The 16 Best GMAT Exam Strategies

Read this article very carefully as this incorporates more than a decade of learning. There are thousands of people like you who have gone through this process in more than a decade of our existence, and we have very finely created these strategies so as to enable you to learn from the past. It is very common for the GMAT Test takers to not work on Stamina, or not to have discipline, and just spend time on GMAT Coaching centers just trying to finish the course material. The goal is not to finish the course material. The goal is to get the right score. If you are an Indian male applicant, and are targeting the Ivy League universities, you should be aiming for a 750 + score on the GMAT. If you are an Indian female applicant with 3 + years of experience, you should have a 730 + score in mind. We are not gender biased, and this is not based on our assessment of different genders either. This is entirely based on our understanding of how the top-B Schools operate while creating the right class mix.

Some facts that all the GMAT Students should be aware of ahead of time

  1. Many GMAT Applicants start the preparation with a great enthusiasm, but as the time progresses, GMAT Become more like a hobby rather than a short-term goal that needs to finish in the SHORT TERM, and not in 9 months.
  2. Since most of the GMAT Applicants are working professionals, lack of time management makes them give up on the preparation just because they were not able to create an active balance on the time they need to spend on different topics
  3. It takes a month before a lot of GMAT aspirants forget that their goal was not to finish the course material but to take the test. Remember this goal always.
  4. GMAT aspirants become too attached to their test that even a slight dip in a mock score makes them angry, sad, depressed, disappointed, and this attachment makes the GMAT preparation very erratic. When you are happy, you preparation goes fine. When you are not, and see a poor performance on a sectional test, you feel sad, and start taking extended preparation breaks. Some of you become so depressed after seeing a poor performance in a particular section that you start avoiding that section completely.
  5. You need to be committed to a plan rather than being emotionally attached to the test.

Go through these strategies and implement them while you prepare for GMAT. The GMAT prep in itself can be overwhelming. When you add multiple strategies over top of it, it becomes even worse.

The hardest part however isn’t the number of strategies out there to prep for your GMAT but the contradicting opinions that advisers share. While someone might advise you to attempt a question backwards, another would tell you to never skip reading the question.

How do you even know which strategies to follow when they all aim in different directions?

GMAT test strategy blueprint

Before diving into the strategies for different questions or sections, one needs to know how to tackle the test and the prep for GMAT as a whole. It is more important to know how to navigate through the test before knowing how to solve an algebraic problem-solving question in the Quant section.

The first and foremost step, before you even decide whether you want to give the GMAT is to understand the format of the test.

Once you have done that, we can divulge further into some of the best strategies to ace the GMAT.

  1. SET A TARGET BEFORE GMAT PREP

    While most of the GMAT strategies in this blog aren’t in a specific order, this one is placed first as it is the thing you need to begin your prep with.

    Something that every successful human being shares with others in this category is goal-setting. For goal setting, go to the market, and buy a big sized white chart that you used in schools. On that white chart, list down all the GMAT Topics and sub topics. Do not make an excel sheet of another word document that you will not open for months. NO! Have a physical chart pasted in your room with all the topics, and sub-topics listed. Make a very exhaustive list.

    Why do we want a physical chart and not a soft copy in a laptop? If you have a physical chart pasted on the wall of your study room, you will be very objective and intentional throughout your preparation. On that chart, put circles or boxes right next to each of those sub-topics, and color code different sub- topics. For example, mark RED for the topics that you are really scared of. You already know what areas scare you the most. If you mark them in red, tell yourself that you are going to change ONE RED areas into blue by the end of this week(Use blue color coding for a topic that you are average comfortable with). Maybe you can pick Green for a topic that you are very confident in. If you start playing with this chart, and start color-coding them with different colors, your mind will become very objective in 2 to 3 weeks, and you will start seeing your preparation efforts accumulating towards a high score. If you do not follow this approach, chances are that you will just start getting used to studying without really knowing if your preparation is taking you in the right direction.

    No matter which task you pick up, having a goal will always streamline your plan of attack and make the outcome much closer to what you desire.

    This is why having a GMAT goal score is a must before you start buying study material or join a coaching. The goal score will set the pace and format for your GMAT prep.

    Other than the goal score, another way to set a target is to book your GMAT test date. Once you have paid the $250 for the test, you will automatically stop making excuses to post-pone your prep. For working individuals, coming home from a long work-day can leave you de-motivated. You probably would not want to pick up a book and bury yourself in the studies. Knowing exactly when your GMAT test is has helped many test-takers focus on their prep and avoid any procrastination.

  2. FREQUENT GMAT FORUMS

    GMAT forums are a blessing to those attempting the test. Forums like GMATClub, Beatthegmat, Pagalguy, Quora will provide you a community of people struggling through similar problems and creative solutions.

