GMAT 700 to 780 Superwoman!

She'd had no GMAT classes or tutoring and had only studied quant but Lauren still managed a 700 GMAT score on her practice tests with the verbal score in the 99th percentile. The quant score dragged at a 40 (47th percentile). Her goal: GMAT 700 to GMAT 720 in 4 weeks. It's a challenge to improve what is already an excellent score and 4 weeks isn't much time no matter how you slice it. I would counsel most people to give tutoring a minimum of 6 weeks as it takes a moment to acclimate to a new approach. We also agreed on sessions twice per week. Again, not something that I normally recommend as most people won’t be able to get through enough work to make the extra sessions worthwhile. With Lauren I was willing to take the risk as I had come away with an A+ impression and felt that with a bit more structure her Quant could improve to the point at which a 720 was all but guaranteed (I rarely use this word in this context) even with a pint sized preparation.

As fast as a speeding bullet

Lauren was as diligent as she was clever. She chomped through the homework putting up enviable numbers. I raised the difficulty but she remained unfazed. Working through one particularly tough data sufficiency question I suggested picking some numbers to which she replied why not do the easy algebra? Solution improved. She was right. The pace was such that we could often dispatch two lessons in one session. To cut everyone else some slack, Lauren had the summer off to conquer the GMAT so there were no work distractions. Still, her commitment and her abilities were admirable. It was clear why she’d been able to hit a 700 GMAT score all by her lonesome.

GMAT 700 to 720 and beyond...

Two weeks into our preparation, on her first GMAT Prep Test, Lauren scored a 760! Q48 V47. A true GMAT superhero! Five days later her second GMAT prep: 780! 50Q 49V. The next test, Exam Pack 1: 780 again, 50Q 49V. Improving the 700 to a 720 would have been a victory so we didn’t put any pressure on breaking through the 99th percentile. Still, there’s always that hope. G-day: 780, Q50 V49. The first student to match my highest GMAT score. Some months later she got in contact about her admissions results. In absolutely everywhere: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton... Good job Lauren!

French (quant) Revolution, q34 to q45!

French (quant) Revolution!

I teach the GMAT to people from all over the world. Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, England, Kuwait, Greece, India... Ten years ago I did zero online tutoring. Today, it comprises 50%+ of my GMAT work. In terms of my GMAT tutoring, of all the places in the world, besides Africa, Europe is the most underrepresented. Why? Maybe there isn’t as much of a test preparation culture or a standardized test culture? Or maybe the dearth of European GMAT students is due to the fact that education in Europe is often free. So Europeans are less motivated to pursue an egregiously expensive (from their perspective) MBA in the good old USA. Still, the GMAT has become something of a standard for admission to most prestigious business programs in the world. So, even if you want to attend a European university, the GMAT is still relevant. And, with GMAT scores creeping up, even our European friends occasionally need a helping hand.

In comes Dora - a rare european student. She had taken a “big box” online GMAT class and put a real effort into her studying only to score a 570 (q34 v34) on GMAT day. She was distraught and confused as she had done so much better on the “big box” practice tests (beware third party questions and scoring algorithms) she had taken during her preparation. Now she was a 100+ points away from a safe score for application to Europe’s finest MBA programs. Feeling overwhelmed with studying and underwhelmed with her previous GMAT preparation, she took a shot in the dark and contacted me for some guidance. In our consultation, she made it clear that she couldn’t afford to spend much money on private tutoring. I immediately hung up the phone. Just kidding!

GMAT Critical Reasoning eureka and a shaky Quant

Although Dora was a non-native english speaker she excelled at verbal. After an intense session of assumption based critical reasoning she exclaimed “I get it!”. Something had popped in her brain. I had a tough time believing that the CR approach had improved so quickly but her LSAT work reflected a sea change. She was scoring 90%+ on some brutal critical reasoning! It was great to find a strength. If you’re looking for a way to boost your GMAT verbal take a look at this LSAT for GMAT article.

