730 GMAT in 3 weeks? Nope. We hit rock bottom.

GMAT Tutoring Debrief Graphic

Chasing a 730 GMAT Score to Rock Bottom (and back)

A good chunk of our GMAT tutoring is with non-native english speakers. Enter Manuel – a hyper smart and super hard working MBA aspirant from Brazil looking for a GMAT tutor to help him achieve a 730 GMAT score in three weeks. Yes, three weeks and a GMAT 730.

Well, it took him 6 months to break the 700 barrier. Why? First off, he hadn’t even started studying nor taken a diagnostic. Beyond that, as we progressed I got a nasty surprise that turned our GMAT prep upside down and inside out. Read on for a detailed breakdown of Manuel’s journey to the bottom followed by some sweet redemption.

Walking on Water

I admired Manuel’s optimism and confidence but made it clear that he was unlikely to rocket from 0 to 730 in a matter of three weeks. He respectfully disagreed. Just for context: a 730 GMAT score is in the 96th percentile! Here’s an article for more context on GMAT percentiles and what they mean but needless to say 96% is up there in the stratosphere of GMAT scores.

Normally, we only take on GMAT tutoring clients if we think we have a reasonable chance of achieving the goal. A 730 in three weeks wasn’t likely so we only agreed to sign on provided that he be open to a more realistic time-frame. I recommended that he take a GMAT diagnostic before our first meeting so that we could have a sense for where he was starting from.

He whipped up a 700!


I was impressed. Was this flash 730 possible? Could be. Still, those delicate 30 points between a 700 and a 730 GMAT score aren’t the easiest to achieve. But a 700 with no work done? I mean. It was a GMAT tutor dream. Smooth sailing.

What could possibly go wrong?

730 GMAT is ours, but suddenly the Honeymoon is Over???

A quick learner, always prepared for our sessions, Manuel learned our verbal strategy relatively easily. Homework results were excellent (as expected). This was a cinch. I was convinced that the GMAT 730 was in the bag. And, who knows, this was so damn easy, maybe we’d try for more?

Then, surprisingly, Manuel announced that he wanted to push back the exam. Eh??? 

He was doing great. One of the best. A legend almost. Why wait?




(queue threatening music).

A little innocuous button derails our quest for a 730 GMAT score

What you say? Yes – the pause button. Manuel had been giving himself extra time on homework and exams by using the pause feature. These days we have almost total control over HW so it’s not possible to pause the timer but back then HW timing was on the honor system. Naturally he was feeling a bit nervous about taking the exam with “real” timing. 

We outlawed pause.

Under no circumstances should the pause button be used. Problem solved.

Or was it?

Manuel kept using it. He was addicted to pause! Not always for extra time to work on questions but sometimes for bathroom breaks mid-section. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal but it can really skew the results and give an unrealistic (inflated) score.

Again, the pause button was outlawed.

Thank goodness he finally got the message and stuck with it. Test scores drooped. A lot. Our 700 baseline sagged to about a 650. The time crunch put a lot of pressure on Manuel’s verbal which although excellent crumbled as he gasped for time.

Rock Bottom (with legs shaking)

We had an official test scheduled and decided to go for it. Not good. The score slid to an all time low 630. I thought that he was joking about the score. Not so. The poor guy’s legs had started shaking uncontrollably in the middle of the verbal section.

Two months of GMAT tutoring and we’d gone from 30 points to 100 points away from his goal. We weren’t hopeless but the 730 GMAT score was way off on the horizon and it felt like we were just getting our ship in order to start sailing.

Nothing to do but hit the books for the retake. We focused primarily on longer timed sections. I also assigned a bunch of LSAT reading comprehension because he had complained about a tough RC passage on the test. The LSAT RC is extra challenging. So if you can get through it, the GMAT reading comprehension should feel much easier. LSAT CR is also great. Here’s an LSAT for GMAT primer to help with that work and a comparison of the LSAT vs GMAT if you’re interested in how they stack up.

Next test: 660. Better. He had gotten behind on time and panicked on the verbal a bit.  Still – if the score is going in the right direction then something is going right!

Search for the holy grail in GMAT Forums and third party junk

At this point Manuel had been studying for a good while and was getting a bit desperate. I tried my best to help him keep everything in perspective but he started feverishly researching techniques on the GMAT forums on how to manage time.

