My GMAT students are often surprised when I advise them not to take a practice test.
I don’t advise this for every student on every occasion; there are some legitimate uses for practice tests. In general though, I find that my students take too many practice tests at the expense of other more beneficial forms of study for a given circumstance.
Think of the GMAT like a Mozart sonata. Let’s say you are a pianist, and you want to learn the sonata. Would you begin by playing the whole piece from start to finish? No, instead you would work in small sections. You would identify the sections that are easy, and you would work on those sections just enough to maintain your ability. Mainly, you would be concerned with the difficult sections of the piece, which you would practice slowly and intently. Not until you had mastered those sections would you move on.
After you have put in all that practice time, you want to make sure that you can maintain your ability within the context of the larger piece. That’s when you want to play the whole piece: when you want to check to see whether your prior work is ingrained or whether you forget it when you are distracted by the other demands of the piece.
The GMAT works like a Mozart sonata: use a computer-adaptive test (CAT) for practice only after you have worked to improve all your weak areas, just the way you would run through an entire piece of music! Treat the CAT more like a diagnostic than a study tool. Hit your weak areas hard using targeted practice, like reading the Manhattan GMAT strategy guides and doing the in-book exercises, doing selected official guide problems on a certain topic, making flashcards, studying with a friend and comparing answer strategies, or any of the numerous other ways to get better at specific topics.
Before you take your next practice CAT, quickly run through the checklist below and identify your goal:
- I have not taken any practice CATs yet and I need an initial diagnostic
- I have identified my biggest weaknesses since my last practice CAT and I believe I have improved them, but I want to make sure. The weaknesses I am targeting on this practice CAT are: (list them all)
- I identified a specific timing or stamina problem from my last practice CAT, and I have done everything else I can to improve the problem. I also have a specific plan for attacking this problem on the CAT I am about to take: (write down the plan)
If you are not able to select any items from this checklist, maybe it’s time to reconsider your decision to take a CAT right now. Take a look around this blog for plenty of alternatives for improving your abilities and timing!