GMAT 560 to 710 one step at a time

From a 560 to a 710 GMAT score one step at a time

For months you’ve used every available minute after work (and sometimes during) to study for the GMAT. You’re reteaching yourself basic math dormant since middle school, waking your logical reasoning skills, and, in general, trying to wrap your head around the nuances of the test. You’ve got an error log and are lurking around the GMAT forums reviewing like mad. After what seems like an unbelievable amount of GMAT preparation, you’ve tested your mettle on one official GMAT after another -- but all to no avail. Your GMAT score, the one stain on an otherwise excellent business school application, seems doomed to mediocrity. What can make matters worse is the idea perpetuated on the GMAT forums and in test prep propaganda that substantial 100+ score increases come easy. Well, they don’t (usually).

Ben came to the tutoring program already knee deep in GMAT preparation and stuck in a rut, struggling desperately to elevate himself from the mid-500s. He’d self-studied for three months and taken the GMAT twice but was still over 100 points shy of his goal: a 680 GMAT score.

Almost everyone emailing us here at Atlantic is looking for a 700+ GMAT score, so Ben’s 680 was refreshing. Still, a 680 GMAT is excellent and a 100 point improvement shouldn’t be taken lightly. In the end, Ben improved by 150 points from a 560 to a 710 GMAT score, zipping from the 48th to the 92nd percentile. Read on for how we did it!

Secret to a 710 GMAT Score?

There is no secret formula to GMAT success, but there is a formula. It’s just so obvious that most people have a tough time discovering it. Good old-fashioned hard work is just one part of it. But Ben had done plenty of that and was still falling short. The work needs to be focused and high quality with an organized study plan and appropriate materials. It doesn't hurt to have a great tutor to keep you on track but, the reality is: tutoring or any kind of instruction is secondary to being extremely organized, dedicated, and, primarily working on official GMAT materials.

For most anyone, the road to jumping 120 points from a 560 to a 680 is going to be a long and challenging one no matter how you slice it, but planning the entire preparation and then breaking down the process to the day not only makes studying more manageable but more impactful. It is very challenging to study long term. Going for the long haul? Go ahead and have a look at this post about GMAT study schedules and this one about 6 months of GMAT studying.

I started tutoring Ben in early October, setting a plan for him to sit the GMAT shortly before Christmas. That gave us just 10 weeks to get him into fighting form. 10 weeks? Hugh? That’s forever! That may appear like a lot of time but:

  1. Fundamental verbal skills take some time to develop (Ben’s verbal was decent but not great)
  2. While there’s a limited world of GMAT content to cover it’s still a chunk of stuff that you need to learn and consolidate so you can apply it under the pressure test conditions.

(Organized) Hard Work from the Start

Ben’s initial HW results were terrible. That said, usually we don’t use HW scores as a proxy for how someone is doing in the GMAT tutoring program (they’re just one piece of the puzzle). What tends to be a better predictor of GMAT success is the dedication to review: filling up the error log, churning through it regularly, and bringing questions to sessions. Fortunately, Ben proved highly dependable right from the start. He never lagged on his homework, always put in extra time on tough concepts, and was highly prepared for sessions armed with questions for review. Every weekend before our tutoring sessions he’d even send me a curated list of questions that he’d found to be particularly inscrutable the previous week. Though failing his homework sets Ben was excelling.

GMAT Heating Up

Ben’s homework scores kept notching up and up as the weeks passed so I ratcheted up the difficulty level. 680 GMAT here we come! A month out from his real GMAT he took his first practice test: 600. We didn’t pop a bottle of champagne for the 40 point increase but, really, any improvement on a first test is great. It’s not uncommon for the score to stay flat or go down on the maiden voyage as students try to apply new things. Of course, Ben reviewed everything he’d missed on the exam and had the feeling he’d made a bunch of careless mistakes. Then the next weekend: 700! Pop (there goes the champagne). The 140 point improvement was incredible. In the weeks leading up to his Official GMAT, Ben was riding high knowing that his 680 was within reach.

100 points down 20 to go!

Ben didn’t hit the 710 GMAT score on his first attempt, but he did manage to hit the target for his first test: a 100 point improvement from 560 to 660. And, because Ben had already hit a 700 on a practice test, we felt confident that the 680 GMAT was right around the corner. Ben was energized by the forward momentum and excited to get back to work but with the winter holidays descending we decided that he should take a much-needed GMAT study break.

