Woody Allen is famous for saying that 80% of success in life is just showing up. If, as many would agree, that’s true, then the GMAT is the other 20%. Where this creates problems for many test-takers is that up until your mid-twenties it’s entirely possible to be considered successful by simply having shown up. You had perfect attendance. You did all your homework. You completed extra credit assignments and showed all your work for partial credit so that you got Bs and even As even when you didn’t really understand the material from that chapter. You attended review sessions and dutifully studied the notes from them. You showed up early in a freshly pressed suit for your job interview, then sent a thank-you email afterward. You attended your boss’s daughter’s baptism or bat mitzvah and went back to the office to finish a project. You’ve always shown up with enthusiasm and responsibility. You are a success in the realm of mid-twenties young professionals.
You do not deserve a 700 on the GMAT.
Now, that may sound unduly harsh and in a way it is. That should actually read “you do not necessarily deserve a 700 on the GMAT.” But you should know this: by far the vast majority of GMAT test-takers fit the description in that paragraph above. They’ve always shown up, and they’ve gotten mostly As and Bs their entire lives. They’ve all been to college and done well enough there that they believe a graduate business degree is a wise investment of time and money. And only 10% of them score 700 or better.
The GMAT isn’t a proficiency test; it’s a separation mechanism.
If it were easy to score in the 700s, the GMAT would lose its value to business schools. Its job is to take the herd of already-successful applicants and provide a metric to sort them. The GMAT is only one dimension of your application, but it’s an important one – it reliably* sorts applicants by their higher-order reasoning abilities and tells business schools which are the most likely to come to campus prepared with the reasoning abilities that it takes to succeed in and beyond an MBA program. (*”reliably” is a subjective term, but admissions offices maintain that the GMAT is the single greatest predictive factor of first-year core course success, so admissions offices highly value the GMAT score) This is one test that cannot reward you for showing up, for simply studying your flash cards or going through practice questions. The GMAT must necessarily be difficult, and that top 10% bar must necessarily be high.
The Graduate Management Admissions Council used the term “Next-Generation” quite a bit this spring to advertise the new-and-improved GMAT test and its Integrated Reasoning section, but in a way “Next-Generation” is the best way to describe the GMAT as a whole. It’s a test beyond college – it’s a lot like the scouting combine before the entry draft for a professional sports league. The GMAT is a step “from college to the pros” – it’s a next-level test. And so it bears repeating:
You do not (necessarily) deserve a 700 on the GMAT.
So now that we’ve accomplished the Tough Love portion of this article, let’s discuss what this means for you:
1) The competitive standard for quantitative skills is high.
Many students lament that they haven’t taken math in several years, and that they worry because they got by on partial and extra credit in high school. How will they succeed on the GMAT quant section? The answer isn’t necessarily a friendly one, but it’s true – they’ll succeed by getting up to speed on most of those math skills. And here’s the double-edged silver lining: the GMAT tests essentially 6th to 10th grade math.
If you’re struggling with the math it might sting to hear that, but the upside of it is this: the pure math skills required to succeed on the GMAT aren’t much different from the pure math skills required to get a GED. It’s just that there aren’t many easy shortcuts – the GMAT isn’t a cram-and-regurgitate test, so you need to understand and be comfortable with algebra and fundamental geometry. “Hoping to remember” is too low a standard for success on the GMAT – if you’re cramming the Pythagorean Theorem and Difference of Squares equations from your flashcards the night before the GMAT, your fate (at least with regard to 700) is pretty much assured. You need to replace “hoping to remember” algebraic principles with “ready to use” them. The quantitative section is competitive, so if the top 10% is your goal you have to be above average with the core math skills to even stand a chance.