GMAT Test-Taking Strategies

Approaching the GMAT Strategically

Success on the GMAT depends on more than just superior content knowledge. Although it is obviously important to have as much mastery of the skills tested on the GMAT's four areas as possible, students must be able to demonstrate these skills within the constraints of the exam. By the time test day arrives, prospective graduate students should be thoroughly familiar with the structure of the test, the directions for each section, and the types of exercises typically included in each portion of the exam. Rigorous daily practice with GMAT materials (both official and unofficial) will develop this familiarity. It is also crucial that test-takers learn to manage their time effectively, and if necessary, make educated guesses on difficult questions. Strategic approaches to the GMAT can easily make quite a difference in student scores and business school admission prospects.

Practice and Preparation

Students preparing for the GMAT should take full advantage of all available practice assessments. The Official Guide for GMAT Review grants access to an online database that includes a diagnostic test, 800 quantitative and verbal questions, and 50 integrated reasoning questions. Official GMAT paper tests (from the 1990s) are available from GMAC, and a number of test prep companies publish unofficial GMAT practice tests. Practice assessments should reproduce the timing and conditions of the actual GMAT as closely as possible. This will also allow students to practice reducing stress while answering GMAT questions. Most students will have some anxiety while taking the official GMAT. Test-takers should anticipate this stress and practice techniques for reducing its effects, such as deep breathing or relaxation exercises. Testing anxiety is a well-documented phenomenon, and its symptoms vary from student to student. While preparing for the GMAT, all test-takers should make every effort to determine how this anxiety affects them.

Time Management

There is a common misconception that the first ten questions in each verbal and quantitative GMAT section are worth more than the others. There is no reliable evidence that this belief is true. The best strategy for time management is to maintain as consistent a pace as possible throughout the exam. The quantitative section includes 37 questions over 75 minutes, which is an average of slightly more than two minutes per question. The verbal section gives test-takers 75 minutes for 41 questions, or a bit less than one minute and 50 seconds for each question. The 12 integrated reasoning questions average two minutes and 30 seconds each for the section's time allotment of 30 minutes. The most effective approach to time management stays close to the average range for each question. Test-takers should have the section timings, number of questions, and average time for each question memorized, and should practice with these numbers in mind.

Guessing Answers

Since each question on the GMAT must be answered before the test-taker will be allowed to move on to the next question, guessing answers is a crucial aspect of effective time management. Guessing is a skill that should be practiced frequently during the preparation process. Unlike some other standardized tests, there is no penalty for guessing on the GMAT (points are not deducted for incorrect answers). With five answer choices for each multiple choice question, pure guesswork results in a 20% chance of a correct answer. With sufficient practice, students can develop their skills in educated guessing, which greatly increases the odds of a correct answer. Careful study of typical answer choices and official answer explanations (such as those found in the Official Guide for GMAT Review) during the preparation phase will reveal patterns of answers that are helpful to educated guessing. All students taking the GMAT should assume that they will be required to do some guessing on the multiple choice sections of the exam, and they should therefore devote ample time and effort to developing this ability.

General Tips

The importance of physical comfort on test day should not be underestimated. Students should make sure that they are getting the proper amount of rest in the days leading up to the test, and nutrition is also a significant component of physical well-being. When taking the GMAT, comfortable clothing is preferable to business attire. Physical health, vigor, and comfort can go a long way toward building confidence, reducing stress, and improving cognitive function while undergoing the demanding task of completing a lengthy and difficult examination. Test-takers should be familiar with the location of their test's administration as well as the typical traffic conditions at the time of day they have chosen, to ensure that they arrive at the test center on time.