Hitting a wall when you’re trying to improve your GMAT score can be incredibly frustrating. You’re putting in the time and the effort, but your score just doesn’t seem to be going up. Trust me—we understand! At Magoosh, we’ve met many students who’ve fallen into a GMAT rut—and helped them break out of it. With that in mind, here’s how to improve GMAT scores in 17 quick tips!
Click the links below to go directly to that section, or keep reading to get the full scoop!
- How much can you realistically improve your GMAT score?
- How to Improve GMAT Scores on Practice Tests
- How to Improve GMAT Scores on Test Day
- GMAT Quant Improvement
- How to Improve GMAT Verbal Score
- How long does it take to improve your GMAT score?
How much can you realistically improve your GMAT score?
First of all: what’s a realistic score increase goal to set for yourself? In general, a 50-point improvement should be doable for most test-takers, while an increase of 100+ points is less likely—but still possible!
It can be really tricky to set down general guidelines that apply to everyone—possible increases depend on everything from how much you’ve already studied to how long ago your last math class was! But, with that said, there are definitely ways to put yourself on the bigger side of that score improvement range.
Crucially, it’s possible to draw a straight line between your final, official GMAT score and the number of hours you study. Students with top scores are likely to spend 170+ hours prepping for the GMAT. But just putting in the time alone isn’t necessarily enough to get that big score increase. You’ll need some expert tips to find out how to improve gmat scores. Keep reading to find out what they are!
How to Improve GMAT Scores on Practice Tests
As I’ve said, the relationship between time spent studying for the GMAT and the effect on your score should be a direct correlation: the more you learn, the higher your score. In reality, though, that’s not always the case—GMAT practice test scores can vary for a variety of reasons.
At least, it’s not always the case when you’re looking at only a couple of data points. In the bigger picture, it’s going to hold up, but sometimes there’s a single practice test that totally goes against expectation. It might even be two or three tests, in rare cases.
And even if you know that, if that makes sense and you accept it in principle, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to swallow—especially after you’ve just taken a practice test and seen a score far lower than what you expected and, more importantly, what you feel you deserve after the blood, sweat, and tears of your prep.
But before you freak out, consider a few things that might help explain the discrepancy:
1. Pace Yourself–GMAT Prep is a Marathon, Not a Sprint!
Preparing for the GMAT can help you raise your score, but keep in mind that there isn’t some silver bullet of a test-taking method that’s going to lead you to a top score in just a few weeks (not, at least, if your starting score is far below that level). The GMAT is a huge test, built on skills as sweeping in their scope as math and reading. So if you’ve only been studying for a week or two, and you see a drop in scores of less than 50 points, don’t panic—in time, you’ll see the overall improvement you’re looking for.
2. Use High-Quality Materials
I’ll be blunt: there’s a lot of substandard material on the market. And even if it’s a test filled with very high quality questions, mimicking GMAC’s scoring algorithm is a tricky task, since they don’t exactly release it to the public.
So first, make sure it was actually quality material you were using. If it was a free test from, say, Majortests, then don’t take the score too seriously. It’s possible that the quality of the content is causing a problem—never mind the scoring.
But even beyond that, in general, if the test isn’t official, no matter what company it’s from (yes, including Magoosh), treat the score as an estimate. The learning experience of taking the practice test is more important than the score it provides, anyway.
3. Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health
Your health and attitude can be major influences on your score. If you didn’t sleep well the night before, hadn’t eaten breakfast, were feeling anxious, had a cold, or whatever else, your score is likely to reflect that state. And if that is the case, if you were having a rough day and came out of the test with a low score because of it, then you’ve learned an enormously important lesson: on test day, you want to be certain that you are as happy, healthy, rested, and confident as possible. Only by doing that can you make sure that your scores on test day are as high as your practice test scores.
4.Break Bad Habits!
Your score decrease “problem” may actually just an indication that you’re learning. That’s completely counter-intuitive, of course, but hear me out.
As you first go into the test, you will have certain bad habits, or, more precisely, assumptions and strategies that hold you back from your full potential. While learning more about the test and the best ways to take it, you’ll inevitably encounter skills and strategies that you wouldn’t have used on your own accord. In order to become more adept at answering certain types of questions in certain ways, you have to practice, of course. And if you spend your time and energy practicing those new, unmastered skills during a practice test (which you absolutely should) it may take away from the time and energy you could devote to the questions you’d have otherwise gotten correct.
But given more practice—and quality practice, at that—you’ll start to be able to incorporate those newly learned skills into your GMAT flow more seamlessly, which will in turn bring that higher score I know you’re looking for.
