The Long Road to a 700+ GMAT Score
The average person takes the GMAT 2.7 times. Is that crazy? If the goal is to get into a top notch MBA program then taking the test a few times could be completely rational: It’s a critical part of the MBA application and one of the few things that you can actually change. And with a 700+ GMAT as the de facto cut-off many people have a bunch of GMAT studying to do.
By the time that I started working with Laurel she’d already slogged through a GMAT course, worked with a private tutor, and taken the GMAT 3 times. She was above the average 2.7 times but below her 700+ GMAT goal. The more she studied the farther she veered from a 700+ GMAT score. Laurel was in a GMAT tailspin and was ready to give up on Columbia, her dream-school. In for the GMAT long haul? Going for GMAT 700+? A few practical tips and inspiration. Here’s an article on taking 6 months to study for the GMAT. And here is another student who took some time to reach his goals: Earning a Harvard GMAT Score.
Clear Skies and a 700+ GMAT is sighted
Laurel always completed her homework and came to sessions armed to the gills with questions. A perfect GMAT tutoring student. Her Quant was already in the high 40s and even though she wanted a 50 I felt that our time was better spent shoring up a lagging verbal score. We worked together over about 5 weeks doing scores of tough LSAT Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension questions. By the 3rd week her practice test scores were looking good and in the 700+ range. Her verbal was hitting a rather respectable 40. Still she wasn’t a verbal master and every once in a while she had a really hard time breaking down arguments and especially finding assumptions.
a White Whale
On test day I was a bit anxious because I didn’t want her to be let down again. I tried to quiet my doubts and remind myself that we had done a lot of good work. The numbers looked great on paper with Laurel consistently hitting 700+. We had this GMAT score in the bag!
Because she was on the west coast I didn’t get the call until later in day: her GMAT score had gone DOWN! Again... Her verbal had improved a smidge from her previous test but was in another universe from what she had been doing on her most recent practice tests. To add insult to injury the Quant had dropped. Alas, it was a sad day as the 700+ GMAT goal felt rather far away. I interviewed her about the GMAT experience to see whether I could get some idea of what had happened (might have ordered a GMAT enhanced score report but that was yet to be released). Why had she fallen from lofty 700’s on practice tests to low 600’s on the real thing? The strange thing was that Laurel had nothing strange to report. Apparently she hadn't felt very stressed during the exam: Her timing had been fine and nothing had seemed very difficult. The last comment struck me. Nothing difficult? The test should be difficult. If it wasn’t difficult then maybe she had been so tricked by the questions that she kept picking the obvious wrong answer. How had that happened? Stress (this article on GMAT Anxiety and Exhaustion that might be helpful). She just wasn't acknowledging it. It's actually fine to be stressed. It is completely normal to feel anxious about how you are going to perform on a challenging standardized test. We're humans not robots. Right? But, if you try to ignore your stress you can end up losing your sensitivity to the material. You just connect with the obvious stuff in the question and go right for the tempting wrong answer.
I felt in my gut that she should take the test again but I didn’t want to push her too much in case she really wasn’t up for it. Luckily, she had a fighting spirit and we both agreed that this would be the last hurrah. This was the last GMAT (her fifth) she would be allowed to take in the year anyways so it really was the last chance for a 700+ GMAT score. I didn’t feel that she needed more tutoring so I just made her a new study schedule and directed her on how to approach her verbal so that she could avoid another GMAT disaster.
How did we do it?
On her exam Laurel's brain had shut down. She knew the material but couldn't stand up to the GMAT bully. It's like that job interview for that position for which you are perfectly qualified but you get to that interview and freeze. You shrink. You sink. You lose your edge. She had the ability and the skills for a 700+ GMAT score but we had to develop her confidence. How? We had to prevent any retreat. We had to train engagement. So we made a few rules:
1. Take as long as needed to understand Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning passages and arguments. Commit!
2. Write down an answer for every single question before looking at the answer choices. Think!
3. Once you get to the answer choices take only one minute to solve. Don't stay too long in the snake pit!
What was the point?
Laurel needed to commit to the reading. To commit to understanding the information and processing it before looking at the answers. Doing this process forces you think and prevents the rush to the answer choices. In addition to the verbal work I added GMAT Club Quant tests to see whether we could get another point or two in the Quant. I didn’t want to take any chances on this last shot at a 700+ GMAT score. She worked for another solid month. Bear in mind that this was her 12th month of preparation for the Graduate Management Admission Test. A real trooper! G-day came and I was nervous. Anything less than a 700+ GMAT score would have been a massive disappointment for both of us. I got out of teaching a class and was enjoying my walk to the 7 train when I received a call from Laurel. Tears of joy: 710