By betsy On Saturday, July 18 th, 2009 · no Comments · In

I’m no fan of the Graduate Management Admission Test, the GMAT. It’s a tricky, exasperating standardized test that sorts MBA aspirants into two categories: Those that have to worry about their scores and those that don’t.

Critics proclaim that the test doesn’t measure success in business or business school and that the format (or content, or delivery, or something…) unfairly challenges certain groups of test takers. I won’t take the other side of that argument, because they may be right.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council, the power behind the GMAT, argues that the test is predictive and does give schools a uniform method for measuring applicants. They also may be right.

Whether admissions officers agree with the results or efficacy of the test, it is here to stay.*

You are the Customer
A number of very good test-prep companies offer materials, classes and/or one-on-one coaching. I strongly urge you to take advantage of their offerings, and I have great news for you: As the potential client, you are in the driver’s seat.

Kaplan, Manhattan GMAT, Princeton Review, Veritas, and the super-tutors at Inspirica are just some of your options. There are other specialized companies in different locales (India sports a slew of cool tutoring programs), and you can find freelance consultants in most major cities.

Because the test and its outcome (not to mention the financial and time commitment) are so important, you should put on your consumer hat and look for the best deal for you.

Finding the Right Trainer
A few days ago, I accompanied an aspiring MBA applicant to a free class given by one particular vendor. A few things struck me about my prospective learning experience. At first, I couldn’t understand the teacher because he talked too fast. But I figured I could get over that, and I eventually figured out how to follow his verbal pace. But the problem was that he was such a great test-taker—and so were all the other potential instructors—that I felt like my teacher was a different species than me.

Frankly, I am intimidated by people that test off the charts. I am never going to be like them. My brain works in a different way. What’s plain as day to them is not plain as day to me. They’ve never had the personal experience of looking at a problem and drawing a complete blank.**
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that a teacher doesn’t have to score a perfect 800 to help a student get what they want. You may want the people who develop the tests to have gotten a perfect score; that’s great. But I don’t know if the person in front of me teaching my class, or tutoring me one-to-one needs to be such a genius.

I recommend attending a number of free seminars, and even if you are in a major city with lots of test schools, go online and see how a virtual course works. You are the consumer. You have a choice and not every teacher is the right fit for you. Remember, test companies are businesses competing with each other. It is their job to tell you why you should work with them. You are the client, and you have every right to find an instructor and a course structure that fits your style and your needs.

You have to find a teacher that speaks your language. Someone that knows what your goals are. The teacher I saw kept talking about scoring in the 99th percentile, or about 780. If that’s what sells prep courses, I can understand the emphasis on near-perfect scores. But you don’t need to get a 780. In fact, you may not need to break a 700.

Just Get it Over the Net
Schools publish average or median scores, but as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of statistics knows, those numbers don’t tell you the whole story. Look at the middle 80% of what students are getting. For example, the middle 80% at Chicago was 660-760 (ranked in the top 5) and the middle 80% at NYU Stern was also 660-760 (ranked top 10). The middle 80% at the University of Washington was 640-750 (ranked top 35). Get the picture?

You simply need to do well enough so the GMAT isn’t an issue. I like to think it’s like tennis: you need to get it over the net. You want a good, solid score. The goal, especially for those of us who aren’t great test-takers, is to figure how to make it so the whole process doesn’t intimidate you. You don’t need a scary-smart teacher. The test is intimidating enough as it is.

Like everything else with the MBA application, it’s better to start early so you are, as Milton Friedman would say, Free to Choose. Some classroom courses are given only every two months, so if you want to take the test before October, you may need to sign up for a course before it gets away from you. GOOD LUCK!

* Some schools now accept the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, in lieu of the GMAT. In either case, students can benefit from prep courses and/or tutoring.
** I took the test awhile ago, and since graduating from Harvard Business School (got slightly below the median for my entering class), completely forgot everything I had to learn for the test. So it was as if I was starting afresh when I went to the prep class.