This is a guest post from Mark Skoskiewicz, the founder of MyGuru, which provides private GMAT tutoring in Chicago, several other cities, and online.  He graduated from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 2010.

GMAT Preparation

Effective use of official GMAT practice tests is a great way to improve your performance on the GMAT.   Follow these tips to improve your chances of breaking 700.

Effectively leveraging Official GMAT practice tests during your study efforts is an important way to boost your score on the GMAT.  Practice tests are a powerful source of actual, official GMAT problems that you’ll see on the GMAT, and the benefits of taking timed practice tests, which tend to build your confidence for test day, can’t be overstated.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss 5 ways to use official GMAT practice tests to boost your GMAT score.  However, before getting into the five tips, let’s review the main sources of official GMAT practice tests:

All of the sources of GMAT practice tests below are accessible via GMAC.org’s official GMAT prep area.

First, the Official Guide to the GMAT – 13th edition is a core study tool, but doesn’t’ have any full length practice tests. It does, however, have a 100 problem diagnostic test, which is useful when taken in conjunction with an official practice test at the beginning of your study efforts.

Second, FreeGMATPrep Software contains two full length, official Computer Adaptive practice tests.  These are taken on your PC, and are the closest approximation of what you’ll face on test day.

Third, you can and should order Official GMAT Paper-Based Practice tests.  In total, you are able to buy 9 practice tests.

So, across these basic options, you can get your hands on 11 full length, official GMAT practice tests to use during your GMAT studying process.  With that said, here are five tips related to how to get the most out of these practice tests when studying for the GMAT.

Tip #1: Take a Full Length Practice Test Before you Start Studying

At the beginning of your study efforts, you should take a full length paper practice test, as well as the diagnostic test in the Official Guide.  This will a) give you clear guidance on which sections of the GMAT come more or less naturally to you and thus provide guidance on where to spend more time studying and b) will give you a performance baseline from which to measure your progress.   Don’t stress out about this score, however.  Many students score in the low 500s when taking the test cold, but ultimately score above 700 after studying for it.  There are lots of things you’ll need to know to score well on the GMAT that you won’t remember until you dive into the study process (for example, what do the degrees of the angles of any triangle add up to?).

Tip #2: Take a Practice Test at Regular Intervals While You’re Studying

Obviously, with each practice test you take, your score should improve steadily.  Many students follow tip #1, but then dive into studying, doing tons of practice problems, over the course of many weeks, and don’t take another practice test for a while.  We recommend developing a GMAT study plan upfront, and incorporating practice tests at regular intervals into that plan.   Whether you take one test per week or one test per month depends on how much time you have until your test date.

Tip #3: Treat Each Test As If It’s Test Day

You’ll get the most out of each practice test you take if you:

  • Imagine this is your actual test day and maintain 100% focus

  • Make sure you are in a physical location without distractions

  • Time yourself

Every time you take a practice test and act as if it’s real, you’re becoming more comfortable with the stresses and challenges that the GMAT brings.  You are slowly building confidence, so that on test day, for example, if you get a little frazzled because you can’t figure out two questions in a row, you are less likely to lose your cool and start missing questions you definitely know the answer to.  With confidence comes a sense of calmness and collectedness that will serve you well on test day.

Of course, treating the test as if it’s real, under timed testing conditions, also helps you learn to do questions quickly and pace yourself appropriately.  Not being able to finish any given section is a common problem on the GMAT, so taking timed tests helps you work quickly and efficiently through the problems.

Tip #4: Spend a lot of Time Reviewing Practice Test Results

The results of your practice test are a goldmine of information about how to improve your GMAT score.  Look at each question you miss, and place it into one of three categories:

  1. Stupid/silly error

  2. Need to brush up on that concept – understood the solution, but made a mistake

  3. Not really understanding the concept and/or don’t know why my answer isn’t correct

Obviously, for questions that fit into bucket 3), you need to go back, review the concepts, do more practice problems, and get help from a GMAT tutor or supplementary test prep source if necessary.  If you notice lots of questions of a certain type falling into the 3) bucket, then you may need to allocate some serious time to studying that particular concept, above and beyond simply trying to practice doing similar problems.  For example, combinatorics, or the art of counting, is a concept tested frequently on the GMAT, but is not a core element of most high school or college math classes.  If you just attempt to do these problems again and again without really learning the underlying concept, you’ll become frustrated.  It basically requires learning something new.

Tip #5: Take More Practice Tests as your Test Date Draws Near

As your test date draws near, much of your GMAT prep should involve taking and reviewing practice tests (vs. doing practice problems in a given area or reading about how to solve problems).  You need to be testing yourself, under timed conditions, and really honing in on areas that you still don’t understand – timed practice tests are the way to do that.

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