Guest Post by Varsity Tutors: How to improve your score on the GMAT [or any test]

VTAny friends studying for a standardized test these days?  Then this guest by my friends at Varsity Tutors could be for you. Whether you’re studying for the LSAT, GMAT, GRE or the SAT, these general tips may be helpful on your second attempt.  More importantly,  they reinforce the idea of just how much #EducationMatters.

See below for the article.

How to Improve Your GMAT Score

“B-School applicant, you just finished a grueling four-hour test. What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to…take it again!”

Well, that wasn’t the answer everyone was expecting. However, retaking the GMAT is a reality for many test-takers. Some simply feel they could have done better than they did, others need a certain target score to get into a particular school that they have not yet reached. In fact, students are often encouraged to initially sign up for two tests, hoping that a scheduled second test will take some pressure off of them the first time, ultimately leading to better scores.

If you have a solid reason to take the exam again, get the test date locked down as soon as you can. You have to wait 31 calendar days before retaking the GMAT, but in the interest of keeping your knowledge fresh, you shouldn’t schedule your retake too far after that time.

So, you’ve got a month or so before another test day, and you need a plan. It’s time to figure out what to do so that this extra effort expended will not go to waste.

1. Review your initial test day experience immediately.

As much as you probably don’t want to relive an experience that you possibly found about as fun as dental surgery, an immediate debrief is a necessary evil. As soon as possible, go back over your entire test day experience and take notes.

  • Remember your physical condition. If you were sleepy, felt hungry, or were uncomfortable in any other way, these circumstances could very well have messed up your score. Thankfully, they can all be fixed for your retake.
  • Remember conditions of the room. Things like temperature and noise can also affect you negatively, and you can be better prepared for them next time.
  • Remember your actual test-taking. Timing and concentration during long reading passages are examples of important concepts that should be always incorporated into your preparation. Did you have problems with these the first time?
  • Remember the test content. There may have been specific concepts, vocabulary, or problem types that were vague or unknown to you and that, to your dismay, popped up repeatedly. Jot them down so you can work on them, since it’s likely that they are important and you will see them again.

2.   Take a short break.

Once you’ve immediately recapped the day, it’s time to shake it off and move forward with the lessons you’ve learned. It’s important to give your mind a little bit of time off and put some distance between you and the first test.

3. Address your weaknesses.

When you analyze your test day experience, look at the items that you saw consistently and didn’t feel confident approaching. Hit those hard by doing drills and in-format questions until they are no longer a problem.

4. Shore up your strengths.

Don’t let the things that you are good at fall by the wayside. Instead, keep them fresh by continuing to work on them while simultaneously reviewing the more challenging material as well. And, in all question cases (but particularly when you’re trying to keep your good skills fresh), go over both correct and incorrect answer choices. You may have answered the question right, but was there a faster way to do it? Is there any lesson shown in the wrong answers that you could use regarding eliminating wrong answers in the future?

5. Work on time management.

Time management is a big problem for most test-takers, so don’t neglect it. You’ve got to improve how quickly you get correct answers and how much time to spend on questions before giving up on them or guessing. Once you have concepts down, complete timed problem sets and exercises as soon as possible.

6. Change it up.

The results of your first test were clearly subpar for you, so perhaps your method of test preparation needs to be changed. If you keep preparing the same way you did before, how will you ever increase your score? Einstein famously described insanity as performing the same task over and over and hoping for a different result. To avoid GMAT “insanity,” change the method somehow – get a GMAT tutor, use a different test prep book publisher, do a better job simulating the real test day experience when you do practice tests – really commit to working on the test everyday and not just sporadically. Shake up your learning and pump up your score!

It’s important to be very honest with yourself when analyzing your first test day experience. Only you can really know if you really were absolutely committed to the process and if you truly grasped what you kept saying you understood. Make some truthful assessments, change your preparation appropriately, approach test day with the confidence that comes from experience, and you’ll be well on your way to an improved score.

This post is written by Toby Blackwell. Toby is a GMAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. He graduated with honors and received his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.


Thursday, August 8th, 2013 Business School, Education, Guest Posts 1 Comment

#AskJeremy (Applicant Question): Is My GMAT “Good Enough” To Get In ?

