Ten Critical Factors That Can Help You Beat The GMAT (Or Any Standardized Test)
10. Develop a SMART Goal
Before you even start to study you need to set a goal. This goal should not be something vague such as I want to give the GMAT as soon as possible and do as well as I can. It should follow the SMART principle making it:
E.g. For someone starting to study today, your goal might be something like:
I want to get 720 or higher with at least 80% percentile in both Verbal and Quant and give my exam by no later than May 30th.
9. Be Flexible
It is very important to be flexible and adaptive just like the exam. Don’t schedule your exam until you know you’re at a point where you’re confident you’ll be able to achieve your target score 2-3 weeks out. When you take the exam is critical. I think everyone has a critical peak point they need to exploit. The critical point is when you’re performing at your best but continued studying is going to start getting draining and you’re really ready to kill the beast and be done with this phase of the grad school process.
Everyone is going to have a different way of studying. But despite many people saying it is important to chalk out your plan and timetable for the duration of your study, my advice to anyone would be to have no plan apart from a general outline. You have your goal and you know you’re going to achieve it and you need to be able to be flexible if you want to reach it. During my study, I would plan out what I want to achieve the next day or when I want to take my next CAT but apart from that I didn’t stick to a plan. There are two important reasons why this was helpful to me. One, you need to keep working on your weak areas and as you continue studying you’re going to get a better understanding of where you need more practice, what you need to improve on. If you do a CAT and were able to somehow solve that absolute value problem but weren’t really sure how you did it or want to get a better understanding of the concept then spend a few hours online googling absolute value properties and practice problems. If you’re browsing online and hear about a great resource that’s helped a lot of people then go get it and go through it over the weekend. Secondly, not having a set plan lets you keep things interesting and not get into a boring pattern. You might wake up one morning and say I can’t bear to read another RC passage today. Don’t force yourself through them because your schedule has you working on them today. Leave the RCs for a couple of days and work on your quant. On another day you might really feel like doing some RC and go all out on them. They’re not half as bad if you like learning about how volcanoes work or if you enjoy history and learning about 18th century rural America. I think I’m actually going to miss them!
Know Your Opponent.
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."
Your enemy is the GMAT algorithm. You need to know how it works and you need to know its weaknesses. Its biggest weakness is that it knows nothing about you when you enter the exam room. By then you know a lot more about the CAT and you need to take advantage of this. The CAT doesn’t know if you’re weak in geometry or number properties or anything else. This realization really helped me on the exam. If I didn’t know how to solve a problem and I had spent more than a minute on the question, I simply guessed and moved on. That way I knew that I would be able to spend more time on the questions that were a little tougher but I knew I could solve. You have to understand that the CAT is going to keep throwing tougher questions at you and unless you are aiming for 800 you don’t need to get every question right to get your target score. As soon as you recognize questions above your level, you need to make the best guess possible and move on. You might be stronger in number properties than in geometry. But the CAT doesn’t know that. It might throw you a hard geometry question that you get wrong and then a hard number properties question that you get right and it will balance them out. I took a wild guess on at least 4-5 questions on the exam and still got 50 on the quant.
7. Think of the Bigger Picture and Be Inspired
There will be many times during your study where you really have no motivation to go on. But if you want to achieve your goal, you need to find a source of inspiration to keep you going. Browsing the website of your dream school or your dream job always helps. Remember that the GMAT is only a means to an end and not an end in itself. When it comes time to apply to grad schools you want to make the GMAT a non-factor. You want to be able to say that if I didn’t get in to the school of my choice the GMAT definitely wasn’t the reason. And most importantly, picture not doing well and having to go through the ordeal once more. There’s no better motivation than knowing that you want to be done on the first try and not extend it any further. Don’t be afraid to take time out and not study for some time to recharge and get refreshed.
Remember, good luck is when preparation meets opportunity. When people wish you good luck for your exam, the goodness of your luck is going to be proportional to your preparation.