The GMAT Quant was another story altogether. She was afraid of it. She would start a question and even when headed in the right direction would quickly break down. In her mind, the numbers were probably swirling all over the page, mocking her. We worked on pushing through that initial anxiety and of course gave her a solid method for approaching all of the major GMAT question types. I ignored the oddballs and the toughest of the tough (these questions aren’t very important for most people) because if you’re already feeling anxious why focus on things that don’t have a huge impact on your score and are only going to make you more anxious?

The Quant clicks and GMAT day 1.0

With some solid organizational strategies and a bit of encouragement, Dora could solve most official GMAT questions. On quant, she was scoring in the low to mid 40’s on her practice tests. We were on target! Test day came. 640 (q39, 37v). We were both happy to see the 70 point jump but disappointed about the Quant score. It just wasn’t representative of the work she had been doing. Still, the 640 put her in a decent place in terms of admissions.

An Unconventional GMAT Prep

Fast forward a few months - an email from Dora floated into my inbox. She was dead-set on improving the Quant percentile. Why? An admissions person from her dream school had told her that moving the needle on the quant would win her the golden ticket. Again - she made the budget very clear:)

This preparation was a bit unconventional. I set up a two month GMAT study plan for her without any tutoring. She was to work through the schedule on her own and then we would have three meetings in the weeks leading up to the exam to give her a final boost. The schedule took some real effort and planning but it helped that Caroline was extremely organized and had provided me with exactly how much time she had each day (for 60 days in advance!) to study. If you would like an idea of how detailed these schedules are take a look here: GMAT Study Plan

She muscled through this second preparation, walking right over some real GMAT monsters without breaking a sweat. No more of the panicky, trembling voice. Just one foot in front of the other no-muss no-fuss critical thinking. Yes! Test day came. Another 640. Ah c-r-a-p. The Quant had improved from a 39 to a 42. The verbal had dipped. After our post GMAT wrap up we decided to do another 5 week blast, this time with a bit more verbal work. Once again, Dora was a trooper and diligently completed her GMAT assignments. She tackled questions that would have left her in tears only months earlier. Test day: 660 q45 v35. Victory. Two weeks later she was admitted to IESE.

Is a 690 GMAT Score good enough for Columbia? Another NYC Quant Battle!

Another NYC Quant Battle to a 690 GMAT Score! But is it good enough?

A 640, a dubious quant score, a 690 on the horizon

Lara sent over a sweet, detailed email looking to schedule a consultation. I always appreciate prospective students taking the time to relate their GMAT war stories. This info really helps get the ball rolling. Lara had under-performed on her first GMAT (640). I know, not terrible, but the score was absurdly verbal heavy/quant light to the point of being an issue for admissions. In the end we achieved a 690 GMAT score. Was it enough for the gatekeepers at Columbia? Read on to see what went wrong with her initial GMAT quant preparation and how we got her GMAT score moving in the right direction!

A Positive Consultation

Although she’d hit a dead end with her previous GMAT studying, Lara still seemed highly motivated. I have a lot of respect for a positive attitude (especially when it is coupled with a great work ethic!). We decided on 7 weeks of quant only preparation. Somewhat zippy, but for people who have already been studying for months short but sweet works best.

GMAT Preparation

GMAT quant questions are based on very basic math (mixed with a healthy dose of critical thinking). Many people underperforming on the quant section aren’t as comfortable as they should be with this basic underlying math and because of the “math stress” that this causes are severely under-utilizing their critical thinking skills. Lara fell into this category as do many of my NYC tutoring students. She had taken a certain big box GMAT class which emphasized very tough Quant. I find this “shock and awe” quant approach counter-productive - it dings your confidence and saddles you with techniques specific to these ultra-tough-not-GMAT questions. It took a moment for Lara to buy-in to the idea that the “math” part of the GMAT quant isn’t all that tough and that the tough part is actually the critical thinking. After she got over her Quant fear, Lara was surprised at the simplicity of many GMAT questions. There was a lot of “that’s all that is?” Yep!. Her practice test scores rose to the low 700s with the quant surging. The verbal lagged a bit.