Stepping away from GMAT studying for a bit can be a good thing. This isn’t to provide you with an excuse to be lazy! It’s to say that especially if you’ve been studying for 3+ months (in Ben’s case, 6+ months) getting some rest and relaxation can actually help you consolidate and give you perspective. After a three week break we were back at it with a month of our most challenging homework that we use specifically for GMAT retakes. We also scheduled a few tutoring QA sessions to make sure we were covering all of our bases to secure a 680 GMAT score.

To GMAT 680 and beyond...

GMAT day: Ben didn’t get a 680, or a 700, but a 710 GMAT score way up in the 92nd percentile with a 48q 38v. He rocketed from a 37 to a 48 on the quant side. An 11 point improvement is incredible! That’s the 32nd% to the 67th%. I know, a 67% quant score doesn’t sound great but, in today’s hyper-competitive GMAT quant landscape, it’s pretty damn good. For information on why a failing quant percentile will get you into Harvard have a look at our mega article on GMAT percentiles.

It’s inspiring to see someone pull off a 150 point increase to a 710 GMAT score in such a straightforward and reliable way. I think that says a lot about Ben and how he applied himself to our tutoring system. Every day he set himself to the task of: best GMAT preparation possible. Not only getting through the work but putting his back into it and making sure to pulverize the review.

Will everyone increase their GMAT score 150 points? Nope. Will everyone hit a GMAT 710? Probably not. It's the 92nd percentile for a reason! That said, Ben was neither an expert mathematician nor someone who came in the door with a ridiculously high verbal score. In fact, he was scoring somewhat in the middle of the pack on both sections of the test. It just goes to show: you can push yourself far beyond your baseline. But, like many amazing achievements, it may not come easy.

GMAT 560 to GMAT 710 FAQ

What percentile is a 560 GMAT score?

560 GMAT score percentile = 48th percentile

What percentile is a 680 GMAT score?

680 GMAT percentile = 84th percentile

What percentile is a 710 GMAT score?

710 gmat percentile = 92nd percentile

Is a 710 GMAT score good enough?

A 710 GMAT score is excellent no matter how you slice it. Whether it puts you in a stellar position for MBA applications depends on the rest of your application and, most importantly, on what schools you’re applying to. If you’re considering top 10 schools the 710 is going to be a bit below the middle so, in that case, it’s not unlikely that you’ll need something else in your application to balance things out (GPA, Essay’s, Recommendations…).

Outside of the top 10 business schools a 710 puts you in a very competitive position.

Will a GMAT 710 get you into Harvard?

Not on its own. For Harvard, and other top of the top schools, a 710 is solidly below the middle of the pack. That doesn’t mean that a 710 will keep you out of Harvard. I’ve had students admitted to Harvard with 670s. Same as above though. If you’re below the middle on your GMAT you need something else of equal or greater value on the plus side.

Keeping up with our GMAT duties we have the new GMAT Official Guide 2020. No surprise, it's very similar to the OG2019, OG2018 and so on. Just looking around the online question bank, which is helpful, I noticed that you have a calculator on offer for all of the sections.

GMAT 550 to 690: Last shot for a GMAT Super Soldier

Last shot for a GMAT Super Soldier: from GMAT 550 to 690

I only work with people who I believe I can help, so when Pete communicated that GMAT motivation was low, I was concerned about moving forward potentially wasting money and time on a dead end preparation. He had been in the GMAT jungle for a few months stuck in the mud. His most recent official practice test, a 550, with quant in the 10th percentile, was a long way from his 700+ goal. Pete wanted to give the exam one last shot but was already considering next steps if business school was no longer an option due to an average GMAT score.

On the upside, Pete was in the military, so I didn’t need to stress the importance of discipline and diligence in approaching GMAT studying. He knew it better than I probably ever will. He told me about GMAT prep in the field without a comfy desk or even a normal light. To avoid missing that day’s work, he locked himself in a Humvee with his homework kit: the GMAT official guide, a notepad, a warm blanket, and a flashlight. That's dedication. Hearing that I felt confident that this GMAT preparation was worth it.

Putting things in perspective

It’s hard to wake up early to study. It’s equally hard to focus on tough GMAT sets after a long day at work. Can you inform your boss that you need to leave early for the next 2-3 months? Will you disappoint your best friend by skipping the Vegas bachelor party because your exam is in two weeks and you need the weekends for practice tests? How about the family gathering that’s going require you to criss-cross the country? Or the GMAT productivity killer that is the after work drink?

