GMAT Tips – 12 Common Mistakes is a blog post inspired by an answer I wrote for a question on Quora about common mistakes to avoid in the GMAT exam. And quite often, we brand them silly mistakes. Harsh as it may sound, the mistakes aren’t silly, we are. Let us avoid them.
1. Haste Makes Waste
This one tops my list of 12 common mistakes one makes in the GMAT. I have done it many times and so have my students – not reading the question carefully. And it happens in all 4 sections of the GMAT (Analytical Writing Assessment is no exception, by the way).
A classic example of this recurrent theme: Not taking note that the Critical Reasoning question is an EXCEPT question. This one happens way too often. And you will wonder why more than one answer option seems appropriate. You will even curse the GMAT for setting such close answer options. Next time you find yourself in such a situation – pause. Take another look at the question.
The truth is you will have spare time at end of each section if you slowed down a bit and read questions carefully. The alternative is an expensive proposition – spend extra time trying to solve the question and wonder why none of the options make sense or more than one option makes sense.
2. Crowding Out
Do your calculations legibly so that you do not confuse a 3 for an 8 between steps. May be it comes from the belief that if one take lesser space to do calculations, one also take lesser time to do calculations.
It would be a shame to reach the end of a question and realize that none of the answer options match what you have got. This is the moment of reckoning. Usually one of the two happens.
#1 You mark some answer after having spent valuable time solving the question – usually a number close to the incorrect one you got, which is bad – but not as bad as #2.
#2 You try to fix the error. You will end up taking an inordinate amount of time to figure out the step in which you have made a mistake because you are enmeshed in your wrong answer.
By writing clearly you would have arrived at the right answer efficiently. The GMAT exam provides reusable scratch paper booklet. Use it without guilt especially when doing calculations in the integrated reasoning and quantitative section. For the environmentally conscious among us, you too should leave adequate space between calculations and write legibly. We can plant trees later.
3. Losing track of the question
Next in the list of GMAT Tips : 12 common mistakes is forgetting the question.
This time around, you have read the question right. A classic example usually happens in the GMAT Math section. The question asked to compute the selling price. You assigned a variable for the cost price and found the cost price, well under a minute. And you marked the answer without taking an additional 5 seconds to check whether the answer to the value of the variable is the answer to the question asked as well. The GMAT test question setters, well aware of these common mistakes, set incorrect answer choice to trap us. Note, this is not only a test of knowledge, it is also a test of being meticulous.
4. The Parallax Error
Among all the mistakes in the GMAT Tips : 12 Common Mistakes, this one is the unfortunate one.
Happens every now and then to most test takers – a parallax error. And we end up feeling miserable and find it difficult to pardon ourselves. You know the correct answer is option C and it is the correct answer as well. But somewhere the matrix decided to play spoil sport – you marked option D. Unfortunately, you can explain this rationally.
How do you mitigate this risk on the test day? Be vigilant. Take a couple of seconds to ensure that you have marked the correct answer choice before confirming the answer to the question in the GMAT exam could help avoid this mistake. Note, the GMAT exam is not only about your GMAT prep but also about you keeping your wits about you when taking the test.
5. Letting Chaos Take Over
You learned it as part of your GMAT Preparation. Your GMAT tutors taught these in GMAT tips 101. What’s more? You have applied them in your practice test. But exam day nerves makes us ignore structured approaches and we let chaos reign in – a recipe for disaster.
So, how to keep calm and answer questions in a structured way? Here are some rules cast in stone for certain question types. Make it a part of your physical memory – that way no amount of pressures can make you sway. For instance, when answering data sufficiency questions in the quant section – if you have determined that statement 1 is not sufficient, your answer can never by A or D. So, strike it off in your scratch paper. Not doing this last step, could be the difference between a GMAT score of Q50 and Q46.
Same goes for Sentence Correction questions. If you spotted a number agreement error in options A and D, strike them off. And adhere to these methods every time – not only when you take a practice test but also when you solve one stand alone question.
6. Not Letting Go
The GMAT is a time bound exam. On average you have two minutes for each quant question and even lesser for a question in the verbal section.
Get this fact straight. You can only answer questions for which you know a way forward. It is not possible to discover ways to find answers for questions or question types that you see for the first time on the test day in the actual GMAT exam. The time pressure will get to you. So, if you have not seen a question type in your GMAT preparation, please let go of the question in the actual GMAT exam. No ego issues.
Skipping a few (2 to 3 questions in the verbal section and 2 to 3 question in the quant section) will not harm you. Or for that matter, knowing that you need not answer every single IR question to get a GMAT score of 8 in the IR section is a valuable GMAT tip. In fact, the time saved and the energy gained will help you get the best out of the remaining questions.
Knowing what kind of questions to let go should be as much a part of your GMAT test prep as learning how to answer the others.
