Five times.....yes.....five times......I took the GMAT five times for admission to business school. Was there something wrong with me? For a while, I thought there was but now that I look back....Absolutely not.
Standardized exams are just one of those things that I've always had to work hard at to score decently. I should have taken a hint when I scored about average on the SATs in high school.
My mind just works in mysterious ways and I'm sure that if the GMAT tested for emotionally charged responses, I'd score very well.
Regardless, scoring high on the GMAT is definitely possible when you put in the effort to think like a standardized test taker. This involves various pieces of knowledge, logic, systematic thinking, and a lot of practice.
So...how does one get there?
For me, it was a long road. 2 years to be exact. But it was worth it.
For starters, according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), better known as the guys who make the GMAT exam, about 10% of GMAT retakers obtain a significant gain of 100 points or more.
That 10% takes a lot of hard work but with the right attitude, you can accomplish anything!
What exactly was the end result for me? A 260 point gain! So yes, it's doable!
When you think about it, you have a ton of options to increase your score: self-study, study groups, tutoring, prep courses, and online forums. Which one is thee right one for you is something only you can answer. It will definitely rely on how committed you are, too!
I'll share my experience with you after taking the GMAT each time.
1st AttemptWhen I took the GMAT the first time around, I took it cold. No study guides, no prepping, and some knowledge on what the exam was about.
If you had asked me what a data sufficiency question was, I might have given you a deer-in-headlights look! But I bit the bullet and took it. $250 later and a score of a 420, I was a bit short of breath. The feeling of disappointment lasted for a few days and it gave me the motivation I needed to sign up for a Kaplan prep course. I had to start somewhere.
I didn't dwell on the score so much. I just got back up and knew what I had to do.Lesson learned?
Take a free practice exam on mba.com. Some prep courses such as Manhattan GMAT give a free diagnostic exam. Go to the library, lock yourself up, and take the whole thing. Yes, that includes the writing section. From there, conduct an informal self-assessment and see what your weaknesses are just by looking at the answers you got wrong. Ask yourself whether it was time management, a lack of knowledge or approach that contributed to the questions you answered incorrectly.
Although there are a variety of factors involved in answering questions incorrectly, this is a start. Make a plan, and follow it.
Whatever you do, don't take the GMAT cold, go for lukewarm.
Two months later........a 460. A 460?! Blargh!
A 40 point increase even after taking a prep course?!Two weeks prior, I had a completed a 6-week Kaplan course at $1,500! I had taken a few of their practice exams and scored okay on some of the exams, definitely nowhere near a 460 though. I was confused.
I was also spending over 30 hours working on practice problems. I really wasn't sure what I was doing wrong.
But alas, I moved forward.
At this point, I knew I was in for a challenge and I was determined to do well on the GMAT.
Now that I look back, the Kaplan prep course was definitely not for me.
If you're going to take a live class, make sure it goes at a pace that's suitable for you. Also, try and take a glance at some of the resource materials and get a sense of what you're looking at.
I know there are a ton of prep courses out there, but if you've made your mind up, ask around and do some research before you spend that type of money. In my case, I really put in the time and energy but I was missing something and I wasn't sure what that was quite yet.
Bam! A 530.
Okay, I broke the 500 mark but seriously, I was aiming for a top business school and I had my eyes set on MIT Sloan whose average GMAT score was well over 700. At some points, I think I wanted to break down but I kept strong.
I spent almost five months studying by myself and using my old Kaplan materials to practice, practice, practice. I was spending 3-4 hours a day during the week and 6-8 hours during the weekends studying. It was pretty intense. I also became aware of other resources such as Beat the GMAT, GMAT Club, and some other websites to read success stories and see where I could improve.
Email other GMAT takers and see what's working for them. Don't spend TOO much time reading and writing on the forums as this can become a full-time job in itself.
Reach out to a few folks who are studying and have done well on the GMAT and see what are some of their methods. I definitely learned a few tips that worked for me.
At this point, I started to see what I needed to improve my score and I figured I needed another prep course. A good one that would work for me. And that's exactly what I did.
A 580! Woohoo!
