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Getting a Good GMAT Score

In previous blogs, I have spoken about what constitutes a good GMAT score, how hard is the GMAT, and the possibility of a GMAT retake.  In some sense, almost every article on this blog is about getting a good GMAT score.  In this blog, I want to address one important paradox that eludes many folks studying for the GMAT.  To discuss this paradox, I will start in a relatively unexpected place: a Hindu sacred text.


The fruits of action

The Bhagavad Gita is one of the central scripture of Hinduism.  This book was the basis of Gandhi‘s life and work.  Written almost 2000 years ago, it portrays a conversation between Krishna (an incarnation of God) and Arjuna (a noble warrior).  In chapter 5 of this work, Krishna teaches Arjuna to act but renounce the fruits of action, or more simply, to act without attachment to the results.

Now, some spiritual folks might tell us that this advice could lead to some kind of illumination.  Some psychologist might be in a position to tell us how this advice could benefit us in a number of spheres.  All that is beyond our concerns here.  In the very narrow, very practical realm of performing well on the GMAT, how does this help?


Doing well on the GMAT

Think about all the recommendations we might make to someone who wanted to do well on the GMAT

1) learn the format of the GMAT

2) learn the rules of and directions for the individual question types

3) follow a proven study schedule

4) learn math content & strategies

5) learn verbal content & strategies

6) do practice questions

7) take mock tests

We certainly could add more, but those are uncontroversial examples of concrete steps anyone could take to improve performance on the GMAT.  These are moves that are likely to boost anyone’s GMAT score.


The paradox

Notice, one item conspicuously absent from that list is: focusing on your target score.  Thinking about the result, the fruit of the actions, the GMAT score itself, is actually profoundly counterproductive.  If your goal is to do as well as you can, you will already be motivated to follow the seven steps above and any other concrete steps.  Thinking about a numerical target adds nothing.  In fact, any time you spend thinking about a particular numerical target, and how close or not close you are, is time you are not thinking about concrete concepts and strategies.  Concepts and strategies will further your progress toward a good GMAT score.  By contrast, thinking about the numerical target does absolutely nothing to help you achieve that target, and in most cases, it generates anxiety and distraction that works against you.  One of the essential strategies for achieving GMAT success is to let go of any attachment to what score you want and, even more importantly any stories about what a good or bad GMAT score would mean.



This paradox will bother people, because for some people, getting that target score is their principal motivation: without it, folks might worry that they will have no motivation.   Think about it this way.  If my goal is “I must get a 720”, then the thought of that goal and any attachment to that goal will actually work against me in achieving that goal.  By contrast, if your motivation is the ideal of excellence, embodying excellence as a mindset, then living that high standard is its own reward.

For example, if you are attached to a score, then every time you make mistakes on a practice session or in a mock test will be cause for concern and anxiety.  By contrast, the habit of excellence is not bothered by making mistake during the learning process, because every mistake is a profound opportunity to improve your overall understanding.  One of the ideals of excellence is: never make the same mistake twice.  That’s a hard ideal for which to strive, but the student who can follow it consistently seems massive improvement over time.  After getting a question wrong, energy spend on “what else do I have to learn?” or “how can avoid this mistake in the future?” is energy well spent. By contrast, anxiety about “will I achieve my target score?” does zilch to move you forward, and because the anxiety generates distraction, it is actually entirely counterproductive.  It is the ultimate waste of time in GMAT studying.

Part of what I am discussing here is the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.  The student who is attached to achieving a particular target score is extrinsically motivated.  The student who strives to embody and live out the mindset of excellence is intrinsically motivated.  Folks who are externally motivated have less stamina and resilience, and generally are less likely to perform at their highest potential.  The advantages to intrinsic motivation are widespread and profound.  This is true on the GMAT, in business school, and throughout one’s career.



Take actions toward improving your GMAT performance without any attachment to the score that will result.  If you want a good GMAT score, then absolutely stop thinking about that score and get to work! If you would like to respond or argue, or if you have a question about what I’ve said, please let us know in the comments section.


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14 Responses to Getting a Good GMAT Score

  1. J September 18, 2016 at 3:56 am #

    Hi Mike,

    First of all, let me compliment you on your writing and ideas. I have been keenly following your writing over the internet ever since I started preparing for the GMAT 2 months ago. It can suffice to say that I have become a big fan of your ideas about achieving excellence in the GMAT as well as life in general. I am sure you have inspired many a people to punch far above their weight.

    My question to you is – Having been short of time by entering the application process late, I took the GMAT a month back, scored 710. Then retook 15 days later to score 730. I strongly believe I haven’t done justice to my abilities in both attempts, mostly owing to stress / time management.

    Being an Indian male applicant, I am keen to differentiate myself from competition at the top-most colleges. Hence, I am planning to retake again within the next month and try to push the score as high above 750 as possible. What would your thoughts be about this?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 18, 2016 at 7:54 pm #


      First of all, both your scores are great! Congrats! Now, if you feel that you can perform even better and you’re willing to put forth the work, then you can definitely retake the exam. But, remember the exam is just one part of the application. If you feel that you can spend that time on other pieces of your application, you can still differentiate yourself through your full package. However, both routes are good options and is based on personal preference!

