1. Tutors can help, but…

    Back in the day, if you were planning to go to b-school, there were only two real prep options available to you. The first was to hire a private tutor. This was a great option for some, but not for everyone.

    For starters, tutors can be like (and sometimes play the role of) therapists—many are good, some are great, and some are totally ineffective. This varies depending on both tutor and client, and it’s often hard to tell the difference before you’ve wasted time and money.

    This is of course one of the other reasons you might not have hired a tutor—paying for someone else’s time can get pretty expensive. And let’s face it: some of us just don’t learn well when our learning is guided by other people. We prefer to control what we pay attention to, and we prefer to go at our own pace.


    The old GMAT book option, and its ramifications

    If a private tutor wasn’t for you, your only real option was to go to Barnes & Noble and buy a practice book chock full of practice problems. In this economy, the different guidebook publishers would compete for your attention/dollar by advertising how many real or simulated GMAT practice problems they contained. This made sense—practice material was scarce, and not cheap.

    However, it’s implanted the notion in many GMAT takers that the more questions they solve, the better they prepare.


    Getting up-to-date with the changes

    In 2017, the GMAT prep landscape is totally different. The availability of free or cheap practice problems is mind-numbing—you could spend all day, every day, at your desktop, and never pay for or get to the end of the different practice problems.

    But some GMAT students still haven’t noticed the changing market. Ask any GMAT tutor, and they’ll have plenty of examples of students who staked the entirety of their GMAT prep on doing the maximum number of practice problems. This is painfully common. Instead of slowing down and learning from their practice, these students simply check their answers and plow ahead with more problems.


    Stop over-practicing

    The number of students who do too many practice problems seems, to us, to be at least as large as the number of students who do too few practice problems. Why are these students so focused on volume, as if the brute force of a large number of attempted practice questions attempted—or somehow earns—a better score on the actual GMAT?

    Focus on the right target

    It may be that focusing purely on attempting the maximum number of practice problems is simply an appealingly easy way of quantifying one’s progress. But this is a targeting error, and mistakes what the actual goal is. The sheer amount you practice isn’t the goal or the most meaningful criterion by which to measure that goal. How you succeed on the actual GMAT (and thereafter) is. And because time is a scarce resource, you should focus on prepping in the deepest and (thus) most efficient way possible.

    Most students, and especially those students most in need of prep, seem to underestimate the amount of guessing they do, both in problems they get right and problems they get wrong. This is one of the reasons why deeply studying and re-studying all the practice problems you attempt is so important. Merely noting whether or not you got a question right—especially one where there was even the smallest speck of uncertainty—is of no consequence, and tells you nothing about your chances of getting that question right in the future.

    Your mistakes are powerful

    Your mistakes and your uncertainties are the most powerful weapon you have in your GMAT prep. These are, in effect, the only things you can really learn from, and are the only point of your prepping at all—if you don’t intend to improve upon your uncertainty, you should just walk into the test without doing any prep at all, saving yourself much time and effort. But assuming you want to do as well as possible, studying your uncertainty and your ignorance is the only way to improve on it.


    Be your own tutor

    For most people, skipping the private tutor option makes sense, for all the reasons we mentioned before. So remember that you are, in effect, playing the role of your own tutor. This means you have to force yourself to do all the things a tutor would do for you, even the unpleasant ones, like forcing you to slow down and pay more attention to the things you don’t understand.


    Simply plowing ahead skips the entire process of evaluation, which is a crucial component of success (if you haven’t learned this before applying to b-school, hopefully you will after you get accepted!).

    Or let us help you

    If you prepare for the GMAT with examPAL, we will help you to slow down and pay more attention to the reasons you got things right, or wrong.

    You will be asked to analyze your practice, and our PALgorithm will analyze it as well with you. The result is a better understanding of what to do better next time.

    Bottom line—learn from your mistakes and from your successes

    Be sure to evaluate your work, paying extra attention to mistakes and points of uncertainty. Don’t just note them and move along—learn from them. Study them. Understand what gaps in your knowledge exist and work to fill those gaps. Don’t just trust that reading the correct answer in the back of the book will implant the necessary information in your brain for next time—force yourself to do the problem correctly.

    And don’t forget to study your success! Even many of the problems you got right probably involved small moments of uncertainty that you can learn to move through more surely and quickly in the future.



    Dave Green
    Senior tutor and professional test-prep writer. Interdisciplinary wizard, with Master’s degrees in economics, philosophy, and political science at HUJI.

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