You and your best friend are both prospective MBA students. Together you take a hiking trip in the Alaskan wilderness. One day, after marching through dense forest all morning, you come to a broad clearing covered in tall grass. Halfway across the clearing, you stop in your tracks, terrified by the huge grizzly bear rising up from the grass about 20 yards from where you are standing. The bear is about to attack, and you both know enough about the wilderness to know that hikers, wearing backpacks and boots, never outrun charging bears. And, the closest tree is too far away.With death only seconds away, you turn to your friend and say “My friend, I regret that fate has kept us from the Wharford School of Business and long, happy lives. I only wish to say that it has been an honour being your friend.” - “Yeah,” your friend replies, “Me too.” He then quickly drops his pack and starts running for the trees. “Wait what are you doing?” You shout after him. “You’re a fool if you think you can outrun that bear!” “I don’t have to outrun the bear,” your friend yells back. “I just have to outrun you!” YOU AND 225,000 OTHERS This case study in competition aptly illustrates the intensity of the admissions process at the top business schools. And nowhere is it more relevant than to the Graduate Management Admissions Test, the GMAT. This three and a half hour standardized exam is a required element in your dossier, and your results are among the first pieces of information consulted by admissions officers. A strong score on the GMAT will not by itself get you in, but without a strong score, your chances are greatly reduced. A few statistics provide a vivid picture of the competition. This year, close to 230,000 people will sit the exam. Fewer than 15,000 will score high enough to match or exceed the average GMAT scores for candidates accepted to Harvard, Wharton or INSEAD. And only a stunning 5,000 will match or exceed the average at Stanford. More broadly, the top programs benchmark scores placing candidates in the top 10 per cent of the test-taking pool. Thus, to consider yourself a competitive candidate, you’ll need to “run faster” on the GMAT than 225,000 other young professionals. And, as more and more talented professionals choose to pursue an MBA, and prepare vigorously for the GMAT, there has been a marked increase in the average incoming GMAT scores reported by the top programs. This chart shows recent score inflation among selected US and European schools: THE GMAT IS AN OPPORTUNITY If you’re wondering how to juggle your time between preparing for the tests, writing the essays, and following up on your letters of recommendation you may wonder where to find the time for preparing the GMAT. Don’t forget that this is one area of your dossier that you can still improve, so you should prepare well for test day. Look at the GMAT as an opportunity to make your application stand out. Obviously, solid preparation is key. Unless you are confident of a great score, buy yourself a book or download software that offers the chance to take at least one or two full-length tests, just to make sure that there are no surprises on test day. Good Luck!