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What to do for the last 14 days before the real test

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What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 20 Sep 2011, 10:11
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Hi, all

Caitlin asked me to share a 2-part article series with you on what to do for the last 2 weeks of your study. I guess a lot of people have been asking for advice in this area.

The main thing to note is that there is a MAJOR focus shift during the last (approximately) 2 weeks of study. Up until that time, you are trying to get better - you're trying to raise your score. When your score gets to the level that you want, you spend the last 2 weeks solidifying your current level - you're no longer trying to raise your score, you're just making sure that you can actually hit your current level on test day. (Note: 2 weeks is approximate - one person might spend 2.5 weeks and another might spend only 10 days. That's okay.)

There are two main components to achieve this: developing your game plan and reviewing - and we have an article on each. I'll post both articles in this thread as separate posts. This is not meant to be the only way to think about this; in fact, what I'd really like is to get a good discussion going about what everyone has tried, what has and hasn't worked for people, etc.

Okay, the two articles are coming up!
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Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 20 Sep 2011, 10:18
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The Last 14 Days: Building Your Game Plan
by Stacey Koprince
copyright 2011 ManhattanGMAT; permission required to reproduce
originally published: http://www.manhattangmat.com/blog/index ... game-plan/

What’s the optimal way to spend your last 14 days before the real test? There are two levels to this discussion: what and how to review, and building a game plan. We’ll discuss the latter topic in this article.

What is a Game Plan?
In the last two weeks before your test, your focus needs to shift from trying to learn new things to acknowledging that your skills are what they are. They’re not going to change an enormous amount in the last two weeks; you can tweak some things, but now is not the time to change major strategies across an entire question type. Further, it would be a mistake to spend your last two weeks entirely focused on your weaknesses; if you do that, then you won’t be prepared to excel on your strengths.

Your Game Plan will help you to make certain decisions quickly during the test. When is it a good idea to spend an extra 20 or 30 seconds on a problem? When should you decide to make an educated guess? When should you cut yourself off completely, guess immediately, and move on? What should you do if you find yourself ahead or behind on your timing? (We’ll discuss the answers to these questions later in the article.)

Your Game Plan will also help you to prioritize your review based upon your strengths and weaknesses. You’re going to review your major strategies in all areas, the major content you need to know (don’t try to cram everything into your brain; review the stuff that shows up the most!), your pacing, your educated guessing strategies, and so on. As you do that, the data you gather will help you to tweak your game plan further.

Building Your Game Plan
First, the Game Plan is a dynamic thing. You perfect it a little bit more every few days as you gather more data and continue to review.

What Does My Gut Say?
First, make a list of your major strengths and weaknesses. Start with the five question types, but also drill down further into specific content areas (quant, SC) and question sub-types (CR, RC). Consider both accuracy and timing when assessing your strengths and weaknesses; the two factors are equally important.

What Does The Data Say?
We can’t rely only on our gut feelings to know our strengths and weaknesses. Our gut is often right, but it is sometimes wrong – more often than most people realize. It’s also important to check your data.

You can use this article to analyze your last practice test: http://www.manhattangmat.com/blog/index ... ice-tests/

If you have been tracking your accuracy and timing on OG problems, also examine that data. Split individual question types (DS, PS, CR, RC, SC) into three broad groups: the first third in that section in the book (the easier questions), the middle third (the medium questions), and the final third (the harder questions). This will give you an idea of how your performance is changing as the questions get harder. (If you are a ManhattanGMAT student, you can use our OG Archer program; it will then automatically calculate a bunch of data for you.)

Note: if you’re early in the whole study process right now, I highly recommend tracking your work on the OG problems. Create a simple spreadsheet and keep track of the specific source (book), question number, time spent the first time you did it, and whether you got it right or wrong. You can also add notes about what you want to learn, memorize, review, or do, based upon each problem. (Or you can use our version of an OG tracker: http://www.manhattangmat.com/ogc-plus.cfm)

How to Use Your Game Plan
Generally, choose to spend an extra 20 to 30 seconds on a problem that is a strength for you, and only then when you believe you know what to do but the problem is a bit harder and will take a little more time. Also, note that I said “20 to 30 seconds” above. Even if something is a strength, spending an extra minute or more pretty much guarantees at least one other question wrong on the test due to rushing, careless mistakes, or running out of time at the end.

Do not spend extra time on weaknesses (you can spend normal time, just not extra time). That may sound like common sense, but when we’re in the middle of the test, we’re often reluctant to let go of our weaker problems. If you know what your weaknesses are, you can let those problems go more easily – after all, you know it’s a weakness so you know there’s less chance you’re going to get it right. Get it wrong before you lose any time so that you don’t make the situation even harder for yourself.

If you suddenly realize that you have been on one problem for an awfully long time – you’re not even sure how long – stop yourself immediately, guess, and move on. Suppress the urge to think that you can get it right if you just spend a little more time. This is especially true if you are already behind on time.

