Unlocking The GMAT: Outscoring Rivals

Don’t make careless mistakes

Have you ever worked a really long algebra problem, only to find you made an arithmetic error in the third step? In college, you might have received partial credit. GMAT answers, however, are correct or incorrect. You cannot afford to make even one careless arithmetic mistake. Many of your peers will not strive to reduce their careless mistakes. Your opportunity is to work vigorously toward perfect accuracy – yes, perfect.

We make careless mistakes because we are not living in the present. We are focusing on the next step, the next question, or the next break. Preparing for the GMAT includes practicing being present in the moment, expending all your energy on the current step – the current question. Analyze every question you miss, and keep track of why you missed it. Did you misread the question? Did you answer what the question asked? Did you make an arithmetic error in the third step? Be in the moment, and work carefully.

Create and execute a strategic GMAT Study Plan

Everyone preparing for the GMAT will use some form of study plan. Most of your peers will choose the simplest: Study from basic GMAT materials, take practice tests, study the missed problems, take more practice tests, and then take the GMAT. You, on the other hand, won’t make this mistake. You’ll place yourself ahead of the pack – right from the start –  by following a sophisticated plan with three overarching phases.

In Phase 1, you’ll develop conceptual knowledge, mastering all of the rules, facts, concepts, and structures found on the GMAT. Without this knowledge, earning a competitive score is almost impossible. The conceptual knowledge you build will become the foundation of your GMAT study. The stronger your foundation, the higher you’ll climb.

In this phase, you’ll bring to life the rules of radicals and exponents, learn how to recognize proper parallel sentence structure, memorize unit digit patterns, learn how to spot assumptions and inferences, master geometrical relationships, and develop reading comprehension techniques. Knowledge is power in this phase, so take the time to learn as much as possible. To do this effectively, trade flimsy GMAT prep materials for the counterparts that provide a rigorous, clear, and comprehensive review of the content. Let your competition prepare with the Cliffs Notes, while you build serious proficiency.

Developing conceptual knowledge, although necessary, is not sufficient. Proper practice is the utmost component of success. It’s one thing to know the correct answer, but it’s another to actually solve a GMAT problem.

So in Phase 2, you’ll build procedural knowledge – the application of your conceptual knowledge. You’ll engage in deliberate practice with realistic GMAT questions. The more realistic the questions with which you properly practice, the more procedural knowledge you’ll build and proficiency you’ll develop.

Remember that one of the GMAT’s chief challenges is its diversity – not just among different question types – but within each type. For example, perhaps you’ve correctly solved one or two rate-time-distance questions. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve mastered a sufficient number of rate-time-distance questions. Likewise, the fact that you’ve done well on a few sentence correction questions testing parallelism may not mean you’re prepared to handle every potential twist and turn in parallel structure.

In Phase 3, you’ll develop operational knowledge – the ability to deploy your new knowledge, skills, concepts, strategies, and techniques on practice tests. Sitting for full-length practice tests can be uncomfortable at first. The questions adapt to your abilities, the pressure is high, the clock is ticking, and three and one-half hours is a long time to focus.

Most competitive students require about one month in this third phase. Aim to take – and carefully review the results of – two tests per week. After reviewing each test, compose a list of the things you did well, and keep it close. Analyze your wrong answers: What went wrong?

Once you understand the proper solutions, redo those problems. Also, keep a detailed log of the question types you answer incorrectly. If, for example, you incorrectly answer several ratio questions, spend time carefully reviewing your ratios chapter. At the end of the week, take another practice test. Rinse and repeat. After a month of taking these tests, the actual GMAT should seem routine.

Here’s a sample study plan many Target Test Prep students have used successfully to earn impressive quantitative scores. Now that you have a strategic study plan in place, your hard work will be the next major contributor to your success.

Be realistic about the process length

Many of your peers will underestimate the time required to prepare for the GMAT, capitulating before reaching their full potential. It’s disheartening when students score below their capabilities because they gave up prematurely. Your opportunity, then, is to be realistic about the time required to master this test.

Sometimes, students become frustrated when they don’t see steady increases in practice test scores, but such increases won’t be experienced immediately. It doesn’t mean you’re not making good progress. Often, students’ GMAT scores rise substantially in the final few weeks of studying. So, keep going, and don’t give up. You can do this!

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