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Top Five GMAT Study Mistakes

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Two young women sitting on bed studying under lamplight
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Let’s face it—it’s been years since you’ve studied for a standardized test. You have vague memories of filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil, but that’s pretty much where your recall ends. Now, you’ve got the GMAT in front of you, and it’s time to hit the books once again. Since everyone learns differently and has different study techniques, it can be hard to prescribe a universal method. However, having observed thousands of GMAT test-takers over the years, we at ManhattanGMAT have identified five common study mistakes that students make while studying for the GMAT.

Mistake #1: Believing that "more is more"

A common misperception is that the only way to truly master the GMAT is to see every problem in existence. And given the number of GMAT guides available at your local bookstore, there is plenty of material out there. Of course, you do want to see a variety of problems, so that you know which concepts are tested, and how. However, simply exposing yourself to all sorts of problems is not enough; you have to actually study the problems, and this may mean doing fewer problems. You are not done with a problem when you get it right. You should spend twice as long reviewing a problem as you spend doing it, whether or not you got it correct. (I’m serious on that one.) As a part of your review, ask yourself whether you identified the topics being tested. Did you do answer the question in the most efficient way? Was there another approach you could have taken? Does the problem or any of the concepts remind you of other problems you’ve seen? The goal is to find a lesson in each question and be able to apply those lessons to the next group of problems you do.

Mistake #2: Believing that "more is more," part deux

I once knew a GMAT student who believed that if he took a practice test a day for six weeks, he would be prepared when the actual test date rolled around. Prepared to jump off a bridge, I thought, but not prepared to take the test. Just like doing too many practice problems, taking unnecessary tests will not help you learn the material necessary to do well on the GMAT. Use practice tests sparingly. Use them to build stamina, get accustomed to the timing constraints, and gauge your progress. Practice tests should not be your primary study tool. If you are fortunate enough to be using a test that gives you diagnostic information, use that information to guide your future studying. Focus primarily on your weakest areas, but don’t let any particular topic or question type go cold. Whatever you do, DO NOT get hung up on your score. These are practice exams; for good or ill, the real exam will be a completely different experience.

Mistake #3: Believing that "more is more," part tre

It’s a rare bird who did not, at some point during college, pull an all-nighter cramming for a nasty final exam. Remember when it was 3 am and the room was littered with half-drunk cups of coffee, empty pizza boxes, discarded Twizzlers’ wrappers, and numerous rumpled cheat sheets? That was fine when you were 19 and trying to remember a semester’s worth of human behavior biology; it won’t cut it now. Studying for long periods of time is not effective preparation for the GMAT. Rather, pace yourself. Give yourself a good three months to prepare for the test, working about two hours a day. Mix up your study sessions so that you work a bit on verbal and a bit on quantitative topics. Do a group of problems (say, twenty minutes worth) and spend the next forty minutes reviewing your work. Take a stretch break, come back, and do another group of problems. Review those intensely, and then call it a day. Longer work sessions lead to diminishing returns, a concept that all business schools care about.

Mistake #4: Forgetting about time

Time is your most valuable resource when you take the GMAT. Since you have only 75 minutes to answer either 41 verbal questions or 37 quantitative questions, how you allocate those precious minutes is crucial to your overall strategy and success. Too often, GMAT takers put too much emphasis on getting the problem right and not enough emphasis on getting the problem right in the right amount of time. Always, always, always do your practice timed. Give yourself a certain number of minutes to complete a set of problems. This way, you can see how well you balance those problems that take a little too long with those that you can do faster than the average bear. Always strive to find the most efficient way through the question.

Mistake #5: Doing only the stuff you’re good at

It feels great to do a set of problems in the right amount of time and get them all (or nearly all) correct. When that happens, give yourself a sincere pat on the back. But then go in search of material you are less comfortable with. Working only on topics or problem types you already feel great about won’t help your overall score nearly as much as making improvements in areas where you aren’t quite up to snuff. Because of the GMAT’s adaptive nature, your weaknesses create a ceiling for your strengths. You won’t see a 700-level Sentence Correction question if your Reading Comprehension is down in the 500s. In order to take the most advantage of your killer grammar skills, you have to increase your RC level. So, bite the bullet and tackle your weaker areas. It may not feel quite as fun the first time out, but you’ll love the improvements you’ll make over time.

Conquering the GMAT can seem like a daunting task. But if you avoid these five mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to victory.

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