550 to 700 in (less than) a month
Steve was an Indian male working in finance in NYC. He’d soldiered through a Manhattan GMAT class but despite his efforts had only mustered a GMAT 550 – a distant cousin of the 700+ he needed for a solid shot at admission to HBS (his dream school). He was smart and had earned high honors on past standardized tests (his SAT) but his confidence was shot and, to the detriment of his scores, he was now intimidated by the GMAT. Though shaken, his pride hurt, he was still ambitious seeking an improvement from 550 to 700 on his GMAT, a 150 point bump, in less than a month. I liked his pizzazz and he seemed very capable but let him know that he might have to adjust his expectations just a tad. This brand of GMAT miracle is possible – it’s just not common. I’m all about going for the gold but I also believe in high percentage planning. Steve took my comments seriously but reaffirmed that regardless of the odds he just wanted to go for an all out, full blast, pedal to the metal, in it to win it GMAT preparation from 550 to 700. I agreed to the challenge.
Verbal a go-go but Quant awry
Lucky for me, Steve was an excellent student and followed his GMAT schedule to the letter. He had a really tough HW schedule because given the timeline and score goal we were meeting twice a week. It’s a relief when people talk the talk and walk the walk. Ambition doesn’t always translate to hard work:) We bolstered his verbal with some intense LSAT work (logical reasoning and reading comprehension). For the most part he did well on the LSAT questions and finally started to truly understand assumption based arguments. When we mixed in some actual GMAT questions he mowed them down! Within ten days Steve was in control of the verbal section but the Quant was a mess.
Targeted quant sets to the rescue
Steve was good at math but tended to make a lot of careless mistakes. He would also think that questions were harder than they actually were. We worked on slowing down his problem solving (the GMAT is a jog not a sprint) and improving his planning/organization. This allowed to him to put the questions in perspective. To the get the right level of focus. To calm down and work. We did a thorough review of his fundamentals and challenged him with some tough targeted sets. Doing a whole assignment of just one type of question can really help you nail the concept. We knocked out one subject at a time and Steve started to feel more confident.
Too much targeted = not good
Careful with overdoing the targeted work. It’s very tempting to do 1000 combinatorics questions because you feel anxious about them. Let’s avoid getting overly granular especially if you’re supplementing with non-official GMAT questions. In our tutoring program we certainly do plenty of targeted sets but we’re prioritizing high value content and making sure that you don’t get stuck reviewing things that aren’t going to have a big impact on your score. Also, our targeted sets are almost 100% derived from Official GMAT Questions. We generally do between 10 and 40 questions on a topic depending on how broad it is. Although, Word problems, for instance, is such a fundamental GMAT topic that we might do 80-90 of them (not including all of the other mixed sets). The point is: be targeted with your targeted sets.
We didn’t know
Although we had a done a truck load of great work, on test day we really didn’t know what to expect. The more concentrated the GMAT prep the more variability in the outcome. Steve called with his GMAT report: 670. Not quite a 700 but 120 points in less than a month is a massive GMAT improvement and was a HUGE confidence boost. We were still thirsty for those 30+ to 700. We battled another 4 weeks: 690. It was great to see the GMAT score going in the right direction but getting that close was really painful. To his credit, Steve was still energized and ready to rock. His confidence was back!! We sallied on for another month (Steve decided to postpone the application). This third test was the last possible one as he’d done 4 other GMATs in the previous 12 months. This was it. You only get 5 GMATs per 12month period. No 700 here and Steve would have to apply with the 690 or wait a year. The day passed and no phone call. I emailed him. Nothing.
Radio Silence to 700+
If you follow this blog then you know this happens every once in a while. Usually I get a call or email a few weeks or even months later to say: I did it! So it was here. What a relief… A month or so later I got a call from Steve: 700 club (check!) and he’d passed the first round at Harvard Business School. A few weeks later he was admitted to HBS.