Studying for the GMAT can be neatly divided into the test’s sections and questions types — you already know you’ll need a strategy to approach Data Sufficiency, Sentence Correction, and Integrated Reasoning. But just like you wouldn’t prepare for a marathon by hopping off a couch and running 26.2 miles, you need to ramp up your studying methodically.
One of the biggest mistakes that first-time GMAT test-takers make is to attack the exam in its entirety too soon. It’s discouraging, not to mention exhausting, to battle through a four-hour-plus test before mastering each of the three prongs of GMAT success: accuracy, speed, and endurance. We’re going to break down each step and show you why it’s important to build these skills in succession before putting it all together on your path to GMAT domination.
While the GMAT doesn’t test discrete knowledge, you will need to be familiar with, or get reacquainted with, multiple mathematical and verbal concepts. If you haven’t covered high school algebra since before senior prom, attacking the entire exam at this point is futile. If you’ve never studied English grammar formally, you’ll fumble through the verbal section and not understand whether you’re answering correctly on purpose or through luck.
To build GMAT success, you’ll need to work on your accuracy without the constraints of timing or the fatigue that sets in during the long testing period. Start by reviewing the material and getting comfortable with each question type and format. The first step to getting more correct answers is mastering the base material and underlying concepts. During this first phase, don’t look at the clock. Concentrate on being crystal clear on the concept being tested and how to get to the correct answer.
If you were learning to play the piano, or learning to golf, you’d start with getting basic movements perfect without the pressure of performing in front of people or hitting a championship winning shot. As you start to answer more questions correctly (and on purpose,) you can progress to the next phase: speed.
Now that you’re consistently answering GMAT questions with accuracy, you’ll want to introduce the elements of timing and speed. The GMAT timing is tight — you have to get through 37 quant and 41 verbal questions in 75 short minutes (for each). You have less than two minutes to read, think through, and respond to each item, and it zooms by much faster than you think. Remember that taking too much time on each question and risking not finishing the test can make your score plummet.
Attack question types in sets, and time yourself. Learn when to stick with a question that has a longer setup but a quick answer, and when to let questions go. Yes, sometimes you’ll have to make an educated guess and move on. Falling in love with a question and spending three or four minutes on it, to the detriment of future questions, is a common mistake for test-takers, especially competitive future MBAs. Answering quickly means you’ll need to develop efficiency for each skill, and learn time-saving shortcuts.
Now that you can answer bursts of questions quickly and correctly, you’ll need to work on your endurance. The GMAT is a long test, and you’ll need to be as sharp on the first question as you are on the last. But don’t fall into the trap of taking full-length exam after full-length exam. That won’t build endurance, but it will lead to burnout.
Instead, take one full length practice test a week, review your mistakes (and your correct answers) and work on proper testing habits, concentration, pacing, and breathing techniques. You’ll find your GMAT rhythm that maximizes accuracy while maintaining a pace that allows you to finish the test in time.
Knowing how endurance builds on timing and accuracy, you know that you can’t just pounce on the GMAT, no matter how ready you are to dominate it. Preparing for, and taking the GMAT is a process, and one that’s well worth the time investment in approaching methodically. Let us know how you’ve worked on these elements as you’re preparing for the GMAT in the comments below.