    Once you start going through these forums, you will find many tricks and remedies that have worked for students of all types. The reason I strongly believe in GMAT forums is that it provides multiple solutions to a single problem and thus could come in very handy when a popular strategy isn’t working for you.

    Forums like GMATClub, Beatthegmat, and Pagalguy also have test-takers who share difficult questions and will be more than happy to take a stab at questions you are struggling on.

    This is especially helpful for people who decide to study by themselves instead of joining a coaching class.

  3. PROCESS OF ELIMINATION

    The process of elimination is one of the most popular GMAT strategies out there.

    While attempting a question that just has you stumped, what should be your plan of attack? Eliminating the wrong answers.

    This isn’t something I would recommend you do for all questions on the GMAT, rather practice this on the questions that have taken you well over a minute to understand.

    In the GMAT Quant section, the process of elimination can be used by substituting an answer choice in the question. Let’s say you have 4 option choices that can be arranged in increasing or decreasing order.

    3x+17=218

    a) 88

    b) 35

    c) 67

    d) 23

    As you can see, these answer choices can be arranged in increasing order, 23, 35, 67, and 88. Now to use the process of elimination, pick any of the middle two options, i.e. 35 or 67. When you substitute one of these two, you will find out whether the answer is too low or too high. Let’s assume you substituted 35 in place of x. Your answer would be 122 which is much lower than the answer in the equation. This directly eliminates option choice d) as well, as it is a number even less than 35. Your probably answers could be a) 88, or c) 67. another stab at substituting either of these options will present the answer to you.

    While the GMAT, obviously, won’t give you a question as simple as this, eliminating options will almost always be an option.

    In the GMAT Verbal section, elimination is done a little differently. For example, in a sentence correction question the correct answer can often sound wrong. However, it will be grammatically correct. Eliminating every option choice by finding out the grammatical errors in them will help you reach the correct answer.

    The process of elimination is also a key way to guess on the test. For those questions that you cannot allocate a lot of time to, or just aren’t sure about, using the process of elimination would improve your chances of having the right guess.

  4. FIND THE QUESTION

    It might seem odd that someone would ask you to find a question on a test! After all the questions are right there in front of you.

    What I mean by finding the question is to find the exact thing that the question requires you to solve for. Simply put, before starting to solve any question on the GMAT, always make sure whether the question wants you to solve for x or y.

    Questions on the GMAT can sometimes be tricky to deal with especially when they have multiple parts to them like graphs, tables, various equations for the Math section and conclusion, premise, for the Verbal section.

    When reading the question make sure you understand which variable or equation the question wants you to solve, rather than starting off based on all the information provided to you.

  5. PRACTICE THE RIGHT APPROACH

    right choice GMAT questions

    All the different types of questions on the GMAT require a different approach to them. Not all Verbal questions will be solved by reading the question first and not all Quant questions will be solved by working through the answer choices.

    In addition to that, the solution that works for someone else might make you much slower and inaccurate on the test. For example, you might have heard that reading the questions first on a Reading Comprehension and then looking for the answer in the passage is a good GMAT strategy. However, when you do the same you take much longer to find the right sentences or paragraphs in relation to the question. Thus, you should chuck this strategy and start with reading the passage first.

    However, there are a few approaches to different question types that work for the majority.

