What’s the difference between a real GMAT and a practice one? On the real GMAT, you’re finished after three and a half hours, give or take. But while you are preparing for the GMAT, finishing a practice test is much different than being finished with it. As I’ve written about before, practice tests are great assessment tools but not necessarily great learning tools. Practice tests tell you what you would likely score on the real GMAT if you answered 37 quant and 41 verbal questions with the same level of aptitude that you had on the questions you just saw. But if you want to see your GMAT score improve, you’re going to have to spend some time reviewing what you did, how you did it, and how you could do it better. To help you on that quest to get better, here are four kinds of questions that you can use to help improve your score.
1) Questions You Got Wrong
This one is the obvious one- if you want to get better at the GMAT, you need to find questions that you got wrong and learn how to get them right. But this isn’t as simple as finding an explanation online and memorizing it (although our forums are a great place to get many of your hardest questions answered). Studying for the GMAT is more than just trying to read and memorize a bunch of facts- it’s about changing the way that your brain thinks about how to manipulate an equation or dissect an argument. And what better way for your brain to learn how to tackle a challenge than to give your brain more time to do so. In the middle of a test, your brain is rushed. You might have had to give up on the question halfway through or guessed on it immediately to save yourself time. But when you give your brain more time to discover that A-HA! moment, your brain is much more likely to recognize what to do the next time you see a similar hurdle. After you spend some time trying to solve it on your own, feel free to search for an explanation or a better way of solving a problem. However, you have to make sure that the explanation you read is something that you can do in your own head or your own paper come test day.
2) Questions You Got Right, But Got Lucky On
In my experience, these kinds of questions made up half of the Critical Reasoning problems I got on practice tests: I was able to eliminate A, C, & D, but I ended up guessing between B & E. Sound familiar? It should. A computer-adaptive test will give you problems that you end up having to guess on. Sometimes you get them wrong and you go back to learn what you did wrong. But when you guess and get them right, you may not be as lucky the next time around if you don’t spend time learning why the answer you selected was in fact correct. You’ll never have the exact same question on your actual test, but learning about a logical fallacy on a Critical Reasoning problem or a misplaced modifier on a Sentence Correction question pays off a lot more than a pat on the back for being a good guesser.
3) Questions You Got Right, But Spent Too Much Time On
I don’t like when students time themselves on every single question while studying. It’s not that I don’t think timing is important on the GMAT: for many students, it’s the difference between a 6 and a 7 in the hundreds digit of their overall score. The problem is that you get 75 minutes to do 37 quant questions. Which is not the same as having two minutes to do every quant question. Hopefully, you will be able to spend less than two minutes on many of these questions. But the reason you want to do so is that you can invest some extra time on some of the other questions that aren’t as easy for you. On the test, spending three minutes to solve a question is ok, as long as you have that extra minute to invest. But after a practice test, look back at that question and ask yourself why it took you so long. If a question is on the GMAT, the GMAT considers the problem solvable in less than two minutes. It’s your job to go back and learn how one would do so. Sometimes that comes from being more efficient in the approach you used, but sometimes that comes from finding a better method. Regardless, like every other question you review, find the best way for you to solve that question.
4) Questions You Got Right Quickly, But Can Get Right Quickly-er
The ultimate self-test after reviewing a practice test is to see if you could now do every question you saw in less than recommended time (~2 minutes per Quant/Critical Reasoning question, ~1:15-1:30 per Sentence Correction question, and ~1:00 per Reading Comprehension question, not including the initial reading of the passage itself). If you took the exact same practice test with the exact same questions, you should be able to get every question right and have plenty of time to spare. But remember that when you learn how to get more questions right, you are going to get harder questions that will probably take longer to solve. And as was previously mentioned, extra time comes from learning to do other questions faster. Imagine a student who sees 3 levels of questions on the GMAT: 400 (mostly right), 500 (many right), & 600 (some right). If that student wants to improve his score, he is going to see more 500-700 level questions and those 400-500 level questions need to be where he is saving up time to answer the 700 ones. Remember that 30 seconds saved on a 400 level question is just as valuable as 30 seconds saved on a 700 level question. Until you can look at a question and know every single step that would take you from question to answer, there’s a takeaway worth reviewing. And that’s why ultimately, there’s just one category of question for you to review: anything that you can learn to do better.