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GMAT tips
June 2, 2005 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I will be taking the GMAT on monday and was wondering if anyone had some last minute tips, particularly things that you might not find in a GMAT book.

Through my own knowledge and studying a couple of GMAT books I think I've got the basic problem solving skills covered, but I was hoping to get some more personal accounts of what to watch out for on the test, any tricks about the computer interface, etc. Also, my books are both a little thin on the essay section of the test, so tips on that would be greatly appreciated.
posted by rorycberger to Education (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
get lots of sleep now, just in case you can't sleep the night before. bring some snacks to keep in your locker when you write the exam - you won't have access to them when you write the exam, but you will get a break between the main sections of the exam - bring some carbos, water.

this really is a test of endurance, and it will feel cathartic when you finish - no matter what your score will be

essay questions - keep to the format that is explained in the Kaplan/Princeton books. Write clearly - remember these are corrected by computer, and rarely reviewed by a human being. Don't think too hard about deep insights - keep to the structure.

verbal and math questions - if the first few questions are difficult and the following questions are absurdly difficult then you are doing very well. remember that your hundredth-score is determined in the first few questions (eg will your score be in the 700s? 600s? 500s?) and the questions ease up after that. If you are finding it difficult, then you are doing well!

finally - it's an endurance test. you will feel very drained after the test. schedule something fun and relaxing to do afterwards, perhaps go out for lunch or dinner with friends. your brain will be drained but you will have accomplished the most difficult part of the MBA process.

the rest is gravy.

seawall, MBA 2003
posted by seawallrunner at 10:53 AM on June 2, 2005

The computer interface is nothing to worry about. You will have no problems with it. My only recollection is that they allow you to have an untimed session where you practice with the interface. I used this time to write out formulas and other useful stuff. For me, the biggest problem was adjusting my test-taking style. Every prior test I had ever taken, I was allowed to go back to hard questions, but you can't on the GMAT. I had to really pay attention to time, and just move along (or guess) on certain questions after I had spent too much time on them, so I wouldn't get behind. (All of this was for the math portion, I had plenty of time in the verbal portion). The essay section is nothing to be too concerned with. First, it doesn't count towards the general overall score which is what schools really care about, so unless your score is really low, it doesn't really matter. Second, it is partially graded by a computer so what matters is structure, grammar, and spelling. You can write anything you want as long as it is well-structured, reasonably grammatically correct, and with no spelling errors. I did a lot of prep, but most of my real tips are things that books would have already suggested. Good luck.

on preview: everything seawall said is good advice.
posted by bove at 10:59 AM on June 2, 2005

The most important things to remember:

1. If the question asks for feet, radius, or minutes, do not give it inches, diameter, or hours. Even really bright people make these errors.
2. Often, on Critical Reasoning questions, the answer that seems totally and completely wrong is the correct one. An answer that is 90 degrees from what seems correct is usually wrong. Answers that seem 180 degrees from correct are often right. Don't forget to triple-check whether you are asked whether a claim would WEAKEN or STRENGTHEN.
3. Remember that the test is adaptive, but also remember that the experimental questions can serve to distort your perceptions. This a quite a bugger, because after a bunch of hard questions, you may feel that you're scoring quite well-- until two really easy questions pop up. In other words, don't psyche yourself out.
4. If you feel like you're really fucking up, though, you may be right. There's no shame in cancelling and retaking.
5. Rate = distance/time. you know this, of course, but you'll need it at least five times.
6. I divided the number of questions by the time allotted and made a little table on my scratch paper during the instruction-reading section. It helped with pacing.
7. If you'll need extra paper (I write big), notify the proctor beforehand and ask her to keep an eye on you.
8. Remember that a missed question in the beginning can hurt you more than a missed question at the end.
9. For data sufficiency problems, before you look at the choices, quickly brainstorm about what you'd ordinarily need. Harder to get fooled that way.
10. Don't sweat the stat problems. Even the stat questions out of the 700+ bin are simple.
11. Backsolve, backsolve, backsolve.
12. Dress comfortably.
13. You will not be permitted to leave the facility between sections.
14. On Sentence Correction, subject/verb agreement is at the heart of over half of the questions. Before you submit, double check for traps.

If you decide to retake the test for whatever reason, feel free to drop me a line.

