Last week, we talked about the first two elements of getting the most out of your CATs
#1: How NOT to use your practice CATs
#2: How to analyze your Strengths and Weaknesses with respect to timing
This week, we’re going to dive even further into Strengths and Weaknesses using the Assessment Reports.
#3: Run The Reports
Note: this article series is based on the metrics that are given in ManhattanGMAT tests, but you can extrapolate to other tests that give you similar performance data.
In the ManhattanGMAT system, click on the link “Generate Assessment Reports.” The first time, run the report based solely on the most recent test that you just did; later, we’ll aggregate data from your last two or three tests.
The first report produced is the Assessment Summary; this report provides the percentages correct for the five main Q and V question types, as well as average timing and difficulty levels. Here’s an example; see whether you can spot any problem areas.
Most people will immediately say “Oh, this student is better at PS than DS.” Why? “Because the percentage correct is higher for PS.”
Actually, that’s the wrong takeaway for this particular set of results. It’s crucial to compare three data points at once: the percentage correct, the time spent, and the difficulty levels.
It’s true that the PS percentage correct is significantly higher. But look at that timing: the student is spending a lot longer on PS. DS is averaging well below the normal time of 2 minutes. Further, check out those difficulty levels; the correct answers are at the same level of difficulty!
How many practice tests have you taken so far? Are you satisfied—or frustrated—with your progress?
One of the biggest mistakes I see students make is also relatively easy to fix: they don’t learn what they should be learning from their practice tests. This is exactly what we’re going to talk about today.
#1 You don’t get better while taking a CAT
Wait, how is this a step to get the most out of your CATs?? Read on.
Have you ever done this? You take a test, but aren’t happy with your score, so within a week or so, you take another test.
Bad move! First, you already have all of the info that you need in that first test; your skills aren’t going to change radically in a week. You just wasted 4 hours of valuable study time (not to mention, one of your limited practice tests!) in order to get the same data that you already know.
Alternatively, have you read online that someone out there took 14 practice tests in a 6-week period and swears by this method of studying because he then got a 760? If you do just what he did, you’ll get a 760 too!
Sadly, there’s a very good chance you won’t. Do you remember that one kid from your school, the one who was always excited when the standardized test days came around? She was super annoying because she just did well on these tests “naturally” and she actually liked taking them. (Yes, that was me.)
Here’s the thing: if these tests already just “make sense” to you, then sure, the brute force approach is likely to work. The thing is: those of us who can do this ARE actually analyzing this stuff just as much as you need to, but we do so more quickly than most, and almost without being aware that we’re doing it. The brute force method works for perhaps 1% of the population and if it were going to work for you, you’d already know it.
The first step, then, is to make this mindset switch: you’re going to use your CATs to practice what you’ve already learned and to provide data to help you continue to learn after the CAT is over. You should be able to find a bare minimum of 2 weeks’ worth of things to do based on your assessment of one CAT. That takes us to step #2…
#2 Use your CATs to learn your Strengths and Weaknesses
Sometime early on in your study, you’re going to take a practice test. Don’t put this off! You need to know your strengths and weaknesses so that you can set up your study plan and prioritize the right things.
My GMAT students are often surprised when I advise them not to take a practice test.
I don’t advise this for every student on every occasion; there are some legitimate uses for practice tests. In general though, I find that my students take too many practice tests at the expense of other more beneficial forms of study for a given circumstance.
Think of the GMAT like a Mozart sonata. Let’s say you are a pianist, and you want to learn the sonata. Would you begin by playing the whole piece from start to finish? No, instead you would work in small sections. You would identify the sections that are easy, and you would work on those sections just enough to maintain your ability. Mainly, you would be concerned with the difficult sections of the piece, which you would practice slowly and intently. Not until you had mastered those sections would you move on.
After you have put in all that practice time, you want to make sure that you can maintain your ability within the context of the larger piece. That’s when you want to play the whole piece: when you want to check to see whether your prior work is ingrained or whether you forget it when you are distracted by the other demands of the piece.
That must be a typo, right? The GMAT isn’t anything like tennis. I don’t need to know the Pythagorean Theorem to play tennis. And when I take the GMAT, I’m not even allowed to stand up, let alone run around the room. So what is the title of this post talking about?
When I take the GMAT, I pretend that I’m playing tennis. I do not pretend that I’m taking a final exam.
When I was in college, I did as much work as I could on every problem to try to make sure that I got everything right. I could afford to spend that time because college exams didn’t have the kinds of time constraints that we have on standardized tests. I didn’t have to make any “tradeoff” decisions between problems. I also expected to be able to answer every question (or almost every question) correctly, and the professors expected that those students who had studied adequately would also be able to answer all or most of the questions.
But the GMAT doesn’t work that way. The more time I spend on the current problem, the less time I’m going to have on the remaining problems in this section, and there’s a penalty if I don’t finish or get a lot wrong in a row. Further, because of the way the test is scored, I am not going to get all or even almost all of the questions right. In fact, except at the highest and lowest scoring levels, people only get about 60% of the questions right – even for a 700!
So, rather than think of the GMAT as a school test, I think of it as a tennis match. Here’s how the two are similar:
* GT = GMAT Translation
In a tennis match, my goal is to win the last point, because that means I’ll also win the match. (GMAT Translation: I have to put myself into the best position to “win the last point” – though I won’t necessarily get that last question right. I might get it wrong. I just need to make sure I give myself a shot at getting it right.)
Now, I don’t want to imply that I should rush through the middle of the test just to make sure I can answer that last one. Clearly, if I lose too many points in the middle of the tennis match, well, that will be the end of the match right there. (GT: I need to move steadily through the test and address each question for an appropriate amount of time. I need to give myself a decent shot at every question.)
At the same time, I remember that I’m going to win some points and I’m going to lose some points. Hopefully, I win a few more than I lose, but I’m definitely not going to win all of the points. (GT: I’m going to get a lot of questions wrong… but I can still win the match!)
When my opponent takes control of the point and starts running me side to side, tiring me out (GT: I get a question that’s too hard for me), I make a strategic choice. I give myself one last shot to try to hit a winner (GT: I make an educated guess). If my opponent wins the point, I applaud (“Nice shot!”), forget about that point, and gear up for the next one. (GT: I let it go. I don’t want to get bogged down thinking about that one question because then I’m going to be too distracted to concentrate on the next one. Instead, I remind myself that I don’t need to win every point in order to win the match.)
If you’ve been struggling with timing, switch up your mindset and “play tennis” with the GMAT on your next practice test. This could be just the thing to help you get past the “I must get everything right” mindset!