Any other year, I would be attempting to stay up till midnight to cheer and holler with family and friends, probably failing and falling asleep by 10:30pm. But this New Year’s Eve, I was studying for the GMAT.
Back in 2019, I was working in England as the regional sales manager for an e-commerce company and my career was taking off like a rocket. I dropped out of college three years earlier and had no plans to return to school; let alone pursue a master’s degree.
But one day, I was eating lunch on my own when out of the blue I had the thought: ‘You need to get an MBA’. I wrote about the reasons why I chose to do MBA in another blog post.
Anyway, I quit my job, moved my family back to the US, finished my 24 remaining undergraduate credits in one semester, and, most importantly, began my GMAT journey of more than seven months and six attempts.
My GMAT Journey
1st Attempt. January 4th, 2020. GMAT: 610.
I chose to take the GMAT over the GRE because the institution I was applying to explicitly said they preferred it that way. Otherwise, I would have chosen the GRE because the math is widely believed to be easier, and I am more of a verbal person anyway.
My goal when I set out to take the GMAT was to score a 700. That is sort of the magic number for a lot of applicants, and it was my top aim.
I thought I could knock out the GMAT the weekend before my undergraduate classes started. Ha! I scored a 610. This shouldn’t have been surprising considering I had only studied a total of two weeks.
2nd Attempt. January 24th, 2020. GMAT: 590.
20 days later, I sat for my second attempt. Taking eight upper-division courses while studying three plus hours each day for the GMAT was tough. But I made a life-altering leap and failure wasn’t an option. I was more confident this time and felt like I had found a groove.
Then I scored a 590. Words can’t express my disappointment. I called my wife shortly after the test saying, ‘I just lost business school’. How could I come back from this?
3rd Attempt. May 18th, 2020. GMAT: 620.
Here is where things get interesting for you and nauseating for me. COVID-19 was gaining momentum and GMAT test centers were closing rapidly.
Three days before my third attempt, the test center cancelled my appointment. I had zero options and application deadlines for the 2020 intake were quickly approaching.
Finally, two months after my original appointment, a testing site in my state (Utah) found a way to reopen. I made the two-hour drive only to score a 620. An improvement, yes, but still drastically short of what I needed.
4th Attempt. June 6th, 2020. GMAT: 640.
I pulled out all the stops. By this point I had attended a six-week GMAT prep course, purchased two online study programs (not cheap), and practiced dozens of official GMAT problems every single day.
My practice test scores had me in the 720-740 range and while those may sometimes be inflated, they’re never off by 100 points. I was starting to feel sure of myself.
Coronavirus was still raging, but I found a test center one state over, made the five-hour drive, and scored a 640. Again, it was better, but my math score was dragging everything down and my target MBA school required a certain quantitative level that I wasn’t reaching.
5th Attempt. July 2nd, 2020. GMAT: 610.
Because of the pandemic, the GMAT was made available to take from home and the online version did not count toward the five available attempts in a 12-month period. This felt like the golden ticket because I could take the exam in the same space where I had been studying for it.
My first child was born on June 25th and my fifth attempt of the exam was exactly a week later. I walked out of my home office with another score of 610, literally putting me back to square one. I had one more shot to get this done before becoming ineligible to take the GMAT for another year.
6th Attempt. July 11th, 2020. GMAT: 640.
I knew I was capable. But I approached this final test with a humility fit for a serf. Prior to this attempt, there was always ‘one more chance’. But not this time. This was it. Miraculously, I got my quant score just barely to the level it needed to be. I blew it on the verbal side and I still didn’t hit my 700 goal score, but I could finally say I was an MBA candidate.
My Top GMAT Prep Tips
1. Speak to successful GMAT-takers
Talk to everyone you can that scored what you want to earn on the GMAT, and find out everything they did to prepare. If you only get information from sources that are also trying to sell you a test prep product, you won’t get the best information. You can find out how to score 700+ on the GMAT, with tips from MBAs who’ve done it, on BusinessBecause.
2. Use the GMAT Official Guide
I would recommend using the GMAT Official Guide by GMAC. They produce the actual exam, so their practice questions will be the most accurate.
3. Consider the Online vs Test Center GMAT
You need to work out whether the GMAT online or the test center GMAT is right for you. Personally, I preferred the in-person exam. I thought being at home would be a major advantage, but it turned into an anxious experience. The proctor is so secure that you might feel somewhat stressed to make sure everything is perfect, thus taking away from your test focus.
4. Don’t spend thousands on a GMAT tutor
You do not have to spend thousands on a tutor to get the score you want. If you have the money to do that, great, it can only help. But for those on a budget, I recommend Target Test Prep. I discovered it late in my studies, but it is extremely thorough and well organized, plus it’s affordable. The in-person prep course I took was nice but expensive and not necessary.
Listen, I am an average kind of guy. Even though I accomplished my goal and got where I wanted to be, I think you’ll agree that I did it in an unimpressive and average fashion.
The point is, the GMAT might take you seven months like it did for me, but it is beatable, it is learnable, and you can find success in it. If I can do the GMAT and get into my target MBA school, you absolutely can too!
Our MBA Newcomer, Ryan Price, is the host and founder of MBA Secrets and starts his full-time MBA at BYU Marriott School of Business in the fall. We follow Ryan through his MBA journey, giving you the inside scoop on life as an MBA student.
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