If you want to get into a good business school or get a PhD in a business field, getting a high score on the GMAT is essential. A “good score” is 90th percentile or above. Depending on the year, that’s a score of around 690 or 700 or above. For some programs, the admissions committee will not look at your application if your GMAT score is not above a certain level. For just any old MBA program, you can probably get away with an 80th percentile score or even less for some programs.
When I took this test, it was for getting into a PhD program so I needed a score above 700. The maximum score is 800 but the actual scoring of the test is not as straightforward as it once was because the test is now given on a computer and it’s adaptive. This means that you cannot change your answer once it’s entered and the questions get either easier or more difficult depending on whether you answered the last question incorrectly or correctly. If you’re doing well on the test, the questions should continue to be challenging and difficult.
So how does one improve a GMAT score? Besides doing the obvious preparation of going to the library and going through every single GMAT preparation book (eg. Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc.), you need to practice with the CD that the test center sends you. That was the most accurate predictor of my actual score. Kaplan questions are pretty challenging and the best practice book (especially GMAT 800) for tough questions. The most accurate book that represents the actual test questions is The Official Guide for GMAT review.
Since the test is now given on a computer, it would be helpful to practice using computer tests. The useful online preparation tool to do that was from http://www.800score.com/
This site sells a package of 5 simulation CAT’s (Computer Adaptive Test) for about $25 that you can take to practice your timing and to get a feel for the adaptive format. For an extra $15, you get a few more things like advice on how to write your MBA application and all that. The practice CAT’s are important because you can’t go back to questions that you missed on the computer test. You need to learn how to decide when to move on and how much time to spend on each question. If you start with this software, practice all the questions you can find at the library, and then practice with the CD from the test center, you should be pretty well prepared. All of this should take at least 50 hours spaced out over a month or two. If this sounds like a lot of work, think about how badly you really want to go to business school?
There is also a writing assessment section that you take before you get to the multiple choice part. Writing an essay in 30 minutes is not the most fun way to spend an afternoon but it’s a good way to warm up your brain for the multiple choice sections. This part is good to score well on but a lot of schools do not care about this score. Concentrate on preparing for the multiple choice part. If you really want to prepare for the writing assessment, there are a lot of good sample topics in the various test prep books. The 800score website lets you practice writing essays in 30 minutes too if you buy the complete prep package. As long as you communicate your ideas in a clear and concise way, your score should be pretty decent.
The one advantage of doing the test on a computer is that you get your multiple choice score when you finish the test. That is, unless you decide to nullify the test. Once you accept the test, you get the “unofficial” score and percentile so you can either feel really good or really bad for the rest of your day.
I hope this was helpful. Good luck!