In the first half of this series, we talked about the big picture stuff: overall mindset, what the GMAT really tests, and how that impacts timing and the study process.
Now, let’s dive into the details. There are three big components to studying for the GMAT:
(1) The Content (actual facts / knowledge tested)
(2) Question-answering Techniques
(a) The main question types and sub-types
(b) Techniques that cross question type, such as picking numbers or using foreshadowing to anticipate the direction of a sentence.
(3) Test-taking Strategies (such as pacing strategies)
Most people start with the first component, content, and that is a great place to start”but many people never fully move on to components 2b and 3. Those who do will often leave those components until too late in the process
Yes, there is a lot of content to learn on this test. Keep two things in mind here. First, you’re almost certainly going to need some outside help in the form of books or online materials that teach you the specific content needed. Lists of practice problems will not be enough here. I won’t list specific books / resources, because I’m obviously a biased source. : )
Second, you could study content forever. Don’t. Remember what this test is really about: making decisions. Learn a majority of the content reasonably well, but feel free to forget about less-frequently tested material that is also difficult for you. Your best decision in those circumstances is to get those questions wrong quickly.
(2) Question-answering techniques
Each question type has certain strategies associated with it. For example, all Critical Reasoning questions can be answered using a certain 4-step process, the details of which change slightly depending upon the specific CR sub-type.
The majority of data sufficiency questions need to be rephrased. Many DS questions are very cleverly worded”it’s not always immediately possible to tell what the question is really asking or what the statement is really saying. Rephrasing will help you to understand the true significance of the info and save you time and effort in answering the question.
The above strategies all concentrate on one particular question type. What about cross-type strategies? For example, many math problems tend to try to hide or disguise information, whether DS or PS; our task is to figure out how to decode the problem so we can answer the question.
Many math problems are presented as story problems, regardless of content area. As a result, we need to study how to translate stories into math.
Any problem solving questions that don’t use real numbers can be solved by choosing your own numbers to turn an algebra problem into an easier arithmetic problem. Most people know they can use this technique when there are variables in the answers, but this technique can often be used when the answers represent percentages or fractions as well”anything that doesn’t represent an actual value but rather a relative value.
You’re going to make a lot of mistakes while you study all of the above. First, when you make a mistake, get a little excited. Yes, I mean that! When you make a mistake, you’re about to learn something. Isn’t that the whole point of studying? If you keep getting everything right, then you’re not really learning much!
Second, get excited even when you made a careless mistake. (This one’s harder to justify, I know.) Here’s the deal: we all make careless mistakes and we all tend to have patterns to those mistakes. If you can figure out what the patterns are, then you can institute new habits that will help you to minimize those careless mistakes in future.
You’re also going to have to guess on this test. You can’t get away from it! We all have to at times, even the 99th percentile test-takers.
Sometimes, you’re going to be completely stuck and you’ll have to make a random guess. Whenever you can, though, you want to try to make educated guesses. That’s a fancy way of saying, Find a logical, credible way to eliminate some wrong answers before you guess from among the remaining answers.
How? Glad you asked. First, learning how to make educated guesses is just as much of a skill as learning how to manipulate an equation. You have to study it! Second, check out these Quant and Verbal articles for ideas on how to get started.
Going for a Super-High Score
Do you want a 99th percentile score? Well, of course”who wouldn’t want that? The better question is whether you’re willing to do the kind of work necessary to get to that level. : )
Start by learning what you’re getting yourself into; there are some significant differences in scoring at the 700 level vs. the 760 level.
Final Thought: Remember what the GMAT is really testing
Did you follow the very first linked that I posted in the first half of this article? Then say it with me: the GMAT is really testing you on your ability to make decisions. Sometimes, the best business decision is to forego an opportunity; likewise, sometimes the best GMAT decision is to get a problem wrong right now. If you train yourself with this mindset, then you’ll have a much better shot at success on this test.
Good luck and happy studying! And for those of you who have been kind enough to read so many of my articles (#202 and counting!), ask questions, add your own thoughts and experiences, and tell me what has worked for you, thank you. I can’t keep doing this without your input!