Happy New Year! If you’re reading this on January 1, 2016, chances are you’ve made your New Year’s resolution to succeed on the GMAT and apply to business school. (Why else read a GMAT-themed blog on a holiday?) And if so, you’re in luck: anecdotally speaking, students who study for and take the GMAT in the first half of the year, well before any major admissions deadlines, tend to have an easier time grasping material and taking the test. They have the benefit of an open mind, the time to invest in the process, and the lack of pressure that comes from needing a massive score ASAP.
This all relates to how you should approach your New Year’s resolution to study for the GMAT. Take advantage of that luxury of time and lessened-pressure, and study the right way – patiently and thoroughly.
What does that mean? Let’s equate the GMAT to MBA admissions New Year’s resolution to the most common New Year’s resolution of all: weight loss.
Someone with a GMAT score in the 300s or 400s is not unlike someone with a weight in the 300s or 400s (in pounds). There are easy points to gain just like there are easy pounds to drop. For weight loss, that means sweating away water weight and/or crash-dieting and starving one’s self as long as one can. As boxers, wrestlers, and mixed-martial artists know quite well, it’s not that hard to drop even 10 pounds in a day or two…but those aren’t long-lasting pounds to drop.
The GMAT equivalent is sheer memorization score gain. Particularly if your starting point is way below average (which is around 540 these days), you can probably memorize your way to a 40-60 point gain by cramming as many rules and formulas as you can. And unlike weight loss, you won’t “give those points” back. But here’s what’s a lot more like weight loss: if you don’t change your eating/study habits, you’re not going to get near where you want to go with a crash diet or cram session. And ultimately those cram sessions can prove to be counterproductive over the long run.
The GMAT is a test not of surface knowledge, but of deep understanding and of application. And the the problem with a memorization-based approach is that it doesn’t include much understanding or application. So while there are plenty of questions in the below-average bucket that will ask you pretty directly about a rule or relationship, the problems that you’ll see as you attempt to get to above average and beyond will hinge more on your ability to deeply understand a concept or to apply a concept to a situation where you might not see that it even applies.
So be leery of the study plan that nets you 40-50 points in a few weeks (unless of course that 40 takes you from 660 to 700) but then holds you steady at that level because you’re only remembering and not *knowing* or *understanding*. When you’re studying in January for a test that you don’t need to take until the summer or fall, you have the luxury of starting patiently and building to a much higher score.
Your job this next month isn’t to memorize every rule under the sun; it’s to make sure you fundamentally understand the building blocks of arithmetic, algebra, logic, and grammar as it relates to meaning. Your score might not jump as high in January, but it’ll be higher when decision day comes later this fall.
By Brian Galvin.