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Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell

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Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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Verbal Experts’ Topic of the Week, August 7-11, 2017:
7 reasons why your practice test scores don’t match your actual GMAT scores


One of the most painful things in the GMAT world is a massive test-day letdown. If you regularly read the Share GMAT Experience section of GMAT Club -- or the epic thread about GMAT section order -- you’ll see tons of anguished posts that share a similar trait: a huge discrepancy between test-takers’ practice test scores and their actual GMAT scores.

In the geeky spirit of GMAT CR, our goal in this article is to help you resolve that discrepancy. So here are seven reasons why your test-day scores might be much lower than your practice test scores:


Reason #1: you’ve been taking inaccurate, non-official tests

Most of you have heard this story before: the GMAT spends somewhere between $1500 and $3000 developing every official test question, and even the best test-prep companies can’t possibly compete with that.

Of course, it’s even harder for test-prep companies to combine those (inevitably somewhat flawed) questions into a realistic practice test. For example, test-prep companies struggle to perfectly mimic the GMAT's use of experimental questions or its exact mix of, say, geometry and probability questions.

To make things worse, if you’ve relied heavily on the materials written by a particular test-prep company, then you’ll probably do disproportionately well on that company’s practice exams. It stands to reason that the methods taught by Company X would be more effective on the questions written by that same company.

Sure, some of the higher-quality “knockoff” tests can still be good practice, at least for quant. But you’ll always want to take the scores with a huge grain of salt, and if you’re relying particularly heavily on one company’s practice tests, then you might want to be especially skeptical of those results.


Reason #2: you’re repeating the GMATPrep practice tests

In a perfect world, we’d all rely exclusively on official GMATPrep tests. The problem, of course, is that the GMATPrep software only offers six adaptive exams, and that might not be enough for you. (Check out this article for an inexpensive way to stretch your supply of semi-official tests.)

Plenty of people choose to retake the GMATPrep exams, and that’s not a bad idea: you’ll always learn something from the GMATPrep tests, and you’ll always see at least some new questions. The only problem is that you’ll also see some familiar questions, and that will bias your score upwards.

Whenever I say that, I hear the same objection: “Yeah, but I don't really remember the questions, so the scores are probably accurate, right?” Sorry, but no. Even if you don’t consciously remember the questions, you’ll be able to answer them much, much faster if you’ve seen them before. Try reading a novel that you read 10 years ago, but don’t consciously remember. I promise that you’ll read it much faster – and you’ll absorb much more detail – than you did the first time around.

The bottom line: even a few repeated questions can completely change your experience on the GMATPrep tests, since you’ll feel less time-pressured, and your score will certainly inflate at least a little bit.

So please be really, really thoughtful about how you use those GMATPrep tests. If you need to repeat them, that’s OK – but don’t trick yourself into thinking that your scores on repeated GMATPrep tests are accurate. Because they probably aren’t.


Reason #3: you’re repeating the GMATPrep questions

This one is sneaky: there’s a very good chance that you’re inflating your GMAT scores every day on GMAT Club, without even noticing.

This wonderful website is filled with official GMAT questions from all sorts of sources – including the GMATPrep exams. And even if you don’t repeat the GMATPrep tests themselves, your scores will also be inflated if you’ve seen the questions online.

So keep a close eye on those question tags whenever you do questions here on the forum. If the tag says “GMATPrep”, then you might want to skip it, unless you've already thoroughly exhausted the GMATPrep exams.


Reason #4: your test-prep materials are based on GMATPrep questions

You’re not going to like this one.

When test-prep folks develop their own resources – guides, practice tests, practice questions – we have to draw inspiration from official GMAT sources. And since the GMATPrep tests are the closest thing to actual GMAT exams, we have to rely particularly heavily on the GMATPrep tests.

There’s no way around it: every test-prep company writes their own “knockoffs” of GMATPrep questions. The best GMAT test-prep companies will artfully make their versions look drastically different from the originals; the lazier firms will just swap out a few details.

So if you’re ever had the feeling that the actual GMAT exam “feels weird” compared to the GMATPrep tests, this is one potential reason: you’ve seen tons of questions that resemble the GMATPrep questions, before you ever even touch the GMATPrep software. If this is the case for you, the questions on your actual GMAT exam might feel strange to you – and your score might drop as a result.


