So you broke into investment banking right out of undergraduate.
At first you were overjoyed, but then you realized that dealing with serial killers and VPs punching through car windows isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
So the next logical move is a top business school – you apply, get in, take a break for 2 years and then come back as an associate or you get out of the industry altogether.
No matter what your exit strategy is, though, you’ll need to take the GMAT exam to get there.
Do I Really Need to Think About the GMAT Right Now?
I know the feeling – after working 100 hours a week for 2-3 years, the GMAT is the last think you want to think about as you’re finally about to escape.
Is it even possible to prepare for and take the GMAT while you’re working in investment banking and trapped in your cubicle 24/7?
Unless you want to sacrifice the 5 hours of free time you get each week, you have 2 options:
When to Take the GMAT
Ideal times to take the exam include:
Remember, your GMAT scores are valid for up to 5 years at pretty much all the top business schools – so you don’t need to panic about taking the exam so early.
If you’ve planned out your life really well and you’re even thinking about going to business school in the future, take the GMAT before you start working – you will thank me later. There are no specific GMAT test dates, so you can coordinate with your local testing center to see which one fits your schedule best.
Once you’ve been out of school, your math and analytical abilities fade because you rarely use them in the real world – so get the exam out of the way while you’re still fresh.
Hyper-Efficient GMAT Prep
Not everyone is that organized – maybe you decided on business school after graduating, or you had a sudden change of heart when you experienced banking full-time.
Ideally, you would go through private tutoring if you had the budget and the time – but as a banker, you definitely don’t have the time.
Classroom training offered by companies like Kaplan and Manhattan GMAT is another option, but waking up early on a Saturday morning is the last thing you want to do when you’ve already pulled 2 all-nighters in the last week.
So the best combination for hyper-efficient GMAT prep is:
That combination lets you practice and learn material in your downtime at work, and lets you take advantage of long taxi and subway rides.
You’re always stressed out as a banker, but let’s face it: there’s plenty of downtime and sitting around between fire drills as well.
Should You Retake Your GMAT If You Didn’t Do Well the First Time Around?
This is another one that comes up when you have limited time as a banker: should you put in the hours to prepare and plow through the test once again if you got a disappointing score?
It depends on:
For example, if you have a low GPA – say, 3.2 / 4.0 in the US system or equivalent abroad – you should go for a higher GMAT score to counter your GPA.
But if you already have a “good” score – defined as over 700 – there’s no point in retaking the GMAT just to get a 760 rather than the 720 you had before.
If you have an exotic background or a well-connected family, you may not even need to retake the exam at all – even with a score in the low-to-mid 600’s.
So if you founded your own adventure travel company in Brazil and then won the world championship in kick-boxing, you’ll already stand out on your own.
But if you’re a banker or consultant, as we’ve assumed in this article, you need to aim for above 680 to be competitive.
And not to be racist, but Asians do tend to score higher than others, so you should go for 710 and above to be competitive there.
Got Score Imbalance?
Even if you have a good score, that doesn’t tell the whole story – if there’s a massive imbalance between your verbal vs. quant scores, you may want to retake the GMAT even with a solid 690.
For example, one recent test taker scored a 690 but was wait-listed at his top business schools – and he realized that admissions was hesitant because he had a perfect quant score and a weak verbal score.
So he retook the GMAT, achieved a more balanced score, and not only got off the wait list but was also awarded a $50,000 MBA scholarship!
The Fine Print
That’s not a common scenario, of course, but it does happen – which just shows the impact that retaking the GMAT can have.
As a banker, you’re expected to do well on the quant section – so if and when you decide to retake the exam, you should focus on improving your verbal score and showing that you’re a balanced candidate.
So how do you dominate the verbal section with limited time, regardless of whether it’s your first time or you’re retaking the exam?
Well, you can hit the books and learn what “gerund” and “participial phrase” mean – or you can sign up for the GMAT Pill and get a great score with 1/10 the effort.