Study Habits Of GMAT’s Top 10% Scorers

NYU Stern School of Business - Ethan Baron photo

NYU Stern School of Business – Ethan Baron photo


But he organized his efforts not around time–but rather concepts. His goal was to learn and master a concept every day. At work, junior consultants would often ask him how long they should spend on a task. He would always tell them as long as it takes to get it right. “I applied that idea to my test taking strategy,” he says.

So using the Official Guide to the GMAT, Messina put all the concepts laid out in the guide in a spreadsheet and assigned dates to each of them. “If I could learn it in the morning, I would give myself the night off. If not, I would pick it up again after work and try to get it down.”

Every nine to ten days, he would take a day off just, he says, “to let my brain rest.”

For the first two-and-one-half months, he used the Official Guide to the GMAT. For the final month, he joined Magoosh’s online prep company. Indeed, if Messina would do anything differently next time around, he says he would have signed up earlier for the online help. In any case, his practice tests gave him reasons to be optimistic: He commonly scored in the low 700s on the test.


The week before the test, he took some paid time off, got on a plane and traveled to Florida to stay with his parents. He didn’t want the inevitable distraction from friends during the final run-up to the exam. For the first three days in Florida, he did nothing but study and take practice tests. For the final four days, he rested by the pool, caught up on sleep and ate as healthy as he has ever had.

“On the day of the test, I was nervous,” he confesses. “But I also knew I had done as much as I could.” Messina arrived early on Feb. 28th of last year to start the test at 8 a.m. After finishing up the writing section of the test, the lights in the room turned off with the computers. The power had gone out in the test center. “It was out for ten to 15 minutes but it felt like an eternity,” he recalls.

Obviously, the disruption had little impact on his performance. Now, Messina is actually considering taking the LSAT because he may want to apply for a dual-degree program in both business and law. His plan is to apply to the usual highly selective business schools, including Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, in Round 1 later this year, “mostly because I will pay out of pocket” so he wants to invest in the best possible brand.


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.