Today’s post comes from Elad Shoushan, the founder and CEO of LTG Exam Prep Platform, the MIT startup behind Prep4GMAT. You can read his complete GMAT story on BeattheGMAT here.
Honestly, it’s still a little embarrassing to admit how many times I took the GMAT. Over the course of two years, I took the exam five times, four of the times ending in complete disappointment.
It was my dream to earn an MBA at a top U.S. program, and as a highly goal-oriented person who’d experienced success both in sports as a professional athlete and in my career as a computer engineer, I believed the goal was within reach. However, the GMAT became a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
The experience felt like a nightmare. No matter how much I studied, my score always fell short of how I did on practice tests and below what I knew I needed to get in order to have a shot at my dream schools. After my fourth attempt and a few MBA rejections, my dream was dying. Even my close friends and family began to suggest that maybe it was time to give up and pursue another path.
Fortunately, I choose to make one more attempt. I changed how I studied and zeroed-in on really understanding GMAT questions and my own weaknesses on the test. After completing my fifth GMAT and pressing the button to see my score, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had broken the 700 mark, a 160-point improvement from my lowest score, and all my previous doubts and disappointments turned to joy. Later that year, I was accepted to MIT Sloan where I completed my MBA last spring.
I learned many things through this experience, both about GMAT prep and myself. In the hope that you’ll avoid some of my mistakes and only have to take the GMAT once, let me share what I deem to be undeniable “truths” of studying for the exam that will make for a much smoother experience than I had.
1. Quality over quantity
Taking the GMAT so many times taught me that to truly prepare for the exam, it’s not enough to just practice questions; you need to dissect them. You will learn more from spending half an hour analyzing one question than you will from spending half an hour answering as many questions as you can.
That’s because by analyzing a question you really begin to understand not only what exact quant or verbal concepts it tests but also how it tests the concept. This is critical because recognizing how a question works will teach you about dozens of other questions that have a similar structure, and you start to pick up on common patterns and traps. Eventually new questions you come across will no longer look so intimidating because you’ll notice how similar they are to questions you’ve previously studied.
This is also why the quality of the content you study with matters so much. Much to my frustration, a lot of the test prep content I used did a poor job of replicating the quality of questions on the actual test.
2. Over studying will hurt your score
The GMAT is not a memory test. It’s not asking you to repeat facts or formulas you learned in university, yet so many people study as if it were. Don’t fall for the temptation to practice as many questions and take as many practice tests as you can as your test date approaches.
As the last truth stressed, GMAT prep is about quality over quantity. When studying, don’t causally accept that you answered a practice question right or wrong. Go back and figure out why you got it right or wrong. Is a wrong answer the result of a careless mistake or does it represent a gap in your knowledge?
3. Improvement comes through self-knowledge
This follows from the last truth. If you know the mistakes you’re likely to make and where your knowledge gaps lie, you have a road map to improvement. We all make careless errors, but if you know when and why they occur, you can adopt habits to prevent them.
This is how I helped improve my verbal score. I’m not a native English speaker, so I’d often miss subject-verb agreement errors on sentence correction questions. To prevent this I made it a habit to identify the subject and verb on every question, which drastically reduced the amount of mistakes I made.
4. 30 to 40% of the GMAT is stress management
Let’s face it. The GMAT is an extremely stressful test, and it gets in your head. It’s only natural while taking the test to try to guess how you’re doing based on the difficulty of questions you get. But the truth is you can’t accurately guess how you’re doing. You may get a seemingly easy question even after getting the previous question right.
You can’t let this get to you, and you have to let go of the urge to dwell on the previous question. This is easier said than done, but stress management is a learnable skill, and it’s necessary if you want to reach your potential on the test. Learn some relaxation techniques that you can use during the test and in the time leading up to it. It could be deep breathing, positive affirmations, or even stretching. Find what works for you.
5. Five percent is talent and the rest is hard work
There’s a persistent myth that business schools look down on applicants who’ve taken the GMAT twice or more because admissions believe that these applicants are not as smart as those who only need to take it once. This simply isn’t true. In fact taking the GMAT more than once shows perseverance and determination, and in the end, it’s these qualities that matter most in business school, the working world, and life itself.
On a final note, there’s perhaps a sixth truth of the GMAT that I learned – that typical GMAT prep is costly and ineffective for many test-takers. I burned through an enormous amount of prep materials (and a lot of money), but it wasn’t until I adopted the above habits with the help of a personal tutor that my GMAT prep truly paid off.
However, most test-takers are busy professionals who don’t have the amount of time or resources to devote to their test prep that I was fortunate to have. They’re left with traditional resources – such as books or classes – which can’t offer personalized instruction, are often costly, and are difficult to fit into a busy schedule.
It shouldn’t have to be this way, and Prep4GMAT, the mobile prep app I developed with my MIT startup, is changing this by making high quality, personalized GMAT prep accessible to anyone with a smart phone or tablet. I’m excited to announce we’ve just released a redesigned version for Android that walks you through exactly what you need to know for the GMAT, and using adaptive algorithms, helps you target weakness and build strengths. It even has a patented language-parsing tool, the X-ray, that helps you analyze questions.
Good luck and don’t give up!
Founder and CEO of LTG Exam Prep Platform, the maker of Prep4GMAT