GMAT Day: 630

Oh crap... Her score had gone down! The quant had improved nicely from a 35 to a 39 but surprisingly the verbal score had shrunken to a 35. More tutoring? She didn't need it. The fundamentals were in place. Sometimes it just takes a second for the scores to catch up. I offered another GMAT study schedule to organize her preparation for the second exam. She stayed on point. The quant looked great - the verbal still sluggish.

GMAT Day: 640

Flat... but still we were hopeful. The quant was a whopping 45, a full ten points from the 35 she had started from and in the 60th+ percentile range that seems to be the sensitive zone for admission to the best MBA programs. Woohoo. The verbal score was decent but a far cry from the 42 she’d started with. We traded emails and felt that it was worthwhile to take on more GMAT. She still felt motivated and we were both confident that she could add some meaningful points to her GMAT score.

GMAT Day: 690

Oh so close!!!!! She’d almost sealed the deal but still hadn’t quite managed to crush the verbal. Why? A mystery. My guess: she needed a more structured technique for sentence correction. She was good at SC but relied a bit too much on her ear. This approach can be time consuming and can fail you in the stress of test day. Even for natural verbal masters it is super helpful to have some structure to rely on. After the GMAT trilogy we decided to move forward with the 690 GMAT. Did she get in  to Columbia? Affirmative!

GMAT Practice Test Suggestions

GMAT Practice Test Suggestions

The scarcity of GMAT practice tests makes it so that as a would be GMAT wizard you have to ration your tests. Here today we’ll discuss how best to use GMAT practice tests in your GMAT preparation and best practices for taking a GMAT practice test.

GMAT Practice Test = Diagnostic

There are two main reasons to take a GMAT practice test. The first is to get a baseline score before starting your GMAT preparation. This is super important. Not only will you get an idea of what the GMAT is like but you will have some understanding of how much studying you will need to do in order to reach your goal. Do this before having a consultation with a GMAT tutor.

Instructions for your first GMAT practice test:

  • Prepare.

- Clear your schedule for 3.5 hours.

-Turn off your cell phone, ipad, or any type of alert.

-Get 8 sheets of paper or your erasable notepad ready along with several writing instruments.

  • You will be taking the Integrated Reasoning, the Quant, and the Verbal. You can skip the essay.
  • Be strict with the timing. Don’t touch that pause button!

You do not need to review this test. In fact, I would avoid reviewing because you will be re-taking this exact test a month or so down the road and it would be better to be less familiar with the questions. If you have a tutor you can send her/him the screenshots so they can analyze the results. If you scored dismally: don’t worry. Lots of people bomb the diagnostic and bounce back with great official scores. No matter how poorly you did and how much you want to prove to yourself that you can do better, do not be tempted to take a second diagnostic:)

GMAT Practice Test for Practice!

The second reason to take a GMAT practice test is to hone your test taking skills in a realistic setting. The two vital skills for success on the GMAT are sticking to a timing strategy and getting comfortable guessing and moving on when you don’t have a plan. It is super tempting to take another GMAT practice tests near the beginning of your preparation. As you learn new things you will want to see the progress that you’ve made. The GMAT practice tests will be calling out to you “take me, I’ll show you your score!” Resist. Taking an extra practice test or two or three in the first month or so of studying is a massive waste of resources. This is the time to build up your skills. Yes - you can work on your test taking skills but do so with mini-quizzes from Question Pack 1 (here are some suggestions for using the Question Pack). You only have four official GMAT practice tests. Let’s use them wisely. So when should you take a GMAT practice tests? Good question. This varies with the student but I would start getting into exam mode about five weeks before your exam date.

GMAT Practice Test for practice

  • Same preparation as above but I’ll add: get a good night's sleep the night before and do the test before any other energy sucking activity.
  • In addition to being strict with section timing also be strict with the 8 minute breaks.
  • Use an erasable GMAT practice pad. Have two pens.