Reason #5: you’re fundamentally inconsistent

You won’t like this story very much, either.

I recently received an inquiry from a long-suffering GMAT test-taker who couldn’t figure out why his actual GMAT scores -- ranging from 580 to 640 on six(!) attempts -- were so much lower than his “best GMATPrep test score of 720.”

Well, here are the scores from his first attempt at each of the GMATPrep exams:

  • GMATPrep #1: 620
  • GMATPrep #2: 720
  • GMATPrep #3: 580
  • GMATPrep #4: 660
  • GMATPrep #5: 590
  • GMATPrep #6: 600

When you average these six scores, you get 630 – and that’s really close to his top score on the actual exam.

So there are two takeaways here. First, don’t trick yourself into thinking that your best score is somehow your “real score.” Based on his GMATPrep scores, this test-taker should have expected to score in the low 600s – and that’s pretty much what happened. Praying for “a good test day” is never a winning strategy on the GMAT, and that’s basically what he was doing, without realizing it.

More importantly, these test scores clearly belong to a wildly inconsistent test-taker, and that’s a huge problem. The key to the GMAT isn’t cramming tons of knowledge into your head; it’s figuring out how to apply CONSISTENT techniques and reasoning habits every single time you see a particular type of question. (To get a sense of what we mean by “consistent” techniques on verbal, check out our beginners’ guides to SC, CR, and RC.)

If your GMATPrep test scores are all over the place, they’re trying to tell you something: you fundamentally lack consistency and you’re applying different techniques at different moments, depending on your mood or the direction of the wind. Until your performance is consistent, there’s no reason to expect a great GMAT score – and it shouldn’t surprise you if your test-day performance is much lower than your best GMATPrep practice tests.

So be honest with yourself: until your practice results are CONSISTENTLY in your target range, it’s unlikely that you’ll earn the score you want on the actual GMAT.


Reason #6: you’re fatigued on test day

In a perfect world, you’ll feel exactly the same in the GMAT exam room as you do when you’re taking a GMATPrep exam in the comfort of your own home. But that’s not realistic: you’ll likely be amped on your test day, and your adrenaline will probably be flowing.

And maybe you’ll run out of gas as a result of all of that adrenaline and excitement, and that’s not unusual at all. Every once in a while, I’ll hear from somebody who simply got fatigued at the end of their exam – particularly if they chose the “conventional” section order, with verbal at the very end.

If this is the case for you, perhaps you need to do more full practice tests, or maybe it would help to practice with some extra-hard LSAT materials, just to build up your stamina. Or maybe a better test-day diet would help. Or you could always choose a different section order, so that the least-important sections come at the end of your exam.

The bottom line: if fatigue was an issue for you on test day, it’s very fixable. If you need help figuring out how to improve your test-day stamina, feel free to tell your story below, and we’ll do our best to help.


Reason #7: you’re nervous

This is the elephant in the room: most people get a little bit nervous when they take a high-stakes test like the GMAT. And some people – perhaps around 20%, according to studies conducted in the United States – get so nervous that their cognitive functions are impaired.

A full discussion of test anxiety could easily fill an entire book, so I won’t say much about it here. But if your GMAT scores suddenly drop on test day, there’s a pretty good chance that nerves are playing a role – even if you aren’t consciously jittery.

If this is the case for you, you might consider trying some of the techniques mentioned in this article or this article or this article. But whatever you do, don’t sweep your test-day anxiety under the rug, and pretend that it didn’t happen. Be honest with yourself – or else you’ll have zero chance of overcoming the problem.


Still not sure what happened? Get your ESR.

I’m occasionally cynical about the motivations behind the GMAT’s ever-growing menu of products, but if you’re not sure why your real GMAT score was so low, the GMAT Enhanced Score Report (ESR) is probably worth the price ($24.95). And even if you’ve already canceled the score, GMAC will happily sell you an ESR.

The ESR can’t tell you everything, but it can give you some idea of what happened. For example, the ESR might tell you that you made a bunch of mistakes on easy questions, or that your time management was erratic. Or maybe it’ll tell you that you had a meltdown on one specific question type.

