GMAT™ Exam Prep: Three Steps to Identify Your Testing Strengths and Weaknesses
An important step in preparing for the GMAT™ exam is figuring out where to begin.
While having a study plan is a critical first step, you also need to know where to focus your efforts. To do this, you need a firm understanding of your GMAT test-taking strengths and weaknesses. Only then can you establish a baseline for success and figure out where to spend your time studying.
Follow our three-step plan to discover your greatest GMAT strengths and weaknesses:
- Take practice exams
While you may already have an idea of where you’ll excel or struggle on the GMAT exam, you need more concrete proof. One way to gauge your abilities is to take a practice exam. This will not only help you confirm (or disprove) your preconceptions about your readiness to take the GMAT, but it will also show you where your different strengths and weaknesses lie. Ideally, you should take one exam upfront to establish a baseline and then another one later to check your progress. Here are a few pointers to help you during this discovery phase:
- Take “official” GMAT practice exams: Don’t rely on just any practice tests. Use free practice exams from the makers of the GMAT, as these contain real questions from past exams and use the same GMAT algorithm as the actual test. This is your best option for simulating the real test experience, which will prove most valuable in exposing your abilities.
- Pretend it’s a real test: Approach your practice exams with the same time constraints and level of focus as you would the real exam. This will help you understand your capabilities and uncover less obvious strengths and weakness, such as how you perform under pressure and where you start to lose focus. However, before you jump right into timed practice, take an untimed test first to orient yourself with the test and its questions.
- Strategize section order: When you take the actual GMAT exam, you can customize your experience by determining which section you want to complete first (note: Integrated Reasoning always comes third). Therefore, you’ll want to determine a strategy in advance. For example, if your practice reveals that you’re strongest in Verbal Reasoning, you may want to start with that section to bolster your confidence at the beginning of the exam, or you may decide to tackle a more challenging section while you're sharpest.
- Analyze your results
After you take a practice test, identify big-picture patterns across your mistakes and successes. This is one of the most important (and neglected) steps in understanding and improving your GMAT-taking abilities. As you review your practice exams, ask yourself these questions:
- Why did I make this mistake? For every question you answered incorrectly, write down the reason that you made the mistake. This can include everything from knowledge gaps to not reading questions correctly, rushing, running out of time, forgetting formulas and more.
- What can I learn from it? Resist the urge to credit mistakes as a one-time occurrence. Instead, take the opportunity to turn every error into something more meaningful. After all, isn’t it more helpful to know you’re prone to mental math errors, rather than “silly mistakes”?
- How can I prevent it from happening again? Now it’s time to make an action plan! If you make a lot of calculation errors, for example, your action plan may entail double-checking all math answers.
- What can I learn from my test-taking strengths? While looking at your weaknesses is helpful, you also need to pull learnings from areas where you did well. This will not only keep you motivated, but it will also help you identify strategies to apply to weaker areas.
- Target your practice
Take your learnings from step two above and create a custom study plan. Focus on your areas of weakness and create practice sets. This exercise will help you improve, while also exposing additional strengths and weaknesses that you can continue to use to refine your practice efforts. Here are a few tips to get started:
- Customize your practice: Build unique practice sets that prioritize the areas you need to improve. Leveraging tools like the GMAT™ Official Guide allow you to filter questions by areas like question type and level of difficulty, which can help you segment questions more quickly.
- Benchmark: As mentioned, take one practice exam upfront to establish a baseline. Then, take at least one more to gauge your progress and evaluate how your strengths and weaknesses evolve with more practice. Also benchmark your abilities and progress against the clock, keeping in mind that on average each Quantitative question should take about 2 minutes, while Verbal questions should take about 1 minute and 45 seconds and Integrated Reasoning questions about 2 ½ minutes.
- Don’t ignore the essay: Since the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) isn’t multiple choice, it can feel more daunting to study for. However, just as you would for the other sections, focus on improving weak areas. To hone your efforts, make a list of categories (i.e., grammar, spelling, logical argument structure) to “grade” your practice essay against. Also solicit outside feedback from study partners and tutors or use GMAT Write™, a handy tool that scores your practice essays based on the GMAT algorithm and provides feedback on categories, such as how clearly your thoughts are organized.
Ready to practice?
Now that you have a few tips to help you identify your GMAT test-taking strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to practice, practice, practice! Check out these helpful exam prep resources from the makers of the GMAT exam!