Common Questions From Helpless, Hapless & Hopeless MBA Applicants

I am an MBA obsessor on his way to being a true savant. Admittedly, in the grand scheme of things, I am an MBA novice. I have only been harboring this desire for a mere 8 months.  Nonetheless, I have crammed my little head with more magnets and bozons than the Hadron collider. There are millions of particles shooting around in my head, and all these little data points have amounted to what I believe is a pretty refined understanding of the MBA admissions process. So it’s long in coming and here it is: a list of the most inane questions on the forums.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand why they ask these questions. Admissions anxiety is super high, and sometimes it feels like if you can just square away this one detail, everything will work out. Well, it’s probably not the case, but maybe I can help these poor souls out. Here are my responses to the helpless, hapless, and hopeless.1) I got a 7X0, should I take the GMAT again?

If you have lots of time and you think you can do better, sure, but isn’t it better to put your effort into your application? Ok, you’re not applying this year, then go for it.  But why are you asking us for permission when no one knows whether you’re going to improve. Do what you need to calm your nerves.  For most though, the short answer is, no, you did a good job, be happy.

2) I got a 500 on the GMAT what am I doing wrong?

The way you ask the question explains exactly what you’re doing wrong.  The GMAT is not a test of “doing” it’s a test of “thinking” and “evaluating”.  They don’t care that you memorized the formula for a trapezoid’s area.  They want to know if you can handle complex problems. Approach the problems as a puzzle that can be solved through clever reasoning, not by being a computer.

3) What kind of questions did you see on the actual test?

This one really kills me.  Hello, anyone in there? They mix up the questions so that this exact kind of “insider” scoop isn’t helpful.  One person may see 6 questions on probability and 4 on geometry and another only 1 for each.  To get a good score you need to be somewhat prepared for all the areas.  And then you need to be very prepared in most.

4) I am not score very high with GMAT verbal. Why is my problems?

You just answered your own question. You need to read, talk, listen, and do more in English!

5) I’m a reapplicant, should I reuse my essays from last year?

Hell to the no!  Please feel free to revisit key content, but your essays didn’t get you in last year, so what makes you think they’ll get you in this year?  Whether or not the essays were great, they weren’t enough, and the admissions people can and often do compare reapplicants’ essays. They’ll question just how into their school you are if you don’t put the effort into completing a new application.  More than anything, show them you’ve grown!  There’s a reason you can’t put your ex-boyfriend in a recycling plant and expect a new one to come out. I’m not sure why (my therapist says it won’t work), and the same is true of essays.  You just shouldn’t.

  • Kavita

    I am Kavita doing my
    engineering.I am in pre-final year.I want to doing MBA from in top
    universities after completing my

    I am already started
    preparation for GMAT.I can score 730+ in GMAT,but my question is that my
    GPA is lower but i have 20 months of work experience as undergraduate
    researcher.What i have to do? I am really confuse.

    Give me suggestions.

  • Gil Levi

    Regarding the GMAT questions, if the candidate takes the GMAT more than once, in most cases (unless specifically stated otherwise by the school), the lower scores have relatively low (or zero) impact, and the higher score counts the most by far.
    Candidates with a low GMAT score (and even with a score below 600) get into Top 10 programs every year. At the same time, if your GMAT is much lower than the average of candidates admitted to Top 10 programs, improving it significantly will boost your chances in my estimate.

    In the past five years I met very few international candidates accepted into a Top 10 school with a GMAT score of less than 580. Every year, a few international candidates gain admission with a lower score, yet this is relatively rare. At the same time, the average of admitted candidates is usually around 700-710, and the further away you are from this average the harder it would be for you to gain admission.
    If you believe that you are likely to improve your score by 20-30 points, I believe it is worth trying, even if that means that you will apply in a later round.

    You can see here some cases of candidates admitted to top programs with low GMAT:

  • BSchoolButtChugger

    Oh, come on!! This post is a reminder to maintain some levity despite the stress many of us are currently feeling. Is it a reflection on ALL applicants who post desperate questions online? Of course not! Is it a humorous highlighting of the neurosis we ALL seem to develop during this process? Yes!

    I don’t know what it is about the b-school application process that turns people into crazy-eyed, humorless, proto-zombies (you get promoted to full-fledged zombie when you become a C-level exec). Wait, yeah I do – it puts your entire self-worth – nay, your entire humanity (zombiety?), in a position to be ACCEPTED or REJECTED (or, god-forbid, WAIT-LISTED) by complete and total strangers. Based on pieces of paper/pdf/mal-formed .DOCX files.

    It’s nice to have a “David Letterman’s Top Ten List” interlude. Go take a potty break, grab a snack, and we’ll see you at orientation.

    Good luck all!

  • Good point, Vish. I agree that we really should provide those kinds of updates. Hopefully we’ll all have something that awesome to submit in the interim!

  • Vish

    This article lacks nuance. “Can I submit materials after the deadline”…The answer is it depends. Because if it is something like a major job promotion etc. then some schools accept that and are willing to update. I personally know of at least 1 situation where an applicant spoke to the school and explained that he had by mistake attached a draft version of his essay instead of the final version. The school accepted his essay because it was an honest oversight. We all make mistakes..b-schools also know that. So to give some one-size-fits-all response to these questions is a disservice to applicants. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the more harsh criticisms of this article, but I think it’s not nuanced enough.

