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That’s a good question! Do you really need to solve all the GMAT problems in the Official Guide to the GMAT in order to score a 700? What about the other side of the issue: is it possible that there aren’t enough problems in the Official Guide? How many GMAT problems should you solve before taking the official GMAT?
Before I share my answer, let’s get some facts on the table.
First, there isn’t that much variety on the GMAT. I haven’t counted, but I’d bet that you need fewer than 50 math “rules” in order to solve almost every GMAT Quant problem. The number is probably similar for grammar rules and Sentence Correction. Likewise, on the Quant and Verbal sections, there are only five different types of problems. If you do every problem in the Official Guide, you’ll see just about every rule that you need for the GMAT, and you’ll see many examples of every problem type. All of the content on the test shows up in the Official Guide, even though it only contains a few hundred GMAT problems.
Despite that, the GMAT is a tough test. Why? Because, even with a very limited amount of content to draw from, the number of possible GMAT problems is infinite. Whether you’ve done a hundred practice problems or ten thousand practice problems, every problem you see on test day will be new to you. There’s no way around it—you need to get better at solving new problems from scratch.
That’s one advantage to doing a lot of GMAT problems. It lets you practice that exact skill: solving new problems that you’ve never seen before. It also lets you practice your timing, which is critical on the GMAT. There’s also something fun about spending a study session blasting through 20 or 30 problems: you walk away feeling like you’ve really gotten a lot of work done. However, there are disadvantages to studying by just doing a lot of GMAT problems. Here are a few of them.
First, it’s an inefficient way to study, especially when you’re first getting started. If you pick up the Official Guide and do 20 problems in order, there might be only one or two that really engage with your biggest weaknesses. There are various resources available that list the problems in the Official Guide by content area—try doing a set of 20 GMAT problems from a specific area you’re working on, instead. Or do some reading or drill sets from one of our GMAT Strategy Guides. (Not sure how to spot your GMAT weaknesses? Check out this guide to analyzing a practice test.)
Focusing on getting a lot of problems done also discourages mastery. You don’t learn very much during the two minutes (or less) you spend doing a new problem. Learning happens afterwards, when you return to a problem thoughtfully and patiently. In fact, to learn the most you can from a tough problem, you should do it two or more times. Reviewing a problem in-depth takes a lot of time; if you commit to reviewing the GMAT problems you do, you won’t be able to do nearly as many problems in total. That’s okay. You’ll improve more in the limited time you have.
The biggest downside, though, is that making the same mistakes over and over will turn them into bad habits. It’s frustrating when you just keep making the same exact mistakes, time and time again. When you make a mistake, don’t just tell yourself that you’ll get it right next time and move on to the next problem set. Slow down. Analyze the problem. What do you need to change about your process? How could you avoid the mistake next time? If you make the same mistake more than once or twice, it might be time for some targeted sets of that particular type of problem. Pay attention to your mistakes, and work hard to change! You won’t improve by doing a lot of GMAT problems poorly.
Okay, so what exactly should you do? Here’s my advice. First, the Official Guides and the GMATPrep software (especially with the downloadable Question Pack) contain enough GMAT problems for almost anyone. You probably don’t need extra problems beyond that (although that would be a great thing to discuss with a GMAT tutor). Second, the way you study will change depending on how close you are to your test date. When you’re just getting started, if there’s content that you need to learn from scratch, focus on resources such as Foundations of Math and Foundations of Verbal, and do a lot of drill sets like the ones in those books. Drill sets aren’t like official GMAT problems—they’re similar, but they’re designed to test just one or two specific skills at a time.
As you keep studying, use practice tests to evaluate your weaknesses. Use the MPrep GMAT Strategy Guides, GMAT Interact, or even a 9-week GMAT Complete Course to address the areas you’re still struggling with. Incorporate some sets of random, timed GMAT problems, in order to practice timing and stamina. As you get closer to your test date, emphasize random problem sets more and more—but don’t forget to leave time to review problems. Doing a few well-chosen problems carefully, and really mastering them, will help you more than doing a hundred problems poorly.
Everybody’s heard about that one person who did five thousand GMAT problems and then scored a 780. But real success on the GMAT is both easier and harder than that. Unfortunately, there’s no magic number of problems that will guarantee you success. However, the number of problems you need to solve is probably smaller than you’d think! Focus on being thoughtful and thorough, rather than just “getting through” everything, and you’ll be on the right track. 📝
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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 170/170 on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.