Researching MBA Programs?

Researching MBA programs can be a daunting task. Most of the time you are better off talking to someone live. Traveling MBA fairs is one way to get in front of several MBA programs without the need to travel far.

Check out the QS World MBA Tour. They offer tour stops all around the world including 23 currently scheduled in the US and Canada alone.

tour stops

While there you can receive an admissions’ profile view, learn about GMAT Prep, get your resume checked, and visit the 30+ schools in attendance (depending on your location).


Learn more or Register here.


GMAT a.k.a. The Worst Part of Applying to Business School

First, let’s talk goals.  I often hear people with H/S/W/C aspirations, applying with scores 40 points below the school’s median score.  Don’t fall into that trap. The GMAT is one of the only parts of your application that you have complete control of. “BUT, the range for HBS is 510-790,” you say. Don’t be stupid, you know what range means.  We both know that only one person with a 510 was accepted.  That person had a 3.9+ GPA at a top 50 undergrad institution, spent the last three years killing it at a top consulting, banking, or PE firm, was from an under-represented minority, and wrote an incredibly convincing essay about why they struggle with standardize tests and why tests are a poor predictor of their abilities.  That person is not you; you are probably more like me.

You need to determine two scores.  First, you should set your goal at or 10 points above the median GMAT score of your demographic at your target schools.  If you have a low undergrad GPA, set your goal high. You can do some research on the schools website, but most of the information there will for the entire class.  It is better to go to and review the GMAT scores for accepted prior year applicants of your gender and nationality. This is especially important for over-represented groups.  Second, you need to determine your lowest acceptable score.  This is the lowest score that will not cause you to retake the test.  You should give some thought to this score; ultimately it will depend on how firm you are on attending a particular school.  If you are dead-set on H/S, you should be thinking 730 or 740 as a goal and 700 or 710 as a lowest acceptable score.  I was not sure where I wanted to go and was exploring schools with a wide-range of median scores.  For this reason, I set my goal at 720 and my minimally acceptable score at 700.  I ultimately landed at 710 for the composite (Quant and Verbal) and perfect scores on both AWA and IR (you should try for perfect also because it isn’t difficult).

Practice testing is the best predictor of how you will perform on test day.  Some practice tests are better predictors than others.  GMAC does not release their scoring algorithm, so test prep companies have to “guess” what your score would be and some are better at this than others.  The best predictors are the two practice tests you get from GMAC when you register for the GMAT. These are the only practice tests with the actual GMAT scoring algorithm.  They also have real (but retired) GMAT questions.  On the actual GMAT, some questions (likely in the middle-not the first or last 7-10 questions in both verbal and quant) are not scored.  GMAC uses these unscored questions on actual GMAT test takers to try out new questions.  I believe this is the only difference between the actual test and the GMAC practice tests, where all questions are scored.  GMAC recommends taking one of their practice exams when you begin your studies, then again before the exam. I disagree, save both of these valuable tests until the end of your studies.  There are plenty of other less valuable practice exams you can take in the beginning. You should be testing 20-30 points above your minimally acceptable GMAT score prior to taking the test.  This will maximize your chance of hitting your minimal score, while accounting for test day stress (which could lower your performance) and possibly getting unlucky on which questions are scored (you could waste time on unscored questions and miss scored questions at the end of the section).

Preparation for the GMAT was really important for me.  I am very impatient and have a short attention span.  Simply said, sitting in a dark room and taking a 4 hour long test is my nightmare. I have always performed better in the classroom than on standardized test.  I scored a 490 on my first GMAT practice test.  I was so over the exam that I started guessing on every question just to get to the next break. My biggest battle for the GMAT was not learning the material, but training my body and mind to endure a 4 hour test.  In addition, the GMAT is a total pain in the @$$.  The test is adaptive, meaning that every question you receive will challenge you regardless of your intelligence level.

I had been out of college for 5 years prior to beginning my studies.  For this reason, I thought I would be better served by an instructor led course.  I ended up really regretting this.  I signed up for the Princeton Review and the instructor never showed up.  Once I got my money back, I signed up for Kaplan.  There are three problems with these courses.  First, the quality of the course is highly dependent on the quality of the instructor you get. My Princeton Review instructor didn’t show up and my Kaplan instructor quit half-way through the course (her replacement was terrible).  Second, these courses (at least the ones offered here in Indianapolis) are not geared towards students with 700+ aspirations. If you are thinking H/S/W/C, chances are you will be the smartest person in the room and will spend 3 hours per week learning concepts you could teach yourself in 30 minutes.  Third, these courses are unnecessarily expensive.  Online live or on-demand courses are much less expensive and will likely have much better instructors.  In fact, Kaplan hosts a couple live classes online for their instructor lead course.  I found the online instructors to be much better and the format to be more convenient (their AWA session was priceless, for example).  I did really appreciate being able to take the Kaplan practice exams in the actual testing center.  This is a very unique opportunity.

Eventually, I gave up on Kaplan and purchased the Economist GMAT Tutor.  This was fantastic.  The adaptive learning style mirrors the GMAT testing format better than instructor led courses or books, it is mobile ready, I found the one-on-one tutoring to be very useful and a great value, and they have the best guarantee (+70 points on the premium course).

My Top 6 Tips and Tricks for the GMAT

  1. As I stated in my previous GMAT post, not all questions are scored, so why should you treat all questions the same? GMAC tests new questions on GMAT test takers. These unscored questions are likely to appear in the middle of the exam.  So if you are running behind or if you read a question that is going to take too much time (much more than 2 minutes during Quant or 1:40 minutes during verbal) guess and move on!  There is a decent chance the question might not be scored or you could get it right anyway.  This strategy will buy you time to focus on the questions that matter the most, the first 7-10 and the last 7-10 questions.
  2. Do some studying on your own to familiarize yourself to format, timing, and question types before taking your first practice exam. Diving into a 4-hour exam with no familiarity will be a waste of your time and possibly demoralizing.  If you are purchasing exam materials or courses, they might ask you to take the exam during the first week of studying to set a baseline for their score guarantee.  This is even more reason to begin your studies before testing, a 50 point guarantee on a 500 will do you no good if your goal is 700.
  3. Utilize the course reviews and free resources on prior to purchasing any materials beside the Official Guide.
  4. You should spend almost as much time reviewing your mistakes (wrong answers and taking too long) on practice exams as taking them.
  5. Plan to spend 100-130 hours on your prep (including practice exams).
  6. Sign-up for two exams 1 month apart once you think you will be ready for the exam. Most people end up taking the test twice anyway and knowing that you have that second opportunity will really relax you during the first test.  If you do end up testing well the first time, you can cancel the second and know that it was worth the investment to have that extra piece of mind.  If you do not do well on the first exam, you might not be able to sign up the next exam for a couple months and that is not ideal.  In general, it is worth retaking the exam if you feel you can do 20+ points better (unless you score 750+, please do not retake the test if you score in the 99th percentile!).