So you say you’ve reached a plateau with your GMAT scores? They’ve leveled out (or stayed level) and won’t for the life of you go any higher? You’ve been at it weeks (or months) only to see ten points here and ten points there? I feel your pain. Many test-takers find themselves caught in a similar place, and it’s a frustrating circumstance. The GMAT is designed to thwart score improvement. GMAC, which administers the test, seems to take a certain sadistic pride in touting its algorithm’s accuracy at determining one’s “true” ability on the GMAT, and even has research that shows the average retake score improvement to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points. 30 little points! So what can you do to counter this trend? Let’s take a look in today’s post at some general things you might do to garner yourself a bump. In later posts we’ll return to this theme to look closer at people scoring at different levels to see how they might get themselves out of the GMAT scoring rut.
1. Study differently — the old adage that “practice makes perfect” only goes so far. For a test as specific and regimented as the GMAT, a certain kind of practice is required. One of the primary inhibitors to improvement is using the same methods over and over and over again (it is this simple fact that often turns peoples’ “three-month study plan” into a year-long struggle). Here are a few things you might do differently:
- Study Concepts/Topics NOT Questions — There is no substitute for learning and knowing the content. Period. Anyone that tells you differently is simply helping you to limit your score improvement potential. After you know the content front and back (all the rules, all the formulas, all the equations) you want study questions to see how they are SIMILAR to other questions. If you can’t see the similarity of a given question to other questions you’ve seen you either a) haven’t seen enough questions, or b) don’t fully understand what the question is testing. Seeing similarities between questions allows you to see the fundamental concepts being tested, and allows you to hone your ability to recognize those concepts in manifestations that aren’t always so easy to see. If you can see the concept and know the math behind it, your odds of getting a question right go up, big time.
- Quality vs. Quantity — I cannot tell you how many people come to me saying things like “I’ve done all of the Official Guide, and Quant and Verbal Review Questions. I’ve taken a practice test every week for 6 months from just about every test prep company on the planet. I’ve done all the questions on your site and just about every other site imaginable. I’ve been at it a year and my score still hasn’t gone up. And…I’m out of practice material.” The extremity of this case is a little (only a little, trust me) beyond the common. If you’ve done all that but there was still no improvement, don’t you think it probably has something to do with how you’re preparing as opposed to how much you’re preparing? Instead of doing thousands of questions (the largely faulty “take a practice every week and my score will go up” mentality), spend more time with fewer questions. Which means…
- Analyze, Analyze, Analyze — Again, all problems share something in common with other problems. There are only so many concepts and so many ways to present the material. Thus, you should be spending a significant amount of time analyzing your results, rather than just checking whether you got questions right or wrong. If you don’t walk away from a question having learned something concrete and tangible about how you approach questions, take tests, recognize concepts or something similar that you can apply to other problems, then that question was a waste (and wasted opportunity). You won’t remember that problem again. You will make the same mistake again. The GMAT is almost as much about pattern recognition as content. You don’t see patterns by doing thousands of problems, you see patterns by closely assessing the problems you do.
- There are NO Irrelevant Topics or Questions — ever felt like you’ve gotten the same question over and over on your GMAT? That’s your brain telling you this stuff is all the same. The more you analyze, the quicker you’ll be to see those similarities that will allow you to find a way into trickier problems. Heed your subconscious. If something looks familiar, it probably is. You just need to understand how its similar (and how its different). You need to understand how strategies you’ve learned apply (or have to be adjusted) for this particular problem.
2. Develop multiple approaches to the same problem — There is almost always a better way to answer any given question. When reviewing a question, you want to ask yourself if there was another way, or if there was a faster way, than how you did it. Doing so will accomplish two things: a) hone your cognitive skills, and b) give you flexibility in unfamiliar contexts.
3. Use your practice tests wisely — far too many GMAT-takers believe (or have been counseled to believe) that practice tests are a panacea for their GMAT-woes. They’re not. Practice tests are essentially for increasing your test-taking fitness, adjusting your holistic testing approach, and comprehensively assessing your standing. In and of themselves practice tests are not learning tools. You can learn a great deal from practice tests, but you’ll likely run out of tests before you learn all you need to learn. Generally, the only people for whom practice tests suffice as an improvement tool are those people already scoring relatively highly (indicative of a predisposition and level of preparation already commensurate with GMAT success). For everyone else, focusing on practice tests is an undue and incomplete approach.
4. Temper Expectations and Plan Accordingly — In most cases significant score improvement takes time. “Significant” is relative, but the higher you go on the scale the harder points are to come by. For most people, 100+ points requires both time and the appropriate study methods. Consider the time and effort required to grow exponentially as we go from 100 to 150, 150 to 200, and so on. 200+ points improvement is very rare indeed. If you’re looking for 200+ points improvement, know it’s probably going to take a very long time, a very intensive and organized approach, and infinite patience. Plan accordingly. How much time varies for each person, but you shouldn’t expect to be operating or succeeding on anyone’s schedule but your own. Remember, the GMAT seeks to mitigate score improvement potential. Sometimes overcoming that takes time.
Best of luck, and if you need us send us a message and we’ll help in whatever way we can.