Okay. I was getting closer. Although it was only a 50 point increase from my previous score, it was a 160 point increase from my 420. I didn't want to spend time really thinking about getting a higher score. I knew I needed one but I just went back to the drawing board and picked up where I left off.
Before my fourth attempt, I took an 8-week Manhattan GMAT self-study prep course. I spent less time studying but followed their regimented syllabus which is awesome. Aside using their materials, I was also participating in the forums a little more but I was only interacting with students who were solving questions.
I also created my own support group on the Manhattan GMAT website and even set up a study group in my hometown. Here is where I started to really learn a lot.
While studying with my study group, I began to realize that I learned best when someone taught me the right way to answer a question. A lot times, things had to be explained to me in various ways before I could understand some of those moderately difficult math and verbal questions.
I also became aware that the students in my group were using tutors. Neither of the tutors were affiliated with any major test prep companies, they were general tutors who understood standardized exams. I was a bit hesitant to hire a tutor since I had spent quite a bit of money already. At this point, I was running on fumes since I really had devoted a lot of time and energy to the GMAT. But after seeing positive results come out of other students, I decided to invest one more time.
As you move forward, understand your strengths and weaknesses. How do you learn best? It's more than just going over answers over, and over, and over again. I can't tell you how often I went over incorrect answers over and over again only to get them wrong again later. I wasn't truly understanding how to solve the questions.
It's all about your gaining various approaches to answering questions that are commonly asked on the GMAT. Once you know this, you'll start to see a difference.
And the fat lady sang!A 680!
By this point, I had decreased the number of study hours studying to 15 a week and had hired a tutor with whom I was meeting once a week. It definitely paid off as I started to see a huge difference in my study habits and diagnostic scores on certain online exams.
All along, what I really needed was someone to guide me through various questions in a way that was easy for me to understand. Right from the get go, the tutor understood where I faltered and made sure that I COMPLETELY understood WHY I was getting certain answers wrong.We focused on questions that I guessed on and answers that I answered incorrectly. I was able to see, for instance, that I was spending way too much time trying to answer difficult questions, when in reality, I should have been trying to answer the question and then making an educated guess if I could not answer it in time.
I also learned various patterns in questions that were frequently asked - both the verbal and quant sections. My tutor also showed me various techniques and strategies for answering questions quickly when I was on a time crunch.
I learned new concepts that I had not picked up in prior prep courses. There are so many ways to solve those math questions, and they're endless ways to interpret a passage; my tutor made sure I understood what the question was really asking. I was also staying away from those emotionally charged answers that got me every time.
The details go beyond this. What I learned most about my tutoring experience was that she understood my way of thinking. We went over my exam history and how my weaknesses lied in the verbal section. Although we spent time on the quant section, we spent more time looking at critical reasoning and reading comprehension. Together, we built strategies and tactics for dealing with the harder questions.
I could not have done any of this without a tutor. And had I known this would have been the result when I first started studying for the GMAT, I would have gladly reallocated my funds to hiring a tutor. So before you invest, think about your study habits and learning style. This will help you out tremendously as you venture on a quest to get a high GMAT score.
Believe me, a higher GMAT score is definitely possible. A 260 point gain doesn't come out of thin air. It happens when you put in the hard work.
It will also depend on how much time you spend doing high-quality studying.
There's definitely a psychology to this whole process but if you have dreams, don't let the GMAT get in the way.Knock it down.
What about you? Do you have any successes? Have you used a tutor? Your comments are welcome!
This was a Guest Post by Oscar Pedroso, Founder of MBA Writers Block
Here's a bit about Oscar and MBA Writers Block:
In October 2011, MBAwritersblock.com was born as a way for me to share my experience of applying to business school.
I spent three years and almost $11,000 applying to seven top MBA programs. I believe no one should ever have to spend that much money to pursue an education in business. So my first goal is to show you, that with hard work and perseverance, you can tackle the business school writing process by learning how to write powerful essays. My second goal is to turn MBAwritersblock.com into a powerful resource for young professionals applying to business school, online and off, so they can apply intelligently and inexpensively.