6. Optimize Your Performance
The studies are out there. You might see a RC passage on it. But everyone knows certain key things are good for your brain, including diet and exercise. If you never paid attention to either, start now. It can only help.
Check out this two minute drill you can do every morning - http://www.sheknows.com/articles/808122 ... in-minutes
If you’re not sold on the virtues of exercise check out: http://www.brainrules.net/exercise
If you were not previously active, it’s not too late. Even a week of increased activity will stimulate your brain and body and make you better ready for D-Day.
For the day before and day of the exam, you should chalk out your diet. Know what you want to eat and what is going to be best for you. I would suggest getting lots of proteins because that’s what my research showed up as the best food for exams but whatever works for you is what you should go with. Its as much psychological as it is physical. I had almonds, orange juice and two hard boiled eggs on the morning of my exam. Then I had a cup of coffee on my drive to the exam and kept the remaining coffee, a bottle of diet coke, a bottle of water and a snickers bar in my locker for the breaks.
5. Don’t Believe Everything You Read/See
With the internet, there’s no shortage of advice, tips, best practices, and information on the GMAT. Although there is a lot of wonderful information out there, you need to sift through everything with an open mind and take what works best for you. Every online forum has heaps of tough problems that will make you sweat and worry you silly making you believe you’re not ready for the test. I wasn’t able to solve the challenge problem of the week on the week of my test. I still managed to get a fairly decent score. The only way to know how well your doing is by monitoring your progress on practice CATs. Don’t worry if you can’t solve half the tougher problems floating around on the internet. Manhattan’s “GMAT Uncovered” suggests not taking a practice test within 3 days of the real exam. I absolutely didn’t agree with that. I wanted to peak at my exam and feel like the 4 hour ordeal was a routine by the time I got to the real thing. I did one and a half exams the day before my actual test but didn’t do anything on the evening before or the morning of. Everyone works differently. Just make sure to have the right balance of being refreshed but having the concepts at the tip of your neurons when you sit for the actual thing. If I didn’t do a practice test for 3 days I’d already start losing my edge. Bottom line, you know yourself best and only you can decide what will work best for you.
Not enough can be said about practice. Both quantity and quality are equally important. Practice is the only way to improve your skills. Also after a couple of weeks, start timing yourself on all problems and review questions that take more than two minutes. Spending more than two minutes on a question is as good as getting it wrong. I used a great online stopwatch that lets you time each question you solve (http://tools.arantius.com/stopwatch
) and it greatly helped me in getting in to the habit of not only solving problems but solving them in less than 2 minutes. As you continue practicing you want to be able to solve easier questions in less than a minute which will be a good indicator of your improvement in speed.
Do as many CATs as you can. I did around a dozen in 6-7 weeks as follows:
(2/23/10) MGMAT I-------------- 710 (Q48 V38)
(Unkown) 800Score I----------- 650 (Q44 V37)
(2/28/10) MGMAT II------------- 700 (Q47 V39)
(Not CAT)--- 660 (Q46 V41)
(Unkown) GMAT Prep I--------- 750
(Unkown) 800Sore II----------- 700 (Q42 V44) Q - Overtime
(3/14/10) MGMAT III ------------ 740 (Q47 V45) Q - Overtime
(Unkown) 800Sore III ---------- 700 (Q45 V41)
(3/18/10) MGMAT IV ------------ Quit halfway through Q - couldn't solve many problems
(3/22/10) MGMAT V ------------ 740 (Q51 V40) Q - Overtime
(3/27/10) GMAT Prep II -------- 770
(3/28/10) MGMAT VI ----------- 770 (Q50 V45)
(3/29/10) GMAT Prep II -------- 770
(3/30/10) First GMAT Appt ----- Missed appointment because I did not have my passport on me
I -------------- 720 (Q46 V50)
II ------------- N/A (Q55)
(4/02/10) Actual GMAT --------- 750 (Q50 V41)
The GMAT Club Practice Sets (http://gmatclub.com/blog/gmat-tests/
) are another good resource at doing timed practice sets. I’ve included my scores below for comparison to how they compare to the actual test. GMAT Club Tests
3/16/2010 M25 30/37 84%
