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First of all, let me state the obvious: you aren’t stupid. If you’re making plans to earn an MBA, you’re already a capable, accomplished professional. Give yourself credit for that. However, you probably don’t know everything about succeeding on the GMAT! If it feels like you just can’t get there no matter how hard you try, here are a few things you might not have thought of.
Did you set the right goal?
Nobody needs a 760. Have you researched the typical score ranges for the programs you’re applying to? Even if you have, take it a step further and talk with an admissions consultant about how your GMAT goal score fits into the bigger picture. There might be something you’re missing.
Would you rather get the score you want, or apply right now?
You can improve your score by 50, 100, or 200 points. You can also take the GMAT two weeks from now and get it over with. Can you do both of those things at once? No. Choose one, and focus on it 100%. Either choice is fine – but there’s no good way to get a huge score improvement overnight.
How are you doing?
The human brain doesn’t learn as well or think as clearly when it’s under stress. Have you been trying to balance your GMAT studies with other stressors, like a new baby, a move, or a busy period at work? You don’t need to drop everything else in your life to study for the GMAT, but if you’re barely keeping your head above water, you might need to make some changes before you can break through the score plateau.
Are you settling for ‘getting it’?
It’s easy to be too passive when you study. If you do a GMAT problem, get it wrong, read the explanation, think ‘oh, that makes sense,’ and move on to the next one – this is what you’re doing. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, but the problem is that the real GMAT doesn’t test your ‘getting it’ skills. It tests whether you can use your knowledge to solve problems you’ve never seen before. That means you need to create explanations and takeaways for problems, not just read them. If you’ve already done the Official Guide, do it again – and this time, really challenge yourself on every single problem. Can you explain this problem, start to finish, without looking at the explanation? Can you explain, in general terms, what skills you’ll need to solve it? Can you explain why each and every wrong answer is there? Could you write a different problem that tests the same concept? How about the content in the Strategy Guides – could you summarize the most important rules for using modifiers, for instance, without checking the book? If you ‘get’ the material now, that’s a good start. But in order to hit your goal score, you’ll need to master it.
Are you doing things differently on test day?
Without even realizing it, you may be doing things differently on test day than you have been while studying. Take Choosing Smart Numbers, for instance. It’s a powerful, effective strategy that can be used at a wide range of score levels. If you’ve been studying with Manhattan Prep, you’ve definitely used it. But, did you use it on test day, or did you fall back to your old habits of using algebra? Are you actually guessing on test day, or are you letting anxiety take the reins and tell you to spend too much time on tough problems? In order for your studies to matter, you have to use what you studied on test day, instead of letting yourself fall back into bad habits.
This goes the other way, too. In order to succeed on test day, you should spend some time warming up for the test, instead of just studying content. For instance, one common reason to miss your goal score is fatigue and loss of attention, especially during the Verbal section. Have you been studying in a way that prepares you for those conditions? (Here’s one way to improve your attention span.) When you take practice tests, are you taking them in a way that really prepares you for test day – or are you hitting the ‘pause’ button, taking overly long breaks, or eating or checking your email during the test sections?
Are you in control?
If you just can’t seem to hit your GMAT goal score, check out these two articles: What the GMAT Really Tests, and What You’ll Really Learn From the GMAT. Read them, study for a while, then read them again. Are you taking control of the test, or are you letting the test control you? You could almost certainly get a better score by making better executive decisions.
What else can you try?
They say that insanity means trying the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. At the end of the day, if what you’re doing just isn’t working, you have to do something different. Here are some quick ideas: sign up for a Manhattan Prep GMAT course (or just a free trial session!). Hire a great tutor. If you’ve mostly been reading books, download the GMATPrep software and do some timed, random problem sets to shake things up. If you’ve been doing a ton of problems, check out the GMAT Interact lessons. If you’ve been working slowly, try going fast – or if you’ve been blasting through a bunch of problems, slow down. Studying mostly tough problems? Try reviewing some easy stuff. Focused on Quant? Work on your Verbal score instead!
You’re not the first person to struggle with the GMAT, and you won’t be the last. There will be times where it seems like you just can’t improve. But the human brain’s ability to learn is remarkable. You can learn a new language, you can learn to play an instrument, and you can even improve your IQ. With time and thoughtful practice, you can learn to master the GMAT. We believe in you, and you should believe in you, too. 📝
Want full access to Chelsey’s sage GMAT wisdom? Try the first class of one of her upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached.
Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GMAT prep offerings here.