Skip to Main Content
by Vault Education Editors | June 23, 2009


This isthe third and final installment of a three-part series on the GMAT from MBAPodcaster on In the first segment, we talked about GMAT preparation,and our experts gave advice about how to get ready for the test. In thisarticle, we will discuss the GMAT in general and how it fits into your businessschool application package. We will also talk about how to approach the test,different studying options, and what to do to get the score you want. Ourexperts will also share their personal experiences taking and teaching thetest.

As always,this is Diana Jordan with MBA Podcaster, here with our GMAT experts, ChrisRyan, director of ManhattanGMAT; Brian Galvin, director of academic programsfor Veritas Prep; Lisa Weale, executive director of the GMAT program at KaplanTest Prep and Admissions; Jon Denning, director of operations for PowerScoreTest Preparation; and Jose Ferriera, CEO of Knewton.

The pressureis on to get the best GMAT scores you possibly can. There has an unprecedentedincrease of prospective MBA students taking the GMAT in the past year. JonDenning is the director of operations for PowerScore Test Preparation. Jon, howis competition impacting applicants? “At no point ever, perhaps, has it beenmore important that people do all that they can to prepare themselves as wellas possible to take this test. Be it with a tutor, a class, a book--but gonecertainly are the days when people would just go in and take this test and[say] 'I’ll see how I do and hopefully that’ll be good enough.' That doesn’tfly anymore.”

Liza Weale isexecutive director of the GMAT program at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.Liza, did you take the GMAT? “Actually, the first time I took it I did not doso well. I took it right out of college and I got a 590 on it; and fast-forwarda few years later, I was committed to making a career change and knew that Ineeded to get into a top-five business school in order to do that. So I knew my590 was not going to cut it. So [I] said, 'OK, I’m going to change the way Iprep for this exam.' Well before I came to Kaplan, I enrolled in a Kaplancourse and my score went up significantly. I ended up getting a 740. And I wasaccepted into MIT Sloan’s MBA program.” So, Liza, how important is the GMAT?“Fifty-five percent of business school admissions officers that we surveyedtold us that the GMAT is the most important factor in an application. So youwant to get the highest score that you can. And to do that you need to prepareadequately. Most people study for 100 hours or more, which assuming that youwork full-time translates to two or three months or maybe more depending onyour schedule.”

Jose Ferrierais CEO of Knewton. Is anybody a natural at this? They don’t really have tostudy? “No. These tests are unnatural acts. So it’s [like] bending your elbowbackward--and that’s true in just about everybody. Some people who appear to begood test takers have essentially done a lot of the test prep work alreadyintuitively while they were just going about their daily lives and that’s justthe way their lives work but I have never met anyone who came out of the wombgood at standardized tests.”

Liza withKaplan, how tough is the GMAT? “Not only does it test you on things likeisosceles triangles and subject verb agreement, things you likely haven’t beentested on since high school or earlier. But the GMAT exam is also in a formatthat is probably unlike any other test you’ve taken. It’s a computer adaptedtest--or CAT, as it is often referred to as. And that means it adapts the questionsto your performance. But it’s a time test, so responding quickly is just asimportant as responding correctly. So you have enough time to get through thefull test.”

Jose, let’sput the GMAT score in perspective. “The most important criteria for businessschool are work experience (number one) and GMAT (number two). And if your workexperience is pretty good, above the average for the schools you want to applyto, you can probably get in with a GMAT score that’s a little below theaverage. On the other hand, if your work experience is just average for theschools you want to apply to or even a little bit below average, you’re goingto want to get that GMAT score higher to give yourself some insurance thatyou’re going to get it.”

Brian: let’ssay an applicant keeps getting mediocre scores, is it better to re-take theGMAT and risk getting that bad score over and over (showing determination), oris that detrimental? “If I’m the admissions director and I look at the GMATtranscript that says this person every other month for the last year has scored620, I’m going to ask myself: 'Well, why didn’t they learn from the first threeof them and realize that they should have done something different? Or if theyweren’t going to do anything different, they are just going to repeat the samemistakes and, quote-unquote, study harder but not necessarily smarter, then whynot realize that if you’re only going to do the same thing over and over again,you’re not adding any value and find a better use of that time?'”

