GMAT Gurus Speak Out: My Model for How to Ace the GMAT

We’re back with the second installment in an occasional series on the Veritas Prep Blog, called “GMAT Gurus Speak Out.” Veritas Prep has dozens of experienced GMAT instructors around the world (all of whom have scored in the 99th percentile on the GMAT), and it’s amazing how much collective experience they have in preparing students for the exam. This new series brings some of their best insights to you. Our second tip comes courtesy of Bobby Umar, a Veritas Prep GMAT prep instructor in Toronto.

“You got big dreams? You want Fame? Well Fame costs, and right here is where you start the pain…and sweat”
— Debbie Allen, Fame TV show

I came up with this model after having taught thousands of different GMAT students over the past decade. In every case, students who have had trouble with the GMAT have done so due to one of the following issues. If you want to succeed on the GMAT, you need to make sure that you covered your bases with each of the elements in the model.

I have divided this model into a few separate segments. Each of them represent a different aspect of your GMAT journey. Let’s talk about them!

You have to learn all the theory. This is the most fundamental element of the GMAT. Many test takers are afraid of this, but remember that most of the theory is high school or earlier. So, if you learned it back then, you can learn it again. Some of you may say, “well, I don’t like geometry, so I’ll just skip it”. Bad idea! Geometry can be around 4-6 questions on the math section — that’s 4-6 questions you should be getting right! Again, the material is from high school and the only reason you are intimidated is because it was so long ago.

Secondly, the theory is finite, which means that there is an end in sight. It may seem daunting at first, but with time and effort, you can learn every section that is tested. No one said the GMAT would be easy–it’s work. So learn the theory 100%!

These are all the tips, tricks, shortcuts and philosophies you use on the test. Strategies are the perfect complement to theory if you want to get to the higher scores (600+). The key is to make sure you have enough DEPTH and BREADTH of knowledge here. By depth, I mean that you need to be very comfortable using the strategy for said problem. By breadth, I mean you need to have a wide range of strategies for the test. You need to be so comfortable with strategies that no matter what question shows up, you have more than one strategy up your sleeve.

The final piece of the big three is to have a process or method to answer most types of questions, whether they are sentence correction, reading comprehension, critical reasoning, data sufficiency, combinatorics, work/rate, mixture problems, or others. Follow a process and know how to approach each type. Having a system gives structure, focus, and confidence.

Once you have started learning the theory, strategies and methodologies, you then work on solidifying your knowledge in those three areas. Practice is all about getting the theory in your head, identifying any gaps in your strategies, and reinforcing the methodologies. The idea here is to make sure that you not only learn, but retain the material. You practice by doing a combination of practice questions and practice tests. Just make sure that you do not ignore practice tests, as they are the most important way to simulate real testing conditions. Too often, students avoid doing the practice tests out of fear. The fact that you fear the tests suggests that it is even more important that you get used to writing them.

Just because you have read the text, taken great notes, made some index cards, and done hundreds of problems, it does not necessarily mean you have LEARNED the material. Take the time to make sure you have learned it very well. In fact, you need to master the material. How do you know if you know it? You should know it well enough that you can easily explain it to someone else.

The best test takers just do lots of problems and every time they see something new, they remember it for next time. Too often I tutor someone, and I show them the right strategy and methodology for doing a specific problem. Then, they show up three weeks later not remembering how to do a very similar problem. The more questions you do, the more you should build up your cumulative knowledge database for GMAT questions. If you cannot retain the information for next time, then you are wasting a lot of your time. Learn the material, but also retain it for next time!

It’s important to know all the amazing resources that you have out there, including writers like FunBobby! Aside from engaging me, you can search online for tests, questions, drills, info, forums, and other websites that all talk GMAT. You can buy books, DVDs, and downloadable materials. You can take a course, get a tutor, or form a study group and there are many to choose from. The point is you need to leverage them all effectively and know what you need to get you to your goal. Know all your resources and use them effectively!

I know it’s a cliché, but failing to plan is planning to fail! A study plan is your guide, your bible, your business plan to GMAT success. It provides focus, because you can see your plan on a page. It gives you direction, because you take the time to understand the path to the goal. It increases accountability, because if you write it down and plan it, you are more likely to do it. Lastly, it relieves stress because you can see what it takes to get there and that it is possible. In your study plan, set reasonable goals and targets, and be sure to monitor your progress.

I once got a call from a student who was about to write his GMAT test that very day. He said, “Bobby, I need your help. I am really worried!” I asked him why and he said that he had done a practice test the night before and only got a 510. A short pause and I asked him what his last three practice test scores were. He told me his test scores were 510, 530, and 500. I paused a bit longer this time and then asked what his GMAT goal was. He told me he wanted a 600. I paused for a pretty long time and then just said, “Are you crazy? Don’t write the test.” It makes no sense to write the test when you are not ready and especially if your practice test scores are way off. What would you expect to get? If anything, he may get somewhere between 470-570 depending on whether he has a terrible day or the most amazing day ever. He ignored my advice, wrote the test, and got 490. He never wrote again. Monitor your progress and adjust your study plan!

Once you have gotten a solid grasp of the fundamentals of theory, strategies, and methodologies, you can start to focus on time management. Timing is a key issue on the GMAT and for many it is a big obstacle. However, if you learn your theory 100%, know your strategies with both depth and breadth, master methodologies for most question types, and you reinforce that learning and retaining with solid practice, then the issue of time management goes down to zero.

This is the last big piece of the puzzle, otherwise known as the psychological factor. There are some people who get incredible scores on their practice tests, only to choke on test day, some dropping over 100+ points. Unfortunately, stress does not go to zero, but you do have to manage it. The GMAT is a stressful test. You have a lot riding on your score, it’s you against the machine (or yourself), you don’t want to be seen as a failure, and you really want to change your career life with an MBA. I get it, and I remember what it was like. So how do you manage or minimize your stress?

First, you learn your THEORY 100%, know your STRATEGIES with both depth and breadth, master METHODOLOGIES for most question types, you reinforce that LEARNING and RETAINING with solid PRACTICE, and tackle the issue of TIME MANAGEMENT.

Second, leverage your RESOURCES, make a STUDY PLAN and stick with it while MONITORING your progress.

Third, you approach the test with CONFIDENCE, see it as a CHALLENGE to overcome, and have FUN with the journey. Then you can ace the GMAT!

Of the thousands of students I have met over the years, the ones who had trouble with the GMAT have failed because of one of the issues above. The biggest issues were not knowing theory, strategies, or methodologies. The GMAT is a lot of work, but it is work that anyone can do. The GMAT is beatable, and anyone can beat it. So can you!

11a) CONFIDENCE: Having that swagger when you approach any question eliminates doubt, confusion, and second-guessing. You know what tools you need, so once you have them mastered, approach every GMAT question with the knowledge that you have everything to need to do ANY question.

11b) CHALLENGE: Try to think of the GMAT as any school or work project that you may have. Then have the attitude that you are trying to “win” or exceed expectations on that project. Use your experience in other successful areas of your life and approach your “GMAT project” with the same drive for results and passion.

11c) FUN: The more you have fun with the GMAT project, the more motivated you will be. A negative attitude about any aspect of the GMAT will hinder your success. Don’t like reading passages about multi-cellular organisms? Well, you get in the mood! Try to have fun and find something interesting about it. Have fun doing problems–breaking things down. Most of all, have fun getting questions right!

So you got big dreams? Then go for it. If you’re going to do an MBA, why not do it well. You just gotta want it!

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