You studied for months. You had a good handle on the structure of the test. You did a bunch of practice exams before the big day. You got a 650, but you’re disappointed. A 650 is a good score, especially considering that the average GMAT score is a 550. But, you want to be in that 700+ zone, where you can sleep easy knowing that your GMAT score won’t be what holds back from the school of your dreams. I totally understand. Let’s get you into that 700+ zone!
Here are some common barriers to the 700+ zone and things you can do to overcome them:
First and foremost: Don’t lie to yourself!
I have this terrible habit of ignoring things I don’t like, or things I think would be a huge pain to think about. I had to overcome that when I was studying for the test. I was brutally honest with myself and really dug deep to figure out what went wrong. Try to ask yourself some of these questions.
- Did I make careless mistakes?
- Did the pressure of test day get to me?
- Were there basic concepts that I messed up?
Having a real understanding of what your weaknesses are is the first step (and the most important step) to improving your score.
Avoid making careless mistakes
Making careless or silly mistakes is the worst! All of the information is there in your head and you know how to do the problem but it’s like there is a little gnome running around swatting the right answers from making it through!
Try these approaches:
Brush up on the easy concepts. You may have focused too much on the harder material when you were studying. Perfect the easy topics like basic arithmetic and solving equations. You absolutely, definitely, positively want to pick off those low hanging fruit and don’t want to leave those questions vulnerable to the little gnome!
SLOW DOWN. The GMAT might feel like a race against the clock (especially on the quant section) but you don’t have to let the urgency get in your way. Just taking a few extra seconds to read each question carefully and think through your plan of attack will make a big difference. In the end, those few seconds may actually end up saving you some time and will definitely decrease the number of careless mistakes you make!
Make sure you REALLY understand the material
If you got a 650 on the GMAT, you have a fairly good grasp on the material. But beyond “fairly good”, it’s important to understand all of the concepts forwards and backwards, upside-down, and inside-out to be able to immediately identify the best way to answer a question. Without a really strong understanding of the material, you may find yourself spending too much time trying to answer one question, and that can throw you off track for the rest of the section.
This is where that honesty comes in again. Dig in and figure out which topics are giving you trouble and be as specific as possible. Maybe geometry is giving you a hard time. What kind of geometry? Special triangles? Arcs? Coordinate geometry word problems?
Try these approaches:
Teach out loud. If you have a study buddy, great! You can explain the concepts to him or her. Studying on your own? No problem! Find a place where nobody will judge you and explain the concept out loud. Being able to verbalize concepts in your own words will help immensely.
Time yourself. As you are doing your practice questions, don’t forget to time yourself. If you can train your body to know what 2 minutes feels like, when test day comes, you won’t be constantly stealing glances at the timer. Timing yourself will also help you recognize the questions that you are spending more time on, which can help reveal which types of questions are giving you more difficulty.
Keep track of the types of problems that are giving you trouble and come up with pro tips. Pay attention not only to the questions that you get wrong, but also the ones that you are spending a lot of time on, the ones where you just winged it, and WHY. When I was studying for the GMAT, I kept a notebook where I tracked the questions I got wrong, organized by topic. I would re-do the question in pencil (if it were a math problem), and then used red pen to write down the “pro tip” that would help me solve the problem.
For example, I found myself getting tripped up on tricky Sentence Corrections. While the answers I chose were grammatically correct, they were not the right answers. It took a bunch of wrong answers for me to remember that the sentence correction cannot change the meaning of the sentence. When I realized this, I grabbed my red pen and wrote in all caps: “SENTENCE CORRECTION CANNOT CHANGE THE MEANING OF THE SENTENCE!!!!!!!”. That helped me remember for next time.
Note: if you are a Magoosh premium student, there is an error log that tracks the topics for the questions that you miss, so this will help in compiling the areas where you may be weaker.
Practice, practice, practice! Re-reading concept summaries of your problem areas or reading answer explanations is a good place to start, but I found that the best way to learn from my mistakes is to put myself in the same situation and try not to make the same mistake again. You can re-do the questions you got wrong or do extra-targeted practice questions. And then do some more! Keep track of your progress and don’t forget to jot down any pro tips that will help you solve the same problem in the future. The GMAT tests a limited amount of material, and if you can familiarize yourself with the patterns in the questions, you’ll be able to attack anything they throw at you!
Overcome your test day nerves
Nerves are the hardest thing to control. They may have prevented you from sleeping well the night before the test, or maybe you didn’t have much of an appetite the morning of. Or maybe the little timer at the top of your screen gets your stomach all up in knots. Whatever it is, we have to find a way to calm those nerves! Check out Mike’s suggestions for getting over GMAT exam anxiety. http://magoosh.com/gmat/2012/overcome-gmat-exam-anxiety-breathe/
Try these approaches:
Come prepared. You can scope out the testing location and the parking situation before actual test day. You can pick out the Starbucks you’ll stop by on the way. The night before, pack your bag with your photo ID and any snacks you’ll want to have during breaks. Here are some more tips for exam day: http://magoosh.com/gmat/2012/10-tips-for-g-day-exam-day-strategies/
Pack snacks. You’ll get two optional breaks, one after the Integrated Reasoning section, and one after the Quant section. If you couldn’t get anything down for breakfast this morning, this is the time to refuel. Your brain needs sugar to function so make sure you feed it!
Practice easy questions the night before. Boost your confidence with a few easy warm-up questions. This will remind you that you indeed know how to do these problems, and truly believing this will help immensely on test day.