You’ve heard a million times that you’re supposed to create Official Guide (OG) problem sets in order to practice for the test. But how do you actually do so in a way that will help you get the most out of your study?
Fear not! This article is coming to your rescue.
Initially, when you’re studying a new topic or problem type, you won’t do sets of problems; instead, you’ll just try one problem at a time. As you gain experience, though, you’re going to want to do 3 problems in a row, or 5, or 10.
Because the real test will never give you just one problem!
The GMAT will give you many questions in a row and they’ll be all jumbled up—an SC, then a couple of CRs, then back to another SC (that tests different grammar rules than the first one), and so on.
You want to practice two things:
(1) Jumping around among question types and topics
(2) Managing your timing and mental energy among a group of questions
When do I start doing problem sets?
You’re going to use problem sets to test your skills, so you’ve got to develop some of those skills first. If you’re using our Strategy Guides to study, then at the end of one chapter, you’ll do only two or three OG problems to make sure that you understood the material in the chapter.
Later, though, when you finish the Guide, do a set of problems that mix topics (and question types) from that entire book. Make sure you can distinguish between the similar-but-not-quite-the-same topics in that book, and also practice your skills on both problem solving and data sufficiency. As you finish subsequent Guides, your sets can include problems from everything you’ve done so far. Keep mixing it up!
How do I make the sets?
You’ll need to balance three things when you create a problem set:
(1) Number of problems. Initially, start out with about 3 to 5 problems. As you gain experience and add topics, you’ll increase the size of the sets—we’ll talk more about this a little later.
(2) Type of problem and content.
(a) For quant, always do a mix of Problem Solving (PS) and Data Sufficiency (DS). For verbal, mix at least two of the three types; you can include all three types in larger sets.
(b) Do not do a set of 3 or more questions all from the same chapter or content area—for example, don’t do 3 exponents questions in a row. You know exactly what you’re about to get and the real test will never be this nice to you.
(3) Difficulty level.
(a) For all types except Reading Comprehension, the OG places problems in roughly increasing order of difficulty. Problem 3 is easier than problem 50, which is easier than problem 102. Include a mix of easier, medium, and harder questions in your set.
(b) Note: your personal strengths and weaknesses will affect how you perceive the problems—you might think a lower-numbered problem is hard or a higher-numbered problem is easy. They are… for you! Expect that kind of outcome sometimes.
Next, calculate how much time to give yourself to do the problem set.