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Everything you want to know about applying to business school as well as what to expect once you get to business school.

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!

Breaking Down B-School Admissions

 

Are You Prepared for B-School Admissions?

Join Manhattan GMAT and three other leaders in the MBA admissions space—mbaMission, Poets & Quants, and MBA Career Coaches—for an invaluable series of free workshops to help you put together a successful MBA application—from your GMAT score to application essays to admissions interviews to post-acceptance internships.

We hope you’ll join us for as many events in this series as you can. Please sign up for each sessions separately via the links below—space is limited.

 

Session 1: Assessing Your MBA Profile,
GMAT 101: Sections, Question Types & Study Strategies
Monday, September 8 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Click here to watch the recording

Session 2: Mastering the MBA Admissions Interview,
Conquering Two 800-Level GMAT Problems
Wednesday, September 10 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Click here to watch the recording

Session 3: 9 Rules for Creating Standout B-School Essays,
Hitting 730: How to Get a Harvard-Level GMAT Score
Monday, September 15 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Click here to watch the recording

Session 4: 7 Pre-MBA Steps to Your Dream Internship,
Survival Guide: 14 Days to Study for the GMAT
Wednesday, September 17 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Click here to watch the recording.

We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan).

The MIT Sloan School of Management bucks conventionality this admissions season and has added to the word count for its application essays—moving from a maximum of 1,000 words to 1,250. The school’s first essay question remains the same as last year’s, but its second essay prompt presents an interesting challenge in that the admissions committee asks you to do exactly what it does not want you to do in reality: write your own recommendation letter. At least in this case, the school is allowing you to do so in the light of day. Thankfully, perhaps, Sloan has dropped its befuddling optional essay, which had invited applicants to share any additional information in any format. Candidates will be content to see clearer directives in the program’s essay questions. As always, our analysis follows…

MIT SloanEssay 1:  The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples from your past work and activities. (500 words or fewer)
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We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for University of Michigan (Ross). 

The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan has refashioned its essay questions, going “smaller” with its requirements, as have several other schools this application season. Ross’s broadly worded essay prompts give you ample breadth—if not an overabundance of words—in which to tell your story. As always, think carefully about what you want to say and the impression you want to make before you start writing, because more opportunity lurks here than you might realize at first.

Michigan RossEssay 1: What are you most proud of professionally and why? What did you learn from that experience? (400 words)
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We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for University of Pennsylvania (Wharton).  

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has decreased its number of application essays to just two this year and is giving candidates a whopping 900 words with which to distinguish themselves. We surmise that the influx of application essays can be overwhelming for the school’s overworked admissions officers, who find them somewhat deadening over time. So, by cutting back the program’s application requirements, they are able to stay sharp and still get what they need from you as an applicant. While this change may be helpful on the school’s end, the limitations make your job much harder. Wharton gives you a mostly boilerplate personal statement and a rather Harvard Business School–esque “discuss what you want” style prompt—seemingly not a lot of latitude with which to make an impression, but the key word here is “seemingly.” The smart applicant will make use of Essay 2 in particular to stand out from the pack. Our analysis follows…

WhartonThis year we require one essay, with a second being optional.  For the second optional essay, we recommend that you to use your best judgment and focus your energy on highlighting new information that we are unable to ascertain from other sections of the application.
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We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for Columbia Business School. 

For the second year in a row, Columbia Business School (CBS) has kicked off the MBA application season. During an online event with mbaMission, Manhattan Prep and Poets & Quants, CBS’s director of admissions, Christina Shelby, told the audience that the school has added urgency in releasing its questions, because it has to meet the needs of its January-entry (known as J-Term) applicants, whose application deadlines come much sooner (October 8, 2014, versus April 15, 2015). Whatever its rationale for the “early” application release, CBS is basically staying the course with its essay questions, though it has again reduced the allowable character count in its “Twitter-like” goal statement; from 200 characters two years ago, it was cut to 100 last year and now stands at a mere 75. Our analysis follows…

Columbia Business SchoolShort Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (75 characters maximum)
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We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for Stanford Graduate School of Business. 

The Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) became the second top MBA program to release its essay questions this year, and the school follows a trend in application essays—“less is more.” Stanford has dropped its third essay question this season and stuck with two standbys, which we can summarize as “What matters most to you?” and “Why us?” The GSB’s choice to maintain its “Why us?” question is an interesting one, considering how selective the program is (the Princeton Review ranks it number one for Toughest to Get Into). Maybe one reason the school is so strong is that it still focuses on fit and does not take its desirability for granted (?).

Another big change in the Stanford application this year is that the number of recommendations required has dropped from three to two, leaving the candidate to make the vexing choice between a professional recommender or a peer for that second recommendation. Our guess is that most people will choose the far more straightforward professional recommendation option, because candidates who do so can be more confident that they have made the “right” choice of recommenders.

Stanford Graduate School of BusinessEssay 1: “What matters most to you and why?” (750 words)
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We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for Dartmouth College (Tuck). 

Following what seems to be an emerging trend this season, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College has decreased the number of required applications essays this year from (an already fairly minimal) three to just two 500-word submissions, one of which is a classic career statement, while the other asks candidates to share and reflect on a significant leadership experience. Having just 1,000 words with which to convey meaningful elements of their profile means that applicants will need to be especially judicious in choosing their messages and particularly efficient in their writing to get the most impact from these two rather circumscribed essays. As always, we recommend a thorough brainstorming session before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) so that your messages are clear, complete and fully on topic.

Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. There are no right or wrong answers. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. Please double-space your responses.

Dartmouth Tuck School of Business1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?
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