Tag Archives: GMAT

Best Leaders Have Normal IQs: Implication For GMAT

I’ve written over the years on why a too-high GMAT or GRE hurts MBA applicants, see Myth of 800, and Don’t overcook,  among many times I’ve addressed this. Short story: in general brainiacs don’t make particularly good practical managers, or leaders, or team players. That perception hurts admissions prospects.

So I was interested to see the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently posting: “Being too intelligent might make you a less effective leader,” based on research out of the University of Lausanne, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Here’s the gist of the WEF piece: “Having a very high IQ is not necessarily such a good thing when it comes to leadership – the brightest people are actually less effective leaders, according to new research…

“Intelligence showed a positive linear relationship with leadership effectiveness up to a certain point. But the association flattened out and then started to reverse at an IQ of about 120.

“When the leaders’ IQ scores rose to 128 or above, the association with less effective leadership methods was clear and statistically significant.

“And these leaders demonstrated less transformational and instrumental leadership than leaders with a lower IQ…

“The highly intelligent leaders were not using harmful leadership styles, such as adopting a laissez-faire approach. But they did struggle to adopt the best leadership practices.

“One of the reasons may be that very clever people sometimes fail to communicate clearly enough or explain complex tasks. They may also struggle to see what others find challenging. And if a manager comes across as too intellectual, it may make the leader appear aloof or unapproachable.”

Right or wrong, Einsteins of the world have to manage the unspoken MBA adcom question that arises: is this person not a better professor or scientist, etc?

Were you to have a super-high 750+ GMAT (or GRE) you would need to talk a lot about practical everyday achievements with normal people, in the real world.

If you don’t have this monkey on your back, then really don’t set out to acquire it! Worry about your standard test score until you have a balanced Q/V 700 or so (for top 15 schools), then focus on other parts of your application which are just as important, and which you are probably neglecting due to GMAT prep.

Don’t Overcook Standardized Tests For MBA Admissions

First published on AMBA’s MBAworld.com: In the frantic scramble for MBA admissions to elite business schools, nothing appears more self-evident than ‘the higher your standardized admissions test score, the better your chances.’

Almost all business school applications require standardized tests, primarily because it gives MBA admissions committees (Adcoms) a level playing field to judge applicants’ cognitive ability.

That is, it gives Adcoms a quantitative and fair way to compare applicants from different backgrounds, different institutions, different undergraduate majors, and different cultures.

So the higher the score, the stronger the case for MBA admission, right? Wrong.

Well, right then wrong. Standardized test scores are crucial to a point. Every +10 gain adds to candidates’ admissions prospects, and a move of +30 or so fundamentally changes which business schools they can legitimately hope to get into.

But this is true only up to about the 700-740 range on an 800 point scale. Above that, the score has sharply diminishing returns, and can even harm an applicant’s chances.

There are two reasons. First, although the MBA is a university degree, it is primarily professional education. Its fundamental task is to prepare and place people into business management positions, not academic positions.

Managers need to be smart but, as everyone knows, the most academic people don’t necessarily make the best managers, nor best entrepreneurs, or bankers, or even consultants. Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, etc., are smart enough. But they are not Einstein. Accordingly, MBA Adcoms are not looking for brainiacs.

The second, related, reason is it takes a full spread of talents to get admitted to a competitive School. Academic ability is just one of many items considered, along with career potential, leadership acumen, work experience, volunteer record, profile diversity, and so on. Smart is definitely an admissions requirement, but so are the others. This reflects the multifaceted demands of a real business career.

Scoring in the super bracket (750 or above) means the applicant is, by definition, in the 99th percentile of the global population in raw cognitive ability.

Truth is, people who score like this are often better pure scientists or philosophers than managers. It’s a stereotype, but the absent-minded professor is commonly associated with being esoteric in mannerisms, or not a people-person, or a chaotic manager of self and others.

Adcom will thoroughly check and disbelieve the MBA applicant with a super-score, who also claims to be a team player, and claims to be able to do all the practical and sometimes dull things managers need to get done in a business day.

