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It’s been about a year I gave the GMAT exam and since then I have seen a lot of people stressing over it and asking how I managed it and in a few cases literally shutting down half their life to focus on it. Based on my conversations, I thought of writing this post so that more people could give it a good shot, truly understand it and work on it in a strategic manner.
This is about the strategies beyond your studying, the small things which have a big impact. I am not going to get into the specifics of every GMAT section in this article as enough is available about that online but you could comment below with your questions and I will address it.
Also before you go ahead please know this:
We as Indians have been taught that our academics are most important. Hence Indians by default end up giving way more importance to the GMAT as compared to the other parts of the MBA Application. Yes, I know that most other parts of your package except for the essays and the GMAT are literally set in stone, but there are yet a lot of things you can do. Your success in getting admitted depends on your story. Pretty much all the ad com (admissions committee) cares about is this: Will this person be successful in the future? Is he/she a must have in my class?
Your GMAT score just backs it up by saying yes this person can very well also manage the academic workload of the course. Obviously, this changes based on the level of college you apply for, but the point is, just the way you are starting to work on your GMAT literally months or a year in advance, work on your story too!
Support a cause, run an organisation, launch your side project, volunteer, stand out in sports, inspire other people or do whatever it is that makes you, YOU because that is what will make you unique in the largest applicant pool of Indians (assuming you are one).
The first thing you need to know about GMAT:
GMAT is literally a test of your ability to think logically and apply information. Yes, even the verbal section is based pretty much on that. It may be applying rules to identify what is wrong in a sentence, or it may be analysing what a particular line is trying to convey.
Hence forget the test, and first, try to build this thought process into your everyday life (at least work). I completely believe my score is primarily because over the last few years in my work, I have tried to and been pushed to adopt an analytical and logical mindset. The rest is about brushing up on maths or learning the rules of verbal.
The GMAT is also about mental endurance. Hence instead of focussing on just learning things, focus on timing and on building your mental ability to answer questions for the 3.5 hours it lasts.
Proceed only once you understand the above.
Start with a Mock:
Stop! Don’t study a word more about GMAT! Download the GMAT Prep software (it gives you two free tests, and is the closest you can get to the real thing) and give the first of the two mocks. Do the complete test (it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand how to do the AWA) and take only the official breaks.
Once done analyse your score, figure your weaknesses and prioritise what aspects you need to focus on more. This helps you establish a starting point, which is very important.
Set a Goal:
Set an overall score goal. How much do you want? A 720? A 750? Or a 770?
Understand the percentile system (anything above 750 is 99 percentile) and understand the combination of Quant and Verbal scores that would lead to your overall target.
This will help you establish clearly where you want to see yourself and by how many points your score needs to increase. It could be 100+ or could be a mere 30.
Make a Plan:
You may study only on the weekends or for an hour on every day. That completely depends on your schedule.
This is what I did:
– Spend Initial Days Brushing up on the theory for Q and V from the Official Guide.
– Mark out 1-2 hours a day on weekdays to practice OG questions and review those.
– Split each OG section into equal parts and every day does a combination of all 5 sections. Very important for three reasons:
- Your mind must be used to doing all at the same time.
- The questions in OG progress in difficulty with time and hence goes in a good flow.
- You should not get out of touch with a particular section.
– Mark out 4 hours on Saturday for giving a Mock.
– Mark out 3-4 hours on Sunday to review the previous day’s test
I spent about 2 months studying for this. You could spend anything from 1 to 6 hours. Based on your starting point, your goal, time in hand, and personal ability.
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Where to Study from?
On your own, online prep or classes, that is on you. If you cannot motivate yourself and need help to understand explanations then do take assistance. I liked the freedom of studying on my own. I used the Official Guide like a bible and complemented it with the Manhattan GMAT books for Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning as they were my weak spots (especially the former).
For most Indians it is verbal that is a challenge.
I did a mock every week. In my two months, I gave 8: 2 GMAT Prep and 6 Manhattan Gmat tests (comes free if you buy a book). You could also do Veritas but MGmat though a little tougher, is more diverse in its questions and that difficulty is good practice. A simple rule is to add 50-70 points to your MGmat score to estimate your possible actual score.
Just a few days before your test date, take the final GMAT Prep test. It will give you a close idea of where you are now, and the areas you yet need to address. I scored 770 in this which when adjusted for exam day stress shows a range of 750-770 as the final score.
Well here is a little secret. If there is one thing which influences your performance the most it is reviewing. I know so many people who give test after test, solve multiple books for practice but barely spend any time reviewing. Reviewing shows you exactly where you went wrong and helps you overcome those mistakes which you will be most likely to make again. Review every single answer you get wrong. Also, review each you were unsure about when answering. Do not move forward until you are completely clear about how the answer was derived and sure that you can now solve it.
Recreate Test Conditions
Mixing up questions, using one sheet for rough work, completing the test in the same time and answering all questions before checking and reviewing are some simple ways.
I also tried to study or at least give the test at the same time as my actual test to get my mind tuned to it.
Time your self and Learn when to Skip a Question:
This by far was the most difficult for me. Coming with the mentality that I must be able to solve every question I would often spend a minute more on a question at the cost of losing out on the 2-3 questions that minute could have been used to answer.
I started timing every practice session as well. With that, I came up with an average time a particular question should take me. I added about 20 seconds to that which became my hard stop time, where no matter how close I feel I am to the answer, I had to guess and move forward. If I was going fast and had extra time in hand, my reward would be that I could spend 10-20 seconds more on a particular question beyond the hard stop.
This took a lot of practice but ultimately became a mindset.
Get the Easy Questions Right
The GMAT with its different difficulty levels tries to best estimate your level. If you get a hard question wrong it will give you an easy one. If you get that right it will again move to a harder one. So getting a hard one wrong is okay.
But if you get a low-level question wrong, it will think that your ability is that low and will move to an even lower one. That is more hazardous.
All questions are not made equal here and hence do not at any cost get easy questions wrong. This often happens if you don’t time yourself right as mentioned above.
Book your date
A lot of people don’t get serious about their studying unless they book the date. So if that’s you, and you need a deadline looming on your head for motivation then book the date once you have a fair idea of where you stand.
Last Day and Test Day
Restrict studying to max an hour or two of brushing up. Just relax that day. Spend time with family. Play a game or sport. Release all the stress.
On the exam day, do something that puts you in a relaxed and happy mood. Meditate, listen to music and eat complex carbs and protein to prime your mind and supply it with continuous energy for the upcoming mental marathon.
Finally, best of luck! The above is not a how you must go about your preparation, but just an explanation of how I went about mine, with pointers that could help you learn something new or get some ideas for your plan. I hope this helps you be more strategic and do all the really important things, beyond just studying, that actually impact your final performance. Happy to answer any questions. Do post them in the comments below.
P.S. This one article is too less (also basic) to tell you about all my strategies, forget about those of other high scorers. Want to know what top scorers do differently? Here we have made something to share our learnings exclusively with aspirants like you.