Top Five Test Day Strategies
Chris Ryan, Director of Instructor and Product Development Manhattan GMAT
is one of the largest and most reputable GMAT preparation companies in the world. They offer in-person classes in the US and online courses globally and have many high-profile clients, such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs
What’s the best way to take the GMAT? Drawing on the experience of thousands of students, we’ve put together a list of game-day strategies. Here’s how to avoid the most common test-taking pitfalls.
1. Focus on the here and now.
You’ve just finished a tough math problem involving two triangles and lots of labeled angles. You spent three minutes struggling to decide between D and E. Now, moments after clicking “Confirm,” you think you made the wrong choice.
Forget all that. Your mind should be on the problem in front of you, on the computer screen.
As you dive into this new problem, a whisper in your head tells you that the question is far too easy, so you probably did get the last problem wrong. Plus, the whisper adds, you’re tanking generally.
Turn that whisper off.
Do not spend any time wondering about the last question or about “how you’re doing.” It is impossible to know exactly how you’re doing – and if you did know, it wouldn’t help you anyway because you can't go back.
Forget about the “last play,” and ignore the imaginary scoreboard. Keep your eye on the ball, because that’s the only way to improve your score.
2. Know when to guess and move on.
You've sunk three minutes into a question, and your answer isn't even one of the five choices. Now you’re rushing to recheck all your math, and you can’t find any errors. In frustration, you just want to pick the answer choice that’s closest to the answer you calculated.
Take a moment to relax.
Remember that even very high scorers on the GMAT get a large number of questions wrong. Be ready to cut your losses and move on, even if it seems that you’ve wasted a lot of time.
Try to eliminate some answers. Maybe you aren’t sure of the right answer, but you can increase your odds substantially.
Note that as many as 25% of the questions are experimental and do not count toward your score. Don't obsess over any particular problem. Instead, spend your time tackling questions that you do have a chance of solving.
3. Use scratch paper.
Your brain's short-term working memory can only store a few items at a time – under ideal conditions. On test day, anxiety will reduce the capacity of your memory even further.
Try to write out steps. Put the different scenarios on paper. Make it as easy on your brain as possible.
Be organized. Fifty seconds from now, you'll be looking back over all these scribbles, trying to figure out what you just wrote down.
4. Be aware of the time, but don’t obsess over it.
You find yourself nervously glancing at the clock, even though you just checked it a minute ago. Time seems to be slipping away like sand in an hourglass.
By checking the clock so much, you’re distracting yourself from solving the problem itself.
The best way to manage your time is to keep to the problem-solving rhythm that you practiced. You should have internalized these benchmarks: 2 minutes for each math question and approximately 1:50 for each verbal question (don’t compute the verbal time precisely – simply figure 2 minutes per question, then take off about 10%).
Then, after every few problems, check the timer and figure out if you’re ahead, behind or right on schedule.
If you’re behind, adjust your pace accordingly. Just save a few seconds here and there. Don’t try to save two minutes all at once by giving away a question.
5. Stay positive.
There are 12 minutes left, and you have 9 math questions to go. You start to panic and make random guesses, even if you can solve the problem. Meanwhile, you think you've ruined your chances for a good score.
Here is a trick to cure your panic. Force the corners of your mouth upwards as you inhale deeply. Then relax and actually let yourself smile.
Your emotional state affects your thinking... for good or bad. When you panic, your brain can’t solve complex GMAT problems as easily as when you’re calm.
A quick way to improve your mindset is to put a brief smile on your face.
Remember, you’re not expected to get every question right on this test. People often underestimate how well they are actually doing.
Take your smile back to the GMAT questions. Ignore stray negative thoughts, and stay upbeat throughout the exam.
In summary, the GMAT is like a grueling tennis match. How you perform isn’t just about your skills – it’s also about your mental approach. If you focus your attention in the right way and keep these tips in mind, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of performing up to your abilities.
Manhattan GMAT offers live prep classes in the US and online classroom courses globally.