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In a perfect world, everyone would take the GMAT exactly once, get a fantastic score, then never think about the test again. Unfortunately, things sometimes don’t work out that way. Part of my role at Manhattan Prep is to sit down with students who didn’t quite achieve their goal scores on their first try and help them analyze what happened. (This type of meeting is called a Post-Exam Assessment, and it’s part of what you get when you sign up for the Manhattan Prep 9-week GMAT course.)
This means I have a lot of conversations that start like this:
“I know I could have studied more effectively.”
Hindsight is 20/20, after all. When you’ve just missed your goal by a handful of points, you suddenly remember all those times that you skipped a study session to binge on Netflix, or avoided analyzing a practice test because you didn’t want to think about your score. At the time, those little behaviors didn’t seem like a big deal. It’s only later on that you see the larger pattern—a pattern that held you back from reaching your fullest potential.
Here are some GMAT study mistakes that students have described to me over and over. Many of these students went on to improve by 50 or 100 points on their next official GMAT attempt! But if you avoid falling into these traps in the first place, you might just hit your goal score on your first try.
“I knew that Quant was my weakness, so I didn’t study Verbal at all.”
Ignoring Verbal is a good way to leave easy points on the table. (Here’s a recent blog article with more detail on how Verbal affects your score.) Even if you’re totally happy with your Verbal score, I recommend spending one study session every week doing Verbal practice problems. If nothing else, it’s a good way to take a mental vacation from Quant!
“I took notes while I studied, but I never reviewed them.”
The act of taking notes is useful in itself. However, there are also some simple techniques that will help you review your notes and also create notes you want to review. The simplest approach is to start an error log right away. Make sure to mark problems you’d like to redo. Every other week, block out some time on your calendar—really—to just review your error log, and do nothing else. I also recommend these two note-taking techniques from our GRE blog: When I See This, I’ll Do This and Creating Your Own Cheat Sheets.
“I focused too much on getting lots of problems done. I didn’t think I had time to review.”
This is a tough one. It’s more satisfying to spend twenty minutes doing ten problems than to spend the same twenty minutes doing just two problems. You feel like you’re getting so much more work done! However, skimping on review might be one of the most common GMAT study mistakes. Mastering GMAT content takes time, patience, and careful thought, not just fast repetition.
“I should have looked at the problems I got right, not just the ones I got wrong.”
I sometimes hear this from students who struggled with timing on test day, or who, when under pressure, started missing questions that they’d normally have gotten right. Getting a problem right while you’re studying doesn’t mean you’ve learned everything you could from it! It doesn’t mean you’ve completely mastered it, it doesn’t mean you’ll get it right when you’re under pressure on test day, and it doesn’t mean you did it in the most efficient, smartest way. Check out this article for more thoughts on reviewing easy problems.
“I wasted a bunch of time studying [combinatorics, rates & work, etc.] and I only got one question on the test.”
Some content areas require more investment than others. For instance, mastering combinatorics might take many days or weeks, while mastering overlapping sets might only take an hour. Likewise, some content areas have a bigger payoff than others. Percent problems are common on the GMAT, while coordinate geometry is relatively rare. Don’t waste your time on high-investment, low-payoff areas, even if they’re big weaknesses for you. You’d be better off spending the time really mastering the more common areas.
Studying effectively is a learned skill, just like the other skills you’ll apply on the test. It isn’t complicated, but it does require thought and discipline. Put more time and attention into how you study, and you’ll get more out of every hour you put in! That doesn’t just help you maximize your odds of hitting your goal score—it’s also a huge confidence booster. 📝
Want more guidance from our GMAT gurus? You can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GMAT courses absolutely free! We’re not kidding. Check out our upcoming courses here.
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.