Andrew Mitchell, GMAT Expert

Andrew MitchellAndrew Mitchell is director of GMAT and GRE at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. He graduated from Harvard University cum laude with a degree in physics in 2001. After studying for a year on fellowship in Germany, Andrew joined Booz Allen Hamilton, where he consulted on network defense and national security for the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. He was also project manager for the book Megacommunities, conducting interviews along the way with President Clinton and other leaders in business and NGOs. Andrew completed his MBA at University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 2007. He has several years of experience in the Internet space, having worked shortly at Google, founded an Internet startup in the social media space, and argued a precedent-setting case in front of the Federal Election Commission. He scored a 770 (99th percentile) on the GMAT in April 2009. Still an active GMAT and GRE teacher, Andrew was one of the first instructors to achieve Elite teacher status in New England.

What do admissions officers want to see from a GMAT score? How does it affect a prospective student’s total application?
According to Kaplan’s 2008 annual survey of business school admission officers at top programs in the United States, 55 percent say that the GMAT is the single most important admissions factors – followed by undergraduate GMAT and relevant work experience. To get into a top MBA program, it’s absolutely necessary for students to score competitively on the exam. While other factors like undergraduate GPA, work experience and letters of recommendation are also important, a low GMAT score is almost certainly an application killer.

What is the biggest mistake that students make before taking the GMAT?
The biggest mistake that students make is thinking that this is an exam that you don’t need preparation for.

There’s a reason why the GMAT takes months to prepare for: it’s a difficult exam. Not only does it test you on things like isosceles triangles and subject-verb agreement – things you likely haven’t been tested on since high school or earlier – but the GMAT is also a computer adaptive test (or CAT, as it’s often described), which is probably unlike any test that you’ve taken in that it adapts the questions to your performance.

Because the GMAT is in this format, you need to gain sufficient realistic practice to do well on it, which means taking multiple full-length computer adaptive exams throughout your study. While practicing will take away the mystery of the CAT, it still won’t take away the mystery of the overall testing experience. Think about it like scuba diving: before you go out for your first certified dive, there are classes and simulations and the final test dive, all so that you know what to do when you’re finally out in the open waters. At Kaplan, we offer the Ultimate Practice Test: a practice CAT you take at an actual Pearson VUE test center, the same center that you’ll be taking the actual exam. This is the best way to prepare for what you’ll see on actual test day – the process of signing in, of using a locker, the break system, etc. By the time you get to test day, all of your energy can be focused on getting the answers right.

How much time should students spend preparing for the exam before test day?
To score very competitively, you need to prepare adequately. Most people study for 100 hours or more, which assuming that you work full time, translates to two or three months – maybe more, depending on your schedule.

How much time should they give themselves when registering?
As soon as you know when you’d like to take the exam, schedule it! We’ve helped tens of thousands of students prepare for the GMAT, and one thing that we’ve seen is that those who schedule as soon as they begin prepping for the exam are far less likely to procrastinate and put off studying and taking the exam. The sooner you get a test date on the calendar, the more committed you’ll be to your study plan and the better you’ll do on test day.

Should students plan enough time between the test date and application deadline to take the test a second time if their scores aren’t high enough?
If your GMAT is close to or matches your target school’s average and you feel like you’ve got a top-notch application outside of the GMAT, you’re probably ok. But, if the gap is pretty big or if you really want your GMAT to help you stand out from the crowd, it’s worth your time to think about taking it again. The policy of most MBA programs is to take the highest GMAT score if someone takes it more than once. Most schools will encourage you to take the exam again: it shows dedication and commitment – IF you show improvement. While most b-schools have two or three application rounds, it’s to your advantage to get your application in for that 1st round when there are more seats available. So, the sooner you prep & take the GMAT, the sooner you can work on all of the other elements of your application and still submit in time for first round deadline.

In your opinion, what is the best way for one to prepare for the GMAT? There are many books, classes, practice tests, etc., available. Is one method preferable to another? Why?
First and foremost, we don’t believe that there is an average applicant. Each applicant comes to the process with a different skill set, with a different time table, with a different study preference. The goal is finding the right solution for you because one size does not fit all.

What should students look for in a GMAT tutor? In a class? Workbook or study guide?
With respect to GMAT instructors, Kaplan has a very competitive teacher selection process, Kaplan teachers and tutors are not only high scorers on the exam (90th percentile or above,) but also go through an intensive selection and training process – to ensure they are both a test expert and an exceptional instructor. While your instructor has to be a top performer on the GMAT exam itself, but being a high scorer isn’t sufficient. Think about Isaiah Thomas: he was an amazing basketball player, but a terrible coach by all accounts. At Kaplan, in the 40+ years we’ve been teaching the GMAT, we’ve always recognized that teacher effectiveness goes beyond a test score – if a teacher can’t motivate, engage, and enlighten students, it doesn’t matter how high their GMAT score is. We make sure that in addition to scoring well, our instructors are able to teach, and we do this by rigorous and ongoing teacher training and evaluation.

As for study guides, it’s important to make sure that they are comprehensive and current.

What advice do you have for students the night before and during the test?
The GMAT is pretty grueling. All in, you’ll be working on the test for three and a half hours. It’s the marathon of tests, and when it comes to “what to do the night before and the morning of,” the biggest piece of advice is not to add some new element to your patterns right before. While things like exercise and listening to classical music can be great ways to reduce stress and heighten your smarts, it’s best to start these routines throughout your GMAT prep so that you’ve minimized any surprise on test day.

Remember, anxiety is driven by fear of the unknown. So your best weapon against anxiety is to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into – which means coming into test day full prepared. That means knowing the content that is covered, being comfortable with the format of the test, knowing the strategies that will save you time, and having the opportunity to practice sufficiently.

Is there a particular test-taking strategy you recommend?
The reality is that there is no “magic bullet” for the GMAT. There’s no getting around the fact that you need to learn the test content, master time-saving strategies, get comfortable with the format of the test, and practice. It’s a bit like trying to learn the entire French language 2 weeks before heading to Paris or Quebec City for a trip; it’s just not possible. What is possible, however, is focusing on the areas on the GMAT that will bring you the most success – in the same way that focusing on conversational French that will be relevant to your trip.
It’s all about knowing how to spend your time and effort. Over 80% of people taking the GMAT are working full time; every hour that someone is spending outside of work is precious.
Knowing where your particular areas of opportunity are is key – as is knowing exactly what to do to take advantage of these opportunities. And remember – everyone is different.

What else do you think is important for test candidates to consider before taking the GMAT?
Obtaining an MBA can give students so many advantages in the workforce. Whether because it significantly increases your earning power, gets you that promotion you want, helps you change careers or acts as a strong hedge against unemployment, an MBA can make the difference in a increasingly competitive job market. That said, those considering business school – even before taking the GMAT – should also keep in mind that it’s not a goal, but a means to an end. What that end is may differ from one person to the next, but students should have a clear post-graduate goal in mind when they apply.

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