Lu Xu is part of GMAT history, and legend. He wrote the GMAT (and a bunch of other tests) hundreds of times, for different people, often in disguises. And he went to prison for it.
“I took 212 GMAT and GRE tests confirmed by New York State and FBI records,” Lu admits. “The real number of tests taken by me could be well over 500.”
Lu Xu is still madly in love with the test.
When I asked him if he had any regrets he said simply, “Oh, yes. I only regret that I have but one life to take 200-plus GMAT tests!” He didn’t do it for the money, he explains: he got addicted to the GMAT, and fell in love with its beautiful design.
“The test is addictive and I got addicted to it. Like a computer game, if your performance is good the computer will keep giving you tougher questions. The tough questions look so exciting to me. It’s so beautiful!”
Lu Xu took the test in the days before security around the GMAT was so tight. In fact, he says someone from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC)—which administers the GMAT test—came to visit him in prison for some tips on beefing up security.
When Lu Xu first wrote the GMAT in 1997, security around the test was much less stringent, and there were no palm scans at test centers. At that time, the computer adaptive test was first introduced and there were not a lot of materials available.
Lu Xu’s ID card upon release from State Prison
Lu Xu had moved from China to America in 1994 to complete his PhD in Biochemistry. He attributes his quantitative ability to the training methodology of the Chinese education system.
Most Chinese test takers ace the GMAT’s Quantitative section, in part because calculators are considered contraband at school. Lu Xu recalls a student sneaking a calculator into class. To the students it was an expensive and fascinating treasure, but the teacher threw it into the trash.
Lu Xu managed to improve his Verbal abilities through living in the US, and reading English magazines like TIME, The Economist, and Harvard Business Review. When he took the GMAT for his own business school application, he scored 790.
Friends started asking him to take tests for them with their student ID. But then those Lu calls “bad friends” saw his money-making potential and helped him forge documents like passports and driver’s licenses.
He would write a range of tests like the GRE and college exams, but the GMAT was his favorite. Sometimes he would write two GMAT tests a day at different test centers, always scoring well above 700. He once took a “vacation” to Florida and wrote 19 tests in two weeks.
Lu Xu was arrested for Mail Fraud, Identity Theft, Forging Business Documents and Possession of Forged Documents. He went on what he calls a “hell of a prison tour” across state and federal prison for two and a half years.
He was locked up in Tombs detention center in Manhattan and was then transferred to Riker's Island. Later, he was taken to Baltimore, Maryland, back to New York and then to prison in Brooklyn. Lu Xu says he felt like “a Chinese panda in a tour exhibition.” He says his experience in prison was surreal and “felt like a dream.”
Lu Xu in Ulster County Jail. In the background, is a painting by one of his inmates of the surrounding mountains in upstate New York
Today, Lu teaches GMAT preparation to students. His company, GMAT HERO, is based in Beijing but he teaches students from around the world over Skype. A GMAT teacher, he explains, will never get bored. “The GMAT is like another world. You enter it, and then you do not want to come out. It is pure and simple inside.”
Officially, one can only take the GMAT eight times in their lifetime. So, Lu Xu has taken the GMAT more times than any other person, at least, according to the authorities. When I asked about his insights into the test, he told me how it’s fascinating that the Quantitative and Critical Reasoning sections are inherently the same. He loves how data sufficiency is part math and part logic.
I also asked Lu Xu what his experience with the GMAT has taught him about himself.
“I realized that determination and courage are the keys to crack the test. The test presented me with a great challenge at the beginning, and after I met the challenge, I realized that I was a different man and I saw something different in myself: something shining, something intelligent, something courageous.”
According to GMAC, test security has improved significantly in the time after this all occurred. Lu Xu plans to take the test again (as himself) in 2019 to see the latest changes in its design.