GMAT Advice: 14 Most Careless Mistakes, According To The Experts
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer adaptive test that measures a person’s analytical, quantitative, reading, verbal, and writing skills in prep for admittance to a MBA, Master of Finance, Master of Accountancy, or other graduate management program. Even though the test is administered in English, it is available in at least 83 countries with more than 5,400 programs across 1,500 universities and institutions of higher learning. According to Kaplan Test Prep, the GMAT remains the number one choice for aspiring MBA candidates even though the GRE is gaining momentum.
As a computer adaptive test, your correct (and incorrect) responses ultimately gauge where you belong when compared to other candidates. The more questions you answer, the more challenging the next questions become. The more you miss, the lower your final scoring profile will be. It behooves you to study hard and to eliminate careless mistakes. Chances are if you’ve gotten to the point of taking the GMAT, then you know the value of studying, but it’s still possible you’re tripping up in areas that are easy to overcome. To help you realize these careless mistakes before they derail your test scores, we’ve turned to advice from three top experts in the field of GMAT test prep. Here’s what they agree are the 14 Most Careless GMAT Mistakes.
(Come to think of it, many of these could apply to any test, so listen up!)
1. Reading the question only once before trying to answer.
Mahendra Dabral, owner of GMATQuantum, believes that many GMAT test takers fail to read the question carefully, getting so consumed by the timed nature of the test that they neglect to scrutinize the question for what it is truly asking.
“Read the question very carefully and read it several times. On the difficult problems, you will not grasp the entire question on one reading. You may have to read it two or three times, or more. In general, harder questions require several readings,” Dabral said.
GMAT instructor and co-founder of Examify Samudra Neelam Bhuyan agrees, advising to read everything a minimum of two times. “During your ‘time-pressure-less’ practice sessions, read every word twice to see if you have missed anything. Be deliberate and slow, until ‘not missing anything’ becomes a habit to you. Also measure how many times you discover something ‘new’ on the second run. Especially if you are in doubts about two answer options, read both extremely carefully to see what you had missed earlier.”
2. Failure to organize.
Dabral also advises GMAT testers to get (and stay) organized, even for “throwaway” aspects of the exam, such as scratch work.
“Do all of your scratch work in a systematic manner. I do it in a horizontal fashion and draw a line to separate different problems,” Dabral said. “The flow of my work may not be entirely clear to others but it is clear to me, which is what is key as a test taker.”
In other words, don’t worry about whether your scratch work makes sense to anyone else in the world but you. As long as you are using a system that keeps track of your work throughout the exam, you’ll be in a better position to answer some of the tougher questions.
We also recommend that you apply organizational techniques to help you manage your study time and efforts effectively. If you’ve got three months until your exam, have something you can easily point to for each day and say, “I did that, and here’s how it helped.” It’s not enough to do it, though. It’s also important you be able to track it. The GMAT is a multi-faceted exam, and knowing what ground you’ve covered is the best way to determine what (if anything) that you’re missing.
3. Not writing legibly.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but for Dabral it’s something that occurs far too often. Test takers get so rushed and intimidated by the nature of the exam that they actually have trouble reading their own handwriting. This can be especially problematic when one ends up “with an answer that is not in one of the answer choices,” Dabral said. “This often happens when one makes a careless mistake. To spot your mistake it helps if your work is written in a clear and legible manner.”
4. Failure to understand exactly what the question is asking.
As an extension of No. 1 on our list of GMAT careless mistakes, many people take off trying to answer a question before they really know what it’s asking. Dabral recommends that after you reach an answer, you reread the question one more time before finalizing your response.
“Once you have completed the problem, reread the question to make sure you are answering what the question is asking for. For example, if you defined a variable x to solve the problem, check to make sure the question is not asking for the value of x-2,” Dabral said.
5. Not allowing enough time for test preparation.
Swati Gupta, MBA admissions consultant for GyanOne, has worked with more than 100 clients, and believes after speaking to all about their GMAT experiences that not allowing enough time for adequate test prep is one of the most obvious careless mistakes that people make.
“A lot of test takers start preparing for the GMAT with a fixed deadline. They give themselves an arbitrary length of time (like 2 months, or 5 weeks) in which to study the concepts, practice them, and take the exam. The rationale for doing so is often that the person has a limited amount of time due to further commitments after this time period, but I have also seen cases where people decided to take the exam within a month because they ‘just wanted to get it over and done with.'”
Big mistake, Gupta says.
“Viewing the exam as an anathema, and something that must be dealt with and gotten over with is certainly harmful. To be successful on the exam, you need to gauge the right amount of preparation needed to get you your best score. For some people, this time may be as short as two weeks. For others, it may be as long as four to six months. To time your GMAT preparation well, make sure that you are acquainted with what you need to study, your current ability levels in the subject matter, and the target score you are aiming for. Then make a self assessment or ask an experienced friend or coach to help you to determine the right amount of time needed to prepare.”
6. Only studying from one source.
Gupta also encourages one to use multiple sources for study preparation on the GMAT, noting that “There is no shortage of preparatory material to study for the GMAT.”
