The GMAT is a challenging, high-stakes exam that tests an array of topics, many of which you likely haven’t seen in years. GMAT prep should be lengthy and rigorous to ensure you get your best possible score.
Taking practice tests will be a cornerstone of your GMAT prep, a way to test what you've learned from your GMAT books and GMAT prep resources. Many students are experiential learners, meaning they learn best by doing, and to that end, will take countless practice GMAT exams.
Here's how to approach a GMAT practice test and get the most out of your experience.
View your GMAT practice test as a learning opportunity
Don’t take an exasperated sigh of disgust when it comes time for a practice test in your GMAT prep course study plan. A GMAT practice test can be an opportunity to help you identify weaknesses and improve your final score. And to be honest, it’s always nice to see your score and the progress you’ve made.
Instead of getting discouraged by practice tests (especially when you’ve got a poor score in the past), think of it as an opportunity to learn.
Practice tests can help you identify problem areas where you know you need help. By identifying these problem areas, you can focus on improving on those topics and avoid spending too much time on your strengths. In other words, practice exams make your studies more efficient.
Remember to apply new strategies from your GMAT prep to find out what is most helpful for you. The practice exam is just that—practice. Try out new strategies and techniques that you have learned in your prep course to see what works for you before your real GMAT exam.
Mimic GMAT exam conditions
To avoid test-day stress, try to mimic the routine of your test day as closely as possible. This means that you should go to bed early, wake up early, eat breakfast, and get ready for your day as if you were taking the real test.
Take your GMAT practice test at the same time you're scheduled to take your real exam. There’s no sense in taking a practice exam at 9pm if your real exam is scheduled for 9am. Your mind will be in a totally different place, so you want to replicate the real exam schedule.
When mimicking the day of the test in your routine, you should even eat the same things at the same times to understand how your body gains energy after eating, and to help jog your memory of things you have studied.
Finally, avoid doing anything during the time of your test that you will not be allowed to do at the real test, and make the environment around as similar to the test environment as possible.
Don’t take excessive breaks or keep checking your phone: during the test, you will only have eight minute breaks and your phone will be taken away, so get used to it ahead of time. Do not eat or drink during the test. This will help condition your mind and body for the real thing, so that on GMAT exam day, the testing environment won’t affect you, and you can focus on the substance of the exam.
Focus on pacing
There is no extra credit for finishing early, but be wary of running out the clock stressing over one or two problems. While taking the GMAT practice test, focus on pacing yourself so you do not rush ahead or fall too far behind.
If you are worried about working quickly, you run the risk of making simple mistakes that can cost you a big part of your final score. On the other hand, if you work too slowly, you are likely to run out of time to answer important, high-value questions on the real test. So focus heavily on pacing in your practice runs. Watch the clock closely.
Part of proper pacing during the exam is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. You can probably blow through the parts of your test focused on things you are good at, but you will probably struggle on other sections. By identifying your weaknesses in your GMAT prep, you can allocate more time test taking time to those parts of the exam, and less to the parts you know you can ace.
Review, review, review
To get the most out of your GMAT practice test, spend as much time reviewing problems as you can—both the ones you got correct and incorrect. This will give you a good idea of how well you have studied so far, and how much studying you have left to do.
After you complete your GMAT practice test and see your score, go over every single problem at least one time.
These results will help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses. If you aced the quantitative reasoning section but missed more than a couple questions in verbal reasoning, for example, you know that you will need to work on evaluating arguments and developing a deeper understanding of written text.
By reviewing questions from the practice test, you’ll better understand underlying concepts and how the test makers try to trick you with trap answers. Reviewing questions will ultimately help strengthen your knowledge and improve your speed, and will hopefully lead to a better GMAT score.
This is a guest post by John Ross, a GMAT expert at Test Prep Insight.