GMAT Angst? Ask the Pro

Sakib Ahmed coaches people through their GMAT, but he’s never sat it himself

Sakib Ahmed makes a living out of helping others to get a career.

The 26-year-old is a self-employed tutor, giving advice to people on the brink of desperation before their GMAT, SAT or finance exams. His strategy to succeed in the tests is simple, which is why, he claims, it seems to work so well for everybody.

Ahmed lost his job at PricewaterhouseCoopers in November last year. But instead of despairing, the 26-year-old Economics and Finance graduate from Bangladesh devoted his time to helping others get through their nerve-wracking GMAT exams.

Tutoring is not only getting Ahmed through the recession. His little business – many students come to him via west London-based Holland Park Tuition - is going well enough for him not to worry about finding employment anytime soon.

Ahmed started his teaching career by advising close friends and family members before various aptitude tests. He even successfully coached a close friend through her preparation for GMAT – despite never having taken the test himself.

He has taken many other aptitude tests however, for job applications or to study abroad. “In all the tests I sat, I always scored above 90 per cent in the numerical and verbal sections”, says the graduate of London’s Brunel University, who earned a First in his degree. And when looking at GMAT practice questions on the internet, he realized that he found them quite easy to answer.

“There is a lot of pressure on people who take the GMAT: they are being tested only for the sake of being accepted onto a course. Taking a final exam when you are already at university is very different,” explains Ahmed.

In fact, a Google search of “GMAT” and “panic” generates a few hundred thousand results on how to handle pre-GMAT stress, and the number of pages offering online advice on the test itself is pretty much endless.

No wonder, considering that the top MBA courses have an average GMAT score of 720, and the worldwide top 50 still middle around 660. In comparison, two thirds of all test takers score roughly between 400 and 600.

The GMAT score is calculated by combining points on the verbal and quantitative sections of the test (on a scale from 0 – 60). The results are then translated into a score from 200 to 800. To calculate this final result, it matters how many questions the candidate attempted to answer, as well as how many were answered correctly and how difficult the respective questions were. Each GMAT also has an analytical writing assessment, which is treated separately from the final result.
Ahmed’s strategy to succeed against the odds is straightforward, and the most important advice he gives to his students is to put themselves in the shoes of the person who designed the question. “Say you have a question which involves solving an equation with two variables: before even thinking of the correct answer, you should ask yourself what the examiners want you to prove”, he explains. In this case, they probably want to test the applicant’s understanding of linear equations.

If you get your head around the context of the question, says Ahmed, you have already done 80 per cent of the work. “GMAT questions are like a puzzle, and you have to look for the right clues. Focusing on calculating the right answer right from the start will waste too much of your time”, he adds.

Preparing students for the test involves more than helping them solve practice questions however, says Ahmed. He also offers advice on how to prevent panic attacks and blackouts: “Prospective test takers should reconstruct an examination environment and do mock exams as often as possible. Instead of doing a test at home, go to the library – the atmosphere there is closer to what it will be like when taking the real GMAT,” he suggests.

Ahmed is convinced that his method can help everyone get through the test successfully. “The truth is, I am not very bright, and see myself as a pretty average student. So if my method works for me, it will work for everybody.”

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