Recently, we talked about what to try if your deadlines are rapidly approaching and you don’t yet have the score that you want. I’d like to talk about next steps for those of you who decide to postpone your exam and possibly your b-school applications.
I didn’t actually decide – I just didn’t get the score I wanted
First, a pep talk. You always have a choice. You could, for example, choose to apply this year but lower your standards in terms of where you apply. In fact, if you fall into certain categories, this may be better than waiting a year to try to get into a “better” (or, at least, higher-ranked) school. Let’s say that you’re being groomed to take over a family business. The current CEO is getting older. The business is well-established and fairly regional, so actually the best thing might be to get a degree from a respected (but not necessarily “top”) school in the same geographic region as the company headquarters.
On the other hand, let’s say that’s NOT you – in your case, you’re only willing to spend $100,000+ if you can get into a top-fill-in-the-blank school (top 5? top 10? top 20?), and your current GMAT score is probably going to hold you back. In that case, postponing for a year may be the way to go. Any “helpful” friends or family members who say, “Hey, I thought you were applying to business school!” can be told, “It’s actually a smarter career move to wait until next year.” They don’t need to know that the GMAT had anything to do with that decision.
So how do I get that score?
The bad news is that there’s no guarantee you’ll get a certain score. But now that you’ve given yourself some more time, you’ll want to begin by putting together a smart plan that will give you the best possible chances.
Take a break
If you’re already burned out (and most people in this situation are), take a breather. Take the holiday season off and don’t worry about the GMAT. No guilt because you’re drinking egg nog and caroling with the neighbors, or however it is that you like to spend your time. :) The best thing you can do for yourself right now: clear your brain and ratchet down the stress levels. Come back to the GMAT with a fresh perspective in January.
Set up a plan
There are any number of ways to prepare for the GMAT, but the one thing we do know is that whatever you were doing before wasn’t working for some reason. You need to figure out why so that you can then figure out what kind of plan will work for you.
First, what was your broad study plan / pattern before? Were you working on your own or with friends? With a class? With a tutor?
Second, what materials were you using and how were you using them? How were you actually studying / learning. Even if you did take a class or work with a tutor, the majority of your working hours were still on your own.
If you had/have a teacher or tutor, contact him or her in order to get help with this step. Make sure to give her / him detailed information about how you were working on your own and any ideas you have about what was and wasn’t working. If you think that part of the problem was that the teacher / tutor wasn’t actually all that helpful… still ask him / her for ideas, but also ask other experts for advice – post on some forums, call the main number of the teaching tutoring company (if there is one) and ask to speak to someone other than your teacher / tutor, and so on.
The article Developing a Study Plan contains a large number of useful resources in helping you figure out what to do. Note that the article is a 2-parter; I’ve linked to the first part here and you’ll have to click on the link at the end of the first part in order to read the second part.
Questions to ask yourself
(Note: many of the articles referenced in this section can be found as links in the Developing a Study Plan – DaSP – article or the I Don’t Have the Score – IDHtS – article!)
What are your strengths and weaknesses, across question types, content areas, and timing? See part 1 of DaSP for an article will help you analyze your practice tests.
Any timing problems? (About 98% of students have timing problems!) See IDHtS for time management resources.
HOW have you been learning? People often study for the GMAT using techniques that worked in school – but the GMAT isn’t like a school test. Were you analyzing problems and your work in the way described in this article? If not, then you weren’t studying in the best possible way. (For examples of specific problems analyzed using the MGMAT process, see IDHtS – but read the overall article, linked earlier in this paragraph, first.)
Know the material but make lots of careless mistakes? Learn how to minimize careless errors.
I need more help
Lots of resources are available to you. You may decide that you need outside help from a friend or co-worker who took the exam or who is also studying now. You may also decide that you need to take or repeat a class or that you need the help of a tutor. Whatever it might be, research your options now and set things in motion so that you can hit the ground running in January.
Then, after taking a break over the next few weeks, you can come back with a clear head, a fresh perspective, and a plan – all of which are critical if you want to have a good shot at overcoming the GMAT!