Students often ask whether it is necessary to do the IR and the Essay. I would do one full exam to get a sense for what the big race is like. Do that with your second to last exam. For the other tests only do Quant and Verbal. The logic here is that doing an entire test is extremely fatiguing. Add in review and we're talking a lot of work. Spare yourself from doing the IR and the essay every time. In general you don’t run marathons to train for a marathon.

Instruction for reviewing a GMAT Practice Test

  • Take screenshots of everything that you want to review. Yes - it is true that the results are saved in the GMAT prep software but I have had many students lose their results only to have to call GMAC customer service for an SOS. Also - it is nice to have all of your error log in one folder.
  • Review the same day as the exam (if possible). It is best practice to review the questions while they are fresh. This way you still remember how you approached the question on the exam and can correct the faulty logic. This is also very helpful with RC so you don’t have to do a full re-read for all of the passages. Don't forget to review correct answers as well!
  • These questions are GOLD - keep reviewing/re-doing questions from your error log until you are 100% on them. There may be some questions that stay in the error log for your entire preparation.

Here is a FAQ on the GMAT Exam Pack and a link to the GMAT Prep software with two free practice tests. I tried to be as detailed as I thought would be helpful but feel free to comment with any questions. Happy studies!


GMAT vs GRE: What's the Difference?


With many full time MBA programs embracing the GRE and with the percentage of people accepted to top universities using only GRE scores climbing rapidly (in 2015, 23% admitted to Yale and 16% to Stanford with GRE), many MBA hopefuls are considering which test to take: the GMAT or the GRE. There are two big questions:

  1. Which test is harder for you?
  2. Which test will make it easier for you to get into your desired MBA program?

The following is an in depth GMAT vs. GRE comparison which will hopefully give you a sense for which test to take, the GMAT or the GRE.

GMAT vs GRE Problem Solving

The fundamentals of each test are nearly identical. And from easy to medium level questions the tests are somewhat similar in difficulty. Yes, the GMAT presents more puzzles on all levels and the GRE presents more of a straightforward "math test" but the big divergence is in the top shelf questions of the GMAT. The GMAT could hit you with a question that regardless of how much time you have leaves you completely stunned. For most people who are “good” at math this deer in headlights moment is unlikely to happen on the GRE. The GRE flattens out rather quickly. The other thing to consider is that the group of people taking the GMAT probably has better quant skills than the group of people taking the GRE. So a person with weaker quantitative skills could achieve a better percentile on the GRE than on the GMAT. While this better percentile isn't necessarily meaningful it might look better on an application. Bottom line: the GRE problem solving is on average easier than the GMAT problem solving and on the GRE it may be easier to snag a higher percentile. An apt comparison might be between the ACT and the SAT in that the GRE is closer to the ACT. Less time for more questions that cover similar content but that are on average easier.


For most people beginning their GMAT saga the most feared section is the Data Sufficiency. That makes a lot of sense as this question type is unique to the GMAT and is as slippery as a salamander (at least for the uninitiated). For many people, Data Sufficiency remains a quagmire, hit or miss question type, throughout GMAT preparation and right on through the exam. Why? Because you solve not for exact answers but for whether you have enough information to solve. Because the answers are not the actual solutions it is tough to detect rotten logic. Confused? Here are some Data Sufficiency samples to get you up to speed.

The GRE response to Data Sufficiency is the Quantitative Comparisons. I'm just going to come right out and say it: Quantitative Comparison is easier than Data Sufficiency. So although Quantitative Comparisons seem similar to Data Sufficiency questions, the idea of comparing the size of two piles should be fairly familiar to most people right from the get-go. The other thing that makes QC easier is that you only have 4 answer choices. That’s right - 1/4 on a guess!

