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When you first start studying, you’re going to do GMAT problems one at a time and then check your work and analyze the problem. But, eventually, you’re going to need to graduate to sets of GMAT problems that allow you to practice your executive decision-making—as on the real test.
So how do you do that? How many should you do at once? Where should you get those problems? How should you choose which ones to do?
That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about right now.
Why should I do sets of GMAT problems?
Because the real test will never give you just one problem!
The GMAT is a mental marathon with a serious time constraint. You can’t do everything in the time given, so you’re going to have to make some smart choices about what to do and how to do it, as well as what not to do.
It’s crucial, then, to practice under testing conditions—you actually have to practice all of that Executive Decision-making, too, not just how to solve an equation or deal with some modifier rule.
You want to practice two things that mimic the real test:
(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 MPrep’s Strategy Guides to study, then at the end of one chapter, you’ll start with just a few Official Guide* (OG) problems to test your understanding of the material in the chapter and to learn to apply it to official-format problems.
Also, in the first few weeks, you’re going to do “one-off” problems: try it, then review it, then try another and review it.
A week or two in, as you build your skills, start doing small timed sets: 2, 3, 4 problems. Give yourself an appropriate block of time and make yourself finish in that time, even if that means guessing to finish (just like the real test!).
How do I put these sets together?
At this point in your studies, you’re going to create the sets yourself because you want some control over the type of material that shows up in the set. (Later on, we’ll talk about some resources that can create random question sets for you.)
You’ll need to balance three things when you create a problem set:
(1) Number of problems. Initially, start out with 2 to 4 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 SC and CR or do RC by itself; you can mix all three types in larger sets later on.
(b) Do not do a set of 3 or more questions all from the same chapter or sub-content area—for example, don’t put 3 exponents questions in a set. The real test makes you jump around, so practice that.
(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 difficulty levels 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.
How do I know which OG problems test which topics?
If you are using MPrep’s Strategy Guides, then you also have access to our OG Problem Sets document. This PDF lists every OG problem by MPrep Strategy Guide and chapter. For instance, for our Algebra Strategy Guide, you’ll see a list of OG problems that fall under the categories Exponents, Roots, Linear Equations, Quadratic Equations, and so on. All you need to do is look up the chapters you’ve been studying and grab a problem from each.
When will I be ready to do more than 4 questions in a set?
As you start to get more than halfway through your study materials for any particular question type (e.g., SC) or area (e.g., algebra), you can start to try some larger sets of 6 or 8 questions.
These sets of GMAT problems should mix topics (and question types!) across most or all of an entire book (or even across books—maybe it includes algebra and word problems). Make sure you can distinguish between the similar-but-not-quite-the-same topics in any one book or topic area and also practice your skills on, for example, both Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. As you keep working and finish subsequent chapters or guides, your sets can include problems from everything you’ve done so far. Keep mixing it up!
Got it—up to 8 questions in a set. Do I ever do more?
You do! Join us next time, when we’ll talk about when and how to expand your sets and make them even more GMAT-like as you get further along in your studies. 📝
*The Official Guide for GMAT® Review is an official publication from the makers of the GMAT. It contains about 900 real, past GMAT questions. It’s a great resource—if you don’t have it, you should definitely get it.
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Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.