When taking the GMAT or any other standardized entrance exam, scoring well doesn’t usually reflect how many hours you study, but how you study. Preparing for the exam takes time, but more importantly, it requires strategy.
A Brief Introduction to the GMAT
The GMAT is a standardized exam taken by students pursuing an MBA or other graduate business program. It’s an aptitude test that assesses a candidate’s command of basic math (arithmetic, algebra, and geometry), their ability to think critically, express their ideas through writing, analyze data, use reasoning skills, and draw conclusions from written material. The test consists of the following sections:
- Analytical Writing– One questions, 30 minutes
- Integrated Reasoning– 12 questions, 30 minutes
- Quantitative Reasoning– 31 questions, 62 minutes
- Verbal Reasoning– 36 questions, 35 minutes
Before you start studying for the exam, you should find the GMAT test dates and schedule and sign up. Then, you can start devising your plan to prepare by that date. To use your time most effectively, you may also want to consider the most common mistakes that people make while prepping for the GMAT—that way, you’ll know what pitfalls to avoid:
1. Cramming for the Exam
The GMAT is a long exam that tests cognitive abilities and endurance, not memory or understanding of the materials you studied in undergrad. Due to the nature of the test, cramming a few days before the test won’t do you any good, as it won’t give you enough time to become familiar with the pacing of the test and structure of the questions.
2. Studying Only on the Weekends
The GMAT is an exhaustive process that requires adequate time to gain adequate knowledge for the test and acquire problem-solving skills. You may end up cramming content if you only study on the weekend. If you are on a busy schedule, taking leave can spare you adequate time to study, take practice exams, and review the concepts and questions that give you the most difficulty.
3. Spending Too Much Time Preparing for One Section
While you should certainly focus more on the section or sections that you find most difficult, you still need to spend ample time preparing for every part of the exam. To ensure you don’t gloss over a section, create an organized study plan with designated hours to review and answer practice questions for each part of the exam. While you may find it laborious, be sure to include the writing portion of the exam when you take complete practice tests.
4. Only Reviewing Incorrect Answers
Often, practicing test takers review incorrect answers in an attempt to find the right ones and learn from their mistakes. While this is a useful strategy, you shouldn’t overlook the questions you answered correctly. Reviewing the answers you got right will reinforce the strategy you used to answer the questions, so you’ll know exactly how to tackle similar questions on the actual exam.
5. Overlooking the Test of Endurance
As previously mentioned, the GMAT is a long exam, taking a total of three hours and seven minutes plus two optional eight-minute breaks. As much as the exam assesses your reasoning abilities, it tests your ability to stay focused and endure through each section.
To properly prepare, you have to simulate the pressure of taking the exam. This entails taking full-length practice tests with only the allotted breaks and the materials you’re allowed to have on you at the test center. (You can use a physical whiteboard or online whiteboard, and can use a calculator for the Integrated Reasoning section.)
With knowledge of these common mistakes, it’s time to get started on your own test-prep journey. Remember, preparing for the GMAT is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself ample time to prepare, and pause frequently to assess your strengths and weaknesses and where you need to spend extra time.
Finally, on the days leading up to the exam, remember to relax. That way, you’ll go into the exam with a clear mind and confidence.