The GMAT Exam. I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I was studying and preparing for this exam. For those of you writing any graduate admission exam, particularly the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), hopefully this post can give you some insight and provide some advice. At this point in the year, some of you may be wrapping up your graduate school applications, or rewriting the GMAT for the Fall 2018 intake. If you’re looking for a post about how to effortlessly achieve 750+ on the GMAT on the first or second try, this post is not for you.
I didn’t have a traditional experience with the GMAT. I was not one of those people who wrote it once, scored 750+ and then gives advice on MBA admissions blogs. Here is my blunt background: I’m a weak test taker. I wrote the GMAT exam 4 times, I got a fairly average GMAT score (good enough to be accepted into MBA school). My GMAT journey spanned over two years. Why am I sharing this? Because the purpose of this post is to show that anyone can achieve anything. As long as you put your mind to it, don’t give up and keep trying. So if you’re looking for some realism and inspiration during times of doubt, know that if I can do it, so can you!
Although I felt like the odds were against me, I knew I always wanted to pursue an MBA. Getting into MBA school to me, was a non-negotiable destiny. To be completely honest, the main thing that was between me and overcoming the GMAT exam was my mentality. After the second try, I was very close to giving up. I felt like maybe it wasn’t for me, because I invested so much time and money (exam fee & prep program). But after the third try (I failed), a light bulb went off in my head. It was the realization that every time I didn’t get the score I wanted, I kept studying and I kept writing the exam because something in me kept wanting to give it another try. Something in me didn’t want to give up and I know this sounds really silly, but it was after the third time that made me realize that I wanted it more than I thought (duh!). I know that sounds a bit mellow-dramatic, but in all honestly, at times when you’re doubting yourself the most and having off days, sometimes you need to scream to yourself “YOU CAN DO IT!” to feel confident in your abilities.
1. Know your minimum goal score
This score depends on the type of MBA school you’re applying to, the average GMAT score of the previous intake, and your credentials. Obviously we all want to score as high as we possibly can, but by establishing a minimum non-negotiable score, you know the minimum score you’ll need to achieve based on your overall application (high/low GPA, years of work experience, type of references, etc). I heard of a guy that had a C+ CGPA and he wrote the GMAT exam 7 times to compensate for his low GPA and to qualify for a scholarship, and guess what? He got it! The minimum GMAT score you need to achieve in order to be competitive against other applicants will depend on numerous factors, so establish a realistic and competitive score for your profile.
2. Identify your strengths & weaknesses
The exam is made up of four sections: quant, verbal, AWA and integrated reasoning. Depending on the MBA program you’re applying to, some schools require a minimum score per section and a minimum overall score, whereas others require only a minimum overall score. The school I applied to only requires a minimum overall score, I mainly focused on the sections that counted towards the score, which are the quantitative and verbal sections. My strength was the verbal section and my weakness was quant.
3. Find a strategy that works for you
There are so many websites and blogs that suggests numerous studying stategies. The method that worked best for me was pinpointing the question type and topic that I was not scoring well in, and focus on those areas. Since it’s an adaptive exam, I wanted to ensure that I first established a medium level competency in all areas. Once that’s established, I can focus on improving each section to the difficult level. It’s so important to establish the core skills and knowledge necessary to get those medium questions right instead of solely focusing on difficult level questions.
4. To buy a prep program or not?
This is a personal decision and a big investment. I’m not a strong test taker and don’t do well with self study, so I knew I needed structure. I was working full-time while studying, so I wanted something flexible. I used the Kaplan Self-Paced Prep. I enjoyed the prep program I used because it provided me the flexibility and structure I needed. The program is structured as a 3 month study program and includes multiple practice quizzes and exams and recorded lectures for every topic at every level. If you’re like me and struggle with self study, a prep program would be a good investment. For those of you who are strong test takers, I also know plenty of people who performed well using GMAT prep books that can be purchased from Chapters.
5. Practice endurance
The GMAT exam is a 3.5 hour exam and include 4 sections, AWA, IR, Quant and Verbal. AWA (essay) and IR (12 questions – 2.5 min/each) are 30 mins each. The quant (37 questions – 2 min/each) and verbal (41 sections – 1.5 mins/each) sections are 75 mins each. Since the GMAT is an adaptive exam, the test is suppose to feel progressively more challenging. When you get a question right, the next question will be more difficult. If you get a question wrong, you’ll go down one level and get an easier question. You want to get to the medium-difficult level and maintain this level for the entire section. With the time constraint and nature of the exam, it is challenging to maintain a constant level of focus for 3.5 hours.
The first 3 times I wrote the exam, the exam followed the old order of AWA, IR, Quant then Verbal. By the time I got mid way through quant, my brain would start to get tired. Luckily, the last time I wrote the exam, the GMAT changed their structure and offered an option where you can choose the order of the sections. I chose to write quant first, then verbal, AWA and IR. I chose to write my weakest section first because the start of the exam is when I’m the most alert. Out of all the times I wrote the exam, the fourth time was my lowest IR score, which shows that by the end of the exam, I was getting tired. On previous exams, I scored 7/8 or 8/8 for IR, but the final time with the new structure, I scored a 6/8. To prepare my endurance, I allotted four hours each week to write a practice exam, mimicking the actual test day. Some MBA blogs suggests writing a practice exam on the day and time of your scheduled test. So if your exam is at 8am on a Saturday, you would write your practice exam everyday Saturday at 8 am.
6. Give yourself a break
Schedule at least one day per week for no studying. I gave myself every Friday after work to go out with friends, see family or lie at home and do nothing (I did this option most of the time!). Giving yourself a break refreshes your mind and gives yourself some much needed downtime. Especially for those of you working full-time while studying, it can be exhausting if you forget to give yourself some time off! I also gave myself the day before the exam off because I didn’t want to stress myself out. At this point, you can only trust that you’ve studied in last few months and confidently go into test day!
I hope the above tips are helpful! It’s important to create a strategy that works for you. I carefully chose the date and time of the scheduled test, order of the sections, structure of the prep program and studying strategies to suit my personal needs. Make sure to take all advice with a grain of salt and create a strategy that works for you! What I mainly took away from this whole experience was that I’m able to achieve anything I put my mind to. The reason I wasn’t scoring what I wanted to the first few times was because my focus wasn’t where it needed to be. It was partly because I was in the middle of changing careers and deciding whether an MBA was for me. A lot of it also came down to self doubt and the fact that I kept looking at graduate school as a dream instead of a goal. Mentality plays a large part in achieving your goals. Being naturally smart or a strong test taker may make the process less grueling, but your effort is what matters most!
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