The GMAT is a very special test, unlike the other tests used in graduate school admissions. For one, it is not a test that can be crammed for in the forty-eight hours before the test. It is also a computer-adaptive test (CAT) which means that the test will adjust the difficulty of the questions you see mid-test based on your performance. The goal of CAT’s is to gauge as accurately as possible your true level of ability.
The GMAT measures verbal, quantitative, integrated reasoning and writing skills. The test has a wide variety of question types, including in-depth reading comprehension questions, multiple choice quantitative questions, data sufficiency quantitative questions, and sentence correction grammar questions. Business schools are generally most concerned with the verbal and quantitative performance of their applicants.
Here are 6 of our best tips guaranteed to prepare you for the GMAT:
- There are no “unknowns”
The GMAT tests high-school level math encompassing the subjects of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and probability. There is no trigonometry or calculus on the GMAT. On the verbal section, you will be tested on basic English grammar, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension. The bulk of your preparation for the GMAT should be spent on brushing up on your high school math and grammar skills, and learning the peculiarities of the ways that the GMAT tests those skills. You won’t be required to learn any material you’ve never seen before, but you will have to acquire new test-taking skills.
- Familiarize Yourself with the Test
Before you can form a coherent study plan, you need to be familiar with the test, and that means taking a GMAT practice test under test-day conditions. It won’t be pleasant taking a test you haven’t prepared for, but it is necessary for you to realize exactly what you’re up against. Taking a practice test before you’ve even begun studying does a few things – first, it familiarizes you with the different question types and content that you will see on the GMAT. You will know immediately which types of questions you are naturally comfortable with, and which question types you will want to spend more time on. Second, taking a practice test makes you confront the time constraints imposed by the GMAT. Because the GMAT is a CAT, it will adapt to your ability level so that time management is always an issue. Finally, it will introduce you to the various question types so you can learn the test-taking skills necessary to succeed at each question type.
- Know the Format of the GMAT
The GMAT has recently gone through a few revisions of its format, so it’s always a good idea to check the official website for the latest information on the test format. Currently, the GMAT has four major sections – an analytical writing assessment that takes 30 minutes, an integrated reasoning section that takes 30 minutes, a 75-minute quantitative section, and a 75-minute verbal section. You will have optional 10-minute breaks between the sections. Memorize the test format so that you won’t have any test-day uneasiness with something you were unprepared for.
- Master the Material
There are a wide variety of GMAT prep books on the market – we recommend that you start your preparation with the “Official Guide” series published by the makers of the GMAT. These books contain real GMAT questions, answers, and explanations. These books will also give you the most accurate impression of the actual difficulty level of real GMAT questions.
When we work with students who were unsatisfied with their first GMAT score, the refrain we hear over and over again is, “I knew how to answer the questions, but I wasn’t used to answering the questions under time pressure.” Much of our work at Manhattan Review concentrates of imposing true test-day conditions on our students so that they can practice applying their test-taking skills under real time constraints.
- Understanding the Score
Combined verbal and quantitative GMAT scores range between 200 and 800 with two-thirds of test-takers scoring between 400 and 600. The individual verbal and quantitative scores range from 0 to 60. Both scores are curved on a fixed scale and can be compared.
There are two big takeaways that you want to know about GMAT scoring – first, because the GMAT is a CAT, it is extremely important that you get the early questions right. This will give you access to more difficult questions that are worth more points.
Secondly, you must finish each section of the test no matter what! Even if that means blindly guessing on the last ten questions. The GMAT contains a very heavy penalty for unanswered questions, so make sure that you keep an eye on the clock and finish each section. Even if you’re guessing, you’re never more than a 20% underdog to get lucky.
- Develop your Study Plan and Test-Day Strategy
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the test and acquired the materials you need to prepare, it’s time to study. Take a practice test or two to give yourself a baseline and also to give you an idea of what question types you need to work on. Here you’ll want to divide and conquer – rather than practicing entire tests, work on the particular question types that you struggle with first, and work on different question types on different days so that you have a chance to practice each question type on its own. Finally, give yourself at least four to six weeks to prepare, and be consistent. Doing 45-minutes every day is far better than cramming in six hours of studying into one day a week.
Most importantly, tailor your GMAT test preparation to your strengths and weaknesses. Civil engineers may not have to spend as much time on the quantitative section while journalists may find themselves excelling on the verbal section without any preparation at all. Take advantage of your strengths, shore up your weaknesses, and learn the test-taking strategies for each question type so that you have the best chance at attaining an excellent score.
Good preparation will always pay off, so don’t stress on test day if you’ve put in the work! Good luck!