7. No Risk No Gain
We have crossed the half way mark in our list of GMAT Tips : 12 Common Mistakes. Not taking calculated risks could be the biggest risk. Let us take the example of a GMAT Data Sufficiency question. Say, you know that you will get end up having one equation and one variable from the information given in statement 2. Do not waste any more time finding the value of the variable. Knowing you have a unique answer is enough to proceed further.
Or you know that the answer is the product of 24 and 128. The answer has to end in 2 and should be more than 2400. Time to take a look at the options and mark if there is only one that fits the bill. Not only did you save time – you saved a good deal of energy. But what is invaluable is the way you feel every time you nail a question that way. That confidence means you will likely get more answers right.
How do you know when to stop and when to go to the last step? Doing a comprehensive analysis of every single GMAT practice exam will give you that insight.
8. Not taking a break
The GMAT exam is a 3-hour plus test. Yogis may have had focus that could last that long. Not us mere mortals. The key is to spot as soon as you lose focus. If you realize that you are thinking about something other than the question in front of you, time to take a short break. Short 2 to 5 second break work like magic.
These breaks help get your focus back. Nowhere is it exemplified as in Reading Comprehension. Reading the same line in the passage over and over without grasping anything is not going to get one anywhere. And I have found taking these capsule breaks paying rich dividends.
So, start practicing it every time you take a mock exam. Note, the actual GMAT is not the first time you should experiment with such tricks and tips.
9. Glued to the clock
Of all the items in this list of GMAT Tips, this one is the most difficult to overcome. Especially as the section draws to an end, we tend to look at the clock too often wishing that time will slow down. Sadly, it does not. It just adds to you losing focus and makes your heart beat that much faster – both are bad news.
A friend of mine who is in the army told me this story. As part of the training to use time delayed hand grenade, cadets are asked to mentally estimate time. You throw it too early, the enemy goes unhurt. You hurl it too late, you will be hurt. This works in our context as well. Learn to estimate time without looking at the clock too often.
Set milestones and course correct accordingly. For instance, divide your verbal section into 4 blocks of 9 questions. See whether you have completed 9 questions with 50 plus minutes to spare. If you have, you are coasting well. Else, you have to speed up in the next 9 to catch up – maybe budget to let go off one or two toughies (those which in your test prep experience you tend to get wrong).
10. Driving with one eye on the rearview mirror
Clear your flash memory every time you have confirmed your answer for a question and moved on to the next one. Don’t keep thinking about a question that you can never again go back to and botch up the one in front of you. Look only at the road ahead.
Let bygones be bygones. Practice this mantra in every single practice exam. Else, you will not be able to do it in the actual GMAT exam.
11. Taking the exam before your prep is due
I have heard this quite often. “I took a few mock exams and my average GMAT score was 670 in these practice tests. My target GMAT score is 720. I thought I will make up the remaining 50 points on the test day in the actual GMAT exam. More often than not, if your average score in the mock exams were 670, you are likely to end up with a GMAT score of 640 in the real exam – not the other way round.
There will always be exceptions to this rule – and that is what makes such stories a part of the folklore. Do not get carried away by it.
If the MBA program you intend applying has an application deadline in the near future, and your scores in the mock exams are not well above your target score, miss the deadline. Prepare well and then take the GMAT. Taking the GMAT a second time is not wrong, it is not even that expensive when you compare it with what you will spend for B school education – the fact is it takes a toll on your peace of mind and morale each additional iteration you go through. So, getting it right the first time or at best the second should be the goal.
If you decide to pay heed to only one item from this list of GMAT Tips, then this tops the list.
12. Do not be chained to your GMAT test prep – But make it count
Your MBA admission depends on your GMAT score. However, quitting your job to prepare for the GMAT is not necessary and probably not a very healthy one too. This is true not only for the GMAT but also for any other standardized test. What makes for an effective GMAT preparation is investing time consistently to prepare for the GMAT. And that means allotting time for your test prep everyday. Yes! every day. You cannot eat all 3 meals in one sitting. So, weekend preparation alone will not suffice.
Even if you are not working and the only purpose in your life right now is GMAT test prep, schedule 4 hours for GMAT preparation and do something else.
All these GMAT Tips are of no value unless you make those 4 hours count. So, give undiluted attention to your prep. As a rule of thumb – you should have solved 1500 plus GMAT practice questions in each of GMAT verbal and GMAT quant sections. When it comes to the verbal section, break it up as solving 500 or more practice questions in each of reading comprehension, sentence correction, and critical reasoning.
Cut no corners when you prepare. When you do not fathom why the correct answer is the correct answer, get help from your GMAT tutor. If you have signed up for an online GMAT course, post your doubts on the discussion board and get help. On the other hand if you are preparing with GMAT questions in the GMAT official guide or any other study guide, get help from one of the popular GMAT forums. Make sure to get to the bottom of every concept. No glossing over.
Best wishes for your GMAT preparation!