You’ve made the exciting decision to apply for your MBA, and you feel confident: You have impressive professional accomplishments, recommenders cheering you on, and a compelling argument for admission.
And yet…the mere thought of sitting down for the GMAT, perhaps your first a standardized test in nearly a decade, makes you question your decision.
You’re not alone! Like all standardized tests, the GMAT has a special power to induce anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Often, a lower-than-hoped-for GMAT score (or the fear of receiving one), comes down to a matter of preparation. The secret to unlocking a GMAT score that will put you in the running for a top program is crafting the right GMAT test prep strategy.
What is the GMAT? (And why does it matter?)
If you have committed to pursuing an MBA, you have committed to taking the GMAT. The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is an integral part of your MBA application. It is designed for the exclusive use of graduate business programs, and it is used by 2,300 schools globally. According to the test owner and administrator, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the GMAT is designed to “find and compare candidates who will succeed in [a business school’s] program.”
The Case for the GMAT
MBA coursework is rigorous, and therefore students must have exemplary quantitative, analytical and verbal abilities. On its most basic level, the GMAT works as a diagnostic tool to assess the test taker’s abilities in these areas. A good score on the GMAT demonstrates to the admissions committee that the candidate can keep up with the program’s academic demands, and allows for objective comparisons between candidates.
Beyond demonstrating your academic proficiency, this is your chance to further enhance the strength of your profile. Between two candidates with similar work histories and background, a higher GMAT score is a straightforward way to elevate your profile.
Predictor of Success, or Shrewd Marketing Tool?
Business schools thrive when they can attract and choose from the most talented applicants. An essential method by which a school attracts the best and brightest is through its program ranking, compiled by publications such as US News & World Report. The average GMAT score of a school’s incoming class is a key metric that impacts its ranking. Therefore, to preserve its ranking, an elite school is more or less required to continue accepting applicants with exclusively high GMAT scores.
What’s on the GMAT?
The GMAT is comprised of four sections:
- Analytical Writing Assessment
- Integrated Reasoning
Your test score falls on a range from 200-800 points, which is tabulated by a composite of your scores in the quantitative and verbal sections.
The test utilizes Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) to score your test. This means that no two tests will look identical. Rather, it adjusts algorithmically in real-time to your answers, increasing the difficulty level as you answer everything correctly.
What is a Good GMAT Score?
If you’re aiming for a top MBA program, you know you’ll need to measure up against the average GMAT score of admitted students. For the top 10 programs, they range from 713-727.
If you have a lower score than the class average, can you still get in? Maybe, but it’s less likely. While there have been trends in undergraduate admissions and other graduate programs to significantly decrease the weight placed on standardized test scores in admissions decisions, top MBA programs have not been quick to follow this trend.
What is the Best Way to Prepare for the GMAT?
This is a difficult exam, and many accomplished professionals have been surprised at how difficult they found it. Luckily there are many robust and varied resources out there to aid you in your journey to taking the GMAT, from in-person classes to app-based solutions. So how do you decide which test prep strategy to pursue? Your best GMAT prep strategy will be influenced by a confluence of variables. Below are the most important ones to consider:
Your Work Schedule
If you’re considering applying to business school, it should go without saying that you’re a busy professional with a demanding work schedule. While the idea of going to an in-person class to prepare for the GMAT might sound like a great way to stay accountable and provide some much-needed structure to your study schedule, if you have unpredictable hours, an upcoming project at work, or perhaps travel, this may end up working against you. If you miss the class, you’ve automatically set yourself back.
Your Learning Style
Being honest with how you learn best will pay off in the long run. The idea of doing GMAT test prep from the comfort of your couch sounds appealing, but the stakes are too high for wishful thinking. It’s worth asking: Will you do the work if you don’t have a class to attend, or a tutoring session to prepare for? On the flip side, perhaps the thought of a live class makes you anxious, and a video prep course would be more your speed.
Your Application Timeline
No great test prep strategy ever started with: Put it off until the last second. The key to performing well on the GMAT lies in starting early. Starting early allows you to take a practice test to assess your strengths and weaknesses, so you have a clear idea of which areas to prioritize in your test prep. Second, when it comes to mastering (or remastering) complex concepts, it can take repetition and persistence to gain the confidence you need to succeed on test day.
There are fantastic resources out there, but they are sometimes on the pricier side due to the high demand of GMAT instructors. Considering how essential it is to achieve a top GMAT score to be considered for top programs, this is often a worthy investment.
GMAT Exam Preparation Resources
Below we’ve listed the best test prep strategies (hint: none of them include “winging it”). Your strategy should ultimately be a blend of different approaches, which will help you maximize your score in each section.
- A good fit for: Those who thrive in a group setting, have a predictable schedule, and/or need to practice every section of the GMAT
- Avoid if: You can’t commit to the class time
- Average Cost and time commitment: $1200-1800, ~25-30 hours of class time
Live online class:
- A good fit for: Those who need structured coaching on all sections of the GMAT, but can’t commit to an in-person class
- Avoid if: Your work hours are too unpredictable
- Average Cost and time commitment: $800-1,500, ~15-18 hours of live virtual class time
- A good fit for: If you need to significantly boost your score, this will be worth the additional investment
- Avoid if: Besides cost, there is really no downside to this approach, though be sure to interview potential coaches beforehand to ensure their teaching style will be a good fit.
- Average cost and time commitment: $2,500-$3,000 for 10-40 hours of instruction
- A good fit for: This strategy provides great value if you only need to significantly boost your score in one particular section, or if you have an unpredictable schedule
- Avoid if: Video prep can work as an excellent supplement, but if you need a lot of coaching and only want to sign up for one thing, it’s probably not the best choice.
- Average cost: Free pre-recorded videos outlining GMAT concepts are widely available, with options up to $1,000 that will also include practice test questions
- Benefits: Portable and allows you to study at your own pace.
- Avoid if: Similar to video prep, this may work best as a supplement to your test prep strategy, but can’t make up for person-to-person instruction.
- Average cost: $25-45
- Benefits: Pick up GMAT tips from people who have increased their scores, budget-friendly source for GMAT test prep guidance.
- Avoid if: Like anything on the Internet, there is no guarantee of the information’s reliability. This is not a replacement for learning from a respected class or coach.
- Average cost: Free
Practice test questions (in paper or app form):
- Benefits: Familiarize yourself with the test format, sample GMAT test questions, assess which areas you need to prioritize in your study
- Avoid if: Don’t avoid! Consider this a mandatory step in your test prep strategy, no matter what else you may be doing.
- Average cost: $50-$150
The ultimate GMAT test prep strategy
No matter which test prep strategy you choose, your success on the GMAT comes down to your effort. The ultimate GMAT test prep strategy is planning ahead, putting in enough time and practice. If you bring that effort to your exam preparation, you’ll be guaranteed to perform at your best.
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