If you’re reading this, you probably have a GMAT this week. That’s great! This is the day that you’ve been working towards for a while, running through problem sets and taking practice tests. Nervous? Everyone is! It’s a big test.
Afraid something will go terribly wrong? Just follow the simple pointers in this article and you’ll go in feeling prepped like a pro. When you’ve got every external factor under control, you can easily put your best foot forward.
The Test-Day Checklist
A few simple steps will ensure that you’re in the best possible headspace to succeed on this test. Jot this list down and check off every component as you go. That takes all of the brainwork out of practicing good test-day habits.
- Stop studying 24 hours before the test. You’re as prepared as you’re going to be and you need to conserve that precious mental energy for the actual test.
- Pack your bag or backpack the night before. Bring a photo ID, pencils, an extra layer of clothing or two, plenty of water, and a nutritious snack to enjoy during the break. Pack headphones or a book if you have to take mass transit to the test. Those will help you stay relaxed before the GMAT.
- Know your route and method of transportation to the testing center. No need to get lost right before the big test!
- Get a full night’s sleep. The number of hours varies changes per person, but don’t short change yourself and don’t sleep so much that you have a hard time waking up. This means stay home and chill the night before! Drinking leads to poor sleep, by the way. (not to mention poor reasoning the day after…. Don’t drink and GMAT!)
- Eat a square meal beforehand. You want food that’s going to sustain you, so get in your carbs, protein, and veggies.
- Plan on arriving 45 minutes early to your testing location. You only need 30 minutes to do everything you need to do before the test, but that extra 15 minutes sure couldn’t hurt. Don’t come in any earlier; you’ll just sit around getting bored and stressed out.
Feeling nervous before the test?
Remember, you’re going to do great! Think through all of the sections and types of questions you are most successful with and get excited to make a killing on those. The rest of the test will snap into place. Get excited to make this the last GMAT you’re ever going to take!
Practice some relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises are a great way to calm nerves quickly.
Simply focus your attention on how deeply you’re breathing. Gradually, work to breath deeper and slower, spacing your breaths apart. You’ll probably be surprised by how short and shallow each of your breaths is. You can spend 2 minutes or 20 on this, so breathing exercises are great any time you start to get antsy before the test.
If you practice meditation, absolutely get your meditation in that morning and maybe sneak in a short one while on the train or sitting in the waiting room at the testing center.
If you don’t meditate check out some meditation apps and see if those might be useful for you. Be sure to get some practice with them in advance, since you want to minimize weird experiences that might throw you off on test day.
Take advantage of those breaks!
Really, take the breaks. Take the full break. Don’t race through the test and burn out.
Consider yourself lucky that you have a few minutes at a time when you’re not working as intensely as you can while a clock is constantly ticking away.
These few minutes are a great opportunity to mentally recharge and think about literally anything besides the GMAT. Drink some water, do some breathing, eat a snack. Just enjoy the a few minutes of calm.
What if there’s a problem?
Has there been some sort of emergency? Are you getting close to test day and feeling like you really aren’t prepared? Hopefully this feeling is based on recent practice tests you’ve taken and not your nerves getting the best of you. It’s a big test and it’s ok if you’re freaking out (a little bit).
Don’t sweat it, you can reschedule your test up to 24 hours in advance of the start time. Fewer than 24 hours in advance and you’ll need to outright cancel.
Of course, the GMAC charges you to reschedule. You will be charged $60 to reschedule if you’re doing so 7 days or more in advance, and $250 if it’s fewer than 7 days in advance.
Is something going wrong during your test?
Are you having any issue whatsoever with the test taking experience? Call the proctor over. That could be an issue with your computer or an issue with a fellow test taker. Stay calm and move quickly, since you want to do your best to maintain that ideal test-taking head space.
Are you afraid of getting a disappointing score?
The thing that’s rare about the GMAT (compared to the other tests for getting into grad school) is that you can cancel your score. If the score you got really isn’t up to snuff, that’s fine! Just cancel it and it will never be reflected on the score report that gets sent to schools.
My advice? Just don’t cancel your score at the testing center. You have 72 hours to cancel it, so sleep on it and see if it’s still a score you’re unhappy with.
Many people score better their second time around.
This is common sense stuff. The first time you take the test, it’s totally unfamiliar to you. You don’t know what the testing center is going to be like, you don’t know what preparation is going to hold up on test day, you can’t imagine whether or not your nerves will get the best of you.
But the second time around, this will all be really familiar. On top of that, you’ll have a good idea of what to improve on from the last time around and will hopefully have done a lot of work making those strides.
So don’t worry about your first GMAT! You can always take it again.
Know The Test
Ok, duh. You want to know how the test is laid out. You want to know all the instructions. Don’t go into the GMAT cold!
Remember, the GMAT is comprised of two multiple choice sections, the Verbal and the Quantitative. You have 65 minutes for 36 Verbal questions and 62 minutes for 31 Quantitative questions. You’ll also complete the Analytical Writing Assessment and some Integrated Reasoning questions, but those aren’t nearly as important.
Both of the Verbal and Quantitative sections start with the easiest questions and get harder as they go. Since this is a computer adaptive test, the better you do, the harder it gets. But don’t freak out it you see an easier question later on! That doesn’t mean you’re doing poorly, it could just be the test ‘checking a different topic’ or randomly throwing a question in a different difficulty scale.
There are two types of questions on the Quantitative:
- Problem solving, which are the classic standardized test multiple choice math questions
- Data sufficiency, where you have to judge if you have enough information to decide if a given statement is true or false
There are three types of questions on the Verbal:
- Reading Comprehension, in which you’ll have to read a multi-paragraph passage and answer several questions about its details, tone, and general implications.
- Critical Reasoning, in which you’ll have to read a one-paragraph logical argument and answer a question which requires you to understand its underlying logic (such as its assumptions, how to strengthen it, etc.)
- Sentence Correction, in which you’ll be given 5 different versions of the same sentence and have to choose the most clear, concise, and grammatically correct version.
For reading comprehension questions, reread the part of the passage that contains information that will help you solve the question, come up with an answer in your own words, and then eliminate any answer choices that conflict with your idea of the answer.
For critical reasoning questions, always start by breaking down the logic of the passage, and identifying its underlying structure.. Then, identify the strengtheners, weakeners or assumptions you’re asked to find yourself! Use these initial answers to help identify the best answer choice.
It also helps to identify what the question is asking you to assess. The most common tasks in questions are finding something that strengthens or weakens an argument, is an assumption or flaw in a premise, or must be true based on the given data. You could also be asked to fill in a blank with a logical statement or state the role of a certain idea in the premise.
For sentence completion questions, focus on readability first and foremost. That means you want to pay attention for subject-verb agreement issues, pronoun misuse or ambiguity, run-on sentences, dangling modifiers, passive voice, and excessive wordiness. Don’t worry so much about idioms, punctuation, or vocabulary.
Plan your essay
This is by far the easiest part of the GMAT (and, frankly, the least important). The prompt you get on the analytical writing section will be different every time, but the format of your essay should be identical!
All you need to do on the analytical writing section is use good essay form and high-quality, grammatically correct writing to address the topic given to you.
So have an outline of a perfect analytical writing essay and practice using it a couple of times. It’s basically a five paragraph essay with an intro, three body paragraphs developing your point and using supporting evidence, and a conclusion. You’ve probably been doing this since freshman year of college, if not high school.