Ignoring Your GMAT Gremlins

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - Ignoring Your GMAT Gremlins by Chelsey Cooley

A GMAT gremlin is an imaginary creature that gives you terrible advice.

The advice might sound like it’s coming from well-meaning friends, ‘how to study for the GMAT’ articles, or even from inside your own head… but it’s not. It’s actually coming from the GMAT gremlins, and you should ignore it (unless you want a lousy score and a stressful GMAT experience).

1. Go on, take another practice test…

Maybe you just took a practice test and you didn’t do as well as you’d hoped. Or maybe you’re thinking that taking a practice test every weekend is the key to GMAT success. Either way, GMAT gremlins are telling you to take another practice test right away.

There are a lot of reasons not to listen!

  • The number of great practice tests is limited. Don’t waste them all.
  • Taking a practice test is mentally and physically exhausting.
  • Many of the questions on a practice test won’t be on topics you need to study.
  • When you’re under stress—like when you’re taking a practice test—you don’t learn or form memories as effectively as when you’re relaxed.
  • Practice tests eat up a lot of your study time.

Practice tests have two purposes: they help you practice test-specific skills (such as timing or guessing), and they let you evaluate yourself to see whether your hard work is paying off. That’s why you should take one every two to three weeks. Spend the rest of your study time working on specific content areas, or doing random timed problem sets and reviewing them.

2. Guessing is for people who aren’t smart enough to solve the problems.

Nope. Guessing is a legitimate strategic move, and the GMAT is designed to reward people who do it.

You’re going to get problems wrong, even if you’re gunning for a really high score. The data shows quite clearly that you have little control over how many problems you miss. The only thing you control is which problems you miss, and how quickly you miss them.

Guessing doesn’t mean you’re giving up on a problem, and it isn’t a last resort. It’s a way to take control over which problems you’re going to miss, in the interest of getting a higher overall score.

If you miss problems that are super hard (by guessing), your score will be higher than if you miss problems that are easy (by running out of time). If you miss problems quickly (by guessing), your score will be higher than if you spend four minutes on a tough problem only to miss it anyways.

3. Sure, that’s great, but I want a good score. Guessing isn’t for me.

You know you’re thinking it. (Or rather, the GMAT gremlins are thinking it for you.) I’ll admit, if you’re scoring in the 99th percentile (760 or above), you might only make one or two guesses per section.

But, by definition, 99% of us won’t end up with a 760. And even if you do, you’ll probably spend quite a while getting lower scores on your way there. If you’re with the 99%, you can improve your score by guessing more and guessing wisely.

4. I really have to get this one right.

You’re 90 seconds into a tough Quant problem, and it’s really not going well. You’re thinking about picking an answer at random and moving on. But here come the GMAT gremlins:

  • ‘You’ve already spent so much time on this one. If you give up now, all that time is wasted.’
  • ‘You really should know how to do this. You just studied it! What’s wrong with you?’
  • ‘You can definitely get this. You just need another thirty seconds.’
  • ‘Every time you get one wrong, your score goes down. Don’t miss this.’

These voices are tricking you! There’s no reason you have to get this problem right: the GMAT tests you on what you can do consistently, not what you can do on one problem.

5. I should learn to do every problem the right way.

There are actually two things wrong with this statement:

  • You shouldn’t learn to do every problem.
  • You should be learning the smart way, not the ‘right’ way.

Don’t use your limited time on problems and topics that are low-value. Spending an hour mastering a single super-tough problem is a poor use of your time and unlikely to help you on the actual test. (Check out this great article from instructor Stacey Koprince for a more detailed analysis.) It’s completely fine to walk away from a problem without getting it—as long as you can identify it as ‘too hard’ if you see it again.  

Second, to succeed on the GMAT, you should be doing a lot of things that your middle school math and English teachers would disapprove of. Many people find it tough to accept strategies like Smart Numbers, since it’s not ‘real math.’ But the sooner you shut down the gremlin telling you that, the better! After all, the GMAT isn’t a math test or an English test—it’s an executive reasoning test.

There’s a lot of bad GMAT advice out there, and a lot of it sounds totally sensible. But the GMAT is a pretty strange test, and mastering it involves rethinking a lot of what you know about studying, test-taking, and strategy. Trust your instincts, but be cautious! Great GMAT scores go to people who can adapt and learn new ways of thinking. 📝


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Chelsey CooleyChelsey Cooley Manhattan Prep GRE Instructor 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 GMAT prep offerings here.

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