Submitted by Nicole Lindsay, a career development expert who is working on her first book about women and business school. She is a former MBA admissions officer, MBA recruiter and non-profit executive. Connect with Nicole at @MBAMinority.
Getting ready for the GMAT exam takes time and hard work. It also takes the right approach. Do what strong test-takers do: follow your study plan, know how to get the most out of practice tests, understand how you learn, and approach the process and test with a calm, positive attitude.
I hear over and over “I’m not a good test-taker” from candidates who are studying for the GMAT exam. But strong test-takers are not born that way. Instead, they develop good test-taking skills and habits over time. These test-takers know how to study and prepare for the GMAT exam in a way that enables them to arrive on test day ready to do their best. You, too, can master the test-taking skills and habits to excel on the GMAT exam. Here are a few tips that will have you saying, “I’m a good test-taker."
1. Have a Plan
Strong GMAT test-takers have a robust study plan. This helps them to stay on track week to week, and that consistency translates into progress as they work through the material. Determine the subjects that you will cover on specific days and the activities that you will complete, such as answering practice questions or taking a full-length practice exam. Studying for the GMAT takes significant time—time that may be difficult to find with your work, family, and other obligations. Just like any other commitment, set aside blocks on your calendar for GMAT preparation. Enlist a friend or family member to check in on your progress and keep you accountable for your GMAT study plan.
2. Practice with Purpose
Practice is one of the most valuable elements of GMAT preparation. Approach each practice test as though you’re sitting down on your actual test day. This will help you get in the habit of focusing for an extended period of time, moving at an appropriate pace, and keeping up your endurance. You should maintain the same type of structure even when you use practice questions to learn a particular topic; for example, when you set aside time to answer 20 data sufficiency questions. Time your responses to individual questions to strengthen your pace. Aim to spend no more than two minutes on each question with a goal of between 1:30-1:40 minute per question to allow you extra time for more challenging questions. Be sure to go back through every question afterwards, not just the ones that you missed, to ensure that you determine the right answer and also the underlying concepts so you can always get those types of questions correct.
3. Know How You Learn
You should know how you learn and how you study best. If not, it’s time for some reflection about your learning style and study habits. Strong test-takers know their strengths and use them to maximize their study time and perform well. There isn't a single right way to study for the GMAT, only the way that is right for you. You may find that you need to review material before attending a test prep class on that topic to absorb the materials and write down questions on concepts that you don’t quite understand. If that’s the case, then you should never go to class unprepared because it won’t be very useful. Similarly, don’t waste time on study tactics that have failed you in the past. If a method isn't working, regroup, brainstorm, and try something different. Of course, there are many ways to study for the GMAT, but you are under no obligation to try them all.
4. Have a Positive Mindset
Once you have put in the time and done the work to prepare for the GMAT exam, the best thing you can do is clear away your worries and relax. Test-day stress will only get in your way. Strong GMAT test-takers go into the exam with a positive, can-do attitude—they know they are prepared and have confidence in their abilities. If you’ve studied properly, on test day you should take a deep breath and know that you’re ready. Give yourself a little pep talk, reminding yourself of everything you accomplished during your preparation. Self-doubt has no place when you sit down to take the GMAT exam!