Three GMAT Study Tips from a Master

Posted by Weike Wang on 6/10/16 9:30 AM

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The GMAT can be a hard test to conquer.  One of the main reasons for this is that the GMAT math is probably the most challenging out of all the standardized tests. 

Lucky for you, the GMAT test writers are nice.  They provide students with an abundance of materials.  If you don't believe me, go onto the official website and see.  There are official books, supplementary books, questions packs, four different official tests, IR section banks, and more questions packs. 

They really want you, the test taker, to know what's coming!  And that, in my opinion, is the most considerate thing a test maker can do.  Don’t let the plethora of resources intimidate you - it's a good thing! Much better to have more practice than less, though it can seem overwhelming at times. So many questions!  So many chances to get things wrong!  And sometimes it can be discouraging when ten questions in a row don’t go according to plan.  As you begin to study for the GMAT, the task at hand can seem far too overwhelming.  Stick to these three essential tips, though, and you'll get much closer to acing the test!

The Three Essential Tips

1. Do not take the test until you have gone through most (if not all!) of the official materials. 

The best way to prepare for the GMAT, and any other standardized test, is doing the official problems.  When planning out how you will study in the time that you have, go to the official site first and look at what they have. Organize your time that way. 

1-2 Months Before Test Day

If you only have 1-2 months, the official material is the way to go. Don’t bother with other testing company’s materials—you just won’t have the time—and leave the last month for testing. 

2-3 Months Before Test Day

If you have more than 2 months, try to add in a few Manhattan Prep tests. I generally think 3 months is an ideal amount of time to study for the GMAT.  Although this is a mean with a very large confidence intervals.  I have had students study for less than 2 weeks and others take over a year.  (Usually the latter group has strict outside-of-the-test commitments.  A full time job.  A new baby.  A wedding to plan, to attend). 

Test Format Overview

The GMAT tests speed and also aptitude, but I have always found one weird, quirky thing about this test to be how once you select an answer, you cannot go back.

If you have taken a GMAT tests before, you know what I am talking about, if you have not (or are toying with the idea of the GMAT at this time) then this is probably surprising news to you.  So let me say it again:  You cannot go back on the test.  Once you click past a question, you will never see that question again.  What happens is that at the bottom of your screen, there a NEXT button.  Once you click on that, a window will pop up and ask you to CONFIRM your answer.  Once you click CONFIRM, bye bye question.  It has already been scored right or wrong.

A close friend of mine took this test without knowing about this feature.  I am not sure how he didn’t know.  He is a very smart friend of mine and incredibly self-aware of his abilities.  He hadn’t studied for a standardized test since, well, ever, and so he probably didn’t think it was crucial to study for this one.  As you can imagine, he went from question to question, assuming that once he finished the section, he could always go back and check.  At the end, he had lots of time remaining, but once he answered the last question, his score appeared.  He had to retake the test a month later, having studied this time around.

There are two morals to that story.  The first being, when it comes to tests, it is better to go in over-prepared than under. This applies to life as well: it is better to attend your own wedding having rehearsed rather than trying to wing it.  The second moral is that even very smart people can be tripped up by the GMAT.  So well played, game maker, well played, but this brings me to my second tip.  

2. When you practice on paper,  do not go back and check your answers like you would on a normal school test. 

Practice in bursts.  Set aside one hour and in that one hour, do 30 questions.  Treat each question as its own thing and DO NOT go back, look back, change your answer, quibble, stall, write two answers down at the same time and if one of those answer is right, convince yourself that you got the question right.  The last part happens more often than you think.  So even for the problems you do on paper, practice checking your answer as you are answering it.  Practice diligence, focus.  Practice answering a question and then moving on.

3. Do not fear the quant. 

The more you fear it, the less you will want to practice.  The less you practice, the fewer mistakes you will make, and the less you will actually learn.  If you truly want to improve your quant, you must practice, get things wrong, and review those things. Also you must not be afraid to brush up on your fundamentals.  You must not be afraid to talk about your weaknesses. 

Because the GMAT has a challenging quant section, and because B-schools care a little more about the quant section than they do about verbal, many students come to me, first lamenting that they are definitely not, most definitely not, math people.  But they still have to take this test, so what can they do? 

Think this not the best attitude to have.  In America, math and science get such bad rep.  Recently, I was taking a cooking class and we got onto the topic of measuring (as in measuring a cup of flour for the delicious cookie we were about to make).  Suddenly, everyone started sharing stories about how they were bad at math.  There was laughter about this.  We were all in good spirits.  But I was also slightly sad.  Poor math.  So neglected and misunderstood.  In this cooking class, everybody had a measuring cup, so no math was ever really required. 

And Remember...

I want to end with this: many of my GMAT students will come to me embarrassed about how they can't do this or how they can't do that.  For instance, they can’t remember the log of 10.  Ashamed, they ask if it'd be okay to just move on and forget that it had ever happened.  But remember: the only way to improve is to resist the tempatation of sweeping what you don’t know under the rug.  The only way is to chant 1, 1, 1--over and over--until you can remember it.

And if you have a good tutor, she'll be sitting next to you chanting together with you.

Could your GMAT test score use some love? Sign up for a free consultation with one of our GMAT coaches (like Weike!).  They'll assess where you are, where you want to be, and how we can help you get there.

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Read on, GMAT test-taker, read on! We have a treasure trove of GMAT blogging resources below:

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