Liza, whatare your thoughts? If the scores are low, is it better to keep re-taking thattest or go with what you got? “If your GMAT is close to or matches your targetschool’s average and you feel like you have a top-notch application outside orbeyond the GMAT, you’re probably OK. But if the gap is pretty big, as it was inmy case, or if you really want your GMAT to help you stand out from the crowd,it’s worth your time to think about taking it again. Most schools willencourage you to take the exam again because it can show dedication andcommitment. But, there’s a big if here, if you show that improvement.”

Chris, whatif your GMAT score keeps coming in low? “If it’s 10, 20, 30, 40 points belowthe average … at the school that you’re targeting and you just can’t seem toget it up beyond that point, well, you should probably focus on the otheraspects of your application and send it in. If it’s well below that, then youmight want to think about getting a tutor or getting some professional help fromthe likes of our company or wherever you go in order to try to crack the case.But there is some point ... at which you should probably say, 'You know, I amnot seeming to improve on this, I should look at the rest of my application.'”

Chris, how doyou know if you should take the GMAT again? “Getting a 750 versus a 760 doesn’tmatter at any of these schools. I can tell you that, flat out. If you’re belowthe average then, yeah, you should think about taking it again. And if you feelthat it’s too low, then definitely take it again. Now, you have to wait 31 daysbefore you take another GMAT. You can’t take it any sooner than that. So youshould re-prepare if you do decide to take it again. You should absolutely dosome reflection on where you think you went wrong. Unfortunately, the GMAT doesnot provide any feedback other than a math and verbal break down (a sub scorein each section), but it doesn’t tell you what question you got right or howlong you spent on them. Nothing like that. So you have to just kind of reflecton where do [you] think [you] went wrong, and less about content and more aboutprocess. Did [you] manage [your] time well, that sort of thing. And then set upanother focused preparation plan and re-prepare.”

Jon, ifstudents aren’t doing well, should they try tutoring? “For some people, it’salmost magical how much they can improve with tutoring. The whole patina of itchanges. I think the student [who] can benefit the most from tutoring is astudent who either … just doesn’t learn well in a group environment or [has] atougher time, perhaps, concentrating and dealing with the inflexibility of abook. That person is really going to benefit from tutoring because it’s sopersonalized. I also think, too, that somebody is … going to get the most of itif they can come into that tutoring situation with a high degree ofself-awareness, self-knowledge about what they need help with.”

Brian, howwould tutoring help? “The best part of having a one-on-one tutor, someone withthat kind of expertise, is the ability to diagnose. OK, you do have a pacingproblem, you are taking too long but you really only tend to take too long whenit’s a word problem that you can’t set up quickly or it’s a data-sufficiencyproblem and you second-guess your answer three or four times. Or, let’s justsay you re-read reading comprehension passages two or three times beforegetting it. Here are the steps that you need to take … Try to figure out wherethose problems are coming from and then maybe enlist the help of someone … tohelp you diagnose even more specifically what you’re doing wrong and how youcorrect that quickly.”

If timemanagement is your issue, what is your advice? “The GMAT is really challengingin that you are penalized if you run out of time before completing the exam. Soleaving a few questions at the end unanswered is worse than answering thosequestions incorrectly. So in order to prep well for the timing aspect, you needto practice pacing. That’s not always easy when you’re working on a computeradaptive test. Every time you get a question right, the GMAT will present amore difficult question. So imagine this: the better you do, the harder itgets. It’s really hard. It’s a really hard mental block to get over. That’s whypracticing with computer adaptive tests as well as using pacing and targetquizzes is really important, because you can’t skip questions on the GMAT or goback to previous questions. You will get into a situation where you were stuckon a given question. It’s just because it keeps getting harder, it’s going tofind your limit. So part of performing well on the test is being able to make astrategic guess … let it go and move on. So if you’re not seeing a bigincrease, you need to get smarter about your practice; and gaining comfort withthis approach takes practice and evaluation and then practicing again.”

Brian, how doyou handle practice tests? “Tests are good for experience, but they are alsoreally good diagnostic tools. So over the course of eight to 10 weeks, towardthe latter half, [take] one to two practice tests a week … It tends to give youthat confidence and experience with the test, and also allows you to shore upthose mistakes and make sure that you’re not giving away points that reallyshould be yours.”

For moreinformation, advice or to read a transcript of the full show, visit I’m DianaJordan with MBA Podcaster. Thank you for listening and stay tuned next timewhen we discuss another topic, it will help guide you through the MBA processand your career beyond.

To learnmore about how to get ready for GMAT, read the other MBA Podcaster articles inthis series about GMATprep and testday advice on


Filed Under: Education|Grad School