550 to 700 GMAT in a month?

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.

GMAT or GRE Easier? (2018)

GMAT or GRE Easier? 

As the competition heats up between GMAT and GRE as the leading test for business school admission many potential MBAs are weighing the question: is the GMAT or GRE easier? Here’s a chart to help you decide whether the GMAT or GRE will be easier for you and below that is further analysis to help you pick which test to tackle. For a granular comparison of the tests you can also check out our GMAT vs GRE article.

Is the GMAT or GRE Easier?

GMAT Easier GRE Easier
Great at verbal reasoning You have an outstanding vocabulary
Solid Grammar skills Not afraid of numbers but don’t like puzzles
Like puzzles Preferred the ACT to the SAT
Not intimidated by standardized tests Standardized tests have never been your strong suit

 

GRE is easier than GMAT if:

-You have an impeccable vocabulary

-You are good at quant but not great with test pressure or puzzles

Why? A majority of the GRE verbal section is based on vocabulary. If you are passionate about words then you’ll love the GRE verbal. On the quant side the GRE and GMAT cover very similar content though the GRE tests that content in a more straightforward way. So you do need quant skills for the GRE but the application is slightly easier. In addition, the format of the GRE is easier than that of the GMAT. Although it is delivered on a computer it still resembles a paper test in that you can skip questions and return to them. It also doesn’t change the difficulty of questions based on your responses. The GMAT computer adaptive test structure challenges most test takers. You can’t return to questions. Once you confirm an answer it’s done! Also, as you answer questions correctly the difficulty of subsequent questions increases. With practice and strategy you can overcome the GMAT CAT. No problemo. But, ultimately, it does present a thornier format.

GMAT is easier than GRE if you:

-Have fantastic verbal reasoning skills

-Have solid grammar skills

-Like puzzles

Although GMAT quant produces great anxiety amongst future MBAs it is the verbal section that’s more important for most people aiming for 700+ GMAT scores. Yes, you do need to do well on the quant as well but unless you score in the 90th%+ on verbal your shot at a stratospheric GMAT score is severely limited. Here's a detailed look at GMAT Percentiles. And, unfortunately, verbal skills are usually tougher to improve. Of course you can go from a verbal zero to hero but it just tends to take longer to develop those core reasoning and reading skills. So if you’re starting off stupendously on verbal the GMAT could well be easier for you than the GRE.

Verbal Reasoning translates to GMAT Quant

Also, even if you’re rusty at math you may find that once you get in a GMAT quant mindset those reasoning skills translate to quant success. After-all, although the GMAT Quant is a math section the actual math part is very basic. Whether on a quant or verbal question the GMAT is always testing reasoning skills. Are you judging other people’s poorly written emails? You may find GMAT sentence correction very easy and even, yep I’m going to say it, fun. So again, most people think GMAT and math but the verbal is a key factor.

The GMAT is easier to study for

Quick note on study materials for both tests. Even if you fall into the profile indicating a GRE preference note that there are far fewer official GRE questions to practice on. So although you may start off with a GRE advantage it could be that you have a tougher time improving your GRE score due to a lack of official practice questions and practice tests.

The GRE is easier but at what cost?!

Maybe no cost. It could even provide an advantage. But that depends. Whether the GMAT or GRE is easier isn’t the only question one should consider in selecting one or the other for MBA admission. As of 2018, for most people the GMAT is a better bet but there are outliers who could improve their chances for admission to top schools by taking the GRE. An important GRE note: the equivalent GRE score averages at top schools, at least the ones who've released the statistics, are lower than what you would need on the GMAT. For a rundown on comparing scores here's an article on GRE to GMAT conversion.

Is the GMAT or GRE Easier?

Hopefully we've shed some light on what skills might make you better suited for the GMAT or GRE. Keep in mind that it is really at the extremes that one test would be significantly more difficult than the other. For most, the tests will be very similar with the GMAT, at least at the beginning of your preparation, slightly tougher.

