Business school Round 2 and Round 3 deadlines are looming and many prospective applicants finding themselves needing to boost that all-important GMAT score to improve their chances of getting in. If that’s you, there are two crucial questions you need to answer before diving in:
1) Should I even retake the GMAT?
2) What should I do differently this time around?
Should You Retake the GMAT?
In determining whether or not to take the GMAT again, you can read my article “Should I Retake the GMAT” for a full analysis. At the end of the day, the answer depends on a number of factors including how much you need to improve, what you did to prepare the first time around, how many times you’ve already taken the GMAT, and so on. Consider consulting with the admissions offices of the schools you’re applying to for their recommendations as well.
GMAT, Take Two: What You Should Do Differently
Assuming you have decided to take the plunge and sit for the GMAT again, the bigger question is what you should do differently this time around to ensure a better result. Albert Einstein is famous for (among other things!) defining the word insanity to mean “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Indeed, it would be foolish to attack the GMAT the second (or third, or fourth…) time around the same way you did the first time and expect magical improvement.
So, with that in mind, here are five (5) things you should consider doing differently when preparing to retake the GMAT:
1. Have a Plan
Hope isn’t a strategy. Oftentimes students grab a couple of GMAT books from the bookstore, work a few dozen sample questions, maybe take mba.com’s free practice tests, and hope it’s enough on test day. Usually it’s not. Here are some questions to consider as you structure your game plan: How many hours a day will you study? Which books and practice problems will you use? How many of each type of question will you do per week? How regularly will you take practice exams to chart your progress, and which GMAT practice exams will you use? Will you focus more on math, verbal, or both? Who will you go to for help if you get stuck on certain types of questions? The more detailed your plan, the better your results will be.
2. Switch up Your Study Guides
If the textbooks you studied from the first time around didn’t help you get the job done, consider trying different books. The GMAT Review Official Guide, 13th ed. is non-negotiable in my opinion because it’s the only book on the market with real former GMAT questions straight from the makers of the test itself. My recommendation if you’re shooting for a higher score is to work the question numbers in the upper 100’s and 200’s in each section of the Official Guide, as they represent higher-difficulty questions. The GMAT is essentially a test of pattern recognition, so the more questions you’re exposed to, the less likely you are to be surprised on test day. For example, you know you’re going to see GMAT rate problems in the quant section, so practice as many of them as you need so that you can do them forwards and backwards in your sleep. I use Brandon Royal’s Game Plan for the GMAT with my students because it groups questions by the most common types, arranged by difficulty level, to ensure that you’re spending your time on the highest-yield problems in each category.
3. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
We’ve all heard the adage “practice makes perfect,” but legendary football coach Vince Lombardi took it a step further and taught his players that “perfect practice makes perfect.” In other words, it’s not enough to just show up and go through the motions. Rather, you need to practice as if it’s game day, all the time. Often students will sit down to “study” for the GMAT and work a handful of problems in a half-hearted way. They know they need to put in the hours, but it’s as if they’re content to put in the time even if it’s not quality time. It’s better for you to work 20 practice problems fully engaged than 40 problems where you’re just going through the motions (or peeking at the answer explanation in the back of the book a little too readily, if you know what I mean). Commit to the process mentally. Get out your stopwatch and try doing some of the problems in 2:00 or less, which is about how much time you’ll have per question on the GMAT. If you’re stumped on a question, practice eliminating wrong answers to improve your guessing odds and make the best effort to get a right answer at all costs, a crucial skill to learn for test day. And when you sit down to take a full-length practice test, re-create test-day conditions as best as possible. If you’re going to take the real GMAT on a Tuesday afternoon, for example, then take your practice test on a Tuesday afternoon.
4. Give Yourself Enough Time
If you didn’t do as well as you would have liked on the GMAT the first time around, it may be because you didn’t put in enough time. How long should you study for the GMAT? Statistically, 65% of GMAT test takers studied for more than four weeks for the GMAT with 44% putting in more than 50 hours. The average amount of time spent studying for the GMAT by students who scored over 600 is around 100 hours, according to the GMAC. You may not need that much time if you’ve already put in some work before taking the GMAT the first time, of course, but it’s important to know that you can’t short-changed the process and expect great results.
5. Seek Help
As mentioned above, you need a plan. Let the professionals help. The reality is that most students who do well on the GMAT took a GMAT prep course or worked with a private tutor. Even Tiger Woods has a swing coach. When something goes wrong, it’s helpful to have a fresh set of eyes take a look and give you guidance. If you already took a class the first time, try a different one. Even if you still think you mostly want to try studying for the GMAT on your own, something as simple as having a detailed syllabus to guide you or GMAT video lessons to help you when you get stuck can make all the difference. In fact, you can click here for a free session that will teach you one of the most important GMAT math strategies to help you boost your score right away. In the grand scheme of things, a little extra financial and time investment now will pay dividends down the road when you get the GMAT score you need to get into the business school of your choice and start moving toward your career goals, dreams, and aspirations.
Brett Ethridge is the founder of Dominate the GMAT, a leading provider of GMAT courses online and topic-specific GMAT video lessons. He has taught the GMAT for 9 years and loves working with students to help them achieve their highest potential. Brett is an entrepreneur, a triathlete, and an avid Duke basketball fan.