Studying for a good GMAT score

For some perfectionists out there, nothing but 800 will do. Most of the median GMAT scores at top MBA programs, such as Wharton and MIT Sloan, are around 700 (though that number has increased to 720 or 730 in recent years). An 800 is certainly not required to gain acceptance to a top school, but an perfect (or near-perfect) score can set you apart from the pack. Obtaining a near-800 on the GMAT will ensure that you are very competitive at top institutions and may compensate for weaknesses in other areas of your application . Such a stellar GMAT score will also improve your chance of earning a merit scholarship.

10 Steps to scoring a perfect 800 on the GMAT

1. Figure out your timeline

When do you need to take the test? If you’re sending in your applications within a few months, you should register for the GMAT immediately, as the most desirable slots often fill up quickly. If your timeline is longer (anywhere from 3 months to a few years), you have time to embark on a more comprehensive study plan. It is never too early to begin your preparation, as scores last for 5 years from your GMAT test date. In fact, if a perfect score is what you’re after, it may even be helpful to start preparing years ahead of test date with math contests and competitions. Some of the material in these areas will make the GMAT seem like a piece of cake!

2. Find out if you have what it takes

Review any GMAT material you can find online. Download the free adaptive practice test from the mba.com website. Assess your performance and whether or not it meets your standards. If you are already scoring a 750 or higher, you may not need to study much more, but be sure to maintain your score by reviewing material. Even if you are answering all the questions correctly in a specific area, make sure you understand the underlying concept or principle, so that added stress on test day won’t prevent you from performing up to your potential.

3. Define your GMAT plan

Decide what study materials are best suited to your prep style and schedule. To maximize your chance of scoring well, consider enrolling in Knewton GMAT, the industry leader for adaptive online learning. The advantage of this class is that it adapts to your specific strengths and weaknesses, so that you can improve your score efficiently. Knewton understands that many high-achieving MBA applicants are busy with 60+ hour work-weeks, so classes are flexible and available on-demand. At $690, classes are cost-effective, so you don’t have to spend anywhere close to $1400 (industry standard) to obtain world-class, cutting-edge test-prep. Knewton’s technology also allows you to target your weaknesses on an atomic level, so you can obtain precise feedback on your performance.

4. Zero in on your weaknesses

To obtain an 800, you will need to target your weaknesses very aggressively. If you are scoring well in Reading Comprehension but having a bit of trouble with Sentence Correction, for example, focus primarily on Sentence Correction (while revisiting Reading Comprehension from time to time in order to maintain your skills).

5. Don’t lose sight of the big picture

he more specifically you can target your weaknesses, the better. For example, if you are perfect at single-passage Reading Comprehension questions but have problems with paired passages, focus on paired passages. The harder you concentrate on your weaknesses, the faster you will see tangible improvement. At the same time, however, remember to keep the big picture in mind: at the same time that you target your weaknesses, you must also maintain your mastery of areas in which you excel. Confidence is an important factor: if you are able to answer several questions correctly in a row, it will decrease your level of stress. If you want to score an 800, you cannot waste even a minute panicking about a question.

6. Stay on track no matter what

Create a study schedule you can follow for at least a few weeks, and likely longer. If you are constantly adopting new strategies and not executing them, you will never know if your plans are effective or not. For every 10 points you lag behind with your GMAT score, you should try to study an hour a week for a month (at least). For instance, if you are scoring a 730 and aiming for a 800, you need to study 7 hours a week for a month. (Of course, these projections are a rough estimate; use your judgment, as study requirements vary greatly from person to person.) Depending on your personality, it may also help to make GMAT prep a social experience. Be warned, however, that group work can make some people less productive. Do not study with others if you know you are easily distracted. .

7. Re-assess your performance

After a few weeks, take another practice CAT. Remember, in order to be sure that your score is an accurate prediction of your actual GMAT score, you should take the practice test under test day conditions: no extra breaks, no outside materials, etc. After the test, evaluate your pacing and whether you can shave seconds off of your approach to various question types. If you are aiming for a 800, you probably need to answer every GMAT question. In this sense, it is important that you pace yourself appropriately, taking into account the increasing difficulty of the questions on each section.

8. Fine tune your strategy and get serious

If you have scored a 780 or 790 on a practice CAT, continue prepping the way you are. If you are improving slightly but not at the desired pace (for example, from a 690 to 700 after several weeks of serious prep), intensify your program or register for a GMAT class (if you haven’t done so already). If you are already in a class, make sure to complete all homework and extra practice and learn from your mistakes. Recognize patterns in questions and start using short-cuts to save time. The timing on the math section can be especially challenging for some. To achieve an 800, you must use short-cuts as often as possible.

9. Practice, practice and practice some more

A week or two before the exam, consider taking a series of GMAT practice tests to gain familiarity with the feeling of the exam. This will help acclimate you to the level of mental and physical endurance required. In addition, take time to review test-day protocol, so you don’t inadvertently break GMAT test center rules. To ensure that you do your best on test day, try to practice stress management techniques ahead of time.

10. The day of the test

Don’t be concerned about cramming for the exam last-minute. It is unlikely that such preparations will affect your score. Instead, make sure that you eat and sleep properly. Remember that the exam is partially a stress and endurance test and that however much you prepare, there may still be something unexpected about the questions you encounter. To achieve an 800, you need to perform at an extremely high level of accuracy and remain calm when the most difficult questions appear at the end. Remember that perfection is difficult to achieve, and don’t be too hard on yourself. You can always take the test again if you are not entirely satisfied with your score.

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