GMAT Test Preparation Tips
Despite the official statements of GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council), you can improve your GMAT score dramatically simply by taking the time to become “streetwise” about the GMAT CAT. Quite simply, this is the easiest step in your test preparation, and should not be ignored under any circumstances. There is, however a fine line between understanding the nature of the test and attempting to use “tricks” or to game the test. While understanding the nature of the test and its tendencies is useful, the point at which a test takers are able to effectively game the CAT (Computer Adaptive Test) is also the point where they no longer need to.
As a test taker, you should understand:
- The computer-adaptive structure of the GMAT
- The types of exam questions asked and their common fallacies
- How to manage your time wisely
The computer-adaptive structure of the GMAT
The computer-adaptive test (CAT) version of the GMAT is designed to get a more accurate assessment of your skills while asking you fewer questions than its paper-based predecessor did. Here is how it works: the first question you see in any given section will be of average difficulty. If you get the answer right, your next question will be slightly more difficult. If you get the answer wrong, your next question will be slightly easier. The software will also ask you different types of questions in a rather unpredictable order, as determined by its algorithm, rather than clustering question types as the written GMAT did.
You can not skip a question or go back to an earlier question. Unlike the paper version, once you click the ‘answer confirm’ box, your answer can not be changed.
The types of exam questions asked and their common fallacies
Examples and explanations of these can be found in the pages describing the individual component sections of the GMAT posted on this website. We strongly encourage our clients to spend time learning these question types before brushing up on their verbal and math skills.
How to manage your time wisely
The main way to develop GMAT time management skills is to practice taking the test. You will repeatedly see us return to the theme of practice throughout this website. It is very hard to overstate its importance. Therefore you are strongly encouraged to take at least a few mock GMAT exams, in the computer-adaptive format and to try to simulate the actual testing environment. (That means refraining from taking food breaks, engaging in telephone conversations, etc. until you have completed a section.)
Spend adequate time on the first 5 questions
Earlier, we discussed how the GMAT CAT’s underlying algorithm determines the difficulty of questions you are asked, based on your performance in answering previous questions. Difficult questions are weighted more heavily in scoring than easier questions. The first couple questions in any GMAT CAT section are used to determine the range of questions that the program ‘thinks’ you are able to handle. After you have answered these first few questions, the testing software will give you questions to fine tune your score within that rather narrowly predetermined range. Thus, your answers to the first 5 questions will make a HUGE difference in your final section score.
It is imperative that you answer these pivotal questions with extra care. Always double check your answers to these questions. Verify that the answer choices that you judged to be incorrect are indeed incorrect. If you are unsure of the answer to one of these first questions, at the very least, take a very good educated guess using process of elimination.
Prepare yourself to finish the test – at all costs!
There is a huge scoring penalty for failing to finish any section of the GMAT. For example, say you’re in line to get a score that will put you in the 70 percentile of test takers, based on your test performance so far – but then run out of time and fail to answer the last five questions in the section. That failure will lower your score to about the 55 percentile. The lesson to take away from this is to prepare yourself to finish the test at all costs. Answering a question incorrectly will hurt you, but not as much as leaving the question unanswered will. Train yourself to work your best within the time limits of the exam. But train yourself, too, to be able to recognize when only a minute or so remains on the clock, and at that point to just answer “C” (or whatever your lucky letter is) for any remaining questions. As the GMAT’s Chief Psychometrician put it to us, random guessing is like shooting yourself in the foot – but leaving answers blank is like shooting yourself in both feet.
Don't waste time
This advice probably sounds self evident. However, we mention it because we’ve had clients tell us how they inadvertently wasted test time by revisiting the help screen or requesting extra scrap paper after they began their test. These activities, if undertaken once the section has begun, will take time away from working on the questions.
Read the Questions Carefully
As silly as this advice may seem, it’s worth remembering. An undisciplined test taker will feel the stress of the clock during the timed sections and will try to cut corners to save time, wherever and whenever possible. As a result, he or she often misinterprets questions. GMAT test writers are well aware of this dynamic, and happy to capitalize on it. We guarantee that you will encounter questions on the GMAT that include incorrect answer choices that were deliberately designed to exploit likely misinterpretations of what the question is really asking.
Avoid Random Guessing
The GMAT CAT does not allow you to skip questions and come back to them later, as you can on a written test. You must answer each question on the GMAT CAT before it will allow you to move on to the next question. Consequently, even if you don’t know the answer to a particular question, you have to answer it. It is always in your best interest to take an educated guess rather than resorting to random guessing – even if you are running out of time on the section. Usually you will be able to identify at least one answer choice that is clearly wrong. Eliminating even one incorrect choice will improve your odds of answering the question correctly.
Eliminate the Deliberately Deceptive Wrong Choices
With practice, you will begin to learn how to recognize answer choices that are deliberately deceptive – and wrong. There are a few common patterns here that will become apparent as you proceed with your test preparation.
One recognizable pattern is commonly found in the Problem Solving section. It involves an erroneous answer choice giving a value that would result from following a common computational error. You can avoid these deceptive choices by using scrap paper, checking your answers and using estimation to at least judge the general range of the correct choice.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As we stated at the top of this page, there are a number of tips and techniques to taking the GMAT that will significantly raise your overall score. This is a test that you can prepare for, despite anything the test-makers state. We strongly encourage you to use actual questions from previous exams as you practice, as we have noticed a material difference in the nature and quality of test questions prepared by the GMAC versus those written by GMAT prep companies. We also strongly encourage you to practice taking the exam in its computer-adaptive format.
Finally, we encourage you to spend most of your preparation time studying and practicing questions in your weakest subject area. While we believe every test taker benefits by reviewing each GMAT exam section, focusing on your weakest areas will make the most efficient use of your test-prep time.
Don't Wait Too Long to Take the GMAT
Don’t count on taking the GMAT at the last minute. Should you need to retake the exam, you will need time both to register for the test again and to have the new scores submitted to schools in time for the application deadlines. Scheduling the GMAT well into the admissions season is also bound to cause most test takers undue stress. With proper planning and insight, you can spare yourself these negative energies and instead focus on maximizing your GMAT score.