10 Steps to Acing the GMAT or GRE
1. Understand the differences between the GMAT and the GRE. Although there are a lot of similarities, there are also important differences between the GMAT and the GRE. With more schools now accepting either, it’s important to understand those differences early and focus on the test that’s right for the schools you’re applying to and for your own strengths and weaknesses.
2. Understand CATs (Computer Adaptive Tests). Both the GMAT and the GRE adapt in some way to how well you perform in the early sections of the tests. However, the GMAT does so after each question, while the GRE does so after each section. Get use to how this feels and what it means for you on test day.
3. Know your strengths (and your weaknesses). Take a practice test early and understand where you need to spend your study time. Then focus on those resources best equipped to practice the problems you struggle the most with.
4. Practice, practice, practice. There is no way around it; if you want to excel on the GMAT or GRE, you need to commit to putting in a lot of hours. Maintain a good mix of individual study, individual tutoring, group study, and prep courses to keep things fresh.
5. Lay out a schedule. To stay on track, lay out a schedule early on (at least six weeks before the exam, but hopefully even a few months prior). Make sure you’re dedicating at least a few nights every week to the work, and stick to it. It’s easy to fall out of the habit, but in order to succeed you have to be willing to grind it out.
6. Register to take the test. Getting your test date on the calendar will ensure you won’t face any last-minute logistical snags. Perhaps more importantly, it will also act as a strong forcing mechanism, keeping you focused and on schedule.
7. Practice like every day is test day. Replicate your test day experience as closely as possible when you’re studying. For example, many people neglect to practice the written section (the AWA). Of course it’s important to practice so you score well, but it’s also important in order to get accustomed to spending the additional hour in the test. After all, a big portion of the battle is simply stamina and focus on test day! Also, make sure you study in a quite place and at a desk when possible. Use the same type of pen and booklet that you’ll be given on test day. You can find great replicas in our resources section.
8. Know the available resources. There are countless study resources to help you prepare, along with full prep courses, tutors, prep books, practice CATs, and free access to old exams on sites like mba.com. Check out the resources section of our website for some of our favorites, and understand which might be right for you.
9. Show up rested. Showing up rested should not be underestimated. If you can, schedule a day or two off work. Make sure you get a solid night’s sleep. And keep to your body’s normal routine.
10. Retaking the test. According to the GMAC – the body that administers the GMAT – the standard error for the test is about 30 points. That means you should expect some fluctuation in your score from test to test (although that fluctuation can work both ways!). Admissions committees understand this, and they know that applicants can have bad days. So, if you feel like your score is truly not reflective of your ability, consider retaking the test (you’re allowed to take it once every 31 calendar days), but also be realistic about the improvement you can achieve from test to test.
Our Experience – From the Founders
Kyle’s GMAT Experience: I began studying for the GMAT in June, about two and a half months before I was scheduled to take the test. Like many business school applicants, I started with a practice test and came in just under 700. Given my background would be quantitatively light compared to many of my peers, I knew I needed to do better. I used a variety of books and study aids, focusing mainly on Manhattan GMAT prep materials (check out our recommended resources section). I also was incredibly fortunate to have a solid study group led by a friend that was matriculating to Kellogg that fall. After putting in at least four days each week and several hours each day, I steadily raised my score in practice tests to the mid 700s.
I scheduled to have off work the day before and the day of the test, which allowed me to be well rested headed into the test center. The AWA section was straightforward enough, but my nerves clearly got the better of me when I launched into the quantitative portion. I stumbled on the first question, solving to an answer that wasn’t even listed among the multiple choice options. But after a deep breadth and a full four minutes of work — well more than you should normally invest in any question — I arrived at the right answer. From there on in the test experience was smooth, and I was thrilled to walk out of the test center with a 770. There’s no doubt in my mind that the extra time and patience I invested in that first question was critical to my success.
Vincent’s GMAT Experience: I registered to take the GMAT the very day I made the decision to go to business school. Setting an aggressive deadline was essential; I picked a date three months in the future. After ordering my preparation books (check out our recommended resources section) and while waiting for their delivery, I started browsing sites such as Beaththegmat or GmatClub to explore their resources (I probably spent way too much time browsing their discussion boards).
My actual preparation started 6 weeks before my exam date. During the first 2 weeks, I worked 2-3 hours a day, first going through theoretical books (e.g. Manhattan GMAT) and doing the exercises at the end of each chapter. I then ramped up my preparation with 3-5 hours of work during weekdays and up to 8 hours on weekends. I took the final week off from work and spent close to 10 hours per day practicing exercises and focusing on my weak spots. I only took three practice tests, the first one roughly 10 days before my official exam. By that time I had covered all eight Manhattan GMAT books and was therefore able to truly assess my weak spots. I took another practice CAT five days before the test in order to confirm that I had successfully addressed my weaknesses. Finally I took a final practice test the morning before the exam, mostly to reassure myself that I was ready.
Discipline was essential to getting a good score. As a non-native English speaker, sentence correction turned out to be the most challenging part, but hard work allowed me to overcome my weaknesses. Start early, work everyday, and you should do well on your GMAT. There is no secret recipe other than hard work.
My personal tip: I played a fast-paced video game before every test I took, even on the official test day. For what it’s worth, I felt more alert after playing. Give it a shot!