One of the phrases I commonly hear from prospective MBA applicants is that they need to “pass the GMAT.” In my opinion there is no such thing as “passing the GMAT”. The GMAT can simply be linked to a door they need to pass through to reach their goal of being admitted to a business school. It requires having the right attitude, a focused approach, and adequate preparation.
Before anything else, I strongly encourage you to identify the business schools where you want to apply. Deciding where you want to take your MBA is the first step in being adequately prepared for the exam and the main reason why there is no real “passing” or “failing” the exam. Each and every business school has its own specific entry requirements. Hence, until you actually sit down, research your potential choices and make a decision, you do not actually know what score you will need. Too many students approach their GMAT preparation with the firm conviction that they MUST go to Harvard (or someplace similar) without ever really considering if Harvard is the right place for them. Does this mean I am telling you not to apply to Harvard? No, of course it does not, but I am saying that proper GMAT preparation only begins by identifying where you do want to apply and that your ultimate decision should be well-informed and researched.
Too many people rush to apply to a school that is not right for them because they read a set of rankings in a magazine. An MBA is a very expensive and time-consuming degree, and the decision about where to take it should not be made lightly. Actually, until you identify where you are going to apply, you do not know what score you really need. This makes your real preparation like studying in an information vacuum, without a reference point against which to mark your progress.
Get focused: set yourself a score range
For the sake of argument, let us say that you do, in fact, want to go to Harvard. I would imagine, based on my experience, that your next sentence would be how you MUST score “700 or higher” on the GMAT. The problem here, though, is that while everybody obviously wants to score as high as possible on the exam, not everybody (even people applying to the very top schools) needs a 700 + score.
So, the next step after identifying where you want to apply is to identify what score you probably do need, and this is done by looking at the schools’ statistics. Ideally, you want to be in what I call the 80% range – in other words, within the top 80% of all people admitted. Yes, getting as high a score as possible is still a good thing, but focusing on some artificially high score can be counterproductive to doing well on the exam. All you need to do is look at the statistics: even the very top schools admit people with sub-700 scores. So, do not focus on some ridiculously high score! Set yourself a score range, something reasonable: “I need to score between 650 and 700.”
All of this relates to one of the most important aspects of GMAT preparation: attitude. I encourage my students to practice something I call “Zen and the Art of GMAT”. GMAT “Zen” works something like this: the less you care, the better you will do. In fact, I want you to score that 700 + score, but I will immediately tell you to forget that score as your goal while you are studying. Why? In my experience, focusing on a very high score (before you actually know your own level) makes studying harder. I have seen many examples of early members of the “700+ Club” stressing themselves out so badly that they perform terribly on the exam. Once you have identified what score range you need, try to forget about it. Yes, you need to consider scores when measuring your practice performance. However, you will do much better if you learn, somehow, to “just not care”.
I do not mean you should not care about getting into business school: I mean you need to relax. Relax! Do not get emotionally or intellectually involved in the GMAT. The GMAT is just an exam you must deal with on your way to bigger and better things, and you will not care about your score past the first day of your MBA program. Worrying about what score you are going to get before you have even taken the exam will only stress you, not help you. The GMAT is a CAT test, meaning that the difficulty and points-value of each question is based on those of the previous question(s). The last thing you want to do when taking the exam is to be worrying about question 4 when you are dealing with question 10. You need to compartmentalize everything and to deal with every aspect of preparation (and eventually every question) as they come, stress free. To do this, your attitude should include this GMAT “Zen” approach.
Finally, I will say a word about preparation: study! I am not going to tell you exactly how to study, but I do believe that you need to take a preparation course. Taking a course will put you in a team environment, and again, based on my experience, those people who take a preparation course do better than those who do not. Having said that, preparation really involves more than studying.
All of you, if you are really considering taking an MBA, need to be reading material in English on a daily basis. Reading comprehension takes time to develop, and once you begin your studies you will need to read hundreds of pages of text per week. Start reading now! An hour a day reading internet articles or novels will go a long way towards helping you achieve your GMAT target in a passive, stress-free way. Next, if you are not a native speaker, practice your English. Take any chance you get to speak to use your language skills! Insist on watching films with subtitles instead of dubbing. These small steps alone will significantly help you prepare for both GMAT and your MBA programme.
And, for the last time, Relax! GMAT is simply a passing concern – never get so focused on the exam that you forget what your ultimate goal is: a world-class business education which will hopefully lead to a bigger and brighter professional future.