While Veritas Prep is obviously in the business of getting paid to provide GMAT preparation services, we know that a lot of our fans have chosen the self-study path for their GMAT prep. In fact, most of us here at Veritas Prep HQ chose the self-study route when we took the GMAT (and the rest have taken a Veritas Prep course!).
Do-it-yourself GMAT prep can be very effective, but it can also lead to a great deal of frustration if you do it without a plan or start off with some bad advice. We do believe that most people can do well on the GMAT by studying on their own, but many students sabotage themselves with bad study habits or a lack of understanding about the GMAT itself. To help you, today we present five tips for those of you who choose to prepare for the GMAT on your own:
Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
We often see students boasting in public forums about how many Official Guide problems they complete every week, or how they have run out of questions to do because they’re just on fire with their GMAT prep. Unfortunately, many of them focus on the wrong thing — while you’re studying, it’s not a question of how many problems you can do (or how quickly you can do them), but rather what you’re learning with each question. If you hit a sticking point with a problem, take a step back and ask yourself, “What are they testing here? What in my toolkit will help me answer this question?” and make a note of what your GMAT toolkit may be missing. That’s a far more effective approach to preparation than burning through problem after problem, possibly reinforcing bad habits along the way.
Balance Is Key
We often see students fall into two camps: They either tend to gravitate towards the problems that they like (“Oh good, a distance/rate problem. I can do these.”), or they develop an obsession with what they can’t do well (“I need to find 500 geometry questions NOW.”). The reality is that you will encounter both kinds of questions on test day, and you need to be able to get good at the hard stuff while staying nimble and error-free with the easier stuff. In any one sitting, make sure you cover some of both: Work on the stuff you like as well as the material you hate.
Don’t Look Things Up!
This advice runs contrary to what Mom and Dad told us when we were kids: “How do you spell pterodactyl?” / “Look it up!” While that’s a terrific habit for a seven-year-old to get into, it’s a terrible one for a GMAT student to practice. If you encounter problem for which you don’t have an obvious plan of attack (such as knowing an algebraic formula or remembering a grammar rule), DON’T look it up in the moment? Students who are obsessed with pacing (more on that in a minute) especially fall prey to this, since they’re trying to get through problems as quickly as possible. The problem is that you won’t be able to do that on test day. What will you be able to do on the big day? Figure out the problem with what you DO know, even if you don’t know the easiest way to solve the problem. Even if it takes you five minutes during your GMAT practice, you will emerge better prepared in the long run. Afterward, definitely make a note and go back and learn (or re-learn) the thing you may have missed, but in the moment, solve the problem another way.
Practice the Way You’ll Play
This may seem like a mundane point, but this is a subtle prep strategy that can earn you a few extra points on the verbal section on the big day: In any one GMAT study session, make a point of finishing on some verbal questions. Why? Because that’s how you will do it on the real GMAT. As we’ve written before, the GMAT will throw meaty Reading Comprehension questions and tricky Sentence Correction problems at you after you have already been working for three hours… Don’t let mental fatigue get in the way at that point. When you’re about ready to hang it up for the night after a couple hours of studying, force yourself to do a few more verbal questions, and practice the skill of staying focused on them when you’re starting to get tired.
Be Mindful of Pacing
Yes, we’ve already made point here of not obsessing over pacing too much in your GMAT studies. However, you do need to make sure that you’re setting yourself up to finish each section of the exam, and the best way to do that is with regular “check ins” to see how you’re doing on pacing. While some students do 2,000+ practice problems and then take a couple of timed tests just before sitting for the real exam, we advise timing yourself earlier and more often. After you have mastered the basics, get in the habit of timing yourself once a week. It doesn’t need to be a full practice test every time — trying to do 30 problems in 60 minutes is more than enough — but it should be enough to get a feel for how you’re tracking. Don’t save this until right before the test, because if you find that you’re working too slowly, it may be too late to fix it. You don’t need to be obsessed with pacing at every turn, but time yourself from time to time.
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