Panic starts to creep in.
“How could this have happened? I was doing so well!”, you think. “What do I do now?”
A bad practice test can happen to anyone. In isolation, it’s certainly not the end of the world, but you should use the result to diagnose what went wrong and how to fix it moving forward. There are several potential causes worth considering. Let’s look at a few:
In many respects, the GMAT is as much a psychological exam as a content exam. Your mental state going into the test can set you up for success or failure.
Were you fatigued or stressed before the exam started? If so, your ability to pick up on subtle clues and notice testmaker tricks and traps was likely not at its usual level. Even if you felt fine to start the test, you may have “hit the wall” midway through the test. Many students have performed normally through the first part of the test, only to run out of gas towards the end of the quant section or in the verbal section.
If this is you, consider how you can improve your pre-test condition. Are you sleeping and eating well? Are work and other responsibilities taking a toll? Obviously, quitting your job to study for the GMAT is not a winning proposition, but recognize that there may be situations in which taking a practice test is counterproductive. If you don’t feel great when you’re about to start the test, push it back by a day or two.
GMAT writers are masterful at asking the same question in multiple ways. You may know how to handle a question when asked one way, but when the test asks you to solve in a different way, you’re not as comfortable.
Thanks to the adaptive nature of the exam, you can see a practice test where specific question types (such as exponents or weighted average) are asked in a way that fits what you’re good at, and you do well on them. Conversely, you may see the same concepts asked in a way that exploits your conceptual weaknesses, and you struggle more than expected.
If this is you, consider what gave you trouble. If you notice that your understanding of triangles or ratios isn’t as thorough as you thought, you now know what to address to improve going forward. Having a strong grasp of multiple approaches will make you more prepared to handle a question type, regardless of how it is set up.
Even if your conceptual knowledge is strong, it’s still possible to run into issues with test strategy. Allow stubbornness to creep in on a few early questions, and your pacing may be off for the rest of the section. If you get away from your standard approach for a specific question type (such as Data Sufficiency or Sentence Correction), you may open yourself up to errors you wouldn’t make on homework questions.
If this is you, review your overall approach to the exam. How are you keeping track of pacing? If this is a consistent struggle, find a way to make sure you stay on track. Can you get better at letting go of questions that got away from you? Work on recognizing when to make a guess and move on to save time for questions you can get right. Are you finding ways to answer questions more easily or quickly? When you review practice problems, look for clues in the question and answers that could’ve led to a more efficient solution.
A bad result is a perfect opportunity for self reflection. You have time to come up with a plan of attack, and with this new information you can tailor your approach to the areas that need improvement. After all, it’s much better to have your weaknesses exposed by a practice test than the real thing!
By Bill Robinson