The Sound(s) of GMAT: Inspiration

image courtesy of h.koppdelaney @

Anyone who has prepped – or is prepping now – for the GMAT knows that every little edge counts. We’d recently been boning up on our Mozart (knowledge, not performance) and came across a little gilt-edged nugget called The Mozart Effect. Popularized in the nineties, the Mozart Effect spoke to the increases in spatial-temporal reasoning ability witnessed in research subjects immediately after listening to a Mozart sonata* (guess which one? answer at bottom). More importantly, the Mozart Effect is the reason so many “sophisticated” and/or New Age parents find themselves playing classical music for children still trapped in the womb and therefore unable to voice their own musical preferences.

Overlooking the fact the 8-9 point increase on the spatial reasoning portion of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale was completely temporary (the boost lasted about 10-15 minutes), and also overlooking the fact that all subsequent attempts at replication of the experiment (except one done by the original researchers) failed to reproduce the reported increases of the original, we thought, “Well, everyone loves music. It’s inspiring, it’s motivational, it’s calming, so let’s publish playlists of GMAT tunes that could help students get excited, get ahead, and get their prep groove on.” Besides, the GMAT does require some spatial-temporal reasoning  beyond simply navigating your way through the pat-down and to your seat.

To get the most of this list, or ones you create for yourself, here are a few tips to use them most effectively:

1) Music is Pre-prep, not Prep-prep — we’re using music to get us in the right state of mind to get things done on the test. Since we can’t listen to music during the test (sorry, that heavy-breather with the deviated septum in the cubbie next to yours doesn’t qualify as music), we shouldn’t listen to music when we prep. It would provide a crutch that may prove harmful when they take it away at test time. Use the music to get you in the mood, then get the job done without it. Speaking of getting in the mood…

2) Get in the Habit — The music, if you use it, should act as a sort of trigger that tells your brain, “okay, it’s time to (insert relevant verb here).” It can’t be a trigger if the association isn’t consistently reenforced until its borderline (obsessive) compulsive. If you use it only occasionally before your prep, or if you use that particular playlist to also get your high-intensity ShakeWeight workout on in your basement, then the association between playlist and GMAT power-prepping is weakened. Don’t do that. No, seriously. Don’t.

3) Have fun with it — You may think the playlist below is terrible (several people in the office told me my original, proposed playlist was). That’s fine. It’s your playlist. The GMAT and GMAT preparation can be tedious enough as is. Don’t let someone talk you into Arcade Fire simply because a bunch of Hipsters swear Arcade Fire is the second coming of God’s Gospel Chorus, Elvis, and whoever those guys are that did the nifty music for the Geico caveman commercials all rolled into one. You’ll hate that person less if you don’t listen to them (oddly enough, same thing goes for that annoying friend who didn’t prep, walked out with a first-time GMAT score of 750, then didn’t apply to business school).

With out further ado, and in no particular order, we present the Sound(s) of GMAT Playlists, Pt I by Bell Curves…


Sounds(s) of GMAT Playlist:  The 2008 Presidential Campaign Barack Obama List

Few orators have engendered more goosebumps or inspired more hope than President Obama during that magical run in 2008. While the President’s ratings have taken nearly as big a hit as the housing market has since then, this list will keep you flying high and feeling invincible as you prepare to do battle with the GMAT.

1. You Get What You Give (New Radicals) – They may have been a one-hit wonder, but who wasn’t listening to this jam during the heady days of ’98? Besides, we can only be so lucky to be one-hit-GMAT-wonders.

2. The World’s Greatest (R. Kelly) – The song? Definitely a great inspiration. The video? No comment. When you’re listening to the playlist, avoid videos. Especially this one. You won’t be able to see your GMAT questions if you do. Instead, you’ll be haunted by visions of R. Kelly (Spoiler Alert) trying to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

3. I’m Like A Bird (Nelly Furtado) – She kind of looks like a bird, right? An admittedly attractive one, but still. And I don’t know where her “soul is,” but I know where ours all needs to be: in lockstep with the GMAT.

4. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell) – No YouTube link needed here. Written by Ashford and Simpson, and inspiring since the day Marvin and Tammy first belted it out, Diana Ross’ C-minor version in 1970 might just be the most inspiring of all.

5. Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac) – Pretty much any song that was on the Forrest Gump soundtrack or in the movie itself can be categorized as ‘inspirational.’ That’s what happens when the ’60s and ’70s are your focal point: pure inspiration…and sex, drugs, and cultural revolution…but mostly inspiration.

6. Sexy Back (Justin Timberlake) – Before you abandon this list because of JT’s presence, let me just share an actual exchange between BC Staffers as we tried to compile this list:

Gentleman Staffer: “Really?”

Lady Staffer: “Really. This is the only song on the list that clearly relates to the GMAT. Students are bringing sexy back to the GMAT.”

7. Ready or Not (The Fugees) – A couple choice quotes from the song (no, not the ones about defecation or smoking “sess”): “Here I come, You can’t hide, Gonna find you, and make you want me.”  Oh GMAT, we coming for you. We coming! “I play my enemies like a game of chess, when I rest, no stress.” You hear us GMAT?

8. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson) – “The force, it’s got a lot of power.” I didn’t say it. That’s straight from the King of Pop. Use the force.

9. Once In A Lifetime (Talking Heads) – “How Did I Get Here?” So many MBAs ask themselves this very question. One biased answer could be: by beating the GMAT, by beating it very badly. “Same as it ever was…”

10. Wake Up (Arcade Fire) – I know, I know. The hipsters made me do it. I swear. They’ve got a Red Ryder BB Gun pointed at my head right now. They say if I don’t leave this on I’m toast, man. I gotta admit, I’m inspired.

11. Happy Ending (MIKA) – I could contribute more of my tepid commentary here, but let me again rely on the compelling (and, quite frankly, inspirational) contribution of a couple BC staffers:

Gentleman Staffer: “This doesn’t work for the GMAT.”

Lady Staffer: “Yes it does! It’s Happy Ending! You want a happy ending, don’t you?”

12. Now We Are Free (Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard) – Even without Gladiator this track would be a gem. But with Maximus in the picture and this song in your ear, you can’t help but want to slay the GMAT, to free yourself from the shackles of standardized testing and enter the wonderful world of Graduate Business School.


So that’s the list. Feel free to use this one, or make up your own. Do whatever needs to get done to inspire yourself to new heights, and inspire yourself daily on the journey to GMAT success. Now, I’ve just got one question for you, straight (almost) from the mouth of Maximus: “Are You Not Inspired?”

Good luck with your playlisting and your GMAT prepping. Happy Holidays to your and yours from the Bell Curves family, and keep an eye (or ear) out for more playlists in the coming days…


-The BC Team


For more (beyond just playlists) on how Bell Curves could help you further inspire your preparation, visit us at Join us for a Sample Class to see just how inspiring our teachers, materials, and strategies can really be.







*Sonata for 2 Pianos in D Major, K. 448.

  • (646) 414-1586
COPYRIGHT ©2002 - 2020 BELL CURVES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. All tests names are registered trademarks of the respective testing companies, which do not endorse and are not affiliated with Bell Curves.
BELL CURVES - 25 West 36th Street, 8th Floor - New York, NY 10018 Bell Curves is an educational services and test preparation company. It delivers high-quality consulting services, test preparation programs, and self-study resources to students throughout the country.
Equal Opportunity Employer - Privacy Policy - Refund Policy