The Thrill of Victory


All too often the GMAT is a stumbling block and something that derails big dreams. That makes the victories even sweeter. I just got a text from a student who scored a huge victory on the GMAT. Let me tell you her story.

Stacy (not her real name) had taken a GMAT course from a major test prep company earlier this year. She’d gone to the classes, she’d done the homework but she still didn’t improve very much. At the end of the course she was scoring 540. With dreams of applying to top-five business schools that kind of score just won’t cut it. That’s when she came to me.

Stacy had heard about me from a friend who is currently attending Stanford Graduate School of Business. She put her trust in me and got to work. We started at the beginning. We didn’t focus on the content of the test. Stacy’s expensive prep class had covered that. (Of course, an online course from Barron’s would have done the same thing much more cost effectively). We looked at Stacy’s approach to each question. What was the question asking for? How could she get the information she needed as efficiently as possible? And then started to put it into practice. Question by question with praise for successes and lessons to be learned when questions were missed.

We met regularly over the course of two months. Stacy’s skills grew steadily even though the scores on her practice tests didn’t reflect it. Some days she had big leaps, other days the score slipped a little but the upward trend was clear. When Stacy was ready to take the official test she scored a 630.

In many ways it was a huge victory. She made an incredible improvement over her previous score. In other ways it was disappointing. Stacy had dedicated herself to refining her approach to each question and spent a lot of time working through practice problems. Her score had gone up a great deal, but not enough.

Stacy didn’t get up. She got back to work for a few weeks and trusted the work she had done before. She went back and scored 690! All of those top schools are now very much within her reach. Understand the process, work hard and you too can achieve some great results!

 What Does My GMAT Score Really Mean? (Part 2)


In my last post I discussed how to interpret the various parts of your GMAT score. In this section I’ll discuss how you should think about it. If you score a 650 what does that mean? Should you re-take the test?

The first thing that’s important to remember is that the GMAT is simply a tool to help you achieve your goal: admission to the business school of your choice. I mention that because the often-stated goal “to score as high as possible” isn’t really useful. As long as the end goal is accomplished, the score doesn’t really matter. That being said, there are many extremely competitive schools, and so any incremental gain in your score can be a slight edge in your application.

That being said, your GMAT skill is not fixed like your height. If you’re six feet tall today, you’ll be six feet tall tomorrow. If you score 650 today, you may or may not score the same thing tomorrow. If your skill level is at a 650 scoring 670 or 630 is fairly likely. Are your guesses lucky? Did you happen to get reading comprehension passages that you understood very well? Were you feeling good and confident and quick on the day of the test? All of these differences can help determine where in your range that you score.

So should you re-take the test? The first consideration you need to consider is the end result. Would the score you have be enough to get you admitted to the school of your choice? If it would, congrats! You’re done with the GMAT. If not, you have to ask whether you need a small improvement or a large improvement. If you need a large improvement, it’s time to reconsider your study methods and consider getting some more help to achieve your goals. If what you need is just a small improvement, you may want to consider taking the GMAT again soon. GMAC will allow you to re-take 16 days after your initial test (rather than the former 30 day wait), so it’s certainly possible to brush up on a little more practice and be ready to go quickly. But should you?

Your scores in full practice tests should be a good indication. If you’re able to score higher on reliably scored full practice tests, it’s worth taking a shot again and hoping you can have a better day to get what you want. If your practice scores show that your score is fairly reflective of your current skill level, it’s okay to take a shot at a better score but be aware that a lower score is also a possibility! As long as you’re willing to take that risk, go for it.

If you decide to try again, good luck!

 What Does My GMAT Score Really Mean?


I’ve had a few students take their GMAT scores and come back with a score. But what does that score really mean?

First, let’s break it down into parts. The first part is the Analytical Writing Assessment. You will receive two AWA scores, one each from two readers. At least one of those readers is human. The other is likely a computer. The thought of software somehow judging the merits of my writing has always been a bit odd to me, but the system seems to work. The score you will be given is from 0 to 6, in half point increments. Score a 6.0 or a 5.5 and you’re set. A 5.0 is an acceptable score almost anywhere. Scores in  the 4.0-4.5 range are about average, but may be cause for concern if you’re applying to top schools.

Next is the integrated reasoning score. Your raw score is between 1-8 in one point increments. I have heard for admissions officers at top business schools that integrated reasoning scores are not yet considered in the application process because not all applicants have these scores. Once integrated reasoning has been part of the GMAT for five years, these scores will likely take on greater importance. For now, some have said that a strong IR score can bolster a weaker quant score.

Finally, the central pieces of the GMAT scores are the quantitative and verbal scores. In each section you will be given a raw score that corresponds to a percentile as you can see here. The combination of those two raw scores will correspond to a scaled score, which is the 200-800 number we commonly refer to at your GMAT score.

So, as you can see there are a lot of numbers and a lot of scores, but hopefully that gives you a better sense of what it all means!


 How to Start a Critical Reasoning Question


There is a debate in the LSAT and GMAT communities about where to start a critical reasoning question (the LSAT calls them logical reasoning, but everything I say holds true for both). One camp holds that you should start by reading the paragraph of information (usually an argument). The other says that you should start by reading the question before doubling back to read the argument. I’m amazed the argument even exists.

Imagine if they released the “Where’s Waldo?” books without a title. Here’s a massive jumble of people. That’s nice. After you’ve spent a couple minutes looking at the page, someone tells you that you are supposed to be looking for Waldo. Sure, there’s a chance you stumbled upon Waldo when you were looking at everything else, but there’s a much greater chance that you spent your time focusing on a whole lot of other irrelevant things.

Read the question first. It allows you to focus on the correct things and to figure out what’s important and what isn’t. And that’s even more relevant because not all critical reasoning questions ask about the same thing. Some tell you that an argument is coming and ask you to figure out what would strengthen it. Some tell you an argument is coming and ask you to find a flaw. Some tell you there’s no argument, just a set of facts and ask you to find what must be true. Knowing which of the question types you’re going to get allows to focus on the proper approach to the problem, filter out the irrelevant information and find Waldo much more effectively.