By David Recine
Before you start your MBA, you’ll need to pass the GMAT.
Now, a lot of business school hopefuls get anxious about the harder parts of the GMAT. They worry about the most complicated math operations, the trickiest grammar, the finer points of Verbal and AWA, and so forth.
The truth is that the simpler aspects of the exam are just as likely to trip you up on the GMAT. And the most common mistakes tend to be the simple ones.
The good news is that the easiest mistakes to make are also the easiest mistakes to avoid. Today we’ll look at the four most common GMAT mistakes, and how not to make them.
1. Using the wrong prep materials
As you study for the GMAT, you’ll want to use as many practice materials as you can. It’s good to go through lots of practice questions. And it’s in your interests to seek out plenty of GMAT tips, tricks, and advice.
In your haste to get a lot of GMAT materials, however, don’t forget that quality is as important as quantity. You want your GMAT practice materials to be authentic. The most authentic GMAT materials are the ones from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), the official makers of the GMAT. So those are the materials you should use first.
Once you’ve gotten your hands on the official GMAT prep materials, you need to use them as the gold standard for all unofficial test prep materials. Carefully compare unofficial GMAT books and websites to the real thing.
And also see what other people are saying about different third party prep materials. Go to test prep websites such as the Magoosh GMAT blog and check out their reviews of different GMAT resources. Also seek out the opinions of other GMAT test-takers in web communities like the GMAT Club Forums. (And if you’re using some GRE materials to supplement your GMAT studies, be sure you carefully compare the features of GMAT vs GRE.
2. Memorizing formulas and vocabulary
The GMAT doesn’t test your ability to simply memorize vocabulary words and math operations. In fact, if you approach your studies that way, it can actually hurt your GMAT score.
Think about it. There are around a million words in the English language. It’s impossible to memorize every unfamiliar word that might appear on the GMAT. So it’s a mistake to just memorize vocabulary as you prepare for the exam. Instead, build reading comprehension skills-- techniques and strategies that can help you understand a GMAT passage even if you’re not sure about some of the words in it.
Similarly, memorizing math formulas is not the same as developing the math skills you need for a top score in GMAT Quantitative Reasoning. What you really need to do is understand the reason that a formula works. Develop number sense and a feel for the properties of numbers, and you’ll be able to solve the hardest GRE math problems, even if you can’t quite recall the standard formula.
3. Underthinking or overthinking math problems
Because the math problems in GMAT IR and Quants are multiple choice, it’s easy to under-think them. If you’re not careful, you can hastily choose an answer that seems right, based on your initial estimates. Make sure you look at every answer choice for any GMAT math problem. After you make your first educated guess, you may see another answer that also seems right. Make sure you choose the answer that truly is correct, and that you don’t get distracted by other selections that are tempting-yet-wrong.
At the same time, you don’t want to over-think math problems. Remember that you will seldom need to do every step of a problem and get the exact answer. One of the answer choices already is the exact answer you need! Only do the calculations you have to do in order to eliminate the wrong answer choices and select the right one. Over-calculating wastes valuable time on the exam. And going through extra steps in a math problem can give you extra chances to make mistakes and arrive at the wrong answer.
4. Starting a GMAT section too slowly
All too often, test-takers don’t watch their time limit from the very beginning of the section. They start out too slow, and aren’t able to properly finish their essay or question set.
Don’t let this happen to you. On test day, pacing is something you need to be mindful of immediately. Don’t wait until you’re half-done with a GMAT section before you look at the clock to see how you’re doing for time. Think about your time limit from the get-go.
Think of the GMAT’s AWA Writing task in terms of time-per subtask. Give yourself the right amount of time for planning and prewriting. Then take the right amount of time for writing out the essay itself. Try to finish the prewriting and writing subtasks in less than 30 minutes, so that you’ll have time to go back for proofreading and revisions.
Then, for the multiple-choice parts of the GMAT, think in terms of average response time per question. The Integrated Reasoning Section has 12 questions and a 30 minute time limit. This means you should frequently watch the clock, making sure you’re spending an average of 2.5 minutes or less on each problem. Similarly, you want to average about 2 minutes or less per problem on GMAT Quantitative (37 questions in 75 minutes), and you should spend between 90 seconds and 2 minutes per question on GMAT Verbal (41 questions in 75 minutes).