If you’re taking the GMAT with the intent of applying to a top-tier business school, there’s a relatively fair chance that you’ll end up having/wanting to retake the GMAT. Which may sound horrible, but it’s true – in fact, several top schools note that their average students take the test more than twice, so if you see a frustrating score pop up during your first, second, or even third attempt don’t let yourself get too down. Rest assured that:
-Schools only care about your highest score
-A frustrating GMAT performance can be a fantastic teaching tool to help you maximize the score on your applications
They key to bouncing back from a poor performance is to analyze it soon after you took the exam, and to do so in a way that helps you address all the items that contributed to a rough outing. To do that, you should ask yourself these five questions within a few days of having taken the test:
1) Did you have any pacing issues?
And to follow up more closely: Did you have to rush/guess/not-finish? Did you end with more time left than you thought you would? In either case, you didn’t pace yourself optimally, and you can learn from that. If you felt rushed the entire time, ask yourself why – did you spend far too much time on any one question? Were you just sluggish from the beginning and can’t account for the time? Did you make mistakes and have to go back to restart problems? Whatever the reason for a pacing problem, you now know what you need to address. If you need to get quicker, try timing yourself on practice sets to both get used to working more quickly and learn which mistakes you make when you’re rushing, so that you can avoid them. If you wasted too much time on just a couple questions, note their setup/content (involved-diagram geometry? long-winded word problem? multiple roots that you just couldn’t eliminate?) so that you can try to get more familiar with the content in practice, and so that, failing that, you can know when you may just need to guess on test day. Or if you had too much time at the end, you now know that too – which types of problems would you get right if you only had 15-20 extra seconds to slow down or check your work? Now you have that time to spare.
2) Did any question or two get you down, waste your time, shake your confidence?
Many who experience a frustrating test can just about pinpoint “It all seemed like it was going well, but then I saw ______________ and it all went downhill from there.” If you have a similar experience, you can learn from that – why did that problem get you down? How can you identify a “time-suck” problem and know when to guess and live to fight another day? If your confidence was shaken, why? Knowing the types of problems that you need to face a little more confidently or time-effectively – or just guess since no one ANSWER will ruin your day but one QUESTION can certainly do so if you let it – can help you avoid that pitfall on your next attempt.
3) Did you see anything that you felt unprepared for? Any question types or content areas that you saw way too much of (and that you were kind of hoping you wouldn’t see much of)?
Many students go into the GMAT feeling prepared, but then see questions that seem like they’re completely out of nowhere. Why is this so frequent? Because often they’re studying from a limited pool of questions (maybe those in the Official Guide for GMAT Review) and after seeing the same questions a few times each they’ve mastered the *study* questions but not necessarily the thought processes required for new questions. Or perhaps they’ve focused on certain content areas and forgot/avoided others, or studied content in a way disproportionate to what the GMAT actually tests (this happens frequently with Sentence Correction – people study tons of idioms, which aren’t often if ever tested, and don’t do nearly enough work on logical meaning). Either way, if you see concepts tested on your official exam and know you weren’t as prepared as you needed to be, now you have a blueprint for what you need to emphasize before you take it again.
4) The night before your test as you struggled to relax and fall asleep, which 2-3 things were on your mind?
Similarly, it’s not uncommon to cut a few corners when studying, doing one more set of number properties problems, for example, when we know we really should be focusing on geometry. That night before the test tends to be quite truthful…what you knew you should have studied but justified to yourself that you’d get to later, or what you could talk yourself into thinking you’d do well but really didn’t understand as well as you should – those things probably came to light as you laid down with your thoughts the night before the test. And now you have a new chance to address those.
5) Given your test day experience, what do you wish you had studied more (or less)? What do you wish you had done differently?
This catchall question should speak for itself – now that you’ve faced the real test under real conditions, you should have a better understanding of what you need to do. Practice tests and study sessions are extremely helpful, but there’s nothing like the experience of knowing that “this time it counts” to really teach you how you’re going to perform under pressure with the full experience. Many examinees fail to live up to their expectations when they’re first in that situation; those who end up at the schools of their dreams, though, learn everything they can from that experience and then add that to their study regimen to make the second (or third) time the charm.
By Brian Galvin