Should he skip entire RC passages? Should he buy X, Y, or Z online verbal video course? What about memorizing idioms? Clearly Manuel’s confidence was wavering and he was looking for easy/more satisfying answers to complex questions.

Against my recommendations, he started taking third party practice tests from random companies and came back with terrible scores. He was losing his footing.

Whatever you do: do not judge your performance based on third party algorithms. That’s a good way of deceiving yourself (in a positive or negative way). So after many ups and downs with third party GMAT charlatanry we finally got back on the right track working on GMAT verbal fundamentals. Often, even if your GMAT ship is sinking, you just need to get back to the basics.

The real work to achieve a GMAT 730 begins (again)

On the critical reasoning we slowed down to take whatever time needed to process the argument breaking down the premises and conclusions (if assumption based). We made sure that he understood what the argument was about, often coming up with the assumption ahead of time, before heading to the answer choices.

Quick aside on this “pre-thinking”/“predicting”. You don’t have to know the exact answer every single time but the goal should certainly be to understand the argument before moving to the answers. And, really, if you understand the argument, most of the time you should have a general understanding of what the answer should be. Ok. Moving on.

For sentence correction we focused on big rules rather than idioms and grammar minutiae.

Cutting off an arm to save the rest

For RC (which was a strength before the timing pressure but an anchor after) we figured out a timing strategy in case he got behind. In general it’s better to skip questions than to rush overall so we worked on smart skipping.

Manuel and I both felt that his reading comprehension should be a strength. He had always done well on it in semi-timed conditions (90%+). Time pressure killed him. We decided to sacrifice one of the long reading passages. I know that sounds dramatic, like cutting off a limb. But, hey, you gotta do what works and sometimes you gotta take the arm to save the rest.

Here’s what we did. Overall on the verbal he would take his time. Never rushing. But, he would have 5 skips. In addition to those skips, on one of the long readings he would skip the reading altogether and go right to the questions focusing on detail questions (line references and so on). The hope was that with 4-5 questions that he would be able to get 2-3 correct but spend about half of the time. He wouldn’t have much more than a gamblers chance on the broad/big idea questions (main idea, primary purpose) but a decent shot on the details.

Yes – we were giving away the chance of getting 100% but we were lowering the risk that he would get 20% correct and lose a ton of time which would put him in a hole for the rest of the test. And: it worked! Big GMAT tutor sigh of relief…

A 730 GMAT miss but still a sweet success

He didn’t knock the verbal out of the park but got a high-enough score that when coupled with an excellent quant score (q50) helped him achieve a 720.

So, no GMAT 730 and it took quite a bit longer than three weeks but soon after he got his 720, I had some great news from him: Accepted at Harvard, Wharton, MIT, and Stanford. Woohoo!

730 GMAT Score FAQ

What is the 730 GMAT percentile?

A 730 GMAT score is in the 96th percentile (as of 2021). GMAT percentile scores change so a 730 may drift up or down in the future though it has remained relatively stable in the past bunch of years.

How hard is it to get a 730?

Very hard. A 730 is in the 96th percentile so only 4% of GMAT test takers achieve that score. That said, if you’re gunning for Harvard (HBS), Wharton, Stanford (GSB)… then you’re probably not the average GMAT test taker and shouldn’t be put off by the challenge.

Is a 730 a “good” GMAT score?

A 730 is an incredibly good GMAT score and pretty much at or above the median of reported scores for candidates admitted to any MBA program on the planet (in 2020 the median’s top out at 733 with Stanford GSB). Also, as noted above, a 730 GMAT is in the whopping 96th percentile.

Do I need a 730 GMAT to be accepted to or even competitive for Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and all of the rest of the big names?

No. Absolutely not. The GMAT is just a part of your application and the all of the other parts combined do count for more. Also, keep in mind that half of the entering class was accepted with GMAT scores below the median and if you look at the GMAT score range you’ll see that some of those scores are well below median. Still, if your GMAT score isn’t sparkling then you’ll probably need some other bright spot on your application to balance it out. Also, if your quant score is below a certain level that may be concern as MBA programs don’t want to admit people who may not be able handle to quantitative side of the curriculum.

The other thing I’d say is: the GMAT is one of the major components of your application that you can actually improve. You can’t change your undergraduate grades or your professional arc. You can’t easily change who you know for your recommendations. But you can study your tail off for the GMAT.

So, no, don’t stress about hitting a 730 but do put your back into earning the best GMAT score possible.