If you want to get into a top business school, a good score on the Graduate Management Admission Test – more commonly known as the GMAT – can go a long way. It is not the only factor in the admissions process, but a high score will only make your application package stronger.
But the test known as the gatekeeper of the MBA is no pushover. Preparation needs to take place over a good number of months in order to give yourself the best chance of success. So, with that in mind, here are 10 tips from GMAT and admissions expert Claus Huber which will help you walk into the test center with your head held high.
1. Consistency over intensity
One can compare GMAT prep with learning to play chess. It is not only necessary to learn and know all the concepts and tricks; it is also essential to be confident and quick in using them. This means doing quick calculations in the quant section. To improve this skill it is better to have shorter, daily training sessions rather than cramming during the weekend.
2. Create a learning diary
The number of concepts that are asked in GMAT questions are finite. Therefore a good method to improve and reduce your ‘white areas’ is to keep a learning diary. This means one should write down every unknown prep question (or also questions that took you too long to answer) and try to understand the correct answer and concept behind them. If you do this during your preparation you will see that, in time, your list of weaknesses will become shorter and shorter.
3. Set an exponential GMAT prep timetable
It goes without saying that you need to leave enough time and plan effectively during GMAT preparation. Furthermore, I recommend that you take an exponential approach in prep time planning; the closer you get to your test date, the more time you should plan for GMAT preparation. So – if possible – it might be wise to choose a test date that occurs towards the end of a period of holiday, so you have a week or more to focus only on the GMAT before the test.
4. Train to use laminated drawing board during GMAT Prep
Many test centers offer only laminated drawing boards for calculations and sketches during the test. This can lead to irritation for those not accustomed to using an erasable overhead marker – especially left-handed people, who often tend to smear their notes. Knowing this, you should practice this during your preparation phase in order to avoid as many surprises on test day as possible.
5. Do not overestimate GMAT prep test results
The two prep tests that are available at the official GMAT website are cited by many sources as a good way to train in real test conditions. This is absolutely true, but one should not overestimate the results one gets from these prep tests, since they are not adapted to real empirical, standardized test results. So use them, but do not consider yourself ready when you have reached your target score in these tests.
6. Redo GMAT prep tests
One can get good GMAT prep tests from many sources and companies. The good thing about prep tests used by the better of these companies is that most of them use an adaptive question algorithm – as the real test does (presenting takers with harder questions the better they do). Therefore it is a good method to use the same prep test multiple times, because as you improve, the questions you will face will be different. So redoing a prep-test exposes you to a greater volume of questions.
7. Practice educated guessing
A good method in dealing with GMAT questions (especially in the verbal section) to which you are not absolutely certain of the answer is ‘educated guessing’. This means to quickly rank the five possible answers in order of their suitability and exclude wrong answers. One can save time by quickly eliminating two or three wrong answers and then guess out of the rest. Of course, a proper evaluation is better, but sometimes time constraints render this something of a luxury.
8. Focus on your weaknesses… but in a measured way
One should always know the GMAT test areas in which one is weakest. Nevertheless, a big mistake is to focus only on one weakness for too great a period of time, since GMAT knowledge can also be forgotten easily and quickly. A good method can be to set a certain base level of prep questions in each category to do on each day. In the category in which you need to sure up your knowledge, additional questions and time should be planned on top. Therefore you can improve on weaknesses without risking losing focus on other areas.
9. Try to overshoot your target GMAT Score
Even if you don’t necessarily need a 700+ GMAT score for your MBA application – maybe only 500 or 600 – it is still wise to overshoot during preparation in order to more or less safely reach your required score. Your preparation should target a GMAT score of at least 50 higher than you ‘need’. It is not uncommon for test takers to score 30 points more or less than they were expecting, depending on their individual physical and mental state on the test day and the questions they face.
10. Set time milestones during the GMAT test
One of the most common worst case scenarios during the GMAT test is the test taker running out of time towards the end. One of the major problems is that most candidates do not recognize that they are falling behind until it’s too late. It is hard to compensate wisely in this situation, meaning that takers are forced to take rapid and wild guesses. A simple tool to avoid this scenario is to set and stick to certain milestones. For instance in the quant section, candidates should know immediately that with 60 minutes remaining on the clock they should have reached Q7 to be on schedule, with 45 minutes remaining Q15 should be finished, and so on. This strategy lets you know very early that you might be behind schedule and therefore gives you the chance and enough remaining questions to react.