Trying to prepare for the GMAT, but don’t have a lot of time left before the exam? Whether you’re in the final stage of a long GMAT prep plan or hoping to cram all your studying into just a few weeks, I have some last-minute GMAT tips to help you ace the exam.
In this article, I’ll go over everything you need to know about getting the most out of your final study sessions, from last-minute GMAT prep tips to high-impact test-taking tips.
Can You Cram for the GMAT?
First off, it’s important to note that there’s no real way to cram for the GMAT. Preparing for the GMAT effectively takes time. You have to take practice tests to see where you’re starting from, hone in on your weaknesses, review the fundamental skills where you have knowledge gaps, and complete more practice questions to get used to the GMAT format and improve your score.
There’s no “quick fix” when it comes to the GMAT. If your test date is soon and you’re truly entirely unprepared, it’s best to reschedule your exam, which is still possible up to 24 hours before your scheduled test date.
However, if you’ve prepared somewhat and are looking for some high-impact strategies to prep in your final weeks or days before the GMAT, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll go over the best GMAT cram strategies as well as last-minute GMAT tips for the actual exam day.
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4 GMAT Cram Strategies
If you’re studying for the GMAT at the last minute, you’ll need to do so effectively, making the most efficient use of your time. Let’s go over the four best last-minute GMAT prep tips to make the most of your GMAT cram sessions.
#1: Take a Practice Test
The most effective way to prepare for the GMAT is to take practice tests with questions written by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) in computerized adaptive format (which uses an algorithm in real time to adjust to your skill level as you move through the exam). Use the free official GMATPrep Software to take a practice test as soon as possible. The answer explanations will help you determine your weak spots in terms of skill sets, question types, and sections you’ll need to focus on in your prep.
If you’re worried about the essay portion, use GMATWrite to practice with real GMAC-authored Analytical Writing Assessment prompts.
#2: Review the Format
Familiarizing yourself with the format of the GMAT is as important as preparing for the content of the questions themselves. You may be a math whiz, but the GMAT tests quant skills in very particular ways. You’ll also want to get used to the rhythm, pacing, and visuals of the test so nothing is a surprise on exam day. You can do this, of course, by taking practice tests, but you should also review resources like the Official Guide for GMAT Review 2017 to remind yourself of the number of questions in each section and what question types you’ll see on each section of the GMAT.
#3: Review Math and Grammar Rules
While the GMAT is not an easy test, basic math and grammar skills are key to your success on the exam. Use the overview of basic math concepts in the official GMATPrep Software to review significant skills and concepts (like algebra, statistics, probability, and geometry) for the quant section. For a review of important grammar concepts like parts of speech and common errors you’ll see on sentence correction questions, try our guide to the six key GMAT grammar rules.
#4: Go Over Past Practice Problems
If you’ve done sets of practice problems or completed practice tests, look over the answer explanations for the ones you did incorrectly or question types that you tend to struggle with. Try to see where your thinking is falling apart or where you’re making careless mistakes so you can hone in on those weak spots and avoid making similar errors on the actual GMAT.
5 GMAT Test-Taking Strategies
Let’s go over several last-minute GMAT tips you can use during the exam itself to maximize your performance, get through the questions in time, and hopefully hit your target score.
#1: Don’t Be Afraid to Guess
It’s important to move quickly through the test and not get hung up on any one question. It might be frustrating to have to guess, but the GMAT is designed so that you aren’t expected to get every single question right. The way the scores are scaled means that you can still get a high score and a high percentile ranking without answering every question correctly.
If you’re not sure how to answer a question, first try to eliminate one or more answer choices. But even if you can’t, don’t hesitate to take a guess. You’ll risk more in terms of time and brainpower by obsessing over a single question than by guessing.
#2: Choose the Shortest Sentence Correction Answer Choice
If you’re stuck on a sentence correction question and need to guess, choose the shortest one. When in doubt, it’s best to go with the most concise answer choice. The GMAT generally prefers concise options over longer ones, so it’s a good bet (though of course not 100%).
