While planning your preparation make sure that you integrate the tips below as they are based on the practical experience of Veritas Prep in preparing thousands of GMAT test takers around the world.
1. Learn from your mistakes
The GMAT is a challenging test: its mission is to differentiate between college graduates who are pursuing even-higher education, so it has to be challenging to get large portions of that group to struggle with each question. Even if you were a standout scholar with great grades and test scores, prepare to make mistakes and to learn from them. Every mistake you make in practice offers a lesson to help you avoid a similar mistake in the exam.
2. Ask why you made those mistakes
Most examinees will try to learn at least something from each mistake, but an alarming number of those test-takers will do so inefficiently (if not just plain incorrectly)! Let’s say, for example, that you fail a Data Sufficiency problem because you forgot to consider the possibility of negative numbers. Many students will label that problem based on its content area, such as “exponents.” But you didn’t get a DS problem wrong because you don’t understand exponents; you failed because you made a mistake that could damage you on lots of other problems. So make sure that you put thought into the way that you categorise, label, and return to your mistakes so that your study sessions directly address your areas for improvement.
3. Focus on what you should do, not just on what you should know
A common refrain among those who fail to achieve their target score is “I knew everything cold, but then everything looked different on test day.” Their mistake? The GMAT is a test of how well you APPLY knowledge to unique situations, not about how well you REMEMBER that knowledge. So study with verbs in mind: what do you DO when you see a certain type of problem so that you can put that knowledge to work? For example, with exponent problems, you should look to 1) FIND common bases; 2) FACTOR addition/subtraction into multiplication; and 3) TEST small numbers to find a pattern. When problems don’t seem to have an easy plug-and-chug method, remember those verbs you learned so that you know what to do to make the problems solvable.
4. Think before you read the solution
Arguably the most common frustration that GMAT students have is that the written solutions to problems – regardless of the source – are convoluted, confusing, and hard to follow. So don’t rely on them unless you have to! Even a well-written solution is less effective than is your own trial and error as you try to connect the dots between problem and solution, largely because you need the solution to make sense to you, not to the graduate student intern who wrote the problem. So use written solutions as a last resort; before you go to them, check the correct answer and see if you can connect the dots yourself.
5. Never mistake activity for achievement
GMAT students often measure their progress in terms of the number of hours they’ve studied or the number of problems they’ve completed. But while those numbers may be correlated with success, they’re not as causal as you might think. Make sure that the time you spend and the problems you do are time and effort well spent. Before each session, have a plan for what you want to address and why, and afterwards take short notes (mental or written is fine) on what you learned that you can apply to future problems or tests. It has been said that 90% of success is just showing up; the GMAT requires that extra 10%.
6. Study reputable material, particularly for Verbal
Official GMAT problems cost thousands of dollars – EACH – to produce and validate. So when a new company or app launches with “thousands of realistic GMAT problems!” they’re either too optimistic, or they’re just lying. Even some of the official testmaker’s oldest material is out of line with the current test (which changed item writers from ETS to ACT back in 2006), so studying old, official material or new, not-all-that-reputable material can lead you astray as far as what to study and how to improve.
Check out: How to Prepare for GMAT – Essential Guide
7. Save the stopwatch for later
Yes, the GMAT is a timed test. But you shouldn’t start using the stopwatch until you’ve mastered core content and strategy; otherwise you’ll just make the same mistakes…faster, and more often. Focusing on time also means that you’ll learn more problems by reading the written solutions and not by forcing yourself to form connections and build skills; the latter options are much more permanent. Allow yourself a Learning phase – in which you take as long as you need to solve problems – before your Practice phase – when you’ll need to add that timed element to make sure that you can perform on test day.
8. Prepare for mental stamina
The GMAT is a 3 hour and 30 minute test – and that’s before you add in breaks and the check-in process. Studying during lunchtime and practising on your phone is helpful, but you’ll need to plan to have some longer study sessions (and full-length practice tests) so that you’re ready for staying focused and thinking clearly when your brain is spinning from several hours of tough problems.
9. Address your weaknesses…
Studying for the GMAT isn’t often fun, so people will often sweeten the pot by working on the problems that they enjoy the most. But a small gain on your strong suit can only help your score so much – and schools are interested in a balanced applicant, so going from a 48 quant score to a 49 won’t help your admissions chances much if your verbal score is still below average. Make sure to take your medicine and eat your vegetables, so to speak; if you’re going to study, put that time toward the parts of the test that will increase your score the most…and that’s going to be your weakness.
10. … But don’t ignore your strengths
At the same time, you should spend at least 20% of your time keeping your stronger skills fresh. It’s not at all uncommon for engineers to score higher on verbal than quant and for poets to score higher on quant than verbal, often to their dismay as they can’t believe that they underperformed on their strength. Don’t let those hard-earned skills atrophy and don’t take your initial practice test prowess for granted. Devote a little bit of time each week to staying fresh overall so that your gains on your weak areas are balanced with strong performances overall.
Effective GMAT preparation is rewarding in so many ways. Achieving the best GMAT score you possibly can affects your chances of admission, scholarship awards, skills for graduate school and management career success. It is worth the effort.
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This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2016-2017 annual Access MBA Guide. The digital guide file will soon be available for download. In the meantime, you may download our 2015-2016 Guide here