Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of students come and go. While every student’s path to the GMAT is unique—and while the content of the test isn’t getting any easier—one benefit of time and experience is that we’ve come to identify some mistakes that a lot of GMAT students tend to make. We’ve listed some of the most common mistakes we’ve seen below. Hopefully this will give you a quick primer on what mistakes to avoid in your own GMAT prep—and what mistakes to avoid on test day.
STRESSING TOO MUCH
Not everyone reacts the same way to stress. In fact, some people in the business world—and some prospective GMAT students—thrive on it. But examples of these people are the exception that proves the rule (trust us). For most people, stress inhibits optimal productivity and performance. We recommend doing everything possible to weed unnecessary stress out of your GMAT prep and (thus) out of your experience on test day.
BEING UNPREPARED FOR TEST DAY
Just think: you spend months and months practicing until you finally feel that you’re ready. The night before test day, you manage to fall asleep early. You wake up, have a good breakfast, and feel even more confident than you thought was possible. Then you get to the test center, ready to show the GMAC and your top B-school choices what you’re made of, only to be turned away because you left your ID at home.
While this kind of mistake is distressingly common, it’s (luckily) the easiest one to avoid. Just make sure you acquaint yourself with all the rules and regulations for test day, and maybe even make a checklist for yourself in the days before test day.
BEING UNPREPARED FOR TEST DAY (PART TWO)
In addition to all the boring stuff you have to prepare for, like bringing your ID, you should also know what to expect from the testing experience itself. The GMAC website makes a lot of information available on everything from what to expect of your test cubicle to a left-handed computer mouse. Review what information they have about the test itself, and try to replicate the experience at home as closely as possible, so nothing takes you by surprise (we’re looking at you, all you lefties out there).
RELYING SOLELY ON PREP BOOKS
Of course we’re not against books per se, but in 2017, there’s no reason to limit yourself to substandard prep materials when there are so many better resources out there. Prep books were a useful technology (especially for students who couldn’t afford a tutor) when they were the only technology—but that’s not true anymore. Current technology like that powering examPAL allows you to personalize your approach to the GMAT.
Gone are the days of trying to make sense of the limited explanations in the back of the book. examPAL uses advanced diagnostic and educational software—in addition to helpful multimedia and myriad other training resources—to help you personalize your approach and maximize your results.
NOT GIVING YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME TO PREP
There’s no exact right amount of time or prep, but still, this should be an easy mistake to avoid. Try to use foresight and planning—know when you want to have your score by, when the schools you’re applying to have application deadlines, whether you expect to take the test more than once, etc. One thing working in your favor: the GMAT offers testing dates year-round. And increasingly, B-schools are offering multiple rounds of admission decisions, with several application and even enrollment deadlines throughout the year.
In terms of how long your prep itself should take you, this is different for everyone, but we find that successful students commonly prep for at least two to four months.
NOT MAKING THE MOST OF PREP TIME
Just as the digital revolution makes GMAT prep much easier, it also makes procrastinating much more seductive. Unfortunately, correcting all the mistakes listed above won’t help much if you don’t actually do any of the studying. If you’re someone who struggles with procrastination (i.e. a human being) see some of our other articles on productivity-boosting apps and the habits of highly successful GMAT students.
Most of the above mistakes have to do with decisions you make in your test prep strategy, in addition to some mistakes you can make in your testing mindset overall. But even if you get all those ducks in a row, there are still a lot of smaller mistakes people tend to make when it comes to the actual work of the test.
We’ve listed some of these common testing mistakes below—you should practice avoiding all these kinds of errors in your prep and practice work as you go, to minimize the chance of making these blunders on the actual test.
DOING MORE READING THAN YOU HAVE TO
As we mention a lot around here, one of the most difficult components of the test is the time limit. You should be looking to shave off unnecessary time, however you can. This is part of the holistic process of maximizing your score.
One thing you can do is control how much you read. Many students waste countless precious minutes reading more information than they need to correctly answer a question. Have you found the best answer among the choices? Then don’t waste time reading the other answers you know you’re not going to choose! Those minutes are better spent elsewhere—worst case scenario, you might even overthink the question and end up choosing the wrong answer.
And while we would never encourage you to be reckless in your testing strategy, there are even some questions where you don’t necessarily need to read the question itself. Devoting yourself to your test prep will help you develop an instinct for this.
SIMPLE MATH MISTAKES
Everyone knows the feeling of doing 99% of a difficult problem exactly the way you’re supposed to, only to get the answer wrong because of one careless mistake you made along the way. Don’t let this happen to you! Some simple mathematical mistakes people make under pressure:
-accidentally forgetting a negative sign
-forgetting the proper order of operations, or making a mistake typing complexly ordered calculations into a calculator
-forgetting you can’t divide by zero (ever!)
We don’t just mean guessing the wrong answers—if you could avoid doing that, it wouldn’t be guessing. We mean using a sub-optimal guessing strategy. (Yes, there are guessing strategies.)
Guessing is a strategy you should resort to on the GMAT when you can’t use reasoning to determine the answer—either because you lack the skills/knowledge to figure it out, or because you lack the time to do so.
Timing your guessing is a subtle but important part of a holistic GMAT strategy. If you start guessing too early, you are potentially giving up on one or more problems you might have been able to answer with certainty. If you start guessing too late—or not at all—you are potentially robbing yourself of free, last-minute points.
It usually doesn’t take long to guess at the remaining problems. Be sure to start while you have enough time left to guess on every remaining problem—but not so early that you could’ve answered them without guessing.
Failing to execute a simple but effective guessing strategy falls under another broad category of mistakes: failure to make the test your own. Of course, the GMAT is attempting to determine your academic and critical thinking skills. However, your job isn’t merely to have the best set of critical thinking skills; it’s to do everything to solve the problem of the test itself. Guessing is an important part of that.
And there are many other ways to help yourself that don’t merely fall under the category of learning the material. For instance, don’t forget that you can use the visuals that come with the test! You can write or draw on whatever paper they give you in order to help yourself reason (you’d be amazed how many students fail to remember they can use scratch paper under pressure). Visually engaging with the material not only gives you space to work calculations and mathematical reasoning but also helps you bring your intuition into the problem-solving arena.
While the GMAT would prefer for you to solve all the problems using the prescribed methods of reasoning, your intuition can be immensely helpful in maximizing your score. For example, and one final bonus tip: many visuals explicitly state that the drawing is not to scale. However, many of these drawings are actually very close to scale! Close enough, at least, that they can help you form a guess about the answer when you don’t use the prescribed way of solving the problem