One of the best things you can do for yourself when you’ve set your sights on a difficult goal such as the GMAT is studying the people who took on this goal before you. What traits do those who have succeeded have in common? What are the traits that they attribute their success to? How their preparation for the GMAT test was different from yours?
You can also study the task itself. What is the nature of the difficulty? What traits must someone embody in order to accomplish this goal?
We assembled a list of the traits we believe are most helpful in students who ultimately conquer the GMAT test.
Of all the students we’ve worked with, the ones who are most successful are, without question, the most dedicated. Dedication isn’t merely work ethic—it’s commitment and single-mindedness: a precise focus on exactly what your goal is, what it requires, and what’s unnecessary.
The most successful students are often those who are able to shun distractions and inefficiencies most successfully. Some GMAT students have the luxury of taking a break from their jobs and their education while they preparing for the GMAT. If you can, that’s excellent. But most students have to work even harder to remain dedicated while supporting themselves.
WARNING: This might mean turning off your social life—at least as much as you can while staying sane—in addition to other interests. When GMAT test day comes, and you look back at how much preparation you put in, you’ll thank yourself for every distraction you put aside in exchange for one more night of prep.
Before starting your GMAT prep course—and before taking on any worthwhile goal—you should prepare yourself for failure. No matter how smart you are in your GMAT preparation, you will fail over and over again. You will fail to be as good as you want to be the second you start. You will fail to remember the same math concept you’ve tried to memorize a hundred times. You will fail to get up early enough to run practice problems before class.
No successful GMAT-taker has a path that’s totally free of failure. The ones who succeed are the ones who continue to work hard—who lean into that failure instead of running away from it.
The best GMAT-takers (and business students, and businesspeople) are inevitably those who see all failures as both temporary and necessary, and who don’t let these failures stop them or slow them down on the way to their larger goals.
The skills needed to pass the GMAT are various and complexly related. It seems that it would be easy if the test were simply about math, or simply about verbal skills, but this assumption ignores the fact that neither quantitative nor verbal thinking are simply one kind of thinking. Both involve elements of the other, in addition to other kinds of thinking, like creativity and problem-solving. The quantitative questions require some verbal ability and some non-mathematical reasoning skills, and the verbal questions involve logic and structural thinking.
In fact, almost every question on the GMAT test could be called an integrated reasoning question.
Navigating fluidly between many different kinds of thinking is one of the hardest things about the GMAT.
You need this kind of fluidity both within questions and—obviously—between the different sections of the test.
TIP: Try to vary your prep routines so you don’t become too fixated on any single kind of thinking—rigidity in your practice can harm you on test day. Mix up your routine and the kinds of questions you practice.
Two other things you can try to vary in your routine: your prep materials/strategy, and your prep environment.
Exposing yourself to different kinds of prep resources will help expose you to new ways of conceptualizing the same material. And varying your prep environment (light, location, time, sound) will keep you from becoming so habituated to one particular set of conditions that you can’t perform complex thinking in other kinds of conditions.
Confidence comes from the belief that, by nature of your own gifts and effort, you can accomplish the goals you set for yourself. And yet there are probably goals you’ve set for yourself that you haven’t accomplished (yet): maybe finally learning another language, or learning to play the piano.
You probably didn’t quit these things because they were simply too hard. Most likely, you quit because they required a level of patience and perseverance that stopped being rewarding.
Many students start their test prep with an ambitious target score. Some don’t realize how much work it will take to accomplish this target score. Some do realize it, but overestimate their own patience and perseverance in putting in that work.
A huge component of the success of your GMAT test prep is whether or not you can continue to put in the work even though the rewards may be far away.
To adapt the old adage about a journey of a thousand miles: the journey to a perfect GMAT score starts with a single practice IR problem.
Mastery, Efficiency, Incrementalism
An incremental approach to studying isn’t merely a psychic trick in order to make the journey more palatable—it’s also a way to organize your test prep so as to maximize efficiency and ensure mastery of concepts.
If you simply do a straight run through a set of verbal questions and only consult the answers to see how well you did, you probably aren’t actually helping yourself to better learn different concepts.
There is actually no such thing as studying verbal questions—there are only more specific concepts that you can study incrementally along the way. You can devote some solid chunk of time exclusively to studying subject-verb agreement until you master the concept thoroughly. You can do the same with parallelism, comma placement, or any other concept you can expect to find on the test.
The best GMAT-takers tend to organize their prep so they can master specific concepts en route to mastering the different sections and the test at large.
There’s no single right approach to studying for the GMAT, but it would be a waste of invaluable resources to ignore the lessons you can learn from other people who have travelled this road and succeeded or failed. These different traits have helped many of the most successful GMAT students earn the score they want, and so they’re worth trying to cultivate in yourself and your own study habits.
Of course, in addition to cultivating the best traits in yourself to make your GMAT test prep more productive, you might also turn to technology for help – this is the 21st century, after all. To that end, hop over to our list of the best web and mobile apps for boosting your productivity. The right attitude, combined with the right technology, can accomplish amazing things.