GMAT Gurus Speak Out: Getting the Most Out of Your Study Time

We’re back with the next 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 series brings some of their best insights to you. Our latest tip comes courtesy of Brian Prestia, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor in New York.

Studying for the GMAT is a cumulative process. The problem is that most people study for 3 months or more, usually balancing studying for the GMAT with working full-time. So gains that you make in your studies today may very well be forgotten in a few weeks time, especially given that the kind of thinking that is required on the GMAT is not the kind of thinking that you do on an every day basis.

So, you need a system that will allow you to review your past progress and maintain the gains that you have made. There are a couple of options that will go a long way to helping you achieve that goal. One is to create note cards or an outline to keep record of things that you are learning. On the cards or in the outline you could include rules and formulas, methods and strategies, or even some really good questions that you’d like to be able to come back to regularly to help you remember how a certain type of question can be approached. Note cards are probably easier to create, but the advantage of an outline (especially if you do it in a binder that allows you to insert pages into the middle of your outline) is that there is a logic to the progression of things in the outline. For example, you could have a section for Arithmetic, and in it you could start with fractions, then ratios, and then percents since these topics are all related. And you could have sections for question types, such as Critical Reasoning, and include strategy points that you have found helpful along the way.

The second idea is to create a homework log. In it, you should keep track of which question you are doing (book, page number, etc.), what type of question it is (Problem Solving, Data Sufficiency, Critical Reasoning), what subtype (percents, exponents, strengthen), whether you got the answer right or not, whether you guessed, how much time you spent on the question, and if you got it wrong, had to guess, or spent too much time, then why. You don’t need to include all of this info (for example you could ignore time, especially at first), but in the end you will have a record of which questions you struggled with and every once in a while you can go back to those questions and try them again. If you get them wrong again, clearly you have not really dealt with that issue. And it may be better to not record what the correct answer is in your homework log so that when you go back to the question you can do it again without knowledge of the correct answer.

Implicit in the idea of the homework log is that you try to learn from your mistakes. This is a critical component to GMAT preparation, but one that often goes overlooked. Every time you get a question wrong, you need to really examine why you got it wrong and set about fixing that issue. If it is content weakness, obviously you must learn the content. If it is more about approach you need to try to be more aware of how you are attacking questions and learn from what hurt you on past questions. Even if you are just making calculation errors or misreading questions, you should attempt to be introspective and ask yourself what is causing you to make those mistakes repeatedly? So when you do practice questions, do them one at a time, immediately read the explanations, and really try to learn from your mistakes or inefficiencies. It’s not about the quantity of questions that you burn through but the quality of what you gain from your efforts.

One final note on timing. Initially it doesn’t really make sense for you to hold yourself to a certain amount of time for each question (such as 2 minutes per question for Quant). Ultimately, as you approach your test date you will need to deal with time management issues and learn either how to speed your process up or how to recognize that a question will take you too long and guess on it. But in the beginning, if there are question types that you don’t know how to answer or ones that you just tend not to approach effectively, you need to take the time to train yourself how to answer these questions appropriately and efficiently. That will often take time. For example, even if it takes you 3-4 minutes to really understand why the right answer is right and the wrong answers wrong on a sentence correction question, that is fine. You will be training yourself how to properly and accurately attack a sentence correction question and over time the process will speed up. More importantly, perhaps, you will start to see that finding the right answer shouldn’t be about guessing and you’ll begin to gain confidence that the clues are there in the sentence (and answer choices) and that you have the ability to arrive at the correct answer with confidence.

One of the keys to GMAT preparation being able to make progress towards your goal in an organized and efficient manner and being able to maintain that progress over a fairly long period of time. Note cards or an outline and a homework log will help ensure that, when you are practicing, your study time is as effective as it can be.

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