The GMAT is not easy, and if you are reading this, you have an exam scheduled or are at least considering it. You already know that you need to brush up on long-forgotten geometry and sentence structure rules. You’re aware that there are a few formulas that you will need to memorize in order to be successful. You are ready to practice, practice, and practice some more! You’re ready to dedicate quite a bit of time each week to get you to where you need to be – and you know where that is, based on your ideal school. But perhaps there are a few tips we can give you that you might not know.
Here are the 5 most underrated strategies to improve your GMAT score:
Don’t let the subject matter scare you! True, this test is tough – it’s designed to be that way. However, this is no reason to be nervous. The GMAT is not designed to test your grammar or math skills (although you do need those – but only at a basic, high-school level) It’s designed to test your critical thinking and executive reasoning skills, skills you use every single day, and ones which – crucially – you already have.
Thus, approach your studies with confidence. Practice and preparation (by which we mean not only studies, but also more practical planning of your means of getting to the test center and your schedule on the day of the test) will go a long way to help with your morale..
2. Know what you know.
There will be things you are great at… and there will be some things that you aren’t so great at. That’s ok! What’s important is to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, what you can solve quickly, and what you can’t – and should perhaps just skip. Wasting time trying to solve something you end up guessing at is both a time and score killer.
3. Approach the GMAT as a decision making test, not a skills test.
If you have friends who have already taken the test, you may have heard some variation of this all too common comment: “I spent so much time on this one quant problem, that I left five questions unanswered.”
The person making such a comment approached the GMAT as a skills test. She decided to solve that one problem, and may or may not have gotten it right. Even if she did, she sacrificed five other problems for that one correct answer. If she would have decided to move on quickly (perhaps eliminating one or two answers before guessing between the remaining ones), she may have gotten to the remaining five, potentially getting five more answers correct.
The people who designed the GMAT did not do so to check if you are able to answer all of the questions. If they did, there wouldn’t be a time limit, and it wouldn’t be adaptive. Given enough time, most of us could probably answer almost every question. They designed it to test your decision making. Can you determine when a question is too difficult or too time-consuming and then decide to move on? Are you able to decide when the benefit of potentially answering future problems is greater than the benefit of answering this individual problem?
Of course, having the skills to answer more questions is imperative, but even when possessing all of the skills required, there will still be at least a few questions that are too difficult. Knowing when you have taken too long on any one question and making the decision to move on will help you immensely. Knowing beforehand what you don’t know, and when you should move on early, will help you even more.
Learn and practice these decision-making skills while you are studying. During your practice exams, say to yourself, “I am sure I could figure this out if I had more time, but I need to move on to the next one.” Your results review is the time to learn how to do the problem, and figure out if you could have done so more efficiently.
A note to those of you who still insist on solving everything before moving on: If you spend four or five minutes answering a question that is designed to only take one or two, your chances of getting it right actually decrease. If you are struggling that much, chances are something is wrong, and you are either missing something in the problem, missing a key skill set, or just don’t know it. Move on and save your brain power for a future problem that you do know.
4. Know what they are asking.
Ok, this seems obvious. I know it does. But in my years of teaching GMAT students, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard them say, “Ohhhhhh….I solved for y instead of x.” Or, “Ohhhh… I went one step too far/ not far enough.”
Let me show you an example. Take a look at this example:
A lot of people get this wrong, or spend too long getting it right. Why? For many of them, the reason is that they try to solve for r and s individually so that they can solve for r – s. But that isn’t what the question is asking. It asks for r – s, which can be treated as a variable in and of itself. And, it is possible to solve for that. Many of us would have missed this question because we weren’t answering the question they asked.
Let’s look at another example. Take a look at this question:
While solving it, I solved for x. I didn’t need to do that. I just needed to determine how many values of x there are. It is a good thing that 3 was not an answer choice, or I would have gotten it wrong. However, I did waste precious time going one step too far in solving the equation. In this example, my error didn’t waste too much time, but in many others, it can add upwards of a minute. Know what they are asking!
The GMAT is almost always going to give you an option that answers a different question. If they ask for Mary’s age, they will almost always include Tom’s age in the answer choices. And, in our rush to answer, we often pick the wrong one. If they ask you for the area, they will probably have the perimeter as an answer, and if they ask you for the answer to the second to the last step to the problem, they will almost always have the final answer. This is by design. They are testing your attention to detail and your ability to stay on task. Don’t fall for it!
5. Don’t make it harder than it is.
Often, students get in the “all math, all the time” mindset. This makes some problems more difficult than they need to be. Some problems can be solved logically. And some can be solved using alternative math tools. Some questions even explicitly ask you to estimate. They say so right in the problem – and many students still often use the actual numbers!
Take, for example, a problem that finishes up with the equation 36 x 99 = ?. There are at least two solution options here. You can multiply 36 times 99 directly, obviously – but that’s going to take a while, and has a high potential for mistakes. Or, you can make it a little easier on yourself and simplify your math: 36 x 100 = 3600, 3600 – 36 = 3564. To me, that is much easier, and much quicker. During your practice sessions, always look for ways to make your arithmetic easier.
Some questions just need common sense. Take a look at this geometry question:
You could spend the time counting the individual lines and using the quadratic equation to figure out the length of the diagonals. Or, you could ask yourself, “Well…if I wanted to get from A to B in a hurry, which route would I take?” I bet you’d take x or y. You’re certainly not taking z, and probably not w either, unless you know something I don’t! Using our eyes and our brains can help instantly eliminate two wrong answers so we can focus on the two real contenders.
Obviously, there is no one strategy that will get your score where it needs to be more than simple hard work, time, and practice will. But, beyond those, making your practice work for you and learning the skills beyond the basic memorized equations and rules, should lead you to see a little more success on the GMAT.
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