So now that you’ve mastered how to improve GMAT scores on practice tests, what about test day? Take a look!
How to Improve GMAT Scores on Test Day
If you already dove into your GMAT prep, you know that it’s a complex test. So how to improve GMAT scores on test day? There are general tips you should incorporate into your prep beforehand, as well as specific tips for both the Quantitative Section and the Verbal Section. Let’s start off with those more general tips.
5. Make a Plan
If you don’t have a road map to your destination, how will you know how close you are to getting there? Having a GMAT study plan is important to direct your study, make sure you cover all content areas, and keep you on track. Not sure where to start? Check out Magoosh’s free GMAT study plans for schedules ranging anywhere from one to six months. You can also find math- and verbal-based schedules, as well as an advanced schedule if you’re starting high and aiming for a top score.
6. Get Your Timing Down
Though it’s not something that should worry you overly when you first begin studying for the GMAT, mastering timing and pacing on the test is an important way to boost your scores. Find out what you need to know about your GMAT timing strategy!
7. Spend Time With Official Materials
I’ve already mentioned how important solid materials are for your GMAT prep. Analyzing old official tests is a great way to build your familiarity with the test while getting used to analyzing complex texts and real prompts, of the type that you’ll see on the official exam.
GMAT Quant Improvement
How do you improve GMAT scores overall? Focus on boosting your scores in the individual sections! If you’re hitting a wall with your GMAT Quant section prep, here’s how to break through to the next level.
8. Know the Fundamentals
To do well on the GMAT quant, you can’t guess your way through, relying on techniques such as process of elimination or approximation. At a certain point you have to know the properties of a right triangle or the difference between dependent and independent events in probability.
Of course the range of concepts tested on the GMAT is relatively vast. Wouldn’t it be great if everything from mixture problems to equations with square roots was covered in one place? Well, every math concept that can come up on the GMAT is covered in Magoosh’s lesson videos.
9. Know the GMAT
Say you studied math in college and have a solid grasp of the fundamentals. Surprisingly, you may not get a perfect score on the GMAT quant. In fact you may miss a number of quant questions. Part of the reason is that the GMAT is designed in a way to trick the test taker. For instance, failing to notice the word ‘ratio’ vs. ‘number’ can lead you to miss an easy question.
An indispensable skill—and one many do not learn in school—is approximating. Coming up with an answer that is close to the actual answer can help you save a lot of time. Plugging in and backsolving are a few of the other techniques that will help you solve question quickly and efficiently.
10. Be a Specialist
Do not spread yourself too thin by trying to learn a slew of different concepts at once. Focus on a couple of areas and become relatively good at them. What do I mean by ‘relatively good’?
Well, say you haven’t seen geometry in awhile. Learn the basics and approach problems at the easy to medium level. You may even want to segment geometry in the sense that you are focusing on one particular area, say triangles. Learn the properties, and spend a day or two answering the easy to medium questions.
On the other hand, do not spend two hours pulling your hair out over a difficult problem in which a triangle is inscribed in a circle and the explanation at the back of the Official Guide is leaving you flummoxed.
11. Be a Generalist
Imagine you have a greenhouse, filled with a variety of plants: rhododendrons sit beside of marigolds, geraniums lounge next to chrysanthemums. What would happen if you only watered the geraniums? Well, the chrysanthemums and marigolds would wilt. But even the geraniums would not fare so well, glutted with too much water.
The different concepts on GMAT math are much like the different flowers in our imaginary greenhouse. You do not want to spend too much time on one concept, letting what you learned previously wilt, as it were. Nor, to continue the metaphor, do you want to overwater the same plants. Plants, just like the neural connections in our brains, need time to grow in between watering.
To turn this into practice, review concepts you’ve already gone over. A great way to do so is to work through the OG guides. Concepts are scattered about randomly in both the Problem Solving and the Data Sufficiency sections. Encountering concepts you’ve already studied will be akin to giving the plants in your greenhouse a tiny spritz of water.
Of course, there will be concepts you haven’t seen before – but that you’ll get to in time. Skip these or try them anyways, as it is good to determine your weaknesses and strengths (continuing the plant conceit – some plants need more water than do others).
12. Awaken Your Calculator Brain
This one is big—but is surprisingly oft overlooked. By doing mental math exercises (multiplying, dividing, etc.) you can save a lot of time on the test.
Some of you might balk thinking that calculating in your brain is either a waste of time or, at best, a perilous route. However, like any skill, mental math is something that can be developed. By becoming adept at it you will move much faster through the test than you would furiously scribbling on the pad GMAT provides. Anyhow, writing numbers down hardly ensures that you will avoid making calculation errors.
