The first time I took the GMAT, I got stuck on a geometry problem. It required a knowledge of the rules of arc angles (Page 33 in the new Veritas Prep Geometry book) and I, at the time, had no idea such rules existed. But I’ve always been best at Geometry – I’m very visually oriented so I often see how to slice a shape into triangles, rectangles, and circles, even if it’s not immediately apparent how to do so. So I figured I should be able to slice the circle in such a way that I could find the arc angle. Suddenly, without my realizing it, over 6 minutes had gone by, and since this was a particularly hard problem, I was at the end of the test. I had 5 minutes to finish 4 questions, and I only answered one (incorrectly) and left the rest blank. My percentile ranking plummeted from somewhere around 90% to 70% when I finished the test.
I decided to take the test again because I didn’t feel that my quant score reflected my true ability. And the second time, I approached things differently. These are the tips I used to raise my score almost 100 points the second time I took it – tips I give my Veritas Prep students frequently.
Choose your target score
The first time I took the test, because of the questions I left blank at the end, I was 70% but I’d been scoring around 80%. I should have known to leave the 90% problems alone. I had a student who was scoring anywhere from 50%-70% on practice tests but got some of the 90% problems right, it just took him 6 minutes. I told him to aim for 70%, maybe 80%, but he DEFINITELY shouldn’t be answering the 90% problems – which steal time away from the end of the test.
Learn the material to be able to get the right questions right
For that student, I recommended he absolutely master the 70%-80% questions. Basic statistics and probability, slightly advanced geometry, moderate word problems. And focus on verbal, which was stronger for him – a great verbal score can help a lot!
Guess on the questions you know are above your target
I’m pretty sure I got another arc angle question the second time I took the GMAT and although I had studied a lot in between, I still didn’t understand it. I took a guess and moved on within a minute – no more 6-minute questions for me. The next problem was probably easier – maybe even 70 or 80% level – but I’m sure from there I did fine and worked my way up.
Skip any question you’re having trouble with after 1 minute
Watch the clock – if it’s been a minute and you have no idea what you’re doing wrong, make a guess and move on. Similarly, if you have four or five lines of algebra and you don’t have the right answer and/or you don’t see how to get there, move on. If you do a bunch of math, make a mistake, and can’t see the mistake clearly, move on!
In closing, if you’re taking the GMAT, you’re probably applying to business school. If you’re applying to business school, you’re probably a competitive, over-achiever. It’s hard for us over-achievers to admit when we’ve reached our threshold, when we’re faced with a problem we can’t solve. The trick for the GMAT is to let individual problems go so that your whole test doesn’t suffer.
Julia Kastner is a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in New York. She runs her own socially responsible, fair trade denim company called Eva & Paul and before starting her business she worked on nonprofit outreach projects of all kinds.