    1. Read the question stem first for critical reasoning. It is important to know what the question is asking for before you read the argument. Think about it this way: If you know you I it is a weakening question, your way of reading the argument will be different from an assumption question. If you do not follow this strategy, and directly start with reading the argument, the moment you read the question stem, your brain will make you go back to reading the argument one more time than you would in the suggested strategy. If there are a total of 13 to 14 CR questions on the GMAT, you will end up reading 14 more arguments with a wrong approach. If reading an argument takes you 50 seconds, you will have spent additional 9 to 12 minutes on the CR questions, and saving 12 minutes out of 75 total minutes is really a big deal.
    2. First check the shortest option choice for errors on sentence correction: It is very common that complex sentences can be beautifully rewritten in very simple ways. A lot of times, you will realise that the shortest answer choices are the best ones, as they provide the most succinct way of representing the original wordy and incorrect sentence. If you are stuck between picking active and passive voice, active voice is very likely to be the right answer choice unless there is another mistake ploughed into an active voice answer choice.
    3. Read the option choices before starting to solve a problem-solving question: After solving 100’s of quant questions, you will realise that not all the answer choices are within the ballpark of the right answer. Some of them will be way beyond the reasonable range, and you will start to notice this pattern if you develop the habit of reading the answer choices carefully. Picking the best answer out of 3 is a way better position to be in as compared with picking the best out of 5. If you read the answer choices before you start solving the question, you will also realise that there are a couple of very diverge patterns in the answer choices. While a couple of answer choices will be based on assumptions A, the other ones will be based on Assumption B. If you identify these disparities in the answer choice right before you start solving the question, your mind will become more objective about the direction you want to go in.
    4. Follow the order of the answer choices for data sufficiency: Data sufficiency as a section becomes very easy if you follow the simple AD/BCE Rule. Follow this strictly so as to avoid developing mental blocks. If you look at the answer choice A, and you can get answer the question based on the information available only in statement 1, that essentially means that your answer is either A or D, and you do not have to look for B, C or E anymore. On the other hand, if you cannot answer it on the basis of information given to you in Statement 1, then your answer has to be from B, C and E, and you do not have to look for A/D anymore. It is important to Follow the AD/BCE rule as without that, not only will your efficiency go down as you will continuously reread all the 5 answer choices, but you will also be prone to developing a mental block when you are under time pressure.
    5. Pick out the relevant graphs, charts etc. for integrated reasoning questions: Some information in the graphs can be distracting, and the entire purpose of those graphs is to just make you waste time. Do not be distracted, and start carefully selecting the data that you think is most relevant.
    6. Createa blue-print for your essay on the analytical writing assessment: Do not start writing the moment you read the topic. It is important to spend the first 4 to 6 minutes in building the structure of your essay. Some students panic, and start writing the essay the moment they read the topic. This way they have to continuously build the airplace on the runway. Do not do this. If you spend 5 minutes in building the entire structure of the essay ahead of time, you will realise that you can easily use the remaining time in only filling in your structure with details. A good essay will have around 5 to 6 paragraphs, with mutually exclusive and completely exhaustive reasons. Mutually exclusive-completely exhaustive( MECE Approach) essentially means that while your reasons will not have any major overlaps or repetition, and the reader will not get a feeling that you are sounding repetitive, they will also be completely exhaustive and will have covered a comprehensive set that you want to present to the reader. In the MECE approach, mutual exclusivity is more important and achievable as you may not be able to make the structure “Completely exhaustive” in the limited timeframe.

    These practices have been followed by top scorers across the globe.

  6. HOW TO TAKE MOCK TESTS

    A very important distinction that you need to understand is that: Finishing the mock tests available in the market is not the idea. The main idea is to really get the incremental value out of each of the mock tests. Every test should take your preparation forward. Leading the GMAT Prepration initiatives since 2008, we have realized that a lot of students fall into the trap of just trying to get over with whatever mocks are available. That is not the goal at all. Why do we take mocks?

    • We want to develop a good habit of being in a test environment for a stretch of 3 to 4 hours. One should take around 25 to 30 mocks during the course of their entire preparation. Some of the good sources for the GMAT Mocks are e-gmat, The Princeton review, Kaplan, Magoosh, and numerous other sources listed on the GMAT Club as well.
    • You want to get a 30,000 feet view of your entire preparation. A very important practice that all top scorers follow is spending too much time in analyzing their mistakes and assessing what is missing. On the other hand, low scorers just see a mock score either as a source of happiness or disappointment. You do not have to get happy, angry, sad, disappointed, excited with a mock score. Your goal is to analyse it irrespective of the score you get. Imagine that you are currently on the 670 level, a comprehensive analysis of the mock tests will allow you to assess where are you losing the 130 points. When you practice mocks, do it with all your GMAT Quant/verbal books and notes right next to you. If you come across a question you got wrong, open your GMAT Books/notes right then, and fix that right then. If you see a pattern of incorrect questions and realize your weak area, pick up theory and start building your concepts, and take a couple of sectional tests as well of that particular topic before you move further with the analysis of the mock tests. As you move further with the analysis, you will realize another pattern, and you just have to repeat the suggestions above, and start addressing the next weakness you identified during test taking. If you follow this approach diligently, imagine the incremental value of every mock. You will have gone through the entire curriculum just because you chose to do a very comprehensive analysis of the mock test. It is absolutely fine to spend as many as 2 to 3 days to analyse a mock test. Do not worry too much about getting over with the mock test analysis. Your goal is not to finish the preparation material. The goal is to get the right score.
    • You want to be able to get comfortable with switching gears and easily solve a CR question right after doing a reading comprehension passage or a sentence correction. If you limit yourself to doing only sectional tests, you will realise that your brain will start functioning in buckets. If you are working on only Reading comprehension, and taking the Reading comprehension, 20 minutes into the exercise, you will realise that you have built a reading comprehension. If you get a sentence correction question in between, your mind will take time to adjust. It is the shifting time that will kill your score unless you get used to practicing the full-length tests. The switching costs are too high, and you do not want those. Even if you start getting 95% accuracy on a particular section on the GMAT, you will still not get a great percentile unless you practice too many full-length mocks because your brain will not have the habit of swinging between different sections at the same time(See the Structure of the GMAT Test. You will see that they throw a random mix at you).