  2. Maxim May 21, 2015 at 3:01 am #

    Thanks Mike!

    I have my GMAT in 5 weeks. I already made it twice (April, score: 490: Q36/V21) and in May (510: Q39/V21), I was/am really disappointed because I need at least 550, so I am aiming for approximately 600. All CATS I made, of GMAC, Magoosh and Kaplan i scored between 580 and 600.

    Now I am studying again, however, I have less time to study this time because I am also going to work full time from 1 June.

    My question is whether you have a 1 month-study schedule focusing more on verbal. Before the last GMAT I already followed the Magoosh one-month study schedule per day.


    • Rita Neumann
      Rita Kreig May 21, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

      Hi Maxim,

      We do have a 3-month study schedule that focuses more on GMAT Verbal, but we don’t have a 1-month verbal-focused version. You’ve already covered a lot of the material in this schedule, since you worked through the 1-month schedule already.

      Since you only have 5 weeks until your exam, I’d recommend looking through the 3-month Verbal schedule and highlighting the verbal practice parts (with a focus on the concepts that you struggle with the most). Then, divide up those lessons into about 2 hours of work a day, and essentially create your own 5-week schedule out of the existing 3-month one. It’ll take some more work up front, but I think creating your own study schedule is actually a really helpful exercise. It forces you to be really honest about your own strengths and weaknesses, and focus your effort where it counts. 🙂

      Let me know if you have any questions about this. I hope you find it helpful! 🙂

      Best of luck!

  3. Sid November 15, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

    Hey Mike,

    Beautiful Article. I have my exam in a week and I am targeting a 700+. I got a 600 on a mock yesterday and its I am so disappointed. It’s great to come across your blog and I feel a lot better now.


    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike November 16, 2014 at 8:48 am #

      Dear Sid,
      I’m very glad you found this article helpful! Best of luck to you!
      Mike 🙂

  4. Artika July 22, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chanaYou have the right to perform your actions, but you are not entitled to the fruits of the actions.

    Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva AkarmaniDo not let the fruit be the purpose of your actions, and therefore you won’t be attached to not doing your duty.

    I was teary eyed after reading your blog (EQ is quite high) Today, I was really tensed after doing a set of practice questions in Quant. I thought I was doing everything right, but ended up with a dismal score. So, I just walked away from my laptop and wasted the next two hours worrying about my final score.

    This couplet from the Gita was something I learned as a kid and is central to my philosophy in life. However, I was so stuck to getting a high GMAT score that I forgot about it in this context completely. Thanks for the reminder. I feel a flow of fresh energy now 🙂

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike July 22, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      Dear Artika,
      My friend, you are more than welcome. Thank you for sharing this verse and your experience. I wish you all the best!
      Mike 🙂

    • Siddharth September 3, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      Thanks Mike!! I just have been so concerned lately about getting a good score that I do feel i have wasted a lot of energy thinking about it.
      Amazing message! I ll get back to practicing and focusing my energy in the right direction

      • Mike MᶜGarry
        Mike September 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

        Dear Siddharth,
        You are quite welcome, my friend! 🙂 Best of luck to you! May the Force be with you!
        Mike 🙂

  5. Mohammed April 17, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

    Thanks Mike!

    In my case I have problems with the verbal section, and I think I can do very good in the Math.

    The best score I got in V is 17, but I reached 41 in Q. I am planning to apply for PhD in USA, so I need 600+.

    I have two choices:
    1- To prepare very much for Q and get very high grade to increase my total grade.
    2- To spend extra time to prepare for the V and try to get around 30.

    In your openion, what is better?

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike April 18, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Dear Mohammed,
      I’m happy to respond. 🙂 First of all, if you intend to get a PhD in an academic field, you really should take the GRE, not the GMAT. The GMAT would be appropriate if you plan to go to business school and get an MBA.
      I would definitely definitely recommend — put tremendous effort into Verbal. I strongly recommend the habit of reading: force yourself to read English for an hour a day every day. Here are some recommended readings:
      Here’s a GMAT 3-month study schedule for folks in your situation.
      If you want to attend an American school, and if you aspire to a job with an American company, then you need your English to be as good as possible. You cannot afford to neglect learning the verbal information: you have to apply yourself to it as assiduously as possible.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  6. Rahul Sehgal April 10, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    As always, excellent write up Mike. So happy to see your post finally after so many days :).

    I mean, I noticed a dip in the frequency of your posts. Hope all is well.

    Rahul Sehgal

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike April 10, 2014 at 10:33 am #

      Dear Rahul,
      Thank you for your kind words. I have been busy recording video lessons, so a little bit less time for blog-writing, but all is well. Thanks for your concern.
      Mike 🙂

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