Everyone who takes the GMAT wants to get a good score. The exact definition of “good” varies from student to student and from college recruiter to college recruiter. However no one can argue that scoring in the top 1% of all applicants can be considered anything less than a good score. Getting into your local university’s business program may not require a terrific score, but it can’t hurt to have one.
When I took the GMAT for the first time, I scored a 760. This was significant for me, not only because it was 50 points better than my last practice test, but because it was a score in the 99th percentile. Without this 99th percentile score, I would not work for Veritas Prep and likely would be trying to teach Shakespeare to inner city youths on the mean streets of Montreal! I did not set out to score so highly on the GMAT, but many of the things I’d done in my life led me to be able to do very well on this exam. I’d like to outline three basic things I’d done that you can use as strategies to boost your score into the stratosphere.
1. Multiplication Tables
First and foremost, know your multiplication tables. This is math that’s taught to children in elementary school, so although it may seem irrelevant, it is not difficult to learn. Knowing all the products up to 12×12 should take no more than a couple of hours. It’s not necessary to memorize them, but review them and understand how to get to any particular answer quickly (for example 8×9 is 8×10-8 if that’s easier to see).
The advantage of this is not only in saving valuable time when math is required, but also in not losing your train of thought. Questions often ask you to do two or three things before getting to the final answer. If you start doing some tedious math calculations in the middle of solving a question, you’re much more likely to get sidetracked and forget what you were looking for. This wastes more time and sometimes causes you to answer the wrong question. Avoid all of these distractions by already knowing the math that is likely to come up multiple times during the quant section.
It is also worth knowing the perfect squares past 12×12, as numbers like 152 and 162 come up a lot on the GMAT. You can leverage your knowledge of perfect squares to solve questions that seem extremely difficult on the surface. For example, a question may ask you 212-192, expecting you to identify the difference of squares and reduce the math to the more manageable (21+19) * (21-19), which is 80. However, knowing that 212 is 441 and 192 is 361, you can get the answer without even considering the algebraic identity.
2. Reading is Fundamental
For many people, reading is a passion. It opens our eyes, exposes us to new ideas and interesting theories, but it also exposes us to language and grammar. Regular reading will help improve your score in Reading Comprehension as you will be more skillful at retaining information from passages and understanding the core message. You may not have time to join a book club while studying for the GMAT, but the skills being tested on the exam are similar to those honed as a regular contributor in a book club (just don’t watch the movie instead). Read a passage, or even an entire book, and paraphrase it in your own words. If you can’t, you may not have understood the passage very well.
Furthermore, exposure to good writing will also improve your Sentence Correction skills. Reading well-written sentences will spotlight proper grammar and help you avoid some of the recurring errors on the GMAT. Conveniently, two of the best written periodicals are the Economist and The Wall Street Journal, both excellent publications for aspiring business students. Even reading your local paper is better than nothing, but these two magazines are excellent sources of good grammar and effective sentences. You may even learn some interesting tidbits while studying for the GMAT.
Many of my students with mathematical backgrounds feel the need to solve questions with a very high degree of precision. If I were to divide 638 by 402, the quotient would be exactly 1.587. This degree of meticulousness is required in many fields (engineering comes up most often), but on the GMAT, problems often require you to get to the correct answer quickly. One strategy that will help you in a lot of situations is the ability to approximate values. Looking at the two numbers above, it’s about 640 being divided by 400. This can then be thought of as 64 divided by 40, which should give about 1.6. You even know that it has to be a little less because you approximated the dividend upward and the divisor downward. (dog)
Numbers can be approximated in many different ways. For example, a question can ask you about the square root of 500. Doing a little math using the rules of algebra, we can simplify this to:
However, we can do better if we know the value of √5. Since 22 is 4, and 32 is 9; we can easily surmise that this value will be approximately 2.2. Multiplying this value by 10 will give us approximately 22 as an answer. Similarly, if we knew that 202 is 400 and 252 is 625, we can figure that √500 is about 22.5 on its own. The approximation method you use can make a difference of a couple of percentage points on the final answer, but the approximation of the answer will still be enough to easily eliminate most if not all of the answer choices provided.
Approximations help in all types of quant questions, even geometry. √2 is about 1.4, which helps us on any right angle isosceles triangle. Similarly, you can use 1.7 to approximate √3. This is helpful as it will be the height of any equilateral triangle. The value π often comes up, which is about 3.14 (you can use 3 in a lot of situations). If the perimeter of a circle is 4π, you can figure that this has to be about 12.5, and even knowing that it’s about 12 or 13 will usually be enough to solve the problem. There are many questions on the GMAT where knowing an exact formula will get you the right answer, but approximating the values will get you a very close estimate of the number without having to spend much time on calculations.
760 and Beyond
In conclusion, many things will help you get a higher score on the GMAT, but to truly achieve a very high score, you must be at ease with the elements tested on the exam. I was lucky, the exam played directly into my strengths, and I’d spent a lifetime honing the types of skills that would allow me to get a high score. You can circumvent a lot of that preparation time by focusing on the skills that can get you a 99th percentile result.
Reading a lot of well written publications will help you tremendously in the verbal section, particularly in Reading Comprehension as well as Sentence Correction (to say nothing of the AWA). In math, the emphasis should be on being comfortable with numbers and mental math. This is polished by knowing the multiplication tables forwards and backwards, as well as being able to approximate most values of square roots, constants and fractions. Approximating values quickly is so useful on the GMAT I even coined an acronym from my name for it: Rapid Offhand Numbers. If you can quickly RON numbers on the GMAT, you’re in good shape to get your score to 760.
Ron Awad is a GMAT instructor for Veritas Prep based in Montreal, bringing you weekly advice for success on your exam. After graduating from McGill and receiving his MBA from Concordia, Ron started teaching GMAT prep and his Veritas Prep students have given him rave reviews ever since.