Maintaining Motivation & Goal Setting for GMAT Preparation: Find out the influence of the first diagnostic test

Goal Setting for GMAT Preparation MotivationMotivation is the key to sustain GMAT preparation for 3-months to 5 months. The standards that you set for goals influence motivation. Jessica M. Nicklin & Kevin J. Williams have covered the correlation between goal setting and motivation in their paper: Self-Regulation of Goals and Performance: Effects of Discrepancy Feedback, Regulatory Focus, and Self-Efficacy

Discrepancy Production & Reduction

MBA Aspirants start goal setting with GMAT Preparation, most likely with a target score. They take the diagnostic test and receive the first feedback. Based on the feedback (the test score), aspirants follow either the discrepancy production or the reduction process.

With Discrepancy production, test takers set goals that are higher than the test score in the diagnostic test while with discrepancy reduction test takers reduce the target score to match with the previous performance. Reducing the target creates positive reaffirmation, but the process is flawed as the test takers are selling themselves short of their true potential.

Actual Goal & Motivation

The score in itself does not motivate an MBA Applicant. It is the anticipated feeling of satisfaction and self-worth resulting from a 720+ score that provides the incentive to do the extra effort. Visualizing, and craving for that feeling would put you on a disciplined 2 hour daily GMAT prep regime more than staring at a white paper with 720+ score written on it.

Goal Performance Discrepancy

Rarely does the performance match the target. It either exceeds or falls short of the target. We tend to react in two ways: dissatisfaction or mild satisfaction. After a diagnostic test, applicants are aware that there is a long-way to go before the actual test. For those applicants who scored slightly above the target score, the anxiety is low.

Studies have shown that our motivation to improve and set higher goals is stronger when we fall short of the standard score. This might explain why experts encourage GMAT test takers to try the Kaplan GMAT Diagnostic test, a much tougher exam than official GMAT Exam before developing a GMAT Prep Schedule.  

Goal Performance Discrepancy or the difference between target and actual score becomes the biggest influencer in our future performance.

If we target 650 in our first GMAT diagnostic score, and score a 610, we are likely to aim for 690-700.

However, if we target 650, and score a 570, the goals are lowered to 650. We might aim for 690-700, but internally our goals are lowered.

If we target 650 in our first GMAT diagnostic score, and score a 670, we are likely to aim for 700-720.

The higher the Goal Performance discrepancy, lower would be our motivation to prepare.

Test takers will give up if the discrepancy between target and actual score is more than 150 points. For those test takers who have a high positive Goal Performance Discrepancy – scoring 720 while targeting 650, the preparation will be less comprehensive.


Apart from regular feedback through GMAT Diagnostic tests, self-confidence has a bigger influence on preparation and results. Although there has been no conclusive study on the effects of self-efficacy on revising goals, it is a constant, value of which is contributed by genetics, previous success, and the environment. A mediocre student can score 40-50 points above their ability based on this one factor.

The process of lowering or increasing the goal depends on self-confidence and feedback through diagnostic tests. In the end, the ‘constant’ might decide between a 680 or a 720 GMAT Score.

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