While prepping is obviously first and foremost, I discovered that there were other factors heavily weighing on my score. I would get so anxious that I could not even sleep before the test. I was running out of time in each of the sections and making tons of careless errors while trying to get to each question. I found it hard to concentrate, and while this is only normal given the rigorous study that this test requires, the fact I have Attention Deficit Disorder didn't help much. My practice tests were consistently 690+, by my actual test scores would drop by up to 100 points. I ended up retaking the test a few times (not proud of it) before I scored a 730 (46 Q, 44 V). This post is meant to provide you with ten easy and effective tools to overcome Anxiety, Timing issues and Concentration problems (including ADD). See bullets 1-5 for tips on Overcoming Test Anxiety, Time Management see bullets 6-7, Focussing & ADD bullets 8&9, and see a bit on Prepping, bullet 10. I colored a few bullets in green to highlight the tips that I find most useful.
Overcoming stress: 1. If you are a retaker, take 5 minutes to rethink your GMAT experience and what went wrong.
I know this exercise sounds abstract, but its effectiveness may surprise you. For me, I learned I needed to keep a positive attitude through the test. I realized that as challenging quant questions came up, I would assume I was doing poorly, and would dive into a sea of negative thoughts. Ironically, my quant scores were good, but verbal scores were terrible. I concluded that stressing out during the quant time would only exhaust me, and I'd be too tired to do well in verbal. Because the verbal weights so heavily, my overall score would go down. Once I realized getting challenging questions in the exam actually meant things were going well, I stopped stressing out in the middle of the test. You probably know what went wrong in the exam. Take account of it.
2. Consider Limiting your Studying (or maybe not studying) a couple of Weeks Before the test
This is probably the number 1 reason I did so well the last time I tested. I was told not to study beyond 2 hours a day the week before the exam. Seems that this was still too much for me since it contributed to my stress level and also exhausted me. I finally recognized I had prepped enough and decided to take a vacation and went to the beach the week before the test. I felt refreshed and was able to sleep well. Not surprisingly, my performance was at its best. I took the test two days after I got back and scored a 730. 3. Keep it to yourself
I decided not to order score reports until I saw my score result. I also didn't even tell friends I was retaking the test, that way I would not have to talk about it if things went wrong. This helped me keep cool through the test. It's funny how little things like this make such a difference with stress. The only caveat was that I paid extra to get the score to schools after the test. 4. Schedule your Exam at the Time of the Day your Perform the Best.
I know I perform better in the afternoon, but didn't know how much this really impacted me. I took my practice tests early in the morning (9 am or so) and would schedule my real exams for early in the morning also. I finally took a few practice tests in the afternoon and saw my scores increase, so I scheduled my last exam in the afternoon. 5. Research your Test Center and Prep the Staff.
I had a horrible experience at the Vienna, VA center. Employees didn't notice when I raised my hand to go to break, the pens they gave me didn’t work, and the story goes on. I took the test in a foreign country once (OK - took the test 5 times and not proud), and tested next to some toilets in a basement. I could smell the toilets the entire time and regretted not asking the staff to give me a different desk in their upper level. Do some research on the centers around you and pick accordingly. If you don't have options to pick centers, go to visit the center before hand and see if you can at least get a good seat or a day of the week that is quiet. Test your pens when you get them. Ask the staff to help you get into your breaks and back quickly. I had good experiences with the Alexandria and Bethesda centers in the DC area.
6. Make Wise Time Investment Choices
. You can (and should) skip/guess up to 5 challenging questions in each section (q & v). If you are having trouble with a question during the test, chances are you'll get it wrong anyway. This is generally true and If you are able to see how long you took per question in your practice tests, you'll probably notice that you got wrong most of the questions that took you over 2 minutes to answer. Skipping a few hard questions gives you time to solve questions you actually will get right. As you know, the GMAT penalizes you more if you get easy questions wrong, so you don’t want to invest time on hard questions you’ll get wrong anyway.
7. Master Quant and Verbal Timing Strategies that Work for You.
For verbal, I found the Manhattan GMAT
timing strategy useful (free online). The rest of this bullet will explain a quant timing strategy I found super helpful. You'll need a yellow plastic practice notepad; similar to the one you get during the exam. If you don't have one, use nine pages of regular paper. Split the first page into 5 even spaces. Split each of the remaining eight pages into four even spaces in which you will solve the quant questions. Number each space in the nine pages from 1-37 (number of quant problems in a test). 1-5 goes into page 1, 6-9 into page 2, etc. At the bottom of each page, write down your timing benchmarks. At the bottom of the first page note 64, meaning that when you have 64 minutes remaining for the want section, you need to be flipping your page and moving on to question 6, page 2. This gives you two minutes per each of the first five questions and an additional minute to prepare your notebook with the markets I'm describing here. Then for each additional page you subtract 8 minutes from your timing benchmark, giving yourself 2 minutes for each quant question. Bottom of the second page, for instance, the benchmark is 56, meaning that when the clock marks 56, you need to flip to the third page, question 10. This method works, but you are diligent with the benchmark and if you practice using it before the test. During the exam, you have a minute to read the test instructions prior to quant section.
