The 2 Biggest Mistakes GMAT Studiers Make


Recently, a new student asked me what he could do to get the most out of our class and his study time over the next several months. He’s not the first person to ask me this, but when I was responding to him, I realized that I really needed to write this down and share it with all of you. Many of you have heard me say these things in various forms in articles, blog posts, or forum responses over the years—but here they are in one place.gmat huge mistake

So, without further ado, the 2 biggest mistakes that people make when studying for the GMAT:

#1 Doing instead of Analyzing

Most people try to study for the GMAT in the same way they studied for school—and, for most people, that isn’t going to lead to a 700+. The GMAT is not a math test or a grammar test—really, it isn’t! It’s a reasoning test—and I’m not just referring to critical reasoning. The GMAT is really a test of how we think. If that’s not your primary focus when studying, you won’t get the best score you could get.

Two things here. First, do NOT make the mistake of equating doing hundreds of problems with learning. You learn when you analyze problems—the actual problem text, your thought processes and solution, alternate solutions, and so on. All of this analysis takes place after you have answered the question. I’m going to repeat that: you’re not learning much while the clock is ticking—rather, you’re testing yourself to see whether you learned what you wanted to learn before the problem even started.

Read the How to Learn section of this article on Developing a Study Plan. (You can find the how to learn section in the second half of the article.) That section contains links to additional articles; read those as well. Then go start doing what they say!

#2 Prioritizing Correct over Efficient

Clearly, we do want to answer questions correctly; if we get everything wrong, we’re not going to get a very good score. The issue here, though, is one of priorities. Timing is just as important as accuracy, yet everyone starts off prioritizing accuracy over time (and many, if not most, people never change that mindset).

That’s a school mentality again—there, accuracy really was more important than timing. The GMAT is a different beast, though, and you’re going to have to retrain your brain accordingly.

Further, do NOT tell yourself that you’re going to master all of the content first and then you’ll figure out that timing stuff later. Unless you have unlimited time to spend studying, you need to deal with timing right from the start.

Start with In It To Win It, a short article that will help you start to make this major shift in your overall mindset. Remember, the GMAT is actually testing you on your ability to set priorities, make tough decisions (such as cutting off a problem), and spending your limited time wisely, all things that good business people do every day.

Next, read the Time Management mega-article. Bookmark this one; maybe even print it out. You’re going to keep coming back to this over and over again. Start doing what it says, today.



1) Do we need take-aways for this article? Short and sweet: don’t make the above two mistakes! 😊

2) Okay, I thought of one more. If you find yourself making these mistakes, and you’re not sure how to fix things, find an expert and ask! If you’re taking a class, talk to your teacher. Ask for help on some forums. Make sure to describe the struggles you’re having as clearly as possible and provide enough detail that the teacher advising you can give you advice tailored to your specific situation.

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  9. Stacey Koprince October 17, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I’d be happy to! It’s tough to have that kind of conversation here, though. Please go onto our forums and post your situation in the General Strategy folder of the Ask An Instructor section. Please be sure to give us as much detail as possible about what happens, when it happens, and why you think it happens. Certain kinds of CR questions? Certain circumstances, eg, long arguments or arguments that have two points of view? Etc.

  10. Saumya October 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Stacey,
    Thanks for this informative blog.
    As you have suggested that, 1 minute would be the relaxation time to judge the content of the 2 mins question, and if it is still unsolved, need to make educated guess by next half minutes. However, in most of the time, I lose more than 90 seconds to read a CR question-stem and the options, and take another 60 secs, to mark one of my choice. The same thing happens in case of some tricky SC also. Can you please take the pain and help me to time my prep-style as the test-makers expect?

  11. Stacey Koprince October 17, 2012 at 9:18 am

    As a general rule, if you don’t know what you’re doing by the half-way mark (around 1 minute), then you should switch to making an educated guess. Educated guessing takes time, so take another 30 to 60 seconds (for 2-minute questions) to decide how to guess, then pick something and move on.

    Again, follow the links. 🙂 Read the In It To Win It and Time Management articles that I linked above.

  12. Stacey Koprince October 17, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Follow the link. 🙂 In that section, I said to read the How to Learn section of the article Developig a Study Plan. That section has a bunch of OTHER links that teach you how to analyze!

  13. Nishant October 17, 2012 at 7:50 am

    Hi Stacey,

    Can you tell when should one decide to stop mulling over a problem when He/she has is wasting a lot of time on a problem but still thinks that in another minute or two, will be able to solve it. Specially PS and CR questions?


  14. pravin October 17, 2012 at 3:29 am


    for point no 1, I dont understand what you mean by analysing what we learn or doing what we learn?

    I have been studing from last three months from Manhattan and Official Guide but not able to cross 650, my target is 750. could you please guide me.

  15. Abhishek Arya October 16, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Thanks Stacey 🙂

  16. UC October 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I have been fretting over not being able to practice more and more questions, but as you rightly pointed out, it is about the analysis one makes, and not the method / doing, that’s important in the GMAT. thank you for this post.