Get un-stuck from a GMAT 600 score

Though a GMAT 600 is not by any means a paltry achievement (a 650, for instance, is a 77 percentile), most want the magical 700+ GMAT score to help them stand-out in the application pool.

There are three possible scenarios that might cause your score to be stuck in the 600’s (Scoring wise).

  1. Your Verbal Reasoning scaled scores aren’t going beyond 32 (even though your Quant Scaled scores are in the higher 40’s).
  2. Your Verbal and Quant scores are not appropriately high enough.
  3. Or, (quite rare but) your Quant scores are in the sub-40 levels and that’s what’s holding you back.

The first step then, to go beyond a GMAT 600, is to identify which of these cases best describes your situation. Strategise on bolstering your conceptual and strategic competencies accordingly.

That said, in most cases, if you are achieving a 650-ish on your mock tests, it’s unlikely that concepts are what’s holding you back. It’s more likely that it is your strategy and test-day behaviour that’s making you an ‘inefficient test taker’.


GMAT 600 Score
and move to the 700s
Heads-up : this is going to be a long-read, involving complex questions that you need to solve and in-depth analyses to explore the hidden patterns of the GMAT. 

How does being ‘inefficient’ hold me at a 600 GMAT score?

If that’s a question burning in your mind right now, you’re in luck: this article is all about addressing these ‘inefficiencies’ and providing strategic remedies on how you can overcome them.

What are these inefficiencies?

Here’s a quick list of things that prevent your break past a 600 GMAT score

  • Using ‘gut’ intuition rather than deliberate strategic thought when solving questions.
  • Skimming (rather than carefully reading) through Question Stems and Answer Options.
  • Reading the Data inefficiently: obsessing about those which are trivial and overlooking the pivotal.
  • Working things out in your head: forgetting to paraphrase key information in the Note-board.
  • Looking for the right answer, rather than using elimination
  • Eliminating answers for arbitrary reasons rather than objective ones

We’ll look at how the top three ‘inefficiencies’ play out with the example of GMAT like questions.

Solve the following

Environmentalist: Without the intervention of conservationists, spider monkeys will become extinct. But they will survive if large tracts of secondary forest habitat are preserved for them. Spider monkeys flourish in secondary forests because of the plentiful supply of their favourite insects and fruit.

Which one of the following can be properly inferred from the environmentalist’s statements?

A. No habitat other than secondary forests contain plentiful supplies of spider monkeys’ favourite insects and fruit.

B. At least some of the conservationists who intervene to help the spider monkeys survive will do so by preserving secondary forest habitat for the monkeys.

C. Without the intervention of conservationists, large tracts of secondary forest habitat will not be preserved for spider monkeys.

D. Without plentiful supplies of their favourite insects and fruit, spider monkeys will become extinct.

E. If conservationists intervene to help spider monkeys survive, then the spider monkeys will not become extinct.


Did you feel that many of the answers provided made sense and that you ended up picking what you felt was most appropriate?

If you picked Option B or E, You’ve fallen for a TRAP!

Let’s be methodical

Since this is an inference type Critical Reasoning question, We need to critically evaluate the provided data points:

– Spider Monkey (SM) will go extinct if no intervention from conservationists.
– SM will survive if large secondary forests are preserved.
– Plenty of food in Secondary Forests helps SM flourish.

Let’s critically evaluate the answers, testing each to ensure it’s 100% inferable based on the Data provided.

A. No habitat other than secondary forests contain plentiful supplies of spider monkeys’ favourite insects and fruit.

Is there data about Other Habitats? NOPE. Eliminate A.

B. At least some of the conservationists who intervene to help the spider monkeys survive will do so by preserving secondary forest habitat for the monkeys.

This one makes ‘sense’. But we cannot assume that conservationists will make decisions rationally. Simply put: Do we have data about what the conservationists are likely to do? NOPE! Eliminate B.

C. Without the intervention of conservationists, large tracts of secondary forest habitat will not be preserved for spider monkeys.

The Data that “Spider Monkey (SM) will go extinct if no intervention from Conservationists” + “SM will survive if large secondary forests are preserved” together is adequate to come to this conclusion objectively. Keep Option C.

D. Without plentiful supplies of their favourite insects and fruit, spider monkeys will become extinct.

This is a classic trap. Where the Answer option distorts a word slightly from the data. The Data says that “Spider monkeys flourish in secondary forests because of the plentiful supply”. Does this mean that an animal will go extinct if it doesn’t ‘flourish’ ? Absolutely not! Eliminate D.

E. If conservationists intervene to help spider monkeys survive, then the spider monkeys will not become extinct.

This is a trickier one. The data says “Spider Monkey will go extinct if no intervention from conservationists”. Does this mean that if Conservationists intervene Spider Monkeys will definitely NOT become extinct?

