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750 or Bust!

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You'd probably agree that it's important to have realistic goals. To set such goals, you need to know something about the goals you're setting ... and I suspect that a lot of people pick their target GMAT score without knowing enough about the challenges ahead.

I say this because I've been hearing from an awful lot of people lately who are determined to score a 750 on the GMAT. That's a 98th percentile score--and, in case you needed reminding, it's curved against a very, very motivated pool of fellow test-takers.

Now, I don't want to discourage anyone from shooting for the stars. But it's important to recognize a few things.

First, no business school in the world has a median GMAT score above 720. That means every single MBA program you could possibly be applying to is accepting half of their applicants with GMAT scores below 720. That doesn't mean you have a good chance if you apply with a 650 (you probably don't), but it means you have a pretty good chance with a 700, and a very good chance with a 720.

Second, the higher the score, the more difficult it is to improve it. Early on, you may see progress between practice tests from a 550 to a 620, or a 600 to a 650. The further along you are, the tougher it will be to improve even 20 points. The gap between a 720 and a 750 is much, much more difficult to breach than the space between 620 and 650.

Finally, the time you spend trying to reach the 98th percentile would be better spent on other parts of your application. I've heard this first- and second-hand from admissions officers time and time again. Your GMAT score is, to some extent, like checking a box. If the school has a median score of 700 and you're at a 680 or higher, the GMAT score is probably good enough. Then they'll look at the rest of your application.

There may be a small number of instances where the GMAT score serves as a "tiebreaker" of sorts, when having a 750 instead of a 700 comes in handy. But ultimately, school are looking at your GMAT score as proof of quantitative and analytical skills--not a way to pack their class with the world's best standardized test takers. A 700 (especially if it includes an 80th percentile Quant score) is just as good a measure of the first and a 750 is.

Keep your goals in perspective, and understand the difficulty--and importance--of achieving them. Going from a 700 to a 750 is very difficult but, in the vast majority of cases, just not very important.

About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

 Total GMAT Math The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Quant section. It's "far and away the best study material available," including over 300 realistic practice questions and more than 500 exercises! Click to read more.