Well, imagine having to do your GMAT prep in a freezing tent in the middle of nowhere with night vision goggles strapped to your head because you can’t use a light. Putting things in perspective? Since Pete described how he worked around his GMAT prep hurdles and managed to cope with insanely tough conditions, I have been using his experience as an example of what it takes to succeed on the GMAT. A stellar GMAT score is a great motivator as is having a no nonsense GMAT tutor with high expectations. But, on those days when you're having a tough time getting it together, just remember Pete huddled in a tent with the official guide studying to the background sound of enemy fire.

Even with a GMAT super soldier we failed: GMAT 550 to 560

Needless to say: Pete was a great GMAT tutoring student. We normally gray out missed assignments in our homework schedule to have a sense for the consistency of a preparation but Pete’s GMAT schedule was clean. He was especially talented at verbal, crushing all of the extremely difficult LSAT work that we tend to assign to improve GMAT critical reasoning and reading comprehension. Sometimes student's don't put 100% into verbal because they feel more anxious about quant. There's the feeling, "hey, I can read so I'll be fine on verbal." Or, I'm already in the 85th or even 90th+ percentile so, again, I'm "fine". Yes, you may be "fine" but will you be "amazing"? Strengthen your strengths! Pete bulldozed every single verbal assignment. First GMAT practice test: 620. Yes! Second 630. Right direction! Third 570. Oh no. It was demoralizing. And worse we were right around the corner from his GMAT.

550 to 560 Struggle Email

550 to 560 hopeless

Average GMAT Score 560 confidence

Average GMAT score 550 to 690 frustration

Not good. GMAT Day: 560 (the average GMAT score in 2019 is 560). Even doing everything right there’s no guarantee that you’re going to ace the GMAT. Diligent studying is necessary but not sufficient. The GMAT 550 he came in with wasn't representative of his abilities and neither was this 560.

Cut off and surrounded but still ready to lock and load

We were both devastated by the middling score but ready for another fight. Pete still struggled with GMAT confidence, but, given all of the amazing work he'd done, he also started to believe. Every once in a while he crashed and burned on a HW set or practice test but he kept marching one foot in front of the other. I knew Pete could do it. Just before what would be his final GMAT and the deciding factor for whether he'd pursue an MBA he fired off this email:

Pre GMAT Motivation Email

My fingers were crossed and I was sending good vibes across the country hoping that our GMAT bootcamp would finally pay off. Another disappointment would be a bitter pill to swallow. We needed something. Any decent improvement to keep hope alive. After his second GMAT:

GMAT 550 to 690 140 point improvement email


GMAT 550 to 690 thank you email

Pete increased his GMAT score 140 points from a 550 to a 690 and earned an astonishing 99th percentile plus verbal score (V47). The quant, at a 38, was in the 36th percentile. Not great. And certainly not representative of his abilities. It goes to show how much the verbal score can influence the outcome of your GMAT. Pete could likely have improved the 690 even further but he got an outstanding MBA offer and shelved the plans that did not include going to business school. Reading this over I teared up a bit. It really was that intense. Congrats Pete! Here’s the prize:

Average GMAT 550 to 690 Score Report

GMAT 550 to 690 FAQ

What is the percentile score for a GMAT 550?

A 550 GMAT score is in the 45th percentile. Keep in mind that GMAT percentiles change based on the the most recent group of test takers. So a GMAT 550 percentile score changes. For instance, in the past 10 years GMAT quant percentiles have gotten far more competitive so a quant 45 used to be in the 80th percentile but now it's in the 63rd percentile. Grim. Here's everything you need to know about GMAT percentiles for 2019.

What is a GMAT 550 converted to GRE?

Everything you need to know about how to convert GRE scores to GMAT scores. Because of the quirks of GRE scoring, section scoring only (no composite score), it's tough to compare the GMAT and the GRE. That said a GMAT 550 is somewhat equivalent to these GRE scores:

Verbal Reasoning

Quantitative Reasoning















Is a 550 a good GMAT score?

It is a shade below the average GMAT score, 560. A good GMAT score, at least in my mind, relates to what that score can do for you. If it's enough to achieve your educational goals then a 550 is a perfect GMAT score. If not, then you might need to study a bit more. That said, no reason to get caught up in the GMAT/test prep arms race if you don't have to. The GMAT doesn't define you. The rest of your application (as a whole) is more important. A below average GMAT score isn't the end of the world and there are plenty of people admitted to great MBA programs with below average GMAT score.

