Ross Perot said: “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.” How does this play out in terms of GMAT prep? Of course, a benighted few put off all studying to the last minute, and then realize (duh!) that’s there far more to learn for the GMAT that one can master in, say, a weekend! Arguably, the mistake these people made was not beginning their studying months in advance.
Many people, though, are diligent enough to recognize that they need to put in a couple months of preparation, and they study steadily up until the test. What is the eleventh hour struggle of these more alacritous students?
For many folks, the biggest problem is not what they know or don’t know, but how they feel. It’s so common that it’s almost cliché: folks nail the practice GMATs, one after another, but then when they move out of the comfort & familiarity of their own homes to the cold impersonal testing center and its 1984-ish security procedures, they are unnerved enough that their performance drops. There is so much information, so much cognitive content, for the GMAT, that folks neglect that this challenge also demands significant affective preparations as well. Ideally, one would begin a meditation practice for enhanced focus and stress mastery, but falling short of that, at the very least it’s important to practice such stress-reducing techniques such as slow, deep breathing and general mindfulness practice. Such stress-reduction skills should be well-practiced and familiar by the time you walk into the test center.
Part of the challenge of the eleventh hour relates to the different kinds of learning one has to do on the GMAT. For example, much to the despair of us GMAT instructors, many students try to master all of GMAT math by memorizing formulas. This approach will garner some limited success in some areas of math, but in others, such as GMAT Probability, memorized formulas are just not going to do the job. Problem-solving in probability involves developing a perspective, ultimately developing the right-brain pattern-matching skills to dissect various problems. One can develop this with practice, but if one is focused just on memorizing formulas, then one gets to the eleventh hour and predictably says, “I still can’t do any of these problems!”
Of course, throughout one’s GMAT prep, one has to practice with practice questions from high quality sources. Bargain-hunting GMAT studiers scour the web for free questions, not mindful of the sarcastic phrase, “Free — and worth it!” Especially in GMAT Verbal questions, the variation in quality out there is astonishing, and almost invariably, most of the lowest content quality is offered for free. Low quality questions are ambiguous, and spawn endless debates in online forums. Puzzling over a poorly written question will not advance your GMAT skills. For example, high quality GMAT Critical Reasoning practice questions will adhere to the same rigorous standards of clarity and precision we find in the CR questions of official materials. Only through wrestling with the finest questions does one get to the appropriate level of mastery by the eleventh hour.
Reaching the upper levels of the GMAT percentiles involves thorough preparation: affective as well as cognitive preparation, deep learning as opposed to memorization, and practice with the high quality material. Such a thorough foundation will allow you to carry your GMAT success through to the goal line.
This post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.