Beat the GMAT: How to Practice Wisely
If you want to beat the GMAT, the first thing you should prepare to do is set aside a chunk of time for practice. It’s important to remember when doing so that both quality and quantity of practice matter, and you should be measuring each. Don’t plan on taking a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) the night before and performing to the best of your abilities the next day. As one student notes on the GMAT board, “Not enough can be said about practice. Both quantity and quality are equally important. Practice is the only way to improve your skills.” So how do you practice wisely to beat the GMAT? Here are some tips that will hopefully help out.
1. Recreate the exact conditions of the test.
Your GMAT training materials will give you a brief rundown of how the test is administered, so read up on the rules and then set aside a time and a place where you can come as close as possible to taking the GMAT as it will be given on the actual test day. Be rigid with times, don’t use any extra help, and eliminate all distractions to the best of your ability. You may even want to discuss it with family and friends before you sit down to give it a whirl. Turn off your phone (or at least place it on airplane mode so no calls can get through), and hammer it out. With the GMAT, the CAT is one of the primary forms of administration, so make sure that you’re taking them in the simulated conditions. As you take each exam, write down the version and the date of the test you’re taking and then write down your scores at the end. Try to notice up-down trends as you’re scrolling through your scores and then hone in on the ones that are graded lower. Examine what you may have done wrong and then resolve to work extra hard on those particular tests for the future. In a couple of months, you should be able to take about two dozen practice CATs, but even if you can’t fit that many in, do all you can. You will thank yourself on test day.
2. Beyond simulating the test, start taking estimates on how long each question is taking you.
You might start in a non-simulated condition and time how long it takes you to solve each of the question types. Before long, however, you need to graduate to a live practice exam and try to keep tabs on the timer here and there as you move along. You can get a good idea of how long each question takes by looking at the time lapsed and dividing it by the number of questions you’ve answered. That’s the average length of time each question takes to answer. From there, you can use that calculation to figure out the approximate time you have left for each question so that if you get stuck, you don’t spend so much time on it that you fail to answer the rest. This is also a good opportunity for you to take note of specific question types that are taking longer than usual. If any go longer than two minutes, make note of them and use those questions to refocus your studies. If you can handle the brief interlude of stopping the timer to log the question after each one you finish, this online timer can be a great tool. (Again, thanks to GMAT Club for the recommendation.)
3. Game the GMAT Algorithm.
Another great suggestion is to game the GMAT algorithm, taking advantage of the fact that it knows little about you when you go in to take the test. It only knows what you “tell” it with each right and wrong answer, and when it senses blood in the water, it tries to ask you more of the question types that you struggle with. That’s where guessing can actually HELP your cause. For example, let’s say you have questions that take a little longer to figure out, but you are good at working through them. You want to spend as much time as possible on these types of questions that give you the best chance of success. On questions where you have less of an idea, you should take your best guess after struggling with it for a minute or so. If there are 10 of these types of questions throughout the test and you manage to guess at a rate of 50/50, you’re going to avoid getting caught in the algorithm’s trap and keep the test focused on areas more in line with your main competencies.
4. Finally, when practicing for the test, stay focused by working a little at a time.
This is where the Pomodoro Technique can do a lot of good. When taking the GMAT, you are going to run into many complex concepts and questions. Ramming all that into your head through a seemingly endless hourlong study session will only cause your mind to drift off in multiple directions when it should be focused on the material. So when you sit down to study, make sure that you have a timer with you, and that you set it up to run in 25-minute chunks. As long as that timer is working, be focused on the task at hand. When it goes off, get up and move around. If you want to surf the ‘Net, we suggest taking your phone with you and walking while you do it. Movement during the in-between breaks will rejuvenate your brain and prepare it for the next session.
To beat the GMAT, you cannot afford to practice half-heartedly. This test will push you to your limits. While it is not more than you can handle, it does not go easy on you either, and you will need to tap in to your years of schooling to unravel its mysteries. What about you, readers? Have you ever beat the GMAT? If so, we want to hear from you! Sound off with your best tips in the comments section, and we may feature them in a future post.
[Image via AVR Consultants]