GMAT 770 in 5 weeks: Wow

A good foundation for a GMAT 770

He’d already achieved a 710 GMAT score but Rich had his eye on HBS and wanted to re-take his GMAT to better his chances at admission to one of the meccas of the MBA universe. Though he hoped for any improvement he coveted a GMAT 770. The 99th percentile opens at 760. Getting there is the GMAT equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. Then to get those extra ten points you still need to do some Cross-fit on the summit. I improved my previous top, 770, to a 780 without any active studying while in a test center next to a loud construction site. But, I think I got lucky. I was also in the midst of writing our LSAT for GMAT curriculum so verbal was spot on.

Rich's verbal was a fantastic 42 (90th+ percentile) but he griped about the "imperfect" score since his mom, an english teacher, had pointed out that he should be earning a perfect verbal score. My experience: If you can get a 42v and you're willing to sweat for it you can get a 45v+, the 99th percentile, especially if you chug through LSAT questions. Those extra verbal points make a big difference. With a perfect verbal score you can hit a 770 with only a 47 on the quant and a 700 with a 40 on the quant. Here's a more in depth look at GMAT scoring and percentiles.

Rich and I felt good about the tutoring plan so against the odds but with a positive vibe decided to start trekking. 

Inconsistent Quant killing confidence

On the Quant Rich lacked confidence. When encountering GMAT turbulence he would get frazzled and mash on the eject button. I also noticed that he was judging his performance and the difficulty level of questions as he was working - this analysis wastes your mental energy and is akin to spreading out your focus on multiple fronts as opposed to just getting down to the business of working on the question in front of you. This distraction contributed to him forgetting that most of the GMAT math could be solved with very simple tools.

GMAT is the master of presenting something that seems exotic but is actually quite basic. As with most of my students we worked on staying organized and patient and allowing for some unknown (be OK with not knowing everything all at once). Trust that sticking to an organized process will often reveal the path forward. The GMAT doesn't expect you to pull a rabbit out of a hat but to follow a trail of breadcrumbs. 99% of the time there's something simple that you can do to get to the next step. We also worked on slowing down to avoid careless mistakes, which about half of the time were the cause of Rich’s frustration. I see this often with GMAT tutoring students. It isn’t that you don’t know how to set up a question but a careless computation throws the whole thing off kilter. This saps your confidence and makes you feel that you're completely lost, and, worst of all, that the GMAT is difficult. 

a 770 GMAT score comes into focus

Totally willing to reprogram his approach, Rich started to see movement on his Quant almost immediately. For verbal I assigned some tough LSAT for GMAT work to sharpen his already sharp critical thinking skills (taking the verbal from an A to an A+ makes a difference!). He generally excelled at critical reasoning but still goofed up the occasional set. Then, one day, his verbal was bombproof. Boom. Just like that. He said there was one thing that changed the calculus: Me telling him that there is only one correct answer. No, ifs, ands or buts. He had been wrestling with some of the questions thinking that two answer could be correct but that one was just better than the other. Once he accepted: one correct/four incorrect it was like getting the right prescription on his verbal lenses and everything sharpened up. The hunt for a 770 GMAT score, an elusive beast, was heating up.

Going for GMAT gold is never a sure thing (but it happens)

Rich scored a 750, 760, 770 and a peak 780 on his official GMAT practice tests. There had been a few repeat questions on the 780 but still we were both happy with the progress. Test day came and radio silence. Not a peep. I was the tiniest bit concerned that GMAT glory had eluded us. That night a ring-ring, ring-ring on the telephone: GMAT 770 and a perfect 51 on the verbal. Holy crap. The first perfect verbal score that I’d ever seen from a GMAT student. He was over the moon. It completely made my week. It’s great to see people do well. Especially ones who are as nice and hard working as Rich. Fire away with questions or experiences!

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.

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