Kwantsar, 780 2003 (but dinged by HBS without interview)
posted by Kwantsar at 11:41 AM on June 2, 2005 [3 favorites]

Oh, and of course, if you haven't yet done the Powerprep simulated exams, you should do them ASAP.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:44 AM on June 2, 2005

schedule something fun and relaxing to do afterwards

Great, I've got to go to work immediately afterward and try and cram a full days worth of work into the afternoon....

Thanks for the tips, keep them coming. For the essay, does the length of your essay have any correlation to your score like the new SATs? Because hoo boy can I ramble on if that would help.

Regarding snacks, leaving the facility, etc. - I'm taking it at a place whose sole purpose seems to be a testing facility, and I know nothing about it. Should I expect there to be vending machines there? Can I bring a backpack with snacks, water etc. for the break? Seawall said something about a locker?
posted by rorycberger at 11:47 AM on June 2, 2005

IIRC, you should use a basic five-paragraph essay structure with a heavy emphasis on transitional words. Lots of therefores, nexts, furthers, etc.

You should not expect vending machines. You should pack your own snacks and water. It's very, very likely that the test facility will give you a locker. You needn't bring a lock.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:56 AM on June 2, 2005

I've taken so many standardized tests in my life. I want those 2 weeks back, preferably on a tropical island. Never took the GMAT, so here's some advice for your basic multiple-choice type questions.

1. If there's a lot of text, read the last line for the question, and read the answers before you read all the puff text. At least 75% of the time you can skip the text and just answer the question.

2. Decide in advance what answer - A, B, C, or D - you're going to pick when you have no clue. When you encounter a no-clue question, recognize it, slap down that B (or whatever you picked), and move along without wasting any time.

3. I always bring a jacket with large pockets, a Snickers bar, a bottle of water, and a cold can of Coke to the exam. If they're not letting me eat or drink I just go to the restroom, remove foodstuffs from my pockets, and eat them there. You want to be layered to be able comfortably to exist in the temperature range 59-81 degrees F, as testing center temps are notoriously variable and unpredictable.

4. I personally don't think you should try to second-guess the computer adaptive testing system. Just let it do its thing, which is presenting you with questions. Answer the questions.

The USMLE step I was 4 3-hour sessions over two days. Something broke in my head after that and I could not ever again worry about standardized tests. Remarkably, not worrying had almost no impact on my percentile score. So: don't worry.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:45 PM on June 2, 2005

Not a GMAT-vet but I took the MCATs. Get good sleep, get up early, eat a good breakfast a while before start time. Bring water, protein shakes and energy bars with you. (you may want to check when and where you can eat, drink). If caffine is your poison, bring a coffee or red bull. It don't matter how smart you are if you're asleep. I really think that figuring out eating/drinking correctly made a big difference for me. And it has been a useful skill since then. Now, I take a bottle of water and cliff bar into any exam I take (usually 2.5hrs).
posted by Corpus Callosum at 12:46 PM on June 2, 2005

>Regarding snacks, leaving the facility, etc. - I'm taking it at a place whose sole purpose seems to be a testing facility, and I know nothing about it. Should I expect there to be vending machines there? Can I bring a backpack with snacks, water etc. for the break? Seawall said something about a locker?

I took my test at a testing facility as well. It was a bit hard to find that morning (as if I needed *that* on top of all the stress!) so you may want to Mapquest the location before the day of the test.

You cannot bring anything into the facility with you. They give you pen, scratchpaper, and ask you that you leave all else outside of the testing room. They are VERY particular about signing in prior to the test - I remember having to write one page by hand, stating that I am who I claim that I am. In the past, some students would hire 'professional GMAT exam writers' - and the testers are really cracking down on this - so bring photo ID.

So you will have to leave your phone, wallet, snacks, water etc in the locker.

Dress in layers in case the facility is too cold, or too hot.

You will get a break between the essay and the math section, and another break between math and verbal. Have a drink of water, have a banana or whatever. You will need to keep your energy up.

Yes, have a good breakfast before the exam - and don't try any new foods that morning. You want your body, spirit and mind focused solely on that 3+ hour exam.

I got the score of GMAT as soon as I pressed the final SEND. There was a ridiculous sub-group of questions that I had to answer, about some universities that I might consider for the MBA (although I had already selected and applied-to the one that I wanted to attend). I found that 10 minutes to be the longest of the day, considering that all I wanted was my score. I was so glad to be finally done.

