A very common question we receive from students is something along the lines of: “Can you provide/recommend a good study plan for someone who wants to score over a 700 on the GMAT?” Keep in mind, according to GMAT percentiles, a GMAT score of 700 puts one in the top 10% percent, and a score of 730 is in the top 4%. Also, remember: that is not 4% of the entire sporadically-educated human population, but 4% of the intelligent, college-educated, successful, and highly competent group that takes the GMAT. Getting into the top 10% or top 4% of this group is quite an elite achievement.
In this light, think about that question. It is almost as if students are saying: please give me a step-by-step easy system I can follow so that I can be in the top 4%. Students often fail to appreciate the profound irony of this request. If there were some relatively straightforward and easy step-by-step system one could follow to get into the top 4%, everyone would do it, and there would be much much more than 4% of the population in that top 4%!! Much more than 4% of the population out there has access to high quality resources of one sort or another, including thorough treatments of GMAT content and highly effective GMAT strategies. Certainly Magoosh students get all this, as do students of other high caliber GMAT test prep companies. With all this access to good information, why is it that only 4% of the GMAT-taking population scores 730 or above?
The great philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” If one wants to perform with excellence on the GMAT — and anything over 700 is truly excellent — one cannot rely on one’s study material alone to put one there. To achieve excellence, you have to embody it, you have to live it and bring that high standard to every aspect of your studies. The Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE – 17 CE) wrote: “To wish is of little account; to succeed you must earnestly desire, and this desire must shorten your sleep.” I hasten to add: getting adequate sleep is absolutely essential for deep learning, but the spirit of Ovid’s quote is: you can’t achieve excellence on the side; being a good step-by-step follower will not catapult you into excellence. Excellence must be the very breath and heartbeat you bring to your studies. Excellence comes from the heart.
For example, one of the habits of an excellent student is: never make the same mistake twice. Think about that. When most people get a practice question wrong, they look over the solutions and say, “Oh, that’s how you do that,” and that’s it. For an excellent student, each question she gets wrong is a challenge: it’s a challenge never to make that particular mistake again. How many times would you have return to a question’s explanation, and how many times would you have to review the inherent ideas, until you were sure that you would not make that particular mistake again? This is no easy ideal.
In fact, none of the habits of excellence are easy. That’s precisely why the vast majority of population doesn’t practice them, which is why the vast majority of the population does not score over 700 on the GMAT, even with access to high quality GMAT resources. Most people want the excellent result, but most people are unwilling to commit themselves and do everything that is entailed in excellence.
Study plans + you
At Magoosh, we have thoroughly designed and well-tested GMAT study plans, and students regularly achieve great success with them. They are very good plans. Nevertheless, if a student naïvely asks, “If I follow this plan, will I get over a 700?“, I NEVER give a “yes” answer to that benighted question. I always give the more nuanced answer, “If you follow that plan, all the information you would need to get a 700+ will pass before your eyes.”
It’s worthwhile to get good study resources for the GMAT, but even the best resources are less than half the equation. Success depends only to a small degree on your materials, and to a much larger degree on everything you bring: your ability to learn and remember, your passion, your diligence and dedication, your enthusiasm, your curiosity, and your commitment. Excellence comes from the heart. If you can catalyze the excellence in yourself, you can get the most out of your resources.
If you make a habit of excellence, as Mr. Aristotle suggested, then this not only will help you on the GMAT, but also will give you an edge in business school and throughout your career. And that, my friends, is precisely the kind of success I would wish for you! 🙂