as i promised, here are some of my gmat tips. you’ll probably see a lot of the same advice elsewhere, that just means you should really follow it if so many people are recommending it.
- START EARLY! seriously. really. truly. your gmat scores last for 5 years, so even if you’re not planning to apply to bschool now, you can use your score later. and this is the ideal situation…you don’t want to be stuck trying to study for the gmat, especially if you need to retake it multiple times to raise your score, while you’re working on the other areas of your applications. i tried to do it last year but my attitude was too laid back since i knew i wouldn’t be applying for another year and i wasted nearly a year that i could’ve spent getting it over and done with. and you should do it while the knowledge from your college classes is still fresh in your mind…the longer you wait, the more likely that you forgot it all. i’m 5 years out from graduating and i never took any math/quant classes in college so it’s been nearly 10 years since i did a math problem.
- JUST DO IT. i think i need that pressure to make myself really study, but if your score is like 50+ points from where you want it to be, you really have to expect to put in your due diligence. i took a veritas prep course, but even then, don’t expect the classes to perform miracles…it’s up to you to put in the time and really study. my scores actually improved the most when i was already done with the class. i admit i could’ve studied a lot more and a lot more effectively; i didn’t even finish all of my books…but it’s probably the most i’ve studied for anything before. i read that the average person who gets into a top school spends about 100 hours each on the gmat and their applications…that’s a lot right? this goes back to my first point…start early! it can be really time intensive.
- STUDY RIGHT. i wish i had studied more effectively; i think given some more time or with better studying habits, i could’ve scored higher but i’d rather focus on the rest of my applications now. learn from my mistakes, kiddies. take a diagnostic test to see what your weak areas are and focus on those. i knew i was weak in quant but never delved deeper than that (geometry, arithmetic, statistics, etc.). you should try to be getting a balanced score and be strong in all areas because you don’t know what types of questions you’ll be seeing come test day. i was too lazy to do this but it seems to be really effective: review the questions you missed and work at them until you really understand the concepts. but don’t just review the ones you missed, make sure to also review the ones you happened to guess right but didn’t really understand, and also the ones you got right so you know why they’re right. see how much time you’re spending to solve each question, if it’s over 2.5 minutes, you don’t know it well enough and need to find a better method. which brings me to my next point…
- BE FLEXIBLE. if you can solve the problem, great! if it’s taking you 5 minutes…that’s bad. you need to figure out if there’s a different strategy you can take to answer the problem faster. the gmac knows that you’re under time pressure, the questions will be hard, but they should still be solvable within 3 minutes.
- PACING. this is so so so so important. i previously blogged about the sunken cost fallacy and even though i realized it that long ago, it was still hard for me to cut my losses and move on. i knew logically that i shouldn’t be spending more than 2 minutes/problem and that it’s unlikely i’ll get the question right if it’s taking over 3 minutes, but it was still hard to do. i don’t think i realized just how important and how much this affected my score until pretty recently. my score was varying wildy with no consistent trends but then i realized when i didn’t finish, my scores were a lot lower than when i did…well duh right? that should be a no brainer. but that’s with me rushing and guessing just so i could finish. that means moving on and guessing serves you much better than trying to get every question right. which brings me on to my next point…
- IT’S OK TO GET SOME WRONG. since it’s a computer adaptive test, you are bound to miss some. remember, the test is scored comparatively on your performance; it’s not as simple as how many you answered correctly, it’s really the level of questions you can answer. embrace this! it should be a lot less pressure knowing that you can miss even as many as 10 questions and still do well. this should give you more incentive to pace yourself and move on when you’re falling behind. not to mention those experimental questions that are sprinkled in; you could be spending 5 precious minutes on a problem and it might not even count towards your score!
- THINK ABOUT THE END GOAL. at the end of it all, it’s not going to matter if you got up to an 800 level if you didn’t finish there. it doesn’t matter if you got the first 40 questions right if you didn’t finish. that should show you how important it is to finish the section. be aware of the time as you’re answering. what’s the point of spending 5 minutes to answer a 700+-level question mid-way when you won’t finish? it matters what level you end on. if you don’t finish, not only will it count all the ones you missed as incorrect, but they’ll penalize you. so in essence: FINISH!!!
- RELAX + BE CONFIDENT. the gmat can be scary. i’ve never ever felt this anxious about a test in my life…not for sat’s, not for any of my finals, never. but i had to remember to stay calm instead of panicking since it made things worse the first time around. and being confident isn’t easy, but it become easier once you see your progress. and if you get a score on a practice cat close to your target score, it becomes much easier. just think, “i did it once, i can do it again.”
so those are my tips and i’m sure you’ve heard this a lot before so really ingrain it in your minds. i had heard it all before too and i wish i had taken it more seriously. now, some of you might be thinking “sure, i know this…but how do i DO this?” excellent question and i’m sorry to say that there isn’t one right answer.
another piece of advice i can offer is: DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. when i scheduled my exam, everyone was saying that 2 pm is the worst exam time and that you should take the first slot at 8 am. i had scheduled mine for noon so i was starting to get worried. but you know what? that was best for me–i am not a morning person at all and i like to sleep in. this reasoning applies not just to test day scheduling, but even to test-taking strategies, methods, and study habits. i’ve read it’s better to study every day for at least 30 min to an hr, instead of cramming 8 hours over the weekend…but you have to see what works for you, your schedule, and your other obligations. when it comes to the overlapping set problem types…you can solve it in a variety of ways: venn diagram, formulas, or as a chart. i struggled with the venn diagram and formula methods but really liked the chart one so i used that one as often as i could.
what type of personality do you have? i think i’m a pretty fast learner but i have terrible self-discipline, which is why i wanted to take a prep course. i thought it’d keep me more accountable for studying. in the end, i found that i still had to really push myself on the own, which was really hard. keep that in mind if you do take a class.
i’m going to do a separate post going over the materials i’ve used and what i recommend.