How to Improve GMAT Verbal Score
Can Verbal section scores actually be improved? Of course they can! But the process might feel strange at first. Here’s a rundown of how to improve GMAT scores in this section.
13. Get in the Habit of Reading
As is often the case, the best advice is often the simplest. If you want to improve on GMAT Verbal, then READ. Read every day: ideally, devote at least an hour a day to reading. Read hard, challenging material in English. In particular, force yourself to read what business executives have to read every day.
If you are taking the GMAT, then, implicitly, you are stating that want to spend your life in the modern business world. If you plan to spend your life in that world, shouldn’t you spend as much time learning about it as possible? Read The Financial Times every day and the Economist magazine every week. Bloomsburg Businessweek is also excellent. It can also be helpful to read the business and world politics sections of well-respected newspapers such as the New York Times. Part of success in business is understanding the trends. Start learning these trends now, before beginning business school, so that, by the time you start your career, you will already have your finger on the pulse of your sector. Read as if it might make the difference between a mediocre career and wildly successful one, because it just might.
14. Make “Additional” Reading Part of Your Routine
Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that any amount of outside reading could replace GMAT-specific practice — studying GMAT preparatory material and answering GMAT practice questions. Of course you have to do all the GMAT-specific practice. The hour of reading I am suggesting is over and above any time spent on GMAT-specific practice.
I am recommending an additional hour of work each day I know some folks already have tight schedules, fitting in GMAT practice after a demanding day job. Of course, many business executives use the occasion of a meal alone to read. You might also consider whether you can reduce any electronically supplied entertainment.
Especially for non-native English speakers, a habit of daily reading is one of the habits of excellence. The reason most people don’t achieve excellent results is that they are not willing to commit themselves fully. There are sacrifices needed to bring excellence to one’s daily practice. Don’t underestimate how much your little everyday choices shape the course of your life.
15. Focus on GMAT Reading Comprehension Skills
When you read an article, make sure you can identify the “main idea.” Make sure you understand the role that each paragraph plays in the overall argument. If the author mentioned a particular detail or fact, make sure you understand why the author mentioned it. Think about what the author is implying—what we can infer even though it is not explicitly mentioned? These are the same types of skills you’ll use for Reading Comprehension questions!
16. Focus on GMAT Critical Reasoning Skills
All the newspapers and journals I mentioned above present arguments. They report on public figures and business figures who themselves make various arguments. In the Op/Ed section of a newspaper, the editors of the paper state their own opinions, often in the form of logical arguments for or against something. In all these arguments, apply GMAT CR analysis. What are the evidence, conclusion, and assumptions? What are possible strengtheners or weakeners? What additional information would you need in order to evaluate the argument? Pay close attention to which kinds of information are the most persuasive and which kinds of assumptions are typical. This is a very funny thing about GMAT Critical Reasoning: you don’t need to be an expert on any particular topic, but you do need a general sense of the push-and-pull of real-world scenarios, and you only get this through outside reading.
17. Focus on GMAT Sentence Correction Skills
Sentences in The New York Times and the Economist are of particularly high quality. Look at long complex sentences. What are the independent clauses? What are the subordinate clauses? What modifies what? Identify parallelism wherever it occurs, and figure out what the omitted words are in the second branch of the parallelism. Notice how rarely the passive voice is used, and when it does appear. Notice how the language is used to transmit meaning and avoid ambiguity or redundancy. Again, you’ll use these same skills on Sentence Correction questions!
How long does it take to improve your GMAT score?
Between one and six months, in general. However, answering this question is a little bit like answering the question, “how long is a piece of string?” How long does it take to improve your GMAT score? Well, it depends on how much you want to raise your GMAT score, as well as the work that you’ve already done.
With that in mind, though, answering a few crucial questions can help you understand how long it might take you to meet your goals—and if other goals might be a better fit for you. This post on how long you should study for the GMAT can help you answer these key questions!
And if you’re considering studying for a GMAT retake to raise your official score, check out this post on whether you should retake the GMAT to find out everything you need to know about prepping for a second—or third—GMAT!
How to Improve GMAT Scores: Takeaways
When you’re applying to MBA programs, mastering the GMAT can be a frustrating part of the admissions process–but it doesn’t have to be. With careful, steady work to get the correct answers–and thorough review of your incorrect answers–applying these tips will become second nature. Keep your motivation up for those study sessions, and you’ll reach your goals in time. Good luck!