Does GMAT Data Sufficiency have to be such a troll? Absolutely not! In fact, with an organized approach, for the non-math inclined the GMAT Data Sufficiency can become easier than problem solving because DS requires far less follow through and arithmetic.

GMAT vs GRE Reading Comprehension

Versus the GMAT, the GRE used to have much denser and longer passages (I know because I assign this “vintage” GRE to my GMAT tutoring students for some extra tough reading comprehension practice!). In its newest iteration, the GRE has trended closer to the GMAT with shorter, less dense passages paired with tricky questions. This makes sense considering that the GRE wants to appeal as an international entrance exam for business  school and probably wants to avoid scaring off international candidates. So is there an easy way out for reading comprehension? I don't think so. Nowadays the difficulty level is very similar on both tests. The only real difference is that you can skip around on the GRE as opposed to the GMAT which only allows you to see one question at at time.

GRE Sentence Completion vs GMAT Sentence Correction

These sections are extremely different but both being the odd man out in this GRE versus GMAT debate I pitted them against each other. If you have a strong vocabulary the completions will be relatively simple. There isn't much critical thinking here - just regurgitating memorized words. As silly as it seems, these questions are about memorizing vocabulary. If memorization isn’t your thing or if you do not already have a broad vocabulary you may have an easier time learning the “logic” of the GMAT sentence correction. It is unlikely that you will be good at one and not the other but I’d probably place myself in that category (much better at logical grammar than vocab memorization).

GRE vs GMAT Critical Reasoning

You will most likely only have two pure critical reasoning questions on your GRE so versus the GMAT critical reasoning the GRE critical reasoning is lightweight. I would place the GRE critical reasoning questions somewhere around mid-level GMAT critical reasoning questions. If critical reasoning is a strength then go GMAT! Those CR skills will most likely translate to the reading comprehension as well and contribute to an excellent verbal score. If you abhor critical reasoning then the GRE might be a great way to avoid these guys. Not that you can't train critical reasoning but it does take some time and effort to do so.

GRE vs GMAT Structure

The GMAT CAT can feel very threatening and certainly imposes some practical challenges. You can't skip and go back to questions. This presents a couple of issues:

  1. An epiphany later on in the exam won't help you on a question that you've already passed
  2. You can't do the easy ones first so that you make sure to get them correct and then tackle the tough ones.

If you keep answering questions correctly the test keeps getting harder. All of this is anxiety producing (here are some strategies for dealing with GMAT Anxiety and the GMAT CAT). The GRE allows you complete freedom to move around, is barely adaptive, and even provides a calculator.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning/Essay vs GRE

The GRE has no section which compares to the IR section of the GMAT. So how does the IR factor in to this GRE vs. GMAT discussion? I'd say not very much. Although it may be an important element at some point in the future it doesn't seem to be extremely relevant to current admissions decisions. The same can be said of the essays.

Still Confused, GMAT or GRE?

Just to be clear, a top GMAT score is better than a top GRE score. Why? Since the GMAT is the de facto MBA exam most admissions officers are more comfortable judging GMAT scores (and some have stated that they still prefer seeing GMAT scores). Not to mention that the GMAT is tougher than the GRE. But just to play devils advocate you could argue that schools might be willing to accept a lower GRE score because that score won't ding their prized GMAT averages. Though that doesn't excuse you from demonstrating a proven ability in Quant (this can arguably be done by taking a pre-MBA math course).

My thinking is that getting a super score on either exam is going to take most people some real, solid effort. So given the same substantial time and cash investment I would bet on the safe choice (GMAT) and have the GRE as a back-up. Once you have prepared for the GMAT it doesn't take much more effort to prepare for the slight differences presented in the GRE. One last thing to consider: as demented as it sounds, some jobs require that you submit standardized test scores. I've had students retake the GMAT after being accepted to business school just to improve post-MBA job opportunities. A low or non-existent GMAT score might make you a less competitive candidate (then again you may not be gunning for this type of job). It may be that things will change in a few years but for now the GMAT is still the reigning MBA entrance exam.



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