You’ve Just Taken Your First Practice GMAT. Now What?

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - You've Just Taken Your First Practice GMAT - Now What? by Chelsey CooleyDid you know that 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.


So, you’ve just finished your first practice GMAT, and you’ve reviewed your assessment report. (If you haven’t generated an assessment report yet, do it now, before you keep reading!) If you’re like many of my students, you may have more questions now than you did beforehand. In this article, I’ll share some of the most common questions raised by the first practice GMAT, and how to answer them.

“I’m good at math, so why isn’t my Quant score higher?”

Even if you’re comfortable with math, you may have scored in a much higher percentile in Verbal than you did in Quant. That can be especially surprising for people who use mathematics in their work—you’ve spent your whole career thinking of yourself as a quantitative person, so why is the GMAT trying to tell you the opposite?

After a certain point, knowing more math can hurt you as much as it helps you. That’s because a high level of mathematical knowledge sometimes leads to a mindset that’s terrible for your overall score: “I ‘get’ this problem, so I’m going to keep working until I’ve solved it.” Success on GMAT Quant only requires middle- and high-school math skills, but it requires a very high level of self-awareness and executive reasoning ability. If you insist on solving every problem that you understand, you’re going to solve a few of the hardest problems, but you’ll inevitably run out of time and energy and end up missing a lot of easy problems later. Missing easy problems hurts your score much more than answering hard questions helps it. That’s why you may have gotten a lower Quant score than your classmate with weaker math skills, who chose to focus on the easier problems and ignore the hard ones.

When you take your second practice test, remember that just understanding a problem isn’t enough to make it worth solving. You also need to be confident that you can finish the entire problem in around 2 minutes, which is much less time than you might think. Let some of those tedious problems go by, and spend a few extra seconds to check your work on the simple stuff. You might be surprised how much it helps your score.

“I only got half of the questions right! Is that bad? How many more do I need to get right to get a 700?”

Maybe you only got 48% of the problems right when you took your first practice GMAT. Fortunately, that number means very little. The GMAT doesn’t work like a traditional college test, where everyone gets the same test and earns a score based on how many questions they get right. Instead, on the GMAT, everyone takes a different test and gets almost the same number of questions right. Your score is actually a measurement of how hard a test you took, not how many questions you answered correctly.

When you take your next practice test, you’ll probably get a higher score, but you probably won’t get many more questions right. Instead, consider these two things:

– Even though the overall percentage doesn’t matter much, you don’t want to miss more questions in one content area than in another. If you answer 29% of Critical Reasoning questions correctly, but 85% of Sentence Correction questions, that’s something you need to work to correct. The test’s algorithm doesn’t take into account the different question types. If you miss an easy Critical Reasoning question, you’ll start seeing easier Sentence Correction and Reading Comprehension questions as well, even if you could handle much tougher ones.

– If you track the percent of questions you answer correctly as you study, don’t use it as an indicator of what your score will be. Instead, use it to fine-tune the difficulty level you’re studying at. The most effective problems to study are right at your current level or just above it. If you answer 90% of questions from a drill set correctly, that means you picked a too-easy drill set! Adjust the difficulty upwards until you’re consistently missing about 1/3 of the questions when you study.

“I didn’t finish the entire section. Is that okay?”

“I finished with twenty minutes to spare. Is that okay?”

Timing is a big part of playing the GMAT game. If you run out of time, the test’s algorithm penalizes you severely. For a real eye-opener, review your test and look for the highest percentile score you reached during each section. Compare that to the percentile score you ended up with. I’ve seen many students reach the 60th percentile or higher halfway through a section, then dip into the 20s when running out of time. If you’re in that situation, your real ability level is probably somewhere in the middle—40th or 50th percentile. That’s the score you’d earn today if you took the test and only answered questions that you could get through without taking too much time. Try it on your next test and see!

Finishing early doesn’t hurt your score directly, but it’s a sign that you may have rushed. Look through the questions you spent the least time on. Can you spot any simple arithmetic failures or logical errors? It’s always okay to guess quickly on a hard problem, but missing an easy problem is really bad for your score. Take all the time you need to answer easy problems with 100% confidence. On Verbal, wrong answers are sometimes wrong due to one or two incorrect words—these wrong answers are particularly hard to spot if you’re moving quickly.

Don’t worry too much about the content just yet.

Your very first practice GMAT score in no way reflects your true abilities. To give the GMAT an accurate picture of your reasoning skills, you need to become an expert at taking it. So, put together a plan that includes strategy and timing as well as content. Why not start by taking one of our free GMAT Trial Classes? ?


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 CooleyChelsey Cooley Manhattan Prep GMAT 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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