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Case Study Details

Hannah A: 710 to 770

Hannah came to me after having already taken the GMAT and scoring an impressive 710 (Verbal: 41, Quant: 47). While this score was good enough to make her competitive for most top business schools, she was eyeing HBS and Stanford and didn’t want her GMAT score to hold her back. Her original preparation for the exam had been somewhat scattered, consisting of different commercial materials and very little structure, so I was confident that by altering her approach, we could help her hit the promised land.

Case Study Description

ESR Analysis

As I do with anyone who has already taken the exam, I started by reviewing her Enhanced Score Report. Immediately, a few things stood out:

On Verbal: While a 41 is stellar (94th%ile), Verbal scores contribute disproportionately to overall GMAT scores, so I wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to maximize her score there. When I reviewed her ESR, I identified a few obvious points of weakness:

#1) Her Critical Reasoning time management was forcing her to rush on other questions. Although her overall CR score was great (97th%ile), she averaged 2:25 on these questions, when her average should have been closer to 2 minutes. The additional time she spent here prevented her from reading the RC passages as thoroughly as she should have, so I made a point of addressing proper CR methodology at our first session and refining her approach throughout subsequent sessions. As she improved, we introduced harder questions from the GMAT Official Advanced Questions and from my database of 700+-level GMAT questions. 

#2) Her Sentence Correction had a huge discrepancy: While she did well on questions addressing grammar, she faltered on questions addressing meaning. This isn’t uncommon for high-level scorers. GMAC tends to increase SC difficulty by introducing subtle meaning shifts in sentences, and if you never train yourself to identify these meaning shifts, it’ll be hard to catch them on test day. We addressed this issue by first devoting an entire lesson to looking at how SC questions change meaning (again, I plucked questions from my 700+ database, knowing that these were the kinds of questions she’d need to master to see a 750+ score). Once she started hitting the accuracy we wanted on these, we moved her over to GMAT Official Advanced Questions and harder questions from the OG.

On Quant: 47 is nothing to scoff at, but I pride myself in helping students jump to a 50Q, so when she said she wasn’t sure she could do better in Quant, I took it as a personal challenge 🙂 

The most glaring issue I gleaned from her ESR was her Data Sufficiency performance. Her Problem Solving performance came in at the 80th%ile, while her DS performance came in at the 57th%ile. Though such a discrepancy in results is common, the reality is that Data Sufficiency is a much easier question-type to master than is Problem Solving, so I knew that Hannah would be able to see some big jumps pretty quickly. Why is it easier to do well in DS?

After a certain point, it’s hard to see big jumps in Problem Solving scores. To see those jumps, you need a level of both content mastery and methodological abilities that can take a lot of time to learn. DS, on the other hand, is largely about using the proper logical framework and developing a consistent, airtight methodology, and in my experience, students can learn and implement these skills much more quickly and efficiently on DS than on PS. And indeed, this truth bore out in Hannah’s experience. We spent one of our earlier sessions covering DS methodology: proper structure and methodology, common pitfalls, ways to re-phrase, and how to effectively tackle the statements. It all came pretty naturally to her, and within a couple weeks, she was getting about 90% of her DS questions correct. At this point, and with her steady progress on Verbal in mind, I knew it was time to dive into the next phase of her preparation:

Quizzes and Practice Exams

Over the last three weeks of the preparation, Hannah did two 20-question Quant quizzes and two 20-question Verbal quizzes each week from the Official GMAT Questions on As you transition from your preparation to practice tests, I find that these quizzes are a good way to ready yourself for the rigors of full-length exams. For someone at her level, I suggest choosing only “medium” and “hard” difficulty on these questions and shooting for about 90% correct on Verbal and 75% correct on Quant. Hannah was hitting these scores with flying colors, and when we had her move on to practice exams, the results were stellar: 750, 760, and 780 (!).

The Real Deal

It was finally time for her to take the exam, but there was one hitch: It was April, 2020, and, in the midst of COVID, she had to switch to the online GMAT. We did one last session to discuss modifications to make for the online GMAT whiteboard, and I had my own experience of the online exam to assuage her concerns. Nervous but confident, Hannah finally sat to re-take the exam and got a score perfectly in line with what I thought: 770, with a Quant: 50, and Verbal: 45! She’s now proudly attending Stanford Business School. 

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