So, at around the 700 level, depending on GPA and other variables, and provided the Math and Verbal sections are not massively unbalanced, a threshold is reached where even elite business school Adcoms put a check mark next to “academically capable” and move on to ask other questions of the applicant.

When an applicant is far below the School’s published average matriculate for a standardized test, nothing else they are, or do, or say will count. But once they hit the threshold, their higher score merely checks an already checked box.

Furthermore, candidates who obsess with improving an already high score are taking time and focus away from improving the rest of their application. A super-score is not going to save the applicant whose recommendations are lukewarm or whose essays are undeveloped.

So MBA candidates should be very concerned with their test score until it is within the guidelines of the target program, then set it aside and work on getting the other facets of their application to the same level.

If all this is a solid argument that fits the admissions facts, not least in explaining why hundreds of relatively ordinary test scorers are admitted to elite MBAs, the question becomes, where do super-score obsessions come from?

It comes from applicant misapprehension of how many crucial elements of admissions, other than academic ability, there are, and how important they are. MBA Admissions Strategy lists 25 distinct dimensions of admissions value, of which ‘smart’ is just one.

Standardized test educators and coaches have an interest in feeding the obsession too: the longer MBA applicants work at trying to garnish a score already in the 700s, the more the cash register rings.

MBA applicants do their best when they call ‘enough’ once their test score is in the right ballpark, and get on with putting the many other pieces of the MBA admissions puzzle in place.

Get Wise: MBA Admissions Is The Final Exam

MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building to Essay Writing (McGraw-Hill Education) is now out in 3rd edition, 2017. With regular updates to track a fast-changing industry, the book has been #1 or 2 seller in category since first published in 2005, widely valued for its “straight shooter, what-you-should-know style.” To celebrate, here are the first few paragraphs…

With ever-more business schools offering the MBA degree worldwide, and online options quickly getting better, there has never been more ways to get an MBA. But business education is an area where brand really matters. Graduates from the top-25 or so elite programs start higher, progress faster, and have much more senior and interesting careers. Whatever the degree costs, those exiting the elite institutions reap many times the investment in their lifetimes. It’s dumb not to aim as high as possible.

Of course, everyone else knows this too, which is why MBA admissions at the top level is so competitive. Figures vary with the economic cycle, but on average across the most competitive programs, about six of every seven applications fail.

But, here’s the quick and dirty secret: nobody fails at elite business schools. Every year, in every program, everyone graduates­, possibly excluding a handful of extreme cases where a student has had serious adjustment or disciplinary problems and was excluded early. In other words, every candidate who is admitted will graduate because they were admitted. In fact, the better the school’s reputation, the less exams or grades appear to matter. If you were good enough to get in, you’re good enough, period.

In other words, while MBA degree failure is very unusual, MBA application failure is the norm. What this means is the MBA application is, for all practical purposes, the final exam. Admission is the only real hurdle between the candidate and an elite MBA qualification, and the fast-track career good fortune it commonly represents.

But real people pass it

Part of business school culture, one quickly learns, is that the MBA is not an “academic” degree. Smart people are required, of course, but you will repeatedly hear how the most intelligent people don’t make the best managers or business leaders. This explains why admissions is often refused to “brainiac” academicians and those with 750+ GMATs, and offered instead to candidates with diverse experience, personality, talent, and drive. Admissions committees (Adcoms) reward dynamic people who have a track record of real-world impact, particularly if they have meaningful plans for the future.

This means that anyone of appropriate age, with respectable undergraduate results and standardized test scores and a good professional record, has a realistic chance of getting into an elite business school, assuming they also have the strategic and competitive understanding of what in their background is valuable for admission and the ability to communicate their case clearly and powerfully.

Yes, the top business schools have their pick of Olympic medalists and Senators’ sons, and there’s nothing much you can do about that, but every year many thousands of very ordinary people are accepted too, because they applied well. Which is to say, they found and compellingly communicated the valuable attributes in their background and connected these closely to the needs of business schools and the preferences of admissions officers.

Getting in is a little bit about pure intelligence or family luck, and a lot about procedural and organizational smarts. The tools and techniques of admissions matter enormously. You don’t need to be a celebrity. You just need to be credible and to apply well.