Whether you’re just getting ready to start your GMAT prep or you’re quickly creeping up on test day, there are many ways that you can make your GMAT prep and test experience go more smoothly. In this guide, I’ll take you through the top 25 GMAT tips and strategies that will help you achieve your goal score.
5 Foundational Principles for Your GMAT Prep
While there are many things to consider when beginning your GMAT prep, these five foundational GMAT strategies will give you a solid foundation for achieving your goals. Keep them in mind as you craft your study plan.
Set a Goal Score
Setting a goal score is one of the most important things you can do as a test-taker. Setting a goal score helps you make sure you’re on track to be considered as a serious applicant at the MBA program of your choice. It also helps you focus in on and work towards a specific, concrete goal.
You can set your goal score by looking at the averages of applicants at the MBA programs you’re applying to. Set your goal score at the high end of those scores, so that you’ll definitely fall into the range of acceptable scores.
Create a Personalized Study Program
Every test-taker has different strengths and weaknesses. While there are benefits to following prescribed GMAT prep plans, you should also take into account your own strengths, weaknesses, and needs.
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For instance, you want to make sure that your prep is focused strongly on the areas that you need the most help in. If you are excellent at geometry but struggle with algebra, you should focus your prep to make sure that you’re studying algebra more.
Just as you can select which content you want to focus on, you can also choose how and when you want to study. Only you know what your schedule is like. It doesn’t make sense to cram 30 hours of prep in every week if you’re also working two jobs and taking classes, but it might if you have a few months off (say over the summer). The key is to make your study program work for you.
Use High-Quality Prep Materials
One of the best things that you can do for yourself as you study for the GMAT is to exclusively use high-quality prep materials. High-quality prep materials realistically simulate test content and format and only cover content you might actually see on the GMAT.
The best option for practice materials is always official GMAT tests and questions from GMAC. Unfortunately, once you venture beyond official materials, you’ll find many low-quality materials that cover topics not tested on the GMAT or present questions or sections in inaccurate ways. Be skeptical of unfamiliar prep materials and make sure to read reviews of books and software before you spend money on them.
Understand the Format of the Test
Make sure that you spend time on building a deep understanding of the format of the GMAT. You should familiarize yourself with the sections, the number of questions in each section, and the length of time you’ll have to complete each one. Understanding the GMAT format will help you feel comfortable on test day.
You should also build your knowledge about the specifics of the test. For instance, you can use a calculator on the integrated reasoning section, but not on the quantitative section. You can’t go back to answers that you skip. Knowing what to expect will save you from unpleasant surprises on test day.
Don’t Make the Test a Bigger Deal Than It Really Is
Finally, keep some perspective as you study for the GMAT. The GMAT is important to your MBA admissions, certainly, but it’s not the only part of your application. Focus on building a well-rounded application that shows off your skills in many different areas. Ultimately, being a strong, well-rounded candidate with a medium GMAT score will likely take you farther than being a candidate with terrible grades and no experience, but a high GMAT score.
5 GMAT Study Tips to Help You Make the Most of Your Prep
Now that you know what to keep in mind as you start to think about your GMAT prep, here are the five top GMAT tips to follow as you complete your GMAT practice.
Practice With Real Test Questions
Using official GMAT practice questions from GMAC is probably the most important piece of advice I’ll give you. By using real practice questions, you’re ensuring that their content, style, and format will be exactly like what you’ll see on test day.
You can start your real test question practice with the free GMATPrep software, which includes two full-length adaptive practice test plus 90 extra practice questions. For more official resources, with real, retired GMAT questions, check out our complete list of GMAT practice tests.
Take Regular Practice Tests
Taking regular practice tests is a great way to monitor your progress and make sure your prep is on track. By taking regular practice tests, you can see what you’re doing well on and what you’re still struggling with. You’ll also familiarize yourself with the format of the GMAT and help train your body and your mind to sit still and concentrate for three hours and thirty minutes.
Analyze Your Mistakes
During your practice, make sure you take time to learn why you got questions wrong: are you misunderstanding questions, making careless mistakes, or lacking the necessary content knowledge? Analyzing your mistakes will help you see what you need to study.
Most high-quality prep materials will give answer explanations that come with each question. Take the time to review those after every problem set or practice test you work on. Turn your mistakes into lessons learned.
