What’s the optimal way to spend your last 14 days before the real test? There are two levels to this discussion: what and how to review, and building a game plan. We’ll discuss the latter topic in this article. Once you’ve read this article, you may want to check out How To Review.
What is a Game Plan?
In the last two weeks before your test, your focus needs to shift from trying to learn new things to acknowledging that your skills are what they are. They’re not going to change an enormous amount in the last two weeks; you can tweak some things, but now is not the time to change major strategies across an entire question type. Further, it would be a mistake to spend your last two weeks entirely focused on your weaknesses; if you do that, then you won’t be prepared to excel on your strengths.
Your Game Plan will help you to make certain decisions quickly during the test. When is it a good idea to spend an extra 20 or 30 seconds on a problem? When should you decide to make an educated guess? When should you cut yourself off completely, guess immediately, and move on? What should you do if you find yourself ahead or behind on your timing? (We’ll discuss the answers to these questions later in the article.)
Your Game Plan will also help you to prioritize your review based upon your strengths and weaknesses. You’re going to review your major strategies in all areas, the major content you need to know (don’t try to cram everything into your brain; review the stuff that shows up the most!), your pacing, your educated guessing strategies, and so on. As you do that, the data you gather will help you to tweak your game plan further.
Building Your Game Plan
First, the Game Plan is a dynamic thing. You perfect it a little bit more every few days as you gather more data and continue to review.
What Does My Gut Say?
First, make a list of your major strengths and weaknesses. Start with the five question types, but also drill down further into specific content areas (quant, SC) and question sub-types (CR, RC). Consider both accuracy and timing when assessing your strengths and weaknesses; the two factors are equally important.
What Does The Data Say?
We can’t rely only on our gut feelings to know our strengths and weaknesses. Our gut is often right, but it is sometimes wrong – more often than most people realize. It’s also important to check your data.
You can use this article to evaluate your last practice test.
If you have been tracking your accuracy and timing on OG problems, also examine that data. Split individual question types (DS, PS, CR, RC, SC) into three broad groups: the first third in that section in the book (the easier questions), the middle third (the medium questions), and the final third (the harder questions). This will give you an idea of how your performance is changing as the questions get harder. (If you are a ManhattanGMAT student, you can use the OG Tracker spreadsheet; it will then automatically calculate a bunch of data for you.)
Note: if you’re early in the whole study process right now, I highly recommend tracking your work on the OG problems. Create a simple spreadsheet and keep track of the specific source (book), question number, time spent the first time you did it, and whether you got it right or wrong. You can also add notes about what you want to learn, memorize, review, or do, based upon each problem.
How to Use Your Game Plan
Generally, choose to spend an extra 20 to 30 seconds on a problem that is a strength for you, and only when you believe you know what to do but the problem is a bit harder and will take a little more time. Also, note that I said “20 to 30 seconds” above. Even if something is a strength, spending an extra minute or more pretty much guarantees at least one other question wrong on the test due to rushing, careless mistakes, or running out of time at the end.
Do not spend extra time on weaknesses (you can spend normal time, just not extra time). That may sound like common sense, but when we’re in the middle of the test, we’re often reluctant to let go of our weaker problems. If you know what your weaknesses are, you can let those problems go more easily – after all, you know it’s a weakness so you know there’s less chance you’re going to get it right. Get it wrong before you lose any time so that you don’t make the situation even harder for yourself.
If you suddenly realize that you have been on one problem for an awfully long time – you’re not even sure how long – stop yourself immediately, guess, and move on. Suppress the urge to think that you can get it right if you just spend a little more time. This is especially true if you are already behind on time.
If you realize that you are ahead or behind on timing at any point during the test, take steps to correct the situation right away. Do not think that the problem will fix itself (it won’t!) and don’t underestimate the dangers of being too far behind or too far ahead. Generally, if you’re within 2 to 3 minutes of your pacing plan, you’re fine. If you are off by more than that, take action.
If you are moving too quickly, make yourself start writing everything down. Take notes. Write down all calculations. Track the answers on your scrap paper. Basically, you need to be more systematic to ensure that you are not losing points to careless errors due to speed.
If you are moving too slowly, use your Game Plan. As soon as you see a problem that’s an area of weakness for you, guess something and move on. Sacrifice that problem to gain a significant amount of time back. If that’s not enough to catch you up, do it again the next time you see a “weakness” problem.
How To Practice Your Game Plan
About 10 to 14 days before the test (ideally closer to 14), review your Game Plan and take a practice test under official conditions, including the essays, the lengths of the breaks, and so on. Practice implementing your Game Plan during that test. Then review the test with an eye toward improving your Game Plan. Where did you make good decisions about how to spend your time or how to handle a certain problem? Where did you make poor decisions? What should you have done instead? How are you going to make sure that you make the right decision next time? Figure out ahead of time how you’re going to handle different kinds of situations. Then, on the test, you don’t have to think about what to do; you can just react.
Spend the next 5 to 7 days practicing and refining your Game Plan on shorter sets of questions. Intersperse this with your general review of content, question types, and so on. Then, about 5 to 7 days before the test (ideally closer to 7), take another practice test under official conditions. Practice implementing your Game Plan again, then go through your analysis, and refine further.
Finally, implement your Game Plan on test day!
- Change your focus during the final two weeks of study: away from learning new stuff, and toward review material and developing your Game Plan.
- Practice and refine your Game Plan over the last two weeks.
- Use your Game Plan on test day!