If you realize that you are ahead or behind on timing at any point during the test, take steps to correct the situation right away. Do not think that the problem will fix itself (it won’t!) and don’t underestimate the dangers of being too far behind or too far ahead. Generally, if you’re within 2 to 3 minutes of your pacing plan, you’re fine. If you are off by more than that, take action.

If you are moving too quickly, make yourself start writing everything down. Take notes. Write down all calculations. Track the answers on your scrap paper. Basically, you need to be more systematic to ensure that you are not losing points to careless errors due to speed.

If you are moving too slowly, use your Game Plan. As soon as you see a problem that’s an area of weakness for you, guess something and move on. Sacrifice that problem to gain a significant amount of time back. If that’s not enough to catch you up, do it again the next time you see a “weakness” problem.

How To Practice Your Game Plan
About 10 to 14 days before the test (ideally closer to 14), review your Game Plan and take a practice test under official conditions, including the essays, the lengths of the breaks, and so on. Practice implementing your Game Plan during that test. Then review the test with an eye toward improving your Game Plan. Where did you make good decisions about how to spend your time or how to handle a certain problem? Where did you make poor decisions? What should you have done instead? How are you going to make sure that you make the right decision next time? Figure out ahead of time how you’re going to handle different kinds of situations. Then, on the test, you don’t have to think about what to do; you can just react.

Spend the next 5 to 7 days practicing and refining your Game Plan on shorter sets of questions. Intersperse this with your general review of content, question types, and so on. Then, about 5 to 7 days before the test (ideally closer to 7), take another practice test under official conditions. Practice implementing your Game Plan again, then go through your analysis, and refine further.

Finally, implement your Game Plan on test day!

Take-Aways
1) Change your focus during the final two weeks of study: away from learning new stuff, and toward reviewing material and developing your Game Plan.
2) Practice and refine your Game Plan over the last two weeks.
3) Use your Game Plan on test day!

Last edited by StaceyKoprince on 21 Oct 2011, 05:01, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 20 Sep 2011, 10:22
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The Last 14 Days: How to Review
by Stacey Koprince
copyright 2011 ManhattanGMAT; permission required to reproduce
originally published: http://www.manhattangmat.com/blog/index ... to-review/

What’s the optimal way to spend your last 14 days before the real test? In this article, we’re going to discuss the second half of this process: how to review.

What to Review
Part of the game planning process is determining your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll then need to consider your list of strengths and weaknesses from the point of view of exam frequency. Struggling with probabilities or “analyze the argument” Critical Reasoning questions? Neither are that common; drop them from your list. Struggling with basic and exponential equations or inference Reading Comprehension questions? Those are common, so you do want to review those.

If you’re not sure how frequently a particular type of content or question is, ask on the forums. (I’m not providing a list in this article because these frequencies can change over time; I don’t want someone reading this a year from now to be misled when things do change.)

How to Review
How you review is going to vary somewhat depending upon whether you’re reviewing a strength or a weakness. You do NOT want to do the same kind of review for everything. Also note that, when I discuss “lower-level” and “higher-level” questions below, you will not actually know the question ratings while taking the test. For your purposes, “lower-level” means “I can do this / I find this pretty straightforward” and “higher-level” means “I find this hard.”

Weaknesses
For your weaknesses, your goals are to answer lower-level questions correctly in roughly* the expected time and to make a reasonable educated guess on higher-level questions in no more than the expected time. Review the basic content and techniques for answering questions of that type; don’t worry about more advanced material. Know what you can do and what you cannot do; know how to tell within 30 to 45 seconds whether you need to make an educated guess on this one. Then, review how to make educated guesses on problems of that type. (Note: an educated guess is just a fancy way of saying “identify and cross off at least one wrong answer before you guess.”)

* “Roughly” means within 20 to 30 seconds of the average time you are supposed to spend on questions of that type. Don’t rush so much that you take 45 seconds less than you’re supposed to and then make a careless mistake. Also don’t take 45 seconds longer than you’re supposed to take. If it’s going to take you that long just to have a chance on something that’s already a weakness, it’s better to make a guess now and use that time elsewhere.

Give yourself permission to dump any of these questions when necessary, especially if you are already behind on time (the Game Plan part of the article talks more about this). Most important of all, do not lose time on questions that are in an area of weakness for you. You can still spend the normal time, but do not spend extra time on these questions.

Strengths
For your strengths, your goals are to answer lower-level questions correctly in less than the expected time and to have a good shot at higher-level questions in roughly the expected time.

For the lower-level ones, you need to study how to be more efficient with the questions you can already do without much trouble. How can you shave 10, 20, 25 seconds without affecting your accuracy? How will you be able to spot the same shortcuts in future; what are the clues that should make a shortcut or an obvious wrong answer jump out at you?