#3: Work Backwards On Math Problems
For GMAT problem solving questions on the quant section in which you’re asked to solve for an unknown variable, you can often work backwards to save time. You might have heard of this strategy as “plug and chug.” Use one of the given answer choices to plug into the equation; if you choose one in the middle of the given numerical range, you can use the process of elimination to get rid of one or more of the other answers as well. For example, if answer choice C is 35 and it’s too low, you can eliminate answer choices A and B if they’re, say, 17 and 21.
#4: Use the Provided Scratch Pad
At the test, you’ll be provided with a double-sided laminated scratch pad to write on with a marker. Sometimes, students try to remember important details from reading comprehension passages or figures in math problems in their heads. While this may seem like it’s saving you time, it actually saps your time and energy.
Remember, you’ll be stressed and under time pressure, which might make you more prone to forget small details. For example, in three-part reading comprehension passages, you’ll have to flip through various pages with different kinds of information, which can take up a lot of precious time if you don’t take notes during your initial read. Use the scratch pad as needed to move smoothly through each question.
#5: Outline Your Essay
It may seem like you should start writing your 30-minute Analytical Writing Assessment essay right away, but outlining beforehand actually saves you time and will produce better results. It will help you organize your ideas and to express them more cogently and effectively, and you can refer back to it as you write, so you won’t forget any initial thoughts you had while reading. Using the text editor on the screen or your scratch pad, create an outline that addresses the main argument in the given passage and the major flaws in its reasoning that you plan to discuss. If you use the text editor to create your outline, just make sure to erase it before you “turn in” your essay.
6 Last-Minute GMAT Tips for Test Day
It’s important to be prepared for test day emotionally and mentally as well as physically, so you make the absolute most of your time at the testing location. Here are six last-minute GMAT tips to help you do your best on test day.
#1: Get Your Documents Ready in Advance
You’ll need identifying documents such as a driver’s license or passport to present to the testing location staff on the day of your GMAT. Check what these are at the MBA website and make sure you’ve gathered them well in advance of the exam. The last thing you want is to be scrambling around looking for an ID on the morning of your test!
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#2: Take the Day Off From Studying
While it may be tempting to cram, don’t study at all the day or night before the GMAT. Instead, take this time to rest and relax so that you can be at your highest performance level on exam day. Your brain will thank you.
#3: Lay Out Your Items the Night Before
Lay out the outfit you’re going to wear and any personal items you’re planning to bring to the exam (check the testing location guidelines for what’s allowed at the center, including snacks, water, and medications) the night before. This might seem like a small thing, but it will help you feel prepared and ready for the next day and will help you rest a little easier before the exam.
#4: Prepare Yourself Physically
Being at your emotional and physical best during the GMAT is more important than you think. You can’t control everything about the test, but you can control how physically prepared you are. Get a good night’s sleep on the night before your exam so you’re well rested during the test. Eat a good breakfast before you take the GMAT.
You should be well rested and well fed during the test so you’re not distracted by anything!
#5: Plan Your Route
Get organized for your transportation to the GMAT. If you’re driving, make sure there’s gas in your car, that you’ve checked any potential traffic or obstacles on the way to your exam, and that you leave more than enough time to get to the testing location and settle in. If you’re taking public transit, make sure that you know the bus or subway route you’ll be taking to the testing center. You don’t want to be rushing and frazzled on the way to your exam and end up being off your game.
#6: Take Your Breaks
The GMAT is a lengthy and draining test; all in all, you’ll spend about four hours at the testing location. You’ll have chances for eight-minute breaks after the integrated reasoning section and before the quant section, and between the quant and verbal sections. Take them! Use them to stretch, use the bathroom, have a snack, or just give your mind a break. Those brief respites are important to maintain your stamina and focus throughout the GMAT.
A final reminder: It’s best to take your time to study for the GMAT. However, with the tips we’ve gone over, you can maximize your prep productivity and function at your optimal level on exam day.
For more help planning your GMAT prep, check out our GMAT study plans (coming soon).
Still unsure about the timing of your GMAT prep? Check out our GMAT study timeline (coming soon) for a detailed look at how to structure your prep each month before your exam date.
Our GMAT study guide (coming soon) is a more comprehensive guide to the resources and strategies you’ll need to do your best on test day.