Today’s post of this series is not based on Quant section of the GMAT. Instead, we will try to answer the often asked question: When should I take the two GMAT prep tests available on mba.com?

Let’s first discuss a hypothetical situation: Say, your goal is to beat a particular opponent called Mr. Dude in a game of chess in a competition being held three months from now. Over three months, you can play four friendly matches against him on a day of your choice. The results of the friendly matches are immaterial and will not be made known to any third party. What will be your strategy?

I will tell you the strategy I will adopt – First, I will familiarize myself with the basics of ‘rules of chess’, ‘strategies and moves you can use’ etc. Then, I will play a friendly match against Mr. Dude i.e. I will find out the strength of my opponent. Once I know how I stack up against him, I will channel all my energy toward learning how to defeat him. It doesn’t matter how I play against other people. I only need to defeat Mr Dude. I will also play matches against other opponents to practice and to get exposure to strategies I can use. After 2-3 weeks, I would play another friendly match against Mr. Dude. Every match would help me fine tune my strategy against him for the big day. Will I keep my fourth match for the day before the big day? Definitely not! What’s the point? I will not have enough time to fine tune my strategy anyway. Also, I would not want to waste a lot of energy a day before the final match. I would rather like to conserve every bit of it.

There are two main points we are trying to make here:

1. Take a GMAT prep test as soon as you think you can sit through 37 questions from different topics in Quant and make sense out of them.
2. Do not take a GMAT prep test in the last week of your preparation.

Let me elaborate a little bit on both the points here.

When you want to defeat one particular opponent, you need to find out as much as you can and as soon as you can about that opponent. You need to streamline your preparation according to your opponent. When Garry Kasparov lost to Deep Blue in 1997, he requested that he be allowed to study other games that Deep Blue had played so as to better understand his opponent. What did IBM do? They denied his request! They probably did not want Kasparov to come back next year and beat the sense out of Deep Blue 6-0. Understanding your opponent is crucial to your preparation. After your basics are in place (preferably after you go through one complete set of study material), you should take a GMAT prep test. Thereafter, evaluate your progress by taking a test every 2-3 weeks depending on the time available for the preparation.

After every test, revisit every question and analyze it in detail. Figure out how you perform in various subjects under time constraints. Make a list of what’s natural to you and what’s not, what you can solve intuitively and what takes a lot of effort i.e. what you are already good at and what requires more effort. That’s how you can get maximum use out of GMAT prep tests. Meanwhile, take a Veritas prep test in the weeks in which you don’t take GMAT prep tests (Don’t take more than one practice test in a week.) They are great for practice and will help you learn how to handle time constraints. You will also be able to practice the strategies you learn from the Veritas books and class sessions.

The other important point is – do not take a test 2-3 days before your GMAT. What good does it do? You are not left with any time to fine tune your strategy and analyze your mistakes. It can do a lot of harm though. The test requires a lot of effort and concentration and you feel drained at the end of it. Also, if the score you get is lower than what you hoped for, it can mess up your confidence. You should just try to relax and go through your error log.

I hope this post will help you develop an effective strategy for your GMAT preparation.

Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!