Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 3pm

Developing a Growth Mindset for a Top GMAT Score

Growth mindset's use in obtaining a strong GMAT score

Sometimes the hardest thing about GMAT preparation is developing certainty that you can succeed in getting a great GMAT score.


Where does that assurance come from? Doing and trying. By making mistakes and learning from them, we iterate. That is, making the small changes that are necessary to move forward and start building towards a solid GMAT score.

That’s how a master works. She has a grasp of the big picture, but focuses on today’s important detail. Let’s say that the master is after an improvement of 1% in her GMAT preparation. If you do the math, a 1% improvement each day, compounded, means an improvement of 100% - twice as good as when she began – and in a matter of just 70 days!

OK, now let’s be more pessimistic. Even if you only increase the results of your GMAT preparation by 1% every three days, you’d still be looking at doubling your skills in just seven months!

What steps can I take?

Part of the difficulty of iterating is figuring out what steps to make in order to move forward.

Sometimes, progress is a lot like an algebra problem. The real issue is multiplicity of choice.

Sometimes, the best idea is really to step back and look at the big picture. Where can you make the most progress towards that all-important GMAT score in the least amount of time?

Exercise: Steps towards progress

Try this exercise with a partner if possible, by having the partner read the steps out to you as you sit, fully relaxed.

1. Close your eyes and put your feet firmly on the floor

2. Focus on your breathing until you feel your shoulders relax

3. Allow the relaxation from your shoulders to pass up into your neck muscles and down into your stomach muscles

4. Feel relaxation spread throughout the rest of your body

5. Imagine your future and your past as lines passing through your body, where your body is the present. Note the direction in which the future lies.

6. Float up above the lines and travel forwards by six months, until the time after you are finished with your GMAT preparation.

7. Float down into the you that will exist six months from now. See the images and feel the feelings of what it is like to have successfully completed the GMAT.

8. Turn around and look towards the present. Note the series of steps that are required to get where you are going.

9. Walk slowly through each step, integrating it into your knowledge.

10. Focus on the first step before you reach the present. This is the next step for you to take.

11. Open your eyes and commit to making one action related to that step within the next hour.

What if I can’t succeed?

Psychologist and Stanford professor, Carol Dweck, has famously identified two types of mindset: The fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

The fixed mindset, in short, assumes all talent is innate: if you weren’t given a particular ability at birth, then you’ll never develop it.

Not only is this type of thinking demonstrably false (you didn’t speak or walk at birth, after all) but it is also detrimental to the growth mindset.

If masters were born with their skills, they would never develop the motivation necessary to achieve massive success. In other words, masters are in it because they enjoy the process - each step - of getting better.

Masters have a growth mindset: a different frame of reference, whereby they assume the ability to improve incrementally. After all, if masters didn’t believe that they could get better, they wouldn’t try.

As the old adage goes, the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. Getting angry because you can’t teleport to your destination will do nothing but make your life miserable.

Exercise: Developing a growth mindset

Again, this exercise will be better done with a partner:

1. Close your eyes and relax, as in the first exercise.

2. Imagine a situation where you have started off bad at something and learned to be good at it through repetition and iteration (e.g., exams at school, sports, music or theater performance). See the images, feel the feelings, and hear the sounds that you associate with it. Allow all of these to intensify at a point where you feel perfectly confident in your success.

3. Touch the thumb and forefinger of your right hand together.

4. Imagine the memory shrinking into a dense tennis ball-sized object and hold it in your right hand.

5. Now, imagine a situation where you feel that your learning is stuck or that you cannot progress for any reason.

6. Take this situation and see the images, feel the feelings, and hear the sounds that you associate with it. Then, touch your right thumb and forefinger together until the bad situation goes totally numb. Watch the screen fuzz out, fall out of focus and get smaller and farther away.

7. Take this situation and shrink it into a diffuse tennis ball-sized object and hold it in your left hand.

8. Hold your hands apart, with the bad situation in your left hand and the good situation in your right hand.

9. Slowly move the situations together until the intensity of the right-hand situation overwhelms and dissipates the left-hand situation.

10. Now imagine the formerly bad situation and touch your thumb and forefinger together, feeling total confidence in it. Intensify the feeling as you make the image and sounds of success as bright and clear as possible.

11. Open your eyes with the realization that all success comes from effort and learning.

Repeat as often as necessary. You can go through it each day, until you feel firmly confident that you are on your way to a growth mindset.

Slow Learner

Learning never comes as fast as we would like it to.

More often than not we have to assess the problem and make a good guess at what the best step to take next would be. (Hint: quite often it is the thing that we fear or resist the most.)

Any skill can be reduced to iterations that can be realistically completed, even achieving a higher GMAT score. This realization is the most important skill that any master of any subject has cultivated.


No one said it would be easy, but it will happen faster the sooner you begin taking the steps.

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Rowan Hand has worked as a GMAT tutor for students across the globe since 2005. He is the author of the #1 Amazon bestsellers Last Minute GMAT Grammar and How to Beat GMAT Work and Rates Problems. Rowan has helped over 500 students make their careers at schools such as LBS, Columbia, Wharton, INSEAD, and more. Rowan’s website is www.yourgmatcoach.com
YouTube: www.youtube.com/gmatcoach