Is a GMAT 550 hard to achieve?

That really depends on your starting score and profile. Still, I'd argue with the right amount of studying most people pursuing an MBA should be able to hit a 550. It is right about the average GMAT (560 in 2019).

What schools and MBA programs are in a range with a 550 GMAT score?

640 to 700 GMAT: a Tricky 60 Points

Easy 640 to 700 GMAT?

Another "big box test prep" graduate called the other day - he couldn’t crack the GMAT 700’s. Why? Good question. Adam was whip smart and especially talented at verbal. I wouldn’t call him a Quant nerd but after a bit of training he could slice through 95% of the GMAT Official Guide. If I had to complain I'd say that because he was extremely busy and stressed out with work he couldn't commit 100% to the GMAT tutoring program. That’s not to say that the homework results were bad but just not perfect. He was always struggling just a bit with his cup overflowing with responsibility. Oh, and he also had two young kids. He wanted to improve from a GMAT 640 to 700 in 8 weeks, a reasonable goal for a smart, hardworking guy.

Burnout to 660

We were hopeful as GMAT day loomed on the horizon. But, the 700 twas not to be. 660. He had been logging Quant scores in the high 40’s but had crumpled to a 41 on GMAT day. We had a quick debrief to diagnose the unexpected results. Verdict: exhaustion. He'd studied 10 hours per day the two days before the exam. Holy crap! I would never have someone study that much - ever (especially right before a test). It completely burned him out. Here are some suggestions for the last week of GMAT studying.

Panic back to GMAT 640

A month later: 640. Right back to where we started. Somewhere in the middle of the Quant he had started to panic and from then on had triple checked every answer. After that the test had spun out of control. Adam left seven questions on the Quant and twelve questions on the Verbal blank! It's one thing to be thorough but another to be paranoid. At some point you have to let go. Start practicing this on your HW sets and of course on your practice tests so that you have a handle on it for GMAT day.

Attitude adjustment + Radio Silence

I advised another retake without additional tutoring. I just provided a study schedule and materials. He didn't need to learning anything new. He really didn't need more studying. The focus was on trying to relax. Trying to just feel positive while working on GMAT questions. Trying to study less. To put less pressure on. Then came test day. 640 to 700? Dunno. No phone call or email. Ugh. It always feels strange and unsettling to be in the dark. I always think the worst. I sent over a quick note to check in: no reply. Hmmm.

640 to 640 to 700 GMAT Success

Fast forward two months. An email! The test had not gone well. Another 640 GMAT. Good news though: he had gotten into Kellogg! Hurray!!! Still he wanted to improve his chances at Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton so he gave the GMAT one last shot. No studying at all: 700!

Economist GMAT Reading Comprehension Challenge #26

Economist GMAT Reading Comprehension Challenge #26

Welcome back to the Economist Reading Comprehension Challenges! If this is your first there are some helpful reading strategies on the home page.

Article: A lot of the periodic table is a result of neutron stars colliding


Living things are star...

Other than hydrogen from the big bang, elements from which life is composed came from the nuclear fusion that powers stars but that process has its limits and can't produce elements heavier than iron.

To synthesise...

Some of the elements heavier than iron have been produced by supernova but supernova can't account for the abundance of the heaviest metals which it is now confirmed are the products of collisions between ultra dense objects called neutron stars.

The neutron-star...

Neutron stars are the collapsed leftovers of particular types of supernova.

A single neutron...

Although a single neutron star cannot create new elements, two neutron stars orbiting each other might as they collide, creating an explosion called a kilonova that throws neutrons in all directions.

On Earth one ...

On Earth one established way of making heavy elements from light ones is by neutron bombardment.

In effect...

Neutron bombardment is a small-scale version of what happens after a neutron-star collision but although the theory was reasonable until recently no one had seen a kilonova and so could prove its existence.

In the wake...

Scientists used optical telescopes to scan the recent kilonova to collect spectra from the explosion and thus determine which elements were created.

Kilonovae are rare events...

Kilonovae are rare events although they were more common in the past.

Future observations...

More refined analysis is forthcoming but it is confirmed that heavy metals at least in part originated from Kilonova.

Main Idea

It is now confirmed that Kilonovae are responsible for heavy metals present on earth that can't be explained by supernovae.

Primary Purpose

To discuss a theory that has recently been confirmed by data.



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