Hi there everyone–I recently received an email from a really excited reader who is applying to business school but is concerned about her GMAT score. She is a potential applicant to the JD-MBA program in next year in 2011, and she sent me a message to ask my opinion.  I’ve written her a response below, but I preface that by saying, usually, the “is my GMAT high enough” dilemma is one of those questions that there’s probably no right answer to and that’s ultimately up to the applicant.  But I did provide her with a little context. Hopefully it is helpful for everyone. Check out our email exchange below.

Email Message From Sender

“Hi Jeremy, I’m thinking (and really hoping) to get into Northwestern’s program. I really need some advice on whether I should take the GMAT again (I just got a 660 but know I choked on the math section). I’ve been working in Egypt for a 1.5 now and it will be 3 years by the time I start – I’m planning on starting fall 2011. I work for the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank) working in communications. I’m also sitting for the first round of the CFA exam in June. A lot of people keep telling me the international experience will mean more than the GMAT, but I’d really appreciate some advice from seeing the backgrounds of fellow classmates etc if you think its necessary to retake the GMATs.”

Hi (Removed)

Thanks so much for writing, and for checking out my blog. I’m glad you’re interested in Northwestern’s program. I hope you do apply next year and encourage you to apply in round one for the best shot at getting in.

I generally like to give two pieces of advice to “completing” business school applicants.  First, you want to be satisfied with your work on every part of the application, at least to the extent possible.  Second, you want to balance that satisfaction with not juggling too many pieces of the application at the same time—GMAT, essays, class visits, supplementary classes, etc—and possibly dropping the ball on one or multiple pieces.  Now given you’re not applying until 2011, you should have plenty of time to avoid excessive juggling, so you should not automatically rule out the GMAT. Here’s why.

With the economic downturn, the past two years for MBA admissions have been pretty unrivaled in terms of applications, both in number and in quality. Applicantions are literally coming out of every corner and every part of the world imaginable. Average GPAs, GMATs, and number of degrees are higher than ever.  And people are literally taking the GMAT time and time again aiming for scores well above 700.  That said, the rule of thumb is that top programs like to see you hit the 80th percentile on both sections (quant and qual) of the GMAT, and especially the quantitative section to prove you can handle the curriculum.

But no need to fret if you don’t attain that score  There are always plenty of people that get in t0 top programs every year with scores below 80th percentile as well as with below total scores below the median. In fact, most top MBA program a really large number of kids in this range, including Kellogg.  Some of those are like you and have finance experience. But others may not have that experience. One caveat I’ll mention about the JD-MBA program here is that the average scores for one class tends to be slightly higher than Kellogg’s.  I suspect that happens for two reasons. One is that fewer “alternative career” students apply to this program given the cost. Second, is because the LSAT is not required for admission here, so a higher GMAT score might indicate that a student is well-prepared to hand both sets of classes. The range is usually about 15 to 20 points higher for the dual program, which is by no means insignificant. (Click here for details) I suspect the same types of differences exist in any other dual programs you may be considering.

So what does this mean for you?  Overall that’s a tough question for me to answer. That might depend on your original target score, how many times you’ve taken the test, how well you did on the practice exams, and how busy you are at work. If you were aiming higher and were hitting 700s on practice tests, then you may want to consider retaking it, especially given the time you have and considering the economy. But if that weren’t the case, and you did everything you possibly could to get your 660, then the payoff might not be worth it.

Here is an analogy I used to give when I was part of my Undergraduate Admissions Team a few years ago.  I used to tell the high school students that the SAT (GMAT or readers here) test score was just a hygiene factor. I said they should think about it like they were going on a date. And if you have bad breadth (i.e. bad hygiene) on the date, then chances are you won’t be getting a second one.  On the other hand, if you have good breadth, that also won’t get you a second date. But it does allow the other person to concentrate on the more important things and then decide from there.

Similarly, when applying to an MBA program, the real key is just getting a GMAT score that does not keep the admissions team from learning about “more important things” from your essays, work experiences, and leadership potential. For most schools, you can estimate that number based on the ranges they publish on their websites. And your positioning in that range should couple with how strong of an overall applicant you are otherwise. In your case, don’t forget to factor in the you’d be on the lowest end for age range for the JD-MBA program, as the “average age” admitted to the program is almost five years out and the lowest age is usually three years out.  Also, I agree that your international experience will certainly be valued and may affect your comfort level with your GMAT when applying.

I know this may not be as direct an answer as you wanted.  But I hope it helps. Thanks for writing and best of luck over the next year.

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Monday, January 18th, 2010 Admissions, AskJeremy, Business School 6 Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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