Excellence on the GMAT

This post was written exclusively for readers of The MBA Exchange blog by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

The industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919) said, "People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents." Standing out in almost anything requires some motivation, and more challenging a task is, the greater the threat of mediocrity.

And so it is with the GMAT. An average GMAT score is about 545.6 — about half the folks who take the GMAT get lower than this, and a great number of GMAT test takers are clustered relatively close to that, but of course GMAT scores in the mid 500’s are not going to open any impressive doors at the elite business schools. A few rare individuals can produce 700+ scores with little preparation, but for most folks, breaking that magical 700-threshold requires tremendous effort.

Mediocrity is a common terminus because it aligns with many people’s default behavior. The fundamental formula for mediocrity is: if you do more or less what everyone else does, you will wind up with more or less what everyone else gets. Think about human nature. Most humans love to get a lot for a little: they like anything that promises big rewards with little effort. While a few might be foolish enough to believe that only one or two tips will suffice for the GMAT, most realize a little more is necessary, but they want to cap the work. "If I do just X and Y and Z, that probably will be enough." "That way is thorough but time-consuming, so I will just do this which will cover most of what I need to get." "I usually get questions on this correct, so I am going to consider myself done with this." These are some of the defining statements of mediocrity.

To achieve an elite GMAT score usually requires the attitude of excellence, and the difficulty of maintaining this attitude is directly responsible for the scarcity of such scores. What is the attitude of excellence? Part of it is taking nothing for granted, never willing to be "done" with any part of the curriculum, because there always deeper levels to learn and to appreciate. Part is constantly pushing one’s self; "What else can I do to improve myself?" is one of the questions of excellence. One of the habits of excellent is: never make the same mistake twice. That’s a lofty ideal, but striving for it consistently will have remarkable results.

Every part of the GMAT covers skills pertinent to some aspect of business life, and embracing the challenge of each part with the attitude of excellence is to give yourself the best possible first steps into your future career. Even the GMAT AWA and Integrated Reasoning deserve some serious attention.

Producing the best GMAT performance you can is well within your grasp, but it requires your own commitment to excellence in every step of your preparation. If you believe in yourself enough to be motivated to do your best, you will be able to push beyond the limits of mediocrity and achieve success.