Studying for a good GMAT score

700 is the “magic number” for many business school applicants. Most of the median GMAT scores at top MBA programs, such as Harvard and Stanford, are around 700, though that number has been pushed up to 720 or 730 in recent years.

Many people consider 700 the most important differentiating point in GMAT scores Since MBA acceptances depend heavily on work experience and overall package, some do not consider a 760 or 770 to be significantly better than a 740 in the eyes of admissions officers. (However, an extremely high GMAT score may compensate for weaknesses in other areas of your application or raise your chance of earning a merit scholarship.)

10 steps to scoring a 700 on the GMAT

1. Establish a timeline

If you plan to apply to business school in a few months, you should register for the GMAT immediately. Although you can register for the GMAT at any time, desirable slots become unavailable quickly. If you intend to apply within 3 months to a year or even a few years, you have time to embark on a more comprehensive studying program. It is never too early to begin your GMAT preparation; GMAT scores are valid for 5 years from your test date.

2. Do a self assessment

Review any GMAT material you can find online. Download the free adaptive practice test from the mba.com website. Evaluate your performance to see whether it meets your standards. If you are already scoring a 750 or higher on practice CATs, you may not need to study much more, but be sure to maintain your score by reviewing material.

3. Create a plan

Decide what study materials you will use for your GMAT prep. To maximize your chance of scoring well, consider enrolling in Knewton GMAT, the industry leader for adaptive online learning. Knewton GMAT allows you to improve your score more efficiently by adapting to your specific strengths and weaknesses. Knewton understands that MBA applicants are busy; classes are flexible and can always be watched on-demand. Plus, at $690, the course won’t break the bank.

4. Target weaknesses

Whichever study method you choose, begin targeting your weaknesses immediately. If you are scoring well in Data Sufficiency but having trouble with Problem Solving, for example, focus most of your time on Problem Solving (but continue looking at Data Sufficiency questions periodically in order to maintain your skills).

5. Don’t lose sight of the big picture

The more specifically you can target your weaknesses, the better. For instance, if you know that you can handle Data Sufficiency algebra problems but have difficulty with Data Sufficiency combined with probability, you can drill with those types of questions. The harder you concentrate on your weaknesses, the faster you will see tangible improvement. At the same time, remember to keep the big picture in mind: while focusing on your weakest areas, you should also maintain your mastery of areas in which you excel. Confidence is another important factor: if you are able to answer several questions correctly in a row, it will decrease your level of stress.

6. Follow-through on your plan

Create a study schedule you can follow for at least a few weeks, preferably longer. If you are constantly adopting new strategies without fully seeing them through, you will never know if your plans are effective or not. For every 10 points you lag behind with your GMAT score, you need to study an hour a week for a month (at least). For instance, if you are scoring a 620 and aiming for a 710, you need to study 9 hours a week for a month. Remember, however, that these projections are a rough estimate; study patterns vary greatly from person to person. Figure out how much time you need to devote in order to master a concept, and then carve out enough time in your schedule to make your goals a reality.

7. Re-assess yourself

Take another practice CAT test if you haven’t already. In order to get an accurate assessment of your skills, it is important that you take breaks only when allowed and not consult outside sources during the CAT.

8. Tweak your GMAT strategy and turn-up the heat

If you are improving at your desired pace, continue your prep schedule. If you are improving slightly but not at the desired pace, intensify or change your program . If you haven’t done so already, consider registering for a GMAT class. If you are already taking a class make sure to complete all homework and extra practice assignments. Take the time to review your performance on practice assessments and make an effort to learn from your mistakes. Look for patterns in questions types, and start using short-cuts to save time.

9. Practice!

A week before the exam, take a practice CATS to gain even greater familiarity with the feeling of the exam. By now, you should be used to the level of mental and physical endurance required. In addition, be sure to take time to review test-day protocol, to ensure you don’t inadvertently break any test center rules.

10. Test Day!

Don’t cram for the test at the last minute; such hurried preparations won’t affect your score. In the last few days before the test, be sure to eat and sleep properly. Remember that your performance on the exam also largely depends on how well you are able to manage your time and handle stress.

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