Of course, the ESR can’t tell you why you made those mistakes. But it can at least point you in the right direction if you’re not sure which of our seven reasons explains why your score dropped on test day.

And if you need advice, feel free to leave a comment below, and we'll do our best to help.


Want more?

You have questions? As always, GMAT Club has answers!


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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal
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Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and other articles & resources
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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AkshayKS21, this one is for you! :)
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Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and other articles & resources
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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New post 10 Aug 2017, 21:44
GMATNinja wrote:
AkshayKS21, this one is for you! :)

Thanks GMATNinja!
#4, #6, #7 : pretty much sums up everything! :)
Though I don't want to put on bad day everything, so I will take #5 as one of the reasons too...
It was really a detailed one, and worth the wait (Read: sorry for bugging you about this)
But I really needed this.
Quote:
don’t sweep your test-day anxiety under the rug, and pretend that it didn’t happen
This is what I was doing until now. But I need to take control and kill it!
And those articles were great, especially the ETS's The Praxis Series' "Reducing Text Anxiety". Loved this one!
Thanks :)

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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New post 10 Aug 2017, 22:24
This is the best post from the entire series. I can totally relate to all the sub-sections.

Amazing article GMATNinja. Thanks for the reality check :D

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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New post 10 Aug 2017, 22:38
warriorguy wrote:
This is the best post from the entire series. I can totally relate to all the sub-sections.

Amazing article GMATNinja. Thanks for the reality check :D

Thank you for the kind words, warriorguy! Glad that this is useful. :)

AkshayKS21 wrote:
It was really a detailed one, and worth the wait (Read: sorry for bugging you about this)

No worries! It's actually really good for me to hear from all of you when there's a specific post that might be helpful. I'm not always as quick with the articles as I'd like, but I love requests and good-natured bugging, so feel free to keep that up.

AkshayKS21 wrote:
And those articles were great, especially the ETS's The Praxis Series' "Reducing Text Anxiety". Loved this one!

Also awesome to hear! I wasn't sure whether those articles would resonate with anybody -- test anxiety is a tricky, tricky thing. I can't even tell you how many psychologists I've spoken with about it. But that's another article for another day, far in the future... ;)
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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal
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Need an expert reply?
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Sentence Correction articles & resources
How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | That "-ing" Word Probably Isn't a Verb | That "-ed" Word Might Not Be a Verb, Either | No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms | "Being" is not the enemy | WTF is "that" doing in my sentence?

Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and other articles & resources
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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New post 10 Aug 2017, 22:54
Thanks GMATNinja for the wonderful article. #1 and #5 sums up the issue i am facing in my prep.

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Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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New post 14 Aug 2017, 02:44
Hi GMATNinja

Mine's favorite is #Reason 3 since I adore your replies and most of Qs you reply
fall under QOTD which are from Gmatprep. So I have to skip them reading your
explanations with tough heart. LOL!! :lol: :P

Hope many may find this article useful
in line with assisting in building positive approach as per #reason 7

souvik101990 hope you shall help to truncate most of Gmatprep Qs from QOTD!!!

WR,
Arpit
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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adkikani wrote:
Hi GMATNinja

Mine's favorite is #Reason 3 since I adore your replies and most of Qs you reply
fall under QOTD which are from Gmatprep. So I have to skip them reading your
explanations with tough heart. LOL!! :lol: :P

Hope many may find this article useful
in line with assisting in building positive approach as per #reason 7

souvik101990 hope you shall help to truncate most of Gmatprep Qs from QOTD!!!

Great point, Arpit. I'm usually to blame for the choice of QOTDs, and you're absolutely right -- a decent percentage of them are from the GMATPrep, though we also rely heavily on the OGs and GMAT Club questions that we've edited or written. We'll have a few more GMATPrep questions in the mix through September, but we'll try to keep them to a minimum after that.

And thank you for posting the Brainscape article!!
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Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal
Reading Comprehension | Critical Reasoning | Sentence Correction

SC & CR Questions of the Day (QOTDs), featuring expert explanations
All QOTDs | Subscribe via email | RSS

Need an expert reply?
Hit the request verbal experts' reply button -- and please be specific about your question. Feel free to tag @GMATNinja and @GMATNinjaTwo in your post.