For the higher-level ones, you need to review the more advanced content and solution techniques to make sure everything is fresh in your mind. Again, know what you can and cannot do; you may receive something that’s too hard for you even in an area of strength. How will you recognize that this one isn’t going to happen in the expected timeframe? How will you make an educated guess?

Pacing Plan
You’ll also need to review your pacing plan. How are you going to check yourself periodically to make sure that you’re on track? What are you going to do if you discover that you’re ahead of time or behind? Some people like to check the clock every 10 or 15 minutes; they know what question they should be on at certain time intervals. Others like to check based upon the problem number; at problem 10, for example, they know how much time they should have left, and at problem 20 and so on. You can use whichever method works best for you, but do have some way of checking to make sure that you’re on time; you need to get into the habit of checking approximately every 8 to 10 questions or every 15 to 20 minutes. Practice your pacing plan during whatever practice tests or practice sets of questions you do during your final two weeks. (You can also check out this article for more pacing ideas: http://www.manhattangmat.com/blog/index ... anagement/ )

What if you’re not on time? If you’re too fast – you’re ahead on time – then you need to be more systematic; you don’t want to make a bunch of careless mistakes due to speed. Make sure you’re writing all of your work down, taking notes, and tracking your answers on your scrap paper. Double check to make sure you’re answering the question that was asked.

If you’re behind on time – you’re too slow – then you’re going to need to sacrifice a question or two to catch back up. You absolutely do not want to speed up on every problem for the next five or ten problems; you’ll just be giving yourself a chance to make careless mistakes on every problem! Instead, the next time you start reading a problem and getting that “Ugh!” feeling, guess. Guess randomly and guess immediately. That will save you a minute to a minute and a half or so, depending upon the type of problem. If you need to do it again, then do it again the very next time you see an annoying problem. In this way, you’ll be selecting the hardest or most annoying problems as you see them (if you’re going to guess on any, it might as well be those!), you’ll be spreading your guesses out, and you won’t put yourself in the position of running out of time with a bunch of questions to go at the end.

Take-Aways
1) Change your focus during the final two weeks of study: away from learning new stuff, and toward reviewing material and developing your Game Plan.
2) Set your goals. For your weaknesses, get the lower-level questions right in normal time, but make educated guesses on the higher-level ones and move on. For your strengths, get the lower-level questions right in less time than normal, and try your best within the expected timeframe to get the higher-level ones right.
3) Have a pacing plan and stick to it. Know exactly what you’re going to do if you find yourself ahead or behind on pacing.
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Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 10 Oct 2011, 06:36
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Stacy,

Could you please write an article on how to achieve your plateau score (max possible score without reinventing the wheel aka doing something that is not possible within a 4-5 months frame).

I am sure the GMAT Student Community would greatly benefit from it.

Thanks
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Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 01 Nov 2011, 05:21
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AbhiJ, that's a great suggestion. I'll add it to my topic list!

gautammalik, I don't have an explicit "30 days" article, no. As a general rule, you are in "improvement" mode until you get to the scoring range that you want, at which point you switch to "solidify" mode (and that's what the last 14 days articles are for). Ideally, you wouldn't even necessarily decide 30 days out that you will be ready to take the test in 30 days (though hopefully you know you're getting close at that point). I know we can't control deadlines and that sort of thing, so you may have to take it in 30 days no matter what, but if you have the flexibility, I wouldn't think about the exact date at this point. Just keep working on getting your score into the range that you want for now.
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Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 07 Nov 2011, 06:03
Hi Stacey,
Recently, I attended a seminar, which was about last 20 days GMAT strategy. People discussed that different plan suits different persons. But, your suggestions are different from that discussion. I am going with your suggestion because it explains well regarding dynamics of GMAT exam. We don't need any static strategy. In my all GMAT exams, I have seen different situations and different way of handling the situations.
Thanks for the articles.
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Test Description_______Date____Total___Quant_____ Verbal
GMAT PREP1_____________________610
GMAX online test 1____29.07.2011__540_____43________19
MGMAT CAT 1_________03.09.2011__580____42________28
MGMAT CAT 2_________02.10.2011__690____48________36
GMAX online test 2_____16.10.2011__640____48________32
MGMAT CAT 3_________23.11.2011__670____47________34
Veritas free CAT______ 31.10.2011___630___ 46________33
MGMAT CAT 4_________06.11.2011__690____48________36
MGMAT CAT 5_________13.11.2011__660____46________34
MGMAT CAT 6_________19.11.2011__680____51________33
GMAT PREP2__________23.11.2011__680
GMAT Exam___________24.11.2011__690____50________34

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Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 15 Jul 2012, 01:48
I really wished i has paid attention to this post!! I would probably avoided a mishap! But, nevertheless, i am not going to forget it now! :) Thanks a ton Stacey!
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Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test [#permalink] New post 01 Apr 2014, 14:07
How about the day before test day? Do you recommend taking any practice test or going through any problems on the day prior? Thanks,
Re: What to do for the last 14 days before the real test   [#permalink] 01 Apr 2014, 14:07
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