Double-Checked Your Work After Every Problem. You can't afford not to
The test is so long it is hard to focus deeply, so making careless errors is easy. Sadly, careless errors will get you to get 300 and 400 level questions wrong, and getting 300 and 400 questions wrong will heavily impact your score. Make sure to review your verbal choices as well. In sentence correction, take time to re-read sentences with your choice of answer. In my case, reviewing my verbal answer choices in my last exam helped me score a 98 percentile in the verbal, which was a huge jump from my prior tests. I was probably making careless errors in verbal all along, but never made the time to double check answers as I was trying too hard to answer every single question instead of skipping 5 hard questions. Also, if you are making careless errors like 2*2=6, review your multiplication tables. I know this is silly, but memorizing the tables until you are tired of them may help avoid these obvious errors.
9. Dealing with ADD: There are several levels of ADD and ADHD. I am sharing my experience as someone who is normally able to cope with the ADD enough to get by with activities and responsibilities. I believe there are many of us out there. The GMAT is a different beast. To those readers who, like me, have ADD,
trust and know you can reach your target score if you prep, and dealing with the ADD strategically is part of prepping to reach these targets.
First, Keep the Zen State of Mind during the test. When an unrelated thought entered my mind in the middle of the exam, I would cut it off immediately and think: "I will deal with this after the test." Then, I focussed back in the test. This probably sounds obvious for some, but for me was a whole new skill. Similarly, when I got anxious during the test, I would stop for a moment to calm down, took a deep breath, relaxed and even prayed. While this took a few seconds, it enabled me to avoid the panic and keep focussed. Second, ADD folks may take longer to get through the GMAT study period. Plan to get over the GMAT as early as possible prior to applying to schools and expect to invest ample time to study. If you can
, get done with it a year before applying to schools. Think about it - you'll have time to focus on your applications, essays, visiting schools and actually applying first round. Third, make a study schedule. The GMAT requires a lot of prepping, and If you are the type that can't sit still for 3 hours, you won't prep well. It really helped me to break my study in smaller sessions: one hour before work, 30 minutes during lunch, and 1-2 hours after work daily. I did study 3+ hours daily. Since I was busy at work also, I had to give up my social life. Fourth, if you can't keep focussed for 3 hours straight, you gotta work on building stamina. Take practice exams every couple of weeks in actual/real exam conditions so that you can build the attention span needed. Do try to study for a couple of hours straight. Don't take any practice exam at least 8 days before the test. Finally, be healthy, take vitamins (e.g. B complex, fish oil), exercise, sleep, get a massage, whatever you need to do to be at your best. Actually, if I had to do it again, I would consider going on medication.
10. Tricked myself into enjoying the GMAT study period. I made it a challenge, an opportunity to learn something, get smarter and improve my grammar. I saw the GMAT questions as a game. This is obviously hard to do since the GMAT is nowhere close to fun, but having a positive attitude helped lessen the pain. I did take a class (Manhattan GMAT
), which was good for me, and then self-studied for a few months afterwards, though some people only need a couple of weeks after the class. I realize many people won't take classes, so I wanted to share a few things that helped me prep, not without recognizing a lot of the concepts I shared here are from the Manhattan GMAT
. Getting a solid handle on the quant and verbal subjects the GMAT tests (geometry, number properties, probability) was a must. Make it impossible for you to get 300-400 level question wrong. Also, know that without knowing the foundations of the math and English tested on the GMAT, you won't get hard questions right, since these question types typically test a few basic concepts combined. I used my class prep books to review the basic concepts, though there is probably plenty of other literature out there. There are free online Manhattan GMAT
practice tests that give a thorough report of what types of questions you get wrong or took too long to answer (e.g. Number properties, parallelism, etc.). I used the data to address my weaknesses by doing all relevant problems in the Official Guidebook (fat ugly book) . On the back of the Manhattan GMAT books
(and probably also somewhere online), there is a reference of Official Guidebook problem numbers by category/subject area. I would do all Official Guidebook problems in the areas I was having problems with. After I got a solid foundation in all areas, completed most of the remaining problems in the ugly fat book, and did absolutely every problem on the blue and green quant and verbal books (thin books).
What mattered most wasn’t the number of problems I did, but the quality of time I spent with each of them.
I revisited problems I got wrong and made sure I could master them. When I reviewed a problem, I tried to find more than one way to solve it. My instructors told me I should invest 2 minutes to solve a problem and twice as much (at least) to revisit a problem. I stayed with a problem until I understood it, and went to the GMAT club and similar sites to find responses when I didn’t understand a solution.
I had a hard time with the GMAT. I regret the many times I cried and temporarily gave up and became distracted, as it was only a waste of time and energy. Don't give up! The race does not go to the swift, but to the one who makes a plan, puts it in action and perseveres.
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