GMAT Tip of the Week: Reframing Your Mind For Your GMAT Retake

It’s not uncommon for MBA candidates to take the GMAT more than once.  It’s a difficult test, after all, and often students find that some of the “intangible” factors like pacing, test-day anxiety, etc. can detract from what felt like would be an optimal test-day experience.  Other times, students underestimate the difficulty of the exam and fail to prepare as thoroughly as they likely should have; or they may simply have had great intentions of preparation but seen those plans evaporate as life got in the way, but they still choose to take the test just to see how it goes.

In any case, retaking the GMAT isn’t ideal – it does cost money and take time, after all – but it’s not a major cause for alarm. Schools do not look unfavorably on retakes; your 730 score is just as valid if it comes on your third attempt as it would be if it were your first time.  So if you do need to retake the GMAT, know that you’re not alone and that you won’t be penalized.

But also know this: the definition of crazy (at least to politicians and teachers trying to prove a point) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  If you do plan to retake the GMAT, you need to rethink the way you think.  Here’s how:

1) Identify and take note of your most common errors

The GMAT is a standardized test, which means that it elicits a standard set of mistakes over and over again.  Your score may be well below what you wanted, but if it’s just a case of you making the same 2-3 mistakes multiple times each, you may not be that far away.  Go back to your practice tests and homework sets to ask yourself not just “what” types of questions you missed, but “why” you missed them. Did you:

- Fail to take into account “special case” numbers like 0, negatives, nonintegers, etc. on Data Sufficiency problems?

- Often answer the wrong question, submitting the answer for x when the question asked for y?  Or provide the cause of a situation when the question asked for the effect?

- Misread the conclusion of a Critical Reasoning question?

- Tend to struggle on a particular concept over and over?

Your recent practice problems offer a terrific blueprint of where you’re vulnerable.  Use them to identify the underlying reasons for why you’re falling for trap answers and making mistakes.  This practice will also help you better understand the test and not just the content.  Which brings us to…

2) Think like the testmaker as you study

The most common pitfall for conscientious GMAT studiers is that they study for the GMAT like they studied for final exams in high school and college.  They list formulas and rules and pore over notes, trying to remember as much as possible.  But the GMAT isn’t an “exit exam” like a final or midterm or even the ACT which seeks to measure how well you mastered high school; it’s an entrance exam, designed to assess your potential as a manager, a decision-maker, and a critical thinker.  It measures “how you think,” and so it’s simply not sufficient to just know the content (which, for the most part, assesses how much you learned in high school).  You need to understand the test and its thought processes.

As you study for your next attempt, slow down – do fewer problems but learn more from each.  Ask yourself why the question specified “nonnegative” and not “positive” (I bet 0, a nonnegative but also not positive number, played a role).  Ask yourself why someone might select choice D instead of correct choice B – what mistake was D designed to elicit?  Ask yourself how you could rephrase this Problem Solving question as a tricky Data Sufficiency question.  Start to anticipate how the test is making itself more difficult by the way in which it presents information or asks questions.

3) Pay attention to pacing

One of the more recurring themes among GMAT attempts that fell short is a problem with pacing.  The GMAT is a timed test and most examinees find that the pacing component is, indeed, a challenge.  If you recognized a pacing challenge, work for your retake to avoid or minimize it in the future.  Ask yourself:

- Which types of questions do you tend to miss when you rush?  You may need to slow down here.

- Which concepts are you doing well on, but could afford to speed up?  Try some pacing drills to become quicker at recognizing these concepts and performing or combining certain steps.  Give yourself 30 seconds each to start problems and have something to show for that time, or do a set of 10 problems in 3/4 of the time that you normally allot.  Then pay attention to that first point – when you were forced to rush a bit, which “silly” mistakes did you make, and where do you need to slow down a bit?

- Which concepts simply take you too long?  If you have 2 minutes per question, some questions will take you 2:30 and that’s not terrible if you balance that out with some 1:15s and 1:40s. But once you start pushing 3 minutes…you’re spending 50% of the time you have allotted for the next question, and research shows that after around 2:15-2:30 per question people’s likelihood of getting questions right actually declines.  If certain question types are just bound to take you more time than you can afford, plan to quickly make an educated guess on those so that you can bank the extra 75-90 seconds of time allotment toward the questions that you will get right.

4) To thine own self be true

Your recent GMAT attempt taught you some things about yourself and you should take time to reflect on what you learned.  If you felt anxiety, some of it may have been just general “it’s a big day” stress, but some was undoubtedly specific.  When you had trouble sleeping the night before the exam, what was it that worried you?  Did you know that you should have spent more time studying the verbal?  Were you worried that you’d see more than one probability problem?  Had you recently struggled through a sentence correction problem set?  Take this next opportunity to shore up those problem areas that caused you grief leading up to your exam – you have a second chance coming!  Then, also, reflect on what you did do well and use that to build confidence.   Your test probably wasn’t an abject disaster.  Simply noting before your next test that “the AWA will be no sweat” or “GMAT geometry is easier than advertised so I’m comfortable there” allows you to begin from a position of strength.  You’re not starting from scratch, so take the positives from your first attempt and build on those.

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