Everyone knows practice tests are a crucial part of studying. And if you’re going to do any mock tests, it seems obvious that the GMAC CATS are the way to go: for starters, they’re written by the same people who write the actual GMAT, and they’ve also been statistically tested and selected on thousands of students, so you know they’re realistic. Next, they’re the only mock tests out there that are adaptive, matching the questions you see – just as the actual GMAT does – to your performance.
But how do you get the most out of these tests?
We’ll start by discussing what taking these tests is for, and more specifically, what it isn’t for: GMAC CATs are not for ”knowing where you stand”. Your score on a practice test is a nice bit of gossipy information to share with friends who are also studying, and if you did well, brag, by all means. But this isn’t the point of these tests. The reason to take the GMAC CATs is that they are a vital part of your study and improvement process. And how you leverage these exams to help you improve is what we’ll discuss next.
Keep it Real
The first way to make the most out of your mock test is to make it as realistic as possible. This means taking the prep test at the same hour of day as your actual exam, and trying, to the extent that it is possible, to maintain a similar daily schedule as that on test day (wake up at the same time, have similar meals).
It also means taking the test in an absolutely isolated area – your cellphone should be in a different room, and your computer should have no other windows open.
Most importantly, when taking the mock test, don’t allow yourself to do anything you wouldn’t do on the real exam:
- Take only the few breaks that the GMAT includes
- Don’t eat or drink while solving the test problems
- Have paper and a pen by your side for notes
- And of course – no calculator.
To this end, you may want to look at our Preparation Guide.
Test to be Best
The second thing you must do is make sure you properly use the test for improvement. This consists of two stages:
#1 – While taking the test
Going into the test, have three goals of things to focus on or do differently from what you did in the past; these are the conclusions of your past study, and the mock test is the sandlot in which to test your ability to implement them.
#2 – Exhaustive analysis
Next, after the test, conduct an exhaustive analysis.
This means spending at least 4-5 hours reviewing your test, probably the day after taking it.
Collect all the questions you got wrong and resolve them, making a separate list of reasons you got them wrong.
After going over your entire performance, make decisions on three separate levels: do I need to go over any of the test fundamentals? This may be the case if you missed rules, formulas or basic techniques on the mock exam.
Next, ask yourself: do I need to rethink my answer strategies? If you wasted time or got questions wrong when other answer tools were available, maybe it’s time to think of reviewing your PAL strategy.
Lastly: do you need to rethink your overarching chapter strategies? If you found yourself running out of time, you may have to reevaluate how many questions you’re going for in each section, how many you will skip, and which ones those will be. Finally, conclude your analysis with three goals for your next mock test, to make sure the improvement continues.
#3 – Do it again
The next stage after post-test analysis is acting on the conclusions you have reached. As mentioned, the day after your analysis (and two days after the last test), you should sit for another mock test with three actionable goals aimed at improving your last test’s performance.
Another important point is that this next test can actually be the same one you just did! Since the CATs are adaptive, you can take the same one a second time and see new questions. You can even take it a third time and solve a mixture of new and old questions (after a third time around, you won’t be able to access the same test anymore, which is just as well, since you’ve seen all of its questions). When retaking a test and encountering a question you’ve already seen, don’t mark it and move on immediately: wait two minutes before doing so, so that the test won’t think you’re solving problems at an unnaturally fast pace and give you harder-than-necessary questions.
How realistic is my score on the mock test? How predictive is it of GMAT performance?
As explained above, predicting your test score is not the main reason to take a mock test. That being said, it’s perfectly natural to want to know what score you can expect.
The good news is this: the GMAC CATs are, by far, the most realistic tests out there: they are simply the only mock tests that accurately mimic the way the GMAT scoring works.
The bad news: even though they are the most realistic, there is a limit to how predictive any test can be. Some people achieve a certain level during prep, but the motivation and excitement of the test day lead them to have a breakout performance. Others, especially ones who have not studied in a way that prepared them for the GMAT’s adaptive nature, stumble on test day and end up scoring lower than they did on mock exams.
The GMAC exams are both realistic and a great way to study, but shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee of future performance.