  • Roger

    I don’t agree with everything Phil said, but I think you are being a bit disingenuous by saying that American students are asking: I am not score very high with GMAT verbal. Why is my problems? you can’t be serious! I think it’s extremely, extremely unlikely that a US college educated kid would ask something like that. I’m sure we make tons of grammar mistakes but that sentence has “international ESL applicant” written all over it. I’m not for all this politically correct stuff and people need to have a sense of humor and not get offended at every thing. But that said, I think you should at least acknowledge what you are saying.

  • Roger

    Your post is silly. GMAT is a not a test of inherent intellectual power…It’s a well respected standardized test that tests quantitative and analytical skills. But “inherent intellect” is not something it claims to test, given that “inherent intellect” is something that is extremely broad and does not just encompass what’s tested on the’s a lot more. Sorry to say, but you seem quite immature for a 25 year old…No doubt you are good quantitatively, but not much can be said beyond that based on your post. And of course it goes without saying that most people would find work more challenging (and rewarding) than taking a required standardized test.

  • RR


  • RR

    Mr. John Byrne..You have a fantastic website and I greatly admire your work. But why do you publish articles such as the one above that are sub-standard and poorly written? I think it’s a huge disservice to P&Q, which has a proven track record of provinding high quality, insightful and engaging commentary.

  • GMATreallynotthathard

    I’m an aforementioned stellar applicant and agree generally with this take….I found the GMAT to not really be that hard scored a 750 overall though hadn’t taken ANY math class or really used math since AP Calculus when I was 17. I took the GMAT at 25. It’s a lot easier than, say, the LSAT.

    If you struggle with the GMAT, I question your inherent intellectual power. B/c it’s really not that hard. The business challenges I have dealt with working for top tier companies are far more complex and require a much higher level of thinking and work ethic than the GMAT does.

  • Maria Theresa

    Personally, I don’t take GMAT advice from an applicant who scored less than 750. Oh, 3.4 from a highly ranked school? I hope you went to HYP for undergrad, if not, kindly refer to my first statement. Point is, if I am going to take advice (especially a condescending one), it better be coming from a stellar applicant, not one with middling stats… 🙂

  • I’m not really sure where you got the impression that I’m “targeting” internationals. I never once referred to this or any demographic. In fact, all of these questions have been asked by US natives. Even the question with poor grammar about the GMAT has been asked by native English speakers. My point is that it doesn’t matter who asks them, now they have a starting place for advice.

  • I think a little elucidation to point #3 would be enlightening. It’s amazing how few people understand how the GMAT actually works, that your answer to the first question will take you on a different path from your peer who answers the same question differently. P&Q, perhaps you can share with your readers a little more on that?

    But I like the other answers except Q4. The English language is a pig to learn, and to do the GMAT as a native speaker is hard enough. Respect to the massive numbers of people who take it on as a non-native. Very tough.

    Who are you applying to?

  • Miami Phil

    I guess what Joe was saying what that given that you are working in the non-profit sector and openly gay, you would be more tolerant (understanding / empathetic) of international students asking some fairly basic questions. I might be wrong, but seems like that’s what he meant to say. I would say — look at it from the other way around — if you were writing a test in Mandarin or Hindi or Swahili and planning to go to a place like India or China or Africa — you would have tons of questions about that. Your life experiences would be different and you wouldn’t know what to really expect. And maybe you might want some reassurance. I really admire these kids who try hard to learn english and do well on our tests. It’s easy to poke fun of them..but think about it from their perspective. I am not sure this is the best way to answer those questions. I think most Americans know about standardized tests because we take the PSATs and the ACTs and the SATs. For a lot of the internationals, all this is quite new and it I’m quite amazed that they manage to do really well. When I was in undergrad at UofM, the teaching assistant in one my classes was a grad student from China. She actually saved money from her TA work to send back to her parents there because they were rice farmers and did not make enough and had taken out major loans so she could come over. Of course not all international students are in that situation..but many of them do take big loans to come here to make something out of themselves. Heck, my grandad came here from Cuba and speaks very basic english. I’m all for being funny and saying things with a sense of humor. But your article is targeted at groups that might not find what you are saying funny…it’s like you are poking fun of them rather than, as Joe says, helping them.

  • Not applying to HBS, so no invite possible! The culture there hasn’t felt right for me, but if I head east for interviews this winter, I hope to stop by Cambridge to feel it out and then maybe apply R2.

  • Tzeeentch99

    Hey man, just curious if you got an HBS interview invite on Wed?

  • I appreciate the comment and am glad you’ve enjoyed my other posts. I do own that this post could be read as condescending and am glad to get your feedback. My intention was to provide a kind of “one-stop shopping” for questions that have been answered ad infinitum. The inanity is more from the repetition of the questions than the questions in and of themselves. But I see how my curtness comes across as a rebuff. This is a stressful process and I want to add some levity to it. Don’t mean for it to be at others’ expense! I’m too tongue-in-cheek for my own good. 🙂

  • Miami Phil

    You mean condescending? Yea..a bit high and mighty. I felt the same.

  • Joe C

    Hey! You seem like a decent chap and your posts have been good to read. But this article came across a bit conceding. I don’t think that’s what you were going for. Maybe it’s me, but the tone of this article was a bit harsh. There are a lot of internationals and others who may not know some of the stuff…so educate them..teach them..but don’t talk down to them. Maybe it’s just me..But I thought I will express my opinion because by and large your contributions to P&Q have been quite good. I hope you take this in good spirit. Cheers, Joe.