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Unlocking The GMAT: Knowing The Target

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The GMAT is a major hurdle for students applying to business school. This challenging three-and-a-half-hour test has been known to humble even the best, most qualified students. Yet MBA programs report ever higher average GMAT scores for their incoming class. Stanford GSB (733), Wharton (732), Chicago Booth (726), Kellogg (724) and Yale (721) are just a few examples of top schools that are reporting another record breaking year of GMAT averages – indeed the overall average for the top 10 business schools this year is 725, a score in approximately the 94th percentile.

Since GMAT scores are generally accepted as a measure of the overall quality of a school’s incoming class, top programs may be elevating their mean GMAT scores in an attempt to better position themselves in the rankings. Although selecting candidates with only the highest GMAT scores is certainly not the only goal of most schools, the upward trend at top programs could indicate a shift in the quality of applicants that top schools are interested in matriculating.

With nearly ten times the number of applications as available seats at the top business schools, competitive applicants are not taking the GMAT lightly. They are doing everything they can to earn the highest possible score.

However, out of the approximately 247,000 GMAT administrations each year, only a small number of all test takers earn what would be considered a score competitive enough for top schools. What gives? With all of the GMAT prep options out there and with all of the students eagerly sharing their stories and debriefing their experiences, why do so many continue to struggle with this test, and more importantly, what can students do to earn competitive scores?

Since founding Target Test Prep almost ten years ago, I’ve had conversation after conversation with frustrated students who have tried just about every other GMAT prep resource available and still failed to earn a competitive score. These are smart, successful people who genuinely want to do well and who are willing to put in the necessary work. Some have taken the GMAT four or five times with very little improvement in their scores. Thankfully, I’ve been able to help most of these students realize substantial improvement and earn impressive scores. In the process, I’ve learned a wealth of information about what holds students back and what they can do to gain a serious competitive advantage on the test. The good news is that with the correct approach almost all students are capable of seeing a substantial increase in their GMAT scores regardless of whether they have tried and failed in the past.

But to perform better on the GMAT, students must first understand the most common reasons why most fail to earn a good score. So—if you’ve been struggling with the GMAT or just want a higher score, read on.

Students Have Knowledge Gaps in the Content Tested on the GMAT

Most students start their GMAT preparations missing a great deal of the knowledge and skills necessary to perform well on the exam. For example, many students have an incomplete understanding of how to solve word problems, weaken a cause-and-effect argument, or seek out and leverage rhetorical cues in a difficult reading comprehension passage. Others may not know the special statistical properties of evenly-spaced sets, the difference between a geometric sequence and an arithmetic sequence, or certain fundamentals of English grammar. In theory, most of these skills are developed over many years of learning. In practice, even the best students will need to address several of these possible gaps.

Achieving a top score on the GMAT is almost impossible without these math and verbal skills. The GMAT is a test of critical thinking and reasoning skills, but how does one reason through a problem that he or she simply doesn’t have the conceptual knowledge to understand? These knowledge gaps often help separate students who perform well from those who don’t. The good news is that when students study with clear, comprehensive GMAT prep materials that strategically and thoughtfully walk them step-by-step through the necessary content, students can enjoy a striking increase in their conceptual knowledge.