Spend Time Studying for the IR and AWA Sections
Many test-takers spend all of their time focusing on the verbal and quantitative sections of the GMAT and completely ignore the integrated reasoning and analytical writing assessment sections. While the GMAT total score (which is made up of your verbal and quantitative scores) is still the most important score that business schools consider, your IR and AWA scores are important, too. The IR section grows in important every year as schools become more familiar with it, while the AWA section is a great way for schools to see how you communicate ideas. Make sure you spend time preparing for these sections before test day.
Practice Pacing Yourself
The GMAT is a timed test, so practicing pacing yourself will help you make sure you have enough time to answer all of the questions on the test. While you definitely want to spend a good amount of time learning strategies, you also need to focus on doing timed practice sets so that you know you can answer questions in the time allotted.
5 Top GMAT Tips for the Quant Section
The often-feared GMAT quantitative section is the most daunting section of the test to many test-takers. With these five GMAT study tips, you’ll be able to ease your anxiety about the quant section, effectively practice to increase your mastery, and ultimately boost your quant score on test day.
Master High School Math Fundamentals
The questions on the GMAT quant section only test high school math concepts. That means that you’ll have likely encountered every skill you need to master the test. The key, then, lies in mastering these fundamental skills.
You won’t be able to use a calculator on the GMAT, so you’ll have to be fast with your basic calculations. Practice multiplying and dividing decimals and fractions. Memorize the exponent rules. Memorize common roots and higher powers. These simple tips will save you time and build your confidence on test day.
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Many GMAT prep materials (such as Manhattan Prep or Total GMAT Math) focus on building your knowledge of fundamentals before tackling the two question types. Follow this format so that you’re confident in the basics of the math before trying to apply it to the unique GMAT quant questions.
Break Down the Questions
GMAT quant questions are designed to present simple math concepts in a complex and intimidating way. However, no matter how difficult the question may look, remember that you’ll only need to use high school level math to answer it.
Start small on these questions by using what you know. If you break the problem down to small steps, beginning with what you know, you’ll be able to work towards an answer.
Plug in Smart Numbers
Plugging in numbers is a useful strategy for solving GMAT math problems. Plugging in numbers means that you substitute numbers for variables like x or y when solving an equation.
You want to make sure you’re using smart numbers. -1, 2, and 1 are good numbers to plug in if you don’t have any confines, because they’re easy and manageable. If the question asks you to use a specific type of number (e.g., a multiple of 3), make sure you’re using a multiple (e.g, use 6 instead of 54) that’ll be easy to do basic calculations with.
The writers of the GMAT know that people generally pick positive, whole numbers to plug into their equations. Don’t forget about negative integers, positive and negative fractions, positive and negative decimals, etc., when analyzing a data sufficiency question.
Memorize the Data Sufficiency Answers
All the questions on the data sufficiency section will have the same five possible answers. Memorizing the answers will help save you time and ensure that you have a clear understanding of what each answer means.
Every single data sufficiency question has the same 5 possible answers:
a. Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient
b. Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient
c. Both statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient
d. EACH statement ALONE is sufficient
e. Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient
The 12TEN mnemonic can help you remember those answers and save you time:
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1: only statement 1
2: only statement 2
T: both statements together
E: either statement
N: neither statement
Using this mnemonic will help you save time on test day and help you be more accurate on test day, because you’ll be able to check your answers systematically.
The GMAT normally arranges answer choices in the ascending numerical value on the quant section. This arrangement means that you can try to plug in an answer and work backwards if you’ve got no idea where to start on a particular question.
I’d suggest plugging in the middle answer, so that way you’ll know whether you need to go higher or lower with your answer and you can easily eliminate answers that you know to be wrong. Remember, this is a multiple choice test – if you use a combination of process of elimination and guessing to get to the right answer, you’ll still get credit! It’s getting the right answer that matters, not how you get there.
5 Top GMAT Tips for the Verbal Section
Many students struggle with the verbal section. Use these five GMAT strategies to help achieve your goal score.
Be An Active Reader
Active reading is an important skill for achieving a good score on the GMAT verbal section. The passages on the GMAT aren’t designed to be particularly interesting. However, by continuously asking yourself questions, you can engage yourself in the passage and make sure you’re focusing on important ideas. Think about asking yourself the following questions:
What’s the main focus of the passage? (What’s the passage mostly about?)
What’s the purpose of this passage? (Why did the author write this passage? What’s the author trying to convince the reader of?)
How is the passage organized? (Think about the introduction, body, and conclusion – what happens in each of those sections?)
