I know, trick question right? For those of you who are new to the GMAT, the results range from 200 to 800, and the test ranks you by percentile, so technically, no one’s holding you back a year, so you’re gonna hear this a lot: “There’s no passing or failing in the GMAT!”
Only there is. You see most schools have a low bar – a minimum allowable GMAT score – to even consider your application. That score determines whether your application is even READ. Each school has a different minimum GMAT score requirement, so failing to meet one school’s low bar means you may yet qualify for another.
Great! Right??? Not so much.
You see there’s something about the psychology of a test taker, which in my experience, operates on a pass-fail basis:
“I need a 60% to pass this test”, or
“I can get max 5 questions out of 20 wrong to pass my driver’s exam”, or
“I need an 85 to get an A in this class”
People even think this way when it’s not a pass or fail situation! This is a problem because setting a low bar for yourself improperly frames the challenge, the GMAT does 3 wonderful things:
1. Gives you a chance to possibly override your crappy GPA
2. Ranks you by percentile, so the schools have a single metric to compare you with others (hence “standard test”)
3. Gives you a chance to get back on the academic bandwagon, before school starts and everything is for keeps
Some students quickly grasp this concept and are able to reframe the issue, this is where the magic is. So, I’m gonna outline how to properly shift your thinking on how to pass the GMAT effectively in 6 steps:
1. See past the GMAT test
Remember why you’re doing this, and understand your path: GMAT → MBA → High Fallutin’ job somewhere →millions → early comfortable retirement. Ok, maybe you have a different path, but that was mine (I’ve made a few detours since, but hey that’s life). For many, passing the GMAT is the first step towards as successful future, don’t fool yourself into thinking that since it’s the furthest from “comfortable retirement” that it’s not such a big deal. The truth is, if you can’t bring yourself to pull out all the stops for the GMAT, your chances of getting to the rest of those steps are going to be very bleak. So pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get going young person!
The GMAT is testing your ability to not suck at life later. Remember that and focus on doing the best you can to pass the GMAT. Getting a great score on the GMAT makes it easier to crush the MBA, so get better at math, get that critical reasoning on point, and you will make everything much easier for yourself.
The test is a barrier, but also a chance for you to jumpstart yourself, take it.
2. View each error as a stepping stone
Sounds cliché but it’s true: each error is a sign of what you did wrong, keep fixing all your wrongs till you get them right.
3. See Pass/fail as not really binary: it’s a gradient
As I touched on earlier, higher scores lead to wider options of potential schools. But, even if you have a range of schools you want to apply to, simply meeting the low bar for all of them is a small victory, clearing those bars by a mile greatly improves your chances of long term success.
Bonus: It’s also a way to address your sub-par GPA.
4. Study for long and consistent hours
Now we’re getting into nitty gritty, if you want to pass this test, and I mean PASS this test for any and all schools around, you’re aiming for a 710. This is your holy grail score, and it will require:
1. that you be a genius,
2. that you work more than anyone else in the room, or
3. a healthy combination of both
Workout a schedule where you’re studying daily 2 hours if possible. If you’re single, go out less, if you’re in a relationship, send her postcards. Oh yeah, and 4-6 hours of studying each Saturday… AND Sunday.
If it helps, remember that you will likely be taking many more tests in your life, so embrace this shit, it’s gonna be a lifestyle .
Free Pro-Tip: if you have a 9-5 desk job, wait till everyone has gone, pop those books open at your desk, and study like mad. Then when you’re packing up to go home, send a work-related email to your boss, the timestamp, if nothing else, will buy you the brownie points you’ll need to cash in when looking for reference letters. You’re welcome.
5. Have a plan
Get organized: get set up, buy your favourite notebook, grab a great study guide — I’m partial to Manhattan/Kaplan books myself, though I’m such a nerd I use my own in-house material with clients. Build a calendar, plan your studies into phases. In my classes, I focus on 3 layers of knowledge: theory, application, and execution, make sure you give yourself time to progress across each phase – and recognize early if you’re in danger of falling behind.
Quality over quantity: It’s better to do 100 GMAT sample exam questions and know them solid than to do 1000 and barely grasp what happened in all of them.
Remember your key learnings – I encourage my clients to never erase, but rather track their errors in red: a large part of learning is using those errors to better yourself. Fail fast, correct often.
The GMAT test is made up of 4 sections:
1. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) – An essay (not part of your main score)
2. Integrated Reasoning (IR) – Funky graph analysis/logic games/critical thinking in math (also not part of your main score)
3. Quant (part of your main score)
4. Verbal (also part of your main score)
Knowing the timing/difficulty for each of these sections is key, so you can strategize your approach and decide on what order you want to take these sections in (yes, you can choose the order, more on that later).
Know the best way to improve your GMAT Score: the test uses multivariate distributions, which you’ll hear from a Stats prof in your MBA one day. It’s a fancy way of saying you should probably focus on your weakness, rather than bolstering your strong suit. So, if you suck at math, do more math prep. If you suck at verbal? do more verbal (one day, an Econ prof in your MBA will refer to this concept as maximizing your marginal returns on effort).
Studying and passing the GMAT is going to be challenging, but you can make it easier by finding your low-bar and clearing it as high as you can. Your keys to doing this are by studying smart AND hard, having a plan, learning from your errors, retaining your learning, staying organized and vigilant, and investing time into studying. Your future depends on it, you’d be foolish not to give it your all.