3/17/2010 M01 31/37 82%
3/17/2010 M02 34/37 93%
3/21/2010 M03 30/37 68%
3/22/2010 M04 32/37 86%
Outside of the OG (all 3 books) I used the following: MGMAT Sentence Correction
Good overview and widely accepted as the best resource on the subject. It had some good points I was able to use but all in all nothing you won’t learn from just practicing and studying the OG answer explanations. It kind of just summarizes everything in one spot. At least for me, I couldn’t get much out of the book because there weren’t any practice sets to drive home the rules in the book. I learn by doing more and reading grammar rules didn’t help as much as they would if I could have practiced specific problems. MGMAT Geometry
Big disappointment. I got the book once I realized I wasn’t able to solve the tougher geometry problems and this book didn’t help at all. The book covers the basic rules and principles and provides nothing that you can’t find on google. Not worth it for people targeting 700+ scores. MGMAT Number Properties
and MGMAT Word Translations
These two books were the most helpful out of any I used. Great resources for any score level. I think the concepts in here are essential to learn to get greater than 80% in Quant. There are some overly complicated applications of the concepts in these areas on the BTG forum but if you know the concepts in these books inside out, you’ll be able to solve up to the 750 level questions. I would blindly recommend these two books to anyone. PowerScore CR
A great resource for anyone who wants to truly get good at CR questions. Unfortunately I got this book only late in my study after I could no longer ignore the heaps of accolade it received from past test takers. Get this book early and spend a day or two to go through it. It really breaks down the CR question type and will give you great tools in solving tougher questions. I wish I could have spent more time practicing the concepts. Kaplan Premiere
Got the book just to use the CATs so can’t comment on the book but definitely worth getting for the CATs.
3. Prepare for D-Day
Be prepared for the day of the exam. Try to simulate exam conditions in your second gmat prep CAT and in a few others. I initially drank coffee during my CATs but towards the end I made sure to follow the exam conditions and not drink or eat anything during the practice test. I also went to the office to do the tests on weekends so that I could be in a non home setting. Make sure to do the essays as well so that you build endurance. About a week prior to the exam start getting in to a routine that optimizes your condition during the day of the time you are going to be taking the test. If your exam is early morning, get in the habit of waking up early.
When the actual test day came, I just told myself I was heading to the office for another round of CAT practice. By then the process had become so routine that it really was easy to make me feel like I was just heading out for another practice round. It definitely helped to calm the nerves, which brings me to the next point.
2. Be Calm
I took two Kaplan
CATs before my exam and on the first I got 46 on the Quant. My goal was to make sure I get the exam done in time and I rushed each question trying to work as fast as I could. I was hyper and really worked up and ended up making a lot of careless mistakes. As a result I ended up getting a lot of questions wrong that I should have got right. I decided on my next CAT I wasn’t going to worry about time, stick to the 2 minute rule (bendable only when I know I’m on the right path and close to solving a problem), and not try to rush through the questions. I got a 55! And I took the two exams on back to back days so I did not learn a single new thing between the two exams. Except that I was making too many careless mistakes by rushing things.
THIS IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST FACTOR TO YOUR SUCCESS!!!
Not enough can be said about the fatigue factor.
I’ve taken the GRE in the past and bombed the Verbal section because I was simply exhausted by the time I got to it. Luckily I didn’t have the same problem on the GMAT.
The best way to build endurance is to do a lot of practice sets. Do back to back quant tests. Do one and a half CATs in a day. Maybe two. Build your endurance just like your training for a marathon. Being alert and sharp during the verbal section will be critical and you need to be able to go the whole stretch.
Good Luck with your studying!
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