You’ve been studying religiously for the GMAT, learning all of the content and formulas you need, practicing under timed conditions…and suddenly, your practice test scores went down! How is that possible, you wonder? Is all the work that you’re doing pointless? Are you doomed to stay at this low score level no matter what?
Relax, and know that it is NORMAL for your practice test scores to fluctuate. There are many reasons for this, including:
Learning new approaches can slow you down initially
Any good test prep material will provide you with strategic, methodical approaches to each type of GMAT question. Having a step-by-step approach that you take for every question type ensures that you are never just sitting there on test day, staring blankly at the screen. Learning these methods, though, takes time and practice, and you may even SLOW DOWN for a period as you master the strategic approach. Think about learning how to type properly—at first you may type slower than your own practiced method, but eventually, typing appropriately by touch will be faster than any method you had used.
As part of Kaplan’s GMAT team, I’ve seen first-hand how test prep companies and publishers invest in extensive research and development to ensure that the approach they teach for each question type is the most effective and efficient. And the companies update their materials regularly with the latest research, which Kaplan is doing this month with our new GMAT course. These approaches advocated by test prep companies are PROVEN to be effective, while your own “just-wing-it” approach is not. Keep practicing the proven methods-- just know that it will take some time until you see results.
It’s not test day yet—you’re still learning and improving
Unless your test is tomorrow, you have not completed your course of study yet, and hence there are pieces of the GMAT puzzle that you invariably have not devoted as much time to at this point. Maybe it is work formula questions, drilling on parallelism, learning how to attack permutations …but your practice tests will help you identify those pieces that you still need to work on, ensuring that by test day you’ve done all that you can in practicing each topic and question type of the test.
You can have an “off” day
Did you take the practice test at home? Was the TV on, the phone ringing, dinner cooking? Were you tired, or hungry, or just not focused? Some test-takers find that when they know a test is just practice, they can’t always take it as seriously, and might find their minds wandering during reading passages for example. They will often see an increase between their last practice test score and their real exam, since they are focused and ready on test-day. Other test-takers might find that some days they are less determined and focused due to personal or environmental factors, which might bring down a given day’s practice test score. This also underscores the importance of being well-rested and eating a good breakfast on test day!
Staying positive after practice test score fluctuations
There are always going to be fluctuations in your performance on any given day. Even the real GMAT has a margin of error. And along the way, if you take 6-10 practice tests, which Kaplan and other test prep companies recommend, you are more than likely to see variability as well. The most important thing to do is to remember than no one practice test score is necessarily indicative of your exact score on test day—use the practice tests as a crucial learning tool instead of thinking of them solely as score indicators. After each practice test, set up another study session where you review the exam in its entirety, including all of the explanations. Learning to improve from mistakes that you made under timed, test-like conditions is one of the best things you can do for your real GMAT score.
Stay positive, and keep up the studying!