“The GMAC publishes the Official Guide and supplements to this book for both the verbal and the quantitative sections,” Gupta said. “These are generally considered the basic preparatory materials for all aspiring GMAT takers. However, often enough you will find that you need to go substantially beyond these.”
(We here at 4Tests.com actually have a free GMAT exam that you can start in seconds.)
7. Overlooking weaknesses.
No one ever said studying for an exam is supposed to be fun, but according to Gupta, too many GMAT test takers compensate for the tedium by giving themselves too much of a free pass on areas where they may not perform particularly well.
“The GMAT consists of different sections on Verbal and Quantitative ability,” Gupta explained. “Most test takers are differently skilled on the different sections. Even within a section like Verbal, the ability of a test taker might vary widely between, say, Reading Comprehension and Sentence Correction.”
Gupta warns test takers not to think that they can “make up for their lack of ability on one section by doing better on the other section.”
“This is a critical mistake as doing poorly on one section can harm your score more than doing well on the other section can improve it. As the GMAT is a computer adaptive exam, the sequence and difficulty level of the questions you get also matters, and not just the content on which the question is based. If you get questions from your weak areas at critical positions, your score can take a beating.”
So what’s the best method for preparation? According to Gupta, it is “to identify weak portions beforehand, and rework through the concepts involved along with a generous dose of practice questions. This will ensure that no section on the test is an Achilles heel for you.”
When yours truly was in high school, there were many tests that I aced by studying over review materials 10 minutes before the exam. “Cramming” got to be my nature, and by the time I’d reached upper level courses in college, I thought I was the smartest guy on campus.
Gupta advises that you don’t make the same mistake trying to “cram” for your GMAT exam.
“The GMAT cannot be prepared for with a short burst of dedicated cramming,” he states. “The concepts tested have been built over almost the entire length of your academic life, and can be improved only gradually with dedicated practice. The exam does not test knowledge or rote ability — it tests skill. Make sure that you respect this fact and avoid leaving critical portions to be done at the last moment.”
9. Failure to recreate the test environment in practice situations.
No amount of test preparation is adequate if you’re not taking practice tests in the conditions of the actual exam. Gupta recommends that you become thoroughly familiar with the test mechanics before test day.
“You need to strike a fine balance between accuracy and time management on the exam,” Gupta said. “This will come through knowing how the test works, and practicing according to the same routine. For example, if you are not able to solve mathematics questions of the type appearing on the GMAT in an average of about 2 minutes, you will have time management problems on the quantitative portion of the exam. Make sure you are aware of how the test consumes time, and how you map up to the standards it expects of you. Then practice accordingly.”
10. Moving too fast.
On the subject of time, GMAT instructor Bhuyan provides some insight on how to find that right balance of time and carefulness with our Nos. 10 and 11.
On moving too fast, Bhuyan says, “Slow down.”
“You do need to focus on each and every question. Focus on solving this particular one question that is in front of you right now. Remember, the GMAT rewards continuous correct answers much more than random ones. Later on, once your accuracy is up, you can focus on speeding up. Actually, it will happen naturally.”
11. Losing track of time.
Even though you do have to slow down in the moment, however, Bhuyan clarifies that you should “measure everything” so not to lose track of time.
“When I say slow down, I do not mean ‘don’t measure the time you are taking.’ I mean don’t get obsessed with solving the question within two minutes, or whatever target you set yourself.”
Bhuyan notes that you SHOULD measure the time you are taking for each question, “but don’t put any time-pressure on yourself.”
“Keep a chart of your accuracy, as well as of your time per question,” Bhuyan said. “You should notice an increase in your accuracy and a drop in your time taken to solve the question, over a period.”
(This tip to track your time per question is also further deterrent to the idea that you can cram your way to success.)
12. Practice testing too soon.
In one of the more surprising pieces of advice, Bhuyan also advises you hold off on taking a practice exam until you can bring down your time per question, stating that it’s more important to fix the “stupid mistakes” habit before focusing on the test-taking itself.
13. Forgetting to rest.
Another reason why you shouldn’t cram is that doing so tends to put you in a rush, and it can affect your periods of rest and relaxation, which are of great importance to performance on test day. Bhuyan believes that rest is “very important.”
“If possible, practice when you are absolutely fresh, e.g. in the morning. If you have to practice at the end of the day, then make sure you have taken a shower, had a bath, listened to some music, or whatever it is you do to unwind.”
14. Forgetting to breathe.
Bhuyan’s last piece of advice — similar to No. 13 — has less to do with specific test functions and more to do with personal care. That advice: “Breathe.”
“When you are practicing, after every three or four questions, close your eyes, focus on your breathing and take five deep breaths. Slowly increase this to once every 10 questions. This will help you clear your mind of any thoughts of any previous questions … ESPECIALLY during an exam.”
Seriously, don’t treat this as throwaway advice in the test setting. Controlled breathing has a number of proven health benefits including the release of tension, relaxing the mind and body, relieving pain and emotional problems, and even strengthening the immune system. Perhaps most important for our purposes, though, is the fact that it brings clarity.
As Gupta says, “The GMAT is a tough test. Success … depends not only on working hard, but also on working smart.” We advise you to follow the advice of the above experts and to share what has worked for you.
[Image via Julia0345.typepad.com]