Take a look at this situation that parallels the same logic.

Data: Smoking regularly WILL result in early death.
Does this mean that NOT smoking will mean that someone will NEVER die an early death? They could possibly die of something else.

The same logic applies here. Option E, though enticing, is not a necessarily true inference! Eliminate Option E.


So, what can be understood from solving this question?

Inefficiency 1: Using ‘gut’ rather than Strategic thought

Options B and E in the previous question are classic ‘gut’ / ‘feels right’ kind of answers. Test takers fall for these traps because they use their intuition to make decisions rather than deep, deliberate, strategic thought.

While intuition works in everyday life to make decisions (even big ones), it falls on its face when used in more complex and data driven conditions such as those you are likely to face on the GMAT.

A great illustration of can be found in this simple problem – try answering this by listening to your intuition (rather than solving it):

A bat and ball cost $1.10.
The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?

Thinking fast and slow – Daniel Kahenman

The answer you’d arrive at is $.10 (10 cents), which is intuitive, elegant and Wrong! Solve this questions with deliberate thought and you’ll realise that the equation goes x+x+1 = 1.10; x, then, has to be 5 cents.

Why does this matter on the GMAT?

Considering that this is a test constructed by psychometrists, you are for sure going to see answers among the options that you will be able to arrive with intuitive thinking. These options will be ‘exciting’ and ‘elegant’ because it would “just make sense”! Unfortunately using intuitive though will invariably result in erroneous decisions on the day of the test.

How to overcome intuitive traps?

Slow down!

1. Take a few seconds to understand and articulate the problem statement in your words

2. Think about what the important (relevant) data in the problem is.

3. Deliberately think about what the best way to approach the particular problem should be.

Rushing in, or mechanically ‘solving’ a question without having done these three things can lead to intuitive decision making.

The good news is, as you start building your competencies, you’ll be able to choose among the different strategic tools in your GMAT tool-kit to figure out what the most effective method to solve a specific question is. There is no need to re-invent the wheel, so to say! This will help you break past the GMAT 600.

Inefficiency 2: Skimming through Question Stems and Answer Options

Do you quickly skim through the answers and question stems? Here are two words to describe that practice: BAD IDEA! Surprisingly this a very common inefficiency that holds a lot of peoples’ scores back.

Options A and D of the previous question are examples of this inefficiency.

Rushing though the data and the answer options can be disastrous. Ironically many tend to skim through question stems and answer options in Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension questions, while spending a lot of time retaining details while reading the passages. Though this seems logical, it actually isn’t!

Think: What grants you points on the GMAT?

A) Understanding the data in the passage completely?
B) Picking the correct answer option?

Obviously the second one (B).

That said, you MUST, of course, understand the data to an extent to be able to pick the right answer options. But prioritising data in the passage to the point where you gloss over (rather than agonise about) the details in the answer options is just madness!

Remember that answer options on the GMAT are going to be worded in a way that distortions are added in the subtlest of ways. Unless you read these answer options carefully and comb through each word minutely, you are unlikely to break past the GMAT 600 score level.

How to overcome this inefficiency?

Read the answer options carefully. Be weary of extreme words and perspectives that aren’t full substantiated by the data in the passage / stimulus.

Inefficiency 3: Obsessing about trivial details (and missing important ones)

Solve the following question

How many prime numbers between 1 and 100 are factors of 7,150?

A. One
B. Two
C. Three
D. Four
E. Five

GMAT official Guide 2019

The most common mistake that students make in this question is that they get overly focused on solving the range of prime numbers between 1 to 100.

If you found yourself trying to list out all the prime numbers between 1 and 100 instead of actually applying yourself to the problem, then you fell for the “Obsessing about trivial details” inefficiency.

Why is this an inefficiency?

Think about it: A) is it easier to list all the prime numbers (if that’s even possible) between 1 to 100 or B) is it easier to break down the number 7,150 into its prime factors?

The latter is substantially easier to accomplish.

The solution for this question is as follows

  1. 2 |7150
  2. 5 |3575
  3. 5 | 715
  4. 11| 143
  5. 13| 13
    1

If you picked ‘E. Five’, then you fell (again) for the inefficiency: not paying attention to pivotal details.

The question asks for prime numbers that are factors of 7150. This means that you cannot count the prime number “5” twice. Though it is understandable why one might count 5 twice, GMAT doesn’t really care. You lost that question because you failed to pay attention to a minute, yet pivotal data point! This is an important quality that someone who score

The Correct Answer? You guessed it right : D. Four

Watch this space. We’ll discuss the other inefficiencies by exploring hard GMAT questions in an upcoming article!

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