as a tidal wave, a tsunami, a seismic sea wave that can reach up to 150 miles per hour in speed and 200 feet high, is caused by underwater earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.”

The modifiers have been crossed out. The subject is tsunami, a singular noun, so the verb should be the singular is. Answers (C) and (E) are incorrect for this reason.

Key Takeaways: The First Glance in Sentence Correction

(1) Before reading the original sentence, make it a habit to glance at the word or couple of words at the start of the underline and each answer choice. Sometimes, the split will be obvious: an is vs. are split, for example, clearly indicates subject-verb agreement.

(2) Sometimes the split will be less obvious, as with up to vs. speeds of up to. In this case, if the split is fairly easy to remember, just keep the variations in mind as you read the original sentence, so that you can analyze the difference right away. You may see immediately that speeds of up to is more clear, and your knowledge that the sentence is testing this meaning might also alert you to some of the meaning issues introduced by the faulty parallelism.

(3) Making a subject-verb match in the midst of a bunch of modifiers can be tricky. Learn how to strip the modifiers out and take the sentence down to its basic core structure.

* GMATPrep® questions courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

Manhattan GMAT

Studying for the GMAT? Take our free GMAT practice exam or sign up for a free GMAT trial class running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

good-gmat-scoreA 780 is a great score, sure—but you don’t need that kind of score. You probably do need something higher than 500, though. How good is good enough?

The short answer to the question is this: a good score is a score that will make you competitive at a particular school. So the first question to ask yourself is where do you want to go?

Then, hit the Inter-web and find out what kinds of scores those schools report. Most schools report both an average score and a “middle 80% score” (the latter gives the score range for the middle 80% of people admitted in that year).

So, if Stanford has an average of 732 (which is what their website says as I write this!), then clearly you need a 750, right?

Wrong. Really wrong, in fact. I was inspired to write this article because of two recent blog posts written by my colleague Jeremy Shinewald, founder of MBA Mission. The posts are fantastic—and they are both linked in this article. They are mandatory reading for all of my students (and not because he mentions me in one of them!).

First, remind me what the word “average” means.

Right…in other words, many of the admitted students scored below 730. In fact, Stanford’s reported scoring range is from 550 to 790. (Yes, someone got into Stanford with a 550! I’m sure that person was absolutely amazing in some other way or ways, and so the admissions committee didn’t care about that one below-average data point.)

I’m not suggesting, of course, that you only need a 550 or 600 to get into Stanford. Ideally, you want to be pretty close to the school’s average. The school is not, however, going to ding you for getting “only” a 700. (You might get dinged for other reasons of course…)

But don’t take my word for it; read what Jeremy has to say on the topic.

What’s a good quant score? What’s a good verbal score?

Schools do check the Quant and Verbal sub-scores as well as the overall score—and this is another source of anxiety for test-takers. Have you heard about the 80/80? Many years ago (actually, we could be speaking in decades at this point), some people did talk about wanting to see 80th percentile sub-scores for quant and verbal. I haven’t been able to verify whether actual business schools ever said they wanted this, but the topic has been around for a long time.

As of early July 2014, there are now only two Quant scores above the 80th percentile: 50 and 51. Clearly, the top business schools don’t admit only people with 50s and 51s any more than they only admit people with 750 scores. There wouldn’t be enough people to go around!

So what’s going on? Percentiles are a relative ranking; they change over time. The sub-scores themselves are fixed. The skill level that it takes to score 45 today is the same skill level required to get a 45 five years ago, or fifteen!

In 2007, a Quant score of 45 was the 77th percentile; today, a 45 is the 63rd percentile. But the underlying skill needed to reach that score hasn’t changed one bit, and here’s the important part: the schools know this.

They aren’t actually interested in how your percentile ranking stacks up against the rest of the pool of test takers. Their main goal is to make sure that you can handle the rigorous work that will be required of you when you reach b-school. Pay attention to the actual scoring level, which tells you something real. A quant 45 was once “good enough” for schools and nothing has changed: it still is today!

Here’s Jeremy again on this topic.

But seriously…If I just get a 750, I’ll be a shoo-in, right?

Wrong. The schools don’t admit based on GMAT scores. The GMAT is more of a threshold indicator: show me that you can handle my rigorous program, and then I’ll consider the other (more important) parts of your application, such as your work history, your essays, your recommendations…in short, your story. That’s how I’ll actually make my decision about your application.

Seriously, consider who’s telling you that you don’t actually need these crazy high scores. I work for a test prep company; our whole reason for existing (and making money!) is to help people get higher scores. If even I’m telling you that you don’t need a 750 or a 50 or 51 on quant, then believe it! :)

But…But…This is the only thing I can control…

Here is the heart of the anxiety around this test. Your GPA is already set. Your work career can’t be substantially changed in a few months; your history is what it is. So you feel as though this is it: the GMAT is how you can give yourself the best possible chance to get in!

You can’t bomb the test, of course, but there are a lot of other things you can be doing with your very valuable time than chasing a 750 (or even a 720). You could actually pick up an extra project at work, try to get yourself into a team leader or mentor role, or work towards a promotion.

Also, don’t underestimate the time and effort required to put together a great application package. Ideally, your package will tell a coherent story, something that fits together across all pieces of the application and jumps off the page so that the admissions committee can really visualize you and get a sense of who you are and why they want to have you at their school. For instance, have you thought about what you want to tell your recommenders to emphasize (in terms of both strengths and weaknesses) so that their recommendations dovetail with your own essays?

I’m not going to give a bunch of application advice because that’s not my area of expertise—but you can control a lot more of your application than the GMAT score. Go read more on Jeremy’s blog to find out how.

(And, all right, fine: if you want to get better at the GMAT, start here!)

Manhattan GMAT

Studying for the GMAT? Take our free GMAT practice exam or sign up for a free GMAT trial class running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter