According to the GMAC, the organization that administers the GMAT, the test is highly correlated to success in business school. Why would this be the case? Obviously, business school is going to involve little if any geometry. Timed meticulous editing of poorly-crafted run-on sentences is unlikely to come up on final exams. Obsessing over data sufficiency of positives and negatives (can it be zero?) will end on test day. The reason that these things are good predictors of success is because the qualities necessary to thrive on the test have very little to do with rote memorization of algebraic formulas but everything to do with problem solving, cumulative preparation, and peak performance. All three of these are necessary skills for success in business school.
Don’t be intimidated by the Quant
If you grew up in the United States, you very likely learned everything you need to know to dominate the quantitative reasoning section in high school, maybe even in middle school. Without presuming to have knowledge of every education system in the world, but knowing where the US ranks globally in mathematics, I think it’s beyond likely that many of you who did not grow up in the US also mastered these skills at a young age. The difficulty is in dusting off these skills. The risk is that you open the book, see basic algebra or geometry, and your instincts tell you that this is going to be prohibitively challenging - that you’re a fish out of water.
As you go about this process, continually remind yourself that this is not hard. Yes, it will take some work to re-memorize the basic formulas involved (a2 + b2 = c2). After that, you will need to incorporate this memorization-based knowledge into working knowledge (check out the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy for a more in-depth look at this process). If you do these two steps in order, though, all that’s left is creative problem solving. The ability to come up with innovative solutions to seemingly-abstract questions is what the GMAT is really trying to test. The good news is that this can actually be really fun! Of course, on some days the process will be more fun, and on some it will be less, but if you generally don’t like creative problem solving, you should probably re-think business school, right?
The Right Preparation
I love to think about the process of learning, whether it’s my own or a student’s. So many of the challenges and pitfalls we face are basic products of human intuition that fail us simply because we don’t address them! Maybe you’re a planner and sticking to a rigid schedule is normally how you operate best. Maybe you’re someone who thrives on deadlines and gets more accomplished with that little adrenaline boost that comes from knowing it’s now-or-never. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to take a hard look at your learning and working styles and come up with a rational strategy for approaching this standardized test.
If you’re a neurotic type, or as we prefer to be called, a planner, then you may just have to let go of some of that rigidity. For a skills-based test such as the GMAT (this also applies to the LSAT, see my post from 10/2/19 for more), it is absolutely critical that you do your studying a little bit at a time. Not a challenge, right? However, it is also essential that you are at your best each and every time you approach a problem. There will be time management issues on this test. No matter how good you are, they will keep making the questions harder until you eventually miss one. There is an art to knowing when to give up and take an educated guess. If you’re studying below your peak cognitive performance, then you will get in the habit of giving up on questions too easily. So, what to do? Make sure that you’re fresh every time you approach the test. Maybe this means doing it in the morning, maybe in the evening. It certainly means skipping that Thursday session after you’ve had a 12-hour day at work. It might even mean studying for an extra hour on Sunday afternoon even after you’ve hit your goal for the day if you’re feeling fresh. Bottom line – check in with yourself and ask if you’re at your best. If yes, continue. If no, STOP! Simple as that.
If you’re a procrastinator, or put more generously, someone who thrives on a deadline, you’re probably going to have to fight your instincts more than the neurotic types. The basics of the test (grammar, logical reasoning, geometry, algebra, etc.) are relatively simple. Learning them is just your first step. You have to take these tools and use them in a very complex problem-solving capacity. It’s a process. You can’t cram for the GMAT any more than you can cram for playing in a baseball game. Learning the rules won’t help. You have to repeat the motion over and over again, with good mechanics and a clear mind.
So - maximize your good reps. This is starting to sound like my last post.
(Bonus points if you caught the eye-rolling meta-ness of those last two sentences together.)
If you’ve done your preparation the right way in the weeks and months leading up to the exam, I’d likely advise you to skip the practice test the day before the exam and go out for ice cream instead. If it really makes you feel better to take that practice test, then go for it, but you won’t be learning anything the day before the test.
The night before and the day of the test, take good care of yourself. Practice telling yourself how awesome you are and avoid any negative self-talk. Get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, get to the test site at least 15 but no more than 30 minutes early, bring a banana (seriously, the fruit sugar in between the quantitative and verbal sections will help your brain recover), drink plenty of water, have no more than 25% more coffee or tea than you usually do, and trust your preparation. Deal with only the question in front of you and occasionally, not obsessively, check the clock. A few butterflies never hurt anyone. You’re going to nail it.
The GMAT is a test you can prepare for. It is not an intelligence test. With the GMAT, more than with any other standardized test, having a clear and targeted strategy for your preparation will help you get a high score, while also allowing you to juggle your other priorities. If you’re applying to business school, you probably have a lot on your plate, and need your test preparation to be effective and efficient.
You might be wondering why we’re so confident the GMAT can be mastered. The reason is simple: Because question types recur frequently, knowing instantly which methodologies to apply to each type of question dramatically improves scores. In essence, it allows you to know at a glance what the test is looking for. Your success on the GMAT depends on your ability to:
- Master content and recognize question types
- Strategically leverage the best materials for your specific needs
- Adopt a data-driven approach to diagnostic assessment
Our tutors are experts at guiding students through these challenges. We also understand the make-or-break importance of the GMAT and we're dedicated to helping you beat the exam. Before you even meet with your tutor, we assess your strengths and weaknesses on a diagnostic exam. Based on your results, your tutor will construct a customized syllabus in advance of your first session.
Taking the GMAT soon? Check out some of our previous blog posts below!