I was quite drained after the exam. It took me a bit to remember where I had parked my car, and driving back home in the rain was a bit of a blur. It's an exam like no other - and it's an exam about taking the GMAT exam. There is no other test like it. If you did the books, and if you did the course (which I didn't) then you will be set.

And - unless you seek a career at Anderson or PWC, no one will ever ask you about your GMAT score once you graduate with your MBA. Consider it a rite of passage to the best two years of education and teamwork you will ever have.

And - pls drop me a line when you are done. I look forward to reading your impressions. Relax this weekend, let your mind clear, do some exercise, and focus during the exam. All the best to you!!
posted by seawallrunner at 2:13 PM on June 2, 2005

Wait, I get my score immediately after the exam?!? Kick fucking ass! I thought I was going to have to wait a month or whatever like the SATs.

Thanks to all for the tips, I'll briefly review my books and take a couple practice exams this weekend, but it sounds like the key is just to be relaxed, rested, and well nourished. I'll let you all know how I did monday afternoon.
posted by rorycberger at 3:00 PM on June 2, 2005

- muscle stress and eye strain can turn into emotional stress. make sure you take little stretch breaks [just shifting in your chair moving your arms around, stretching your fingers] and eye breaks [focus on something far away for 30 seconds] and pee when you need to otherwise it will make you tense.
- bring snacks but realize you may not be able to eat them until break. some places are tightass about whether you can keep them with you and some are not, assume they will be. You will NOT be able to eat during the test. If you finish a section early you can step out to the bathroom and snack, I think.
- don't change routines for the test except to get up early enough to make it there, if you are a late sleeper. Same foods or lack thereof, same amount of coffee, etc.
- sometimes it helps if you're going to an unfamiliar location to scope it out ahead of time -- find not just the building but the room -- one less thing to worry about on the day of the test.
- on easy questions, the one that looks right is right. on hard questions the one that looks right is not right. Easy and hard levels are not as easy to scope in the computer adaptive test, but it has a lot to do with beginning/middle/end of the section you're in.
- my particular advice wear special underwear or your lucky shirt or your special nipple ring, or something. Have some special secret something that you bring to the test that has nothing to do with the GMAT, or school, or learning that you can sort of think about when the test is getitng you down.

As for the essay: Make sure it's about five neat paragraphs, has a solid thoughtful thesis, good transition sentences from paragraph to paragraph, is easy to read/understand, and basically uses critical thinking to ANSWER THE QUESTION effectively and thoughtfully. Only use big words if you know what they mean. Try to use smart words instead of simple words but don't overdo it. Do not be a wiseass in your essay. Don't use the Nazis or goddamned Thomas Jefferson as an example, please! Have a good example from world history, a book you read and/or your won personal experience and extrapolate from these to explain why they are relevant to the topic you have to write on [which will be some open ended topic with no real right answer like "Which is a more important character trait in a good leader, honesty or bravery, discuss using examples from history, literature or your own personal experience."] Yes, I have scored these for a job. You should think of this as the time to relax from the rest of the test and not worry terribly much about the essay.
posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on June 2, 2005

Hey, just wanted to let everyone know that my test went really well this morning. It was definitely stressful, and I nearly cancelled my scores because I thought I bombed the Quantitative section, but I didn't do as badly as I thought (81st percentile), and I aced the verbal (99th), so my final score was a 750! Many thanks to all for the tips, they definitely made a very stressful exam a little bit less so. Glad to be done, although the next step (business school) is still a few years away for me, it's one less thing to worry about.
posted by rorycberger at 1:49 PM on June 6, 2005

What were your raw splits? You must have scored an absolutely huge 50 or 51 on the verbal section (the 99th percentile starts around 44) to overcome that quant score and come out to a 750. Good work!
posted by Kwantsar at 12:06 PM on June 7, 2005

I actually scored 47 on both of them, so I thought it was strange that the percentiles would be so different. Are those on different scales or are people just generally better at the quantitative section?
posted by rorycberger at 10:25 AM on June 9, 2005

Well, a really simple regression for total score is 9*V + 7*Q.

51 is the best you can do on either, so they're on the same scale. I blame the discrepancy on outperformance of the Indians and Chinese to whom numbers are more familiar than our stupid language.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:38 PM on June 27, 2005

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