What evidence is used to support the main idea or argument in this passage? (Once you’ve figured out the main idea or main argument, think about what the author is saying to support those ideas).
Understand the Basic Format of Different Question Types
There are three general types of reading comprehension questions. Figuring out what kind of question you’re answering will help you figure out what kind of answer to look for.
Some questions ask about the main idea of the article as a whole. For these questions, you’ll want to ask yourself what the article is mostly about.
Some questions ask about specific details, which ask you to find and paraphrase a specific claim. For these questions, you’ll want to find and locate specific evidence in the article to back up or summarize a claim.
Some questions ask about inferences, where you’ll have to understand ideas not explicitly stated in the passage.
Along the same lines, many critical reasoning questions ask you to “find an assumption.” These types of questions will ask you to understand how an argument is made in the passage. You’ll also be asked to find answers that either strengthen or weaken an article’s conclusion. For these questions, you want to make sure you know the article’s main argument so that you can figure out what will best support it or detract from it. Spend some time figuring out what the question is actually asking you, so you know what to look for in the passage.
Don’t Draw on Outside Knowledge
Everything you’ll need to know to answer the questions will be found directly or inferred from the passage. If the passage’s topic seems confusing or obscure, don’t worry! That’s the point. You’re not required to know anything special, and you’ll find all the information you need to learn in the passage itself.
Review Grammar Topics
The GMAT follows some esoteric grammar rules. Testing grammar is very different than grammar you may use in everyday life. For instance, the word “this” needs to clearly refer to an antecedent if it’s used independently. Most people don’t talk with the kind of formality tested on the GMAT, so review the GMAT specific “rules” to make sure you know what to look for.
Using flashcards, like those offered for free by Beat the GMAT, is a great way to boost your grammar fluency.
Find the Evidence
Make sure you can back up your verbal answers with specific evidence. Find textual evidence on the verbal section. If the question is asking you to draw a conclusion, make sure you know why you’re drawing that conclusion. Finding evidence and being able to concretely point to it will help ensure that you’ve found the right answer.
5 GMAT Tips to Help You Breeze Through Test Day
GMAT test day can be stressful. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting ready for this day. Keep these five GMAT strategies in mind in order to breeze through test day.
Know the Quirks of the Exam Before Test Day
The GMAT has some strange quirks. You’ll get a calculator on the IR section, but not on the quant section. You can’t go back to questions to change your answer. Make sure that you’re super familiar with the test before test day so that you’re not taken aback by any of these functions.
Don’t Worry About the Adaptive Function of the Quant and Verbal Section
The verbal and quant sections of the GMAT are adaptive, meaning that questions get easier or harder depending on if you’re struggling or doing well. Don’t waste time worrying about this fact while you’re taking the test. Spending mental energy asking: “Are these questions getting easier?” will waste time and mental energy and give you unneeded anxiety.
Aim to Answer Every Question
Your GMAT score is based on three things: how many questions you get right, the difficulty level of the questions you get right, and how many questions you answer. While you can’t always get every single question right, you can aim to answer every question. Answering every question, even with an educated guess, will help you maximize the number of points you can score.
Use Your Scrap Paper
Even though the GMAT quant section test on high school math skills, use your scrap paper as much as possible. Writing down your calculations will help you see any mistakes and force you to make sure you’re thinking through every step of the question.
You won’t get a calculator on the GMAT quant section (and you’ll only get a basic one on the IR section), so using scrap paper will help eliminate mistakes in calculations.
Read Questions Carefully
One of the most common mistakes you can make on the GMAT is to answer the wrong question. The people who write the GMAT will purposefully include questions that ask things like “Which of the following may not be true?” which can be commonly misread or misunderstood as “Which of the following may be true?”
Make sure that you read every question carefully so you’re finding the correct answer to the correct question. Before you submit the answer, briefly re-read the question to make sure you’ve answered the right question.
Looking for a sample GMAT study plan? Check out our guide with four sample plans to choose from. We have four different study plans that’ll meet your schedule availability and point increase goals.
If you want to learn more about the GMAT verbal section, check out our guide on how to master the GMAT verbal question types. In this guide, you’ll learn the essential tips you need to be a GMAT verbal wizard.
Want quant-specific GMAT strategies? There’s a ton of content covered on the GMAT quant section, and we cover it all in our guide to the tips, tricks, and formulas you need to master math on the GMAT.