Sentence Correction articles & resources
How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | That "-ing" Word Probably Isn't a Verb | That "-ed" Word Might Not Be a Verb, Either | No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms | "Being" is not the enemy | WTF is "that" doing in my sentence?

Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and other articles & resources
All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |7 reasons why your actual GMAT scores don't match your practice test scores | How to get 4 additional "fake" GMAT Prep tests for $29.99... in any section order

YouTube verbal webinars:
"Next-level" GMAT pronouns | Uses of "that" on the GMAT | Parallelism and meaning

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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Very good post. I can relate this to my previous test score. So true.
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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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One of the best post so far! Thank you GMATNinja for such a nice post. I can relate this to my test experience. Especially #6 and #7.

My average score in GMAT prep exams was 660 - Q50 and V30, but on test day I couldn't perform well. Since verbal was my weak point, I thought of taking it first. But it was a wrong choice. I was already fatigued before the exam, and at start of verbal part, a weird thing happened. Test center guys gave me 2 marker pens and I thought I may need them at any time so I kept both of them opened. For first 3 questions, I did not use them. 4th Question was a RC passage, so I tried to take notes and found that none of the marker is working!
This increased my fatigue level very much above par, I called the test center person. She gave me another set of markers and told that you need to close them if you don't want to write. The ink fades.
During this hurdle, I completely lost my focus and ruined my verbal section. Then I realized that even if I perform very well on quant part, I am not going to reach till 700 and screwed up my quant section as well. After the quant section, I knew it's already over. Just completed the remaining sections. I ended up scoring Q48 V22 IR6 AWA5.

I am thinking to choose traditional selection order this time because I think on the test day I was quite used to the test environment by the time I was solving IR and AWA. In fact IR6 was my highest IR score. But who knows, this move may backfire as well.

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell [#permalink]

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Thank you, RMD007! I'm glad that you enjoyed the post.

And yeah, I'm hearing a lot of stories from people who were thrown off by a non-conventional section order, so you're definitely not alone. I feel like it can be stressful to walk into the testing room and immediately start with one of the really important sections. For some people, that's totally fine. But some people really need the "warmup" first.

And when the markers don't work -- or if you're not used to the pad and markers in general -- it's really, really distracting. I'm pretty sure that the Pearson VUE regulations dictate that proctors should check both markers before giving them to you, but that doesn't always happen. So a random note for everybody: make sure you check both markers before you enter the testing room, and if you don't already have one, consider practicing with that crazy yellow dry-erase pad.

Keep me posted, RMD007! Rooting for you on the next round. :)
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GMAT Club Verbal Expert | GMAT/GRE tutor at www.gmatninja.com | GMAT blog |food blog | Friendly warning: I'm really bad at PMs

Beginners' guides to GMAT verbal
Reading Comprehension | Critical Reasoning | Sentence Correction

SC & CR Questions of the Day (QOTDs), featuring expert explanations
All QOTDs | Subscribe via email | RSS

Need an expert reply?
Hit the request verbal experts' reply button -- and please be specific about your question. Feel free to tag @GMATNinja and @GMATNinjaTwo in your post.

Sentence Correction articles & resources
How to go from great (760) to incredible (780) on GMAT SC | That "-ing" Word Probably Isn't a Verb | That "-ed" Word Might Not Be a Verb, Either | No-BS Guide to GMAT Idioms | "Being" is not the enemy | WTF is "that" doing in my sentence?

Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and other articles & resources
All GMAT Ninja articles on GMAT Club | Using LSAT for GMAT CR & RC |7 reasons why your actual GMAT scores don't match your practice test scores | How to get 4 additional "fake" GMAT Prep tests for $29.99... in any section order

YouTube verbal webinars:
"Next-level" GMAT pronouns | Uses of "that" on the GMAT | Parallelism and meaning

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Re: Experts' Topic of the Week, 8/9/17: 7 reasons why your GMAT score fell   [#permalink] 05 Oct 2017, 09:34
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