We wanted to find out about the road to the perfect score, and whether it clears your path once you get there. We spoke to two perfect-scoring GMAT takers to get their insights, and find out how to replicate their GMAT success.
For Marty Murray of Target Test Prep, getting a perfect score comes down to changing a person’s conception of what they're capable of.
How does attitude affect a person’s ability to score 800?
Marty: The unconscious mind is huge. When I was preparing for the GMAT, I’d meditate and poke around in my own consciousness. People are actually very, very capable but they constrain themselves artificially.
I don’t believe in peak scores. I think scoring high is basically within everyone’s reach, but it's scary to make things much more open-ended.
A huge part of coaching people is to look at the psychological blocks they have against scoring high: I’ve seen people’s scores go through the roof with changes in psychology and self-conception.
If you have a goal to achieve 800, then you're continually looking for something that’s going to work instead of thinking about a ceiling. Attitude is key.
What do you think set your process apart?
Marty: I think the GMAT is a test of hacking, both in terms of how you approach increasing your score and in terms of how you arrive at the correct answer to a question. You keep finding levers to pull.
Discover that you have problems with one type of question? Good. See that as an opportunity. As long as you can find new levers to pull, and you always can, your score will keep going up.
One of the key things in my prep was that I would sometimes spend two hours on a practice question, and then keep it on file for days even after I’d gotten the right answer, because each question can be answered in three-to-four different ways, and I wanted to make sure that I really understood the question, both conceptually and in terms of how best to go about answering it.
You could learn a million rules, but it's not about the rules. People get too focused on what they need to know rather than what they need to do.
You have to have a hacker mentality. It’s not about learning a lot of stuff. Yes, you have to know and understand a somewhat limited set of rules and concepts. All the same, once you get those, driving your score to your goal is about learning to see clearly and learning to execute.
Charles Bibilos of GMAT Ninja has a slightly different view.
Charles has achieved a perfect score in the GMAT, GRE and ACT, and has more than 10 years’ experience coaching students through admissions processes.
For him, a perfect score is a feather in the cap, but by no means essential.
To what extent was your score a reflection of your preparation, process or insights?
Charles: By the time I got a perfect score on the GMAT, I'd been tutoring GMAT students for nearly a decade. So in a sense, I'd been "studying" for the test for about 10 years. I knew a ton about the GMAT by then, and I had very specific ideas about how to approach questions. But unless you're a test-prep professional, you'd have to be out of your mind to spend 10 years learning about the GMAT.
Can anyone achieve a perfect score?
Charles: First of all, there's no reason why any MBA applicant would want a perfect score, other than ego. The difference between an 800 and, say, a 760 is absolutely meaningless in MBA admissions -- and for most applicants to most programs, far lower scores are fine. So it's silly to fetishize perfect GMAT scores.
It pains me to say this, but most people probably couldn't achieve a perfect score on the GMAT, even if they inexplicably wanted to.
For starters, I think an 800 requires some luck. Everybody has at least an occasional brainfart, and I always made at least one or two verbal errors in all of my previous attempts. On the day I earned the 800, I just got lucky and had some interesting passages that kept me engaged.
More importantly, the GMAT really isn't a knowledge-based test. The quant section, for example, takes a bunch of basic, 10th-grade math concepts, and twists them into puzzles. To get the most difficult questions correct, you need a certain aptitude for seeing the right key to unlocking those "puzzles", and not everybody has that ability. Sure, you can improve those skills through hard work, but plenty of people would never become perfect at it, no matter how hard they try.
Similarly, to ace verbal, you need to have a ridiculously precise way of reading and interpreting language. Again, you can get better at that with practice and training, but it's unreasonable for most people to hone those skills to perfection.
What are some misconceptions about your score?
Charles: People often think that 800-scorers make the best GMAT teachers, and that simply isn't the case.
Just because you're great at filling in little bubbles doesn't mean that you're good at connecting with GMAT students. And again, luck plays a big role: it's ridiculous to say that I know more about the GMAT than somebody who ‘only’ scores a 780. I just got a bit luckier on test day.