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The GMAT and GRE: a marathon not a sprint

While the GMAT and GRE might not take quite as long as it takes the average person to run a marathon, they have their similarities. Both need you to prepare in advance, dedicate time to training, and figure out your optimal strategy for getting through.

Cropped shot of a woman tying her shoelaces before a workout

James Barker, Market Development Manager at GMAC, as well as two of our current MBA students, Monsicha (Mint) Pongrujikorn, and Kristina Chiappetta, offer their advice for preparing for the GMAT.

Practise, practise, practise…

Sometimes the only way to get better at something is to do it over and over and develop a muscle memory. Both Kristina and Mint advocate practising plenty of questions ahead of the test. That way you’ll uncover your weaknesses and get used to the way they are phrased. Both downloaded practice GMAT papers from the Official GMAC website, and Kristina also used practise questions from the website ‘Magoosh’. Mint’s advice is that “you should practise the whole test before you take the exam, but don’t spend all of your time on whole practise papers, make sure you focus on the parts you find hardest as well.”

James says: “You can download free test preparation software from GMAT.com. Many of the question types follow standard patterns so it’s useful to be able to quickly identify what each question is asking you to do. The practise exams can help you to strategise your exam timing, and follow the same computer-adaptive format as the real exam allowing you to gauge your potential exam performance.”

Consider a prep class

When training for a race, you might invest in some personal training or join a running club to structure your training and help identify any issues with your technique. Both Mint and Kristina used classes and online test prep services to help them. Kristina opted for the Manhattan Prep, which involved weekly classes over the course of a few months. She says ” the Manhattan Prep practise tests I was taking were a bit harder than the actual GMAT, so don’t get too frustrated or flustered if your practise test scores aren’t quite where you want to be if you’re using Manhattan Prep.”

Mint took classes with Kaplan. They spent the first four weeks looking at quants, and then more generally at the test. She feels she benefitted because of the exam tips they offered such as eliminating the multiple choice answers which stand out as obviously being different to the rest.

Focus on your weakest parts…

When training for a triathlon, if you know your strength is swimming, you wouldn’t spend all your time in the swimming pool, and the same theory applies to preparing for the GMAT: find out what your weakest area is and spend a larger proportion of time focussing on that.

Kristina says “If I could go back in time, I would have started focusing on math skills – which were not my strength – ahead of taking the prep course. Class time is immensely more useful (they teach you techniques to answer the more advanced questions) if you have a solid foundation.”

…but don’t overestimate your strengths

Mint suggests that even if you feel you have a strength in one particular area, for example verbal reasoning, you should still make sure you dedicate some time to working on that aspect. “With verbal reasoning for example, there are lot of idioms. If you are less familiar with that, spend some time understanding how the questions are phrased and just be aware that even something as seemingly simple as sentence correction can be tricky.”

Find some distraction free time and space

You need to find the right environment to study in, away from distraction, as well as freeing a specific segment of time to do it. Kristina says “I studied and took practise test for months leading up to the actual GMAT – I’d go to my office on weekends to have a quiet, distraction-free space.”

Consider apps to help

Mint used the app “speed Math” by Pixerian to practise her mental arithmetic, which she hadn’t used with such high frequency since high school. Having a flashcard-style app at hand meant she could practise while she was at the bus stop, in queues or had the odd bit of time. They aren’t a substitute for comprehensive GMAT preparation, but they can be a great addition to your other practise materials or when you have a spare moment. Others include “GMAT Math Flashcards” and “GMAT Idiom Flashcards” by Magoosh, as well as Pocket Prep’s “GMAT Prep”.

Be familiar with the test and its structure

On race day you wouldn’t want to be caught out by getting lost, so you’d familiarise yourself with the course. The same can be said for the GMAT: know how the instructions are worded, the structure of the test, and be familiar with how much time you have to answer the questions for each section. Time yourself when you are doing practise questions so that you can get used to how long it feels to answer without needing to look at the timer.

And, from July 11 candidates will be able to decide at the test centre in which order they wish to take the components of the exam, so it makes sense to have worked out which bits you want to do when.

And finally, the test itself…

Finally, Mint offers some advice about the test itself. “Make sure you get the first 10 questions right, those will put you in the upper percentile and ensure you get the harder questions.”

James echoes this when he says: “The computer-adaptive nature of GMAT means that the computer gives you harder graded questions after each correct answer you supply. Being exposed to a broad range of questions means you will be equipped to answer a broad range of questions as you successfully proceed through the exam.”