    Taking mock test is an integral part of anyone’s GMAT prep. Without mock tests, tracking one’s progress is very difficult.

    But just sitting down for a three-hour test isn’t the best way to optimize your benefits form the GMAT mocks. Having a pattern for taking a mock test will ensure you get the most out of the three or so hours you spend on the test rather than just knowing your current score. Your environment for your mocks and your approach to them should be like that of the actual test.

    Take breaks and select the same section order that you would select on the actual test.

    Something we need to establish is taking a mock test during any time of the day as you please shouldn’t be a habit.

    When you select your date and time-slot for the GMAT, let’s assume you selected a morning slot for it. Taking your mocks on the same time-slot as the one you selected will help you identify any problems you might face on test day.

    If you feel sleepy when you take your GMAT mocks during the morning, chances are you will feel sleepy during the actual test as well. Since you know about this issue now, you can try to figure out ways to deal with it.

    The second point to remember while taking a mock test is to make sure you practice every single GMAT strategy you have learnt. This will also help you eradicate any strategy that isn’t working for you anymore and replace it with a fresher version. Only by practicing the strategies, you will become a master of that new skillset that you are trying to develop. If you do not practice, maybe you will be able to help your cousins or friends in their GMAT theory, but you will not have the stamina to perform in a timed-environment with an algorithm that throws questions of varying difficulty and different topics.

    Once you’re done with the test, analyze every mistake you’ve made on it.

  7. ANALYZE MISTAKES

    A very important distinction that you need to understand is that: Finishing the mock tests available in the market is not the idea. The main idea is to really get the incremental value out of each of the mock tests. Every test should take your preparation forward. Leading the GMAT Prepration initiatives since 2008, we have realized that a lot of students fall into the trap of just trying to get over with whatever mocks are available. That is not the goal at all. Why do we take mocks?

    Be it a mock test or a practice question, analyzing your errors is a must. Familiarizing yourself with the various concepts tested on the GMAT might be easy, but your execution of the same needs to be flawless as well.

    Analyzing your errors will help you in determining which concepts, that you thought you knew, still require a more in-depth knowledge for you.

    Especially after a mock, analyzing mistakes can bring forth problem areas for you. It is absolutely fine even if you have to spend 2 to 3 days in analyzing some of the initial mock tests. A time limit can be very daunting psychologically and can easily lead you to make mistakes. When you analyze your errors after a mock you can spot the concepts that you still need to work on and have more practice sets for.

  8. UTILIZE THE SCRATCH PAD

    In the GMAT exam, you are given a laminated scratch pad, with five pages usable on both the sides, that you can use as a rough sheet for the various sections.

    There are many ways to use this scratch pad and you can prep it before every section.

    Before starting a section on the test, divide the scratch pad into various sections to use as for rough work. This will help save you the extra time you would spend erasing your work to solve the next question once the scratch pad is full.

    Buying and using a similar scratch pad for your GMAT mocks will also help you create a habit for this. The GMAT is a test that relies on your sense to allocate time. Thus, having a habit of attempting the test as it will be presented to you on the actual test day will help take away any wasted seconds.

  9. PRACTICE GMAT AWA

    The GMAT AWA section is a long one as it requires you to solve one question in thirty minutes. While this question won’t affect you too much during MBA admissions, scoring well on it is required to not raise any red flags.

    Test-takers often skip practicing for the essay on the AWA section and end up writing sub-par, to bad essays in the test.

    The practice for the AWA section can be minimized by only writing the complete essays during the mock tests and sticking to creating blueprints during practice sessions.

    Streamlining your thoughts before writing an analytical essay is key to scoring well on this section. Just working on this process will help you create an above average to good essay during the actual GMAT.

  10. PRACTICE TIME MANAGEMENT

    Just like every other strategy, time management should also be practiced throughout your GMAT prep. While you won’t be able to solve questions within the desired time limit in the beginning of your prep, timing yourself should be a habit.

    Even if you take 7-8 minutes to solve a question in the beginning, be aware of the time. Slowly, push yourself to finish similar questions in lesser time in every attempt.

    If you think practicing time management in the last week or only on mock tests will be enough think again.

    As I mentioned earlier, GMAT is best attempted when you already have a habit of attempting the test in the exact way it presents itself to you in the test center. This is why many re-takers of the test improve their scores with every retake.

  11. UNDERSTAND THE GMAT ALGORITHM

    Although no one can tell you for sure how the GMAT algorithm works, other than the GMAC, a lot of ideas have been formulated through years of analyzing the test.

    The first 1/3rd portion of the test is considered to be very essential for a high score. This brings us to believe that spending a good amount of time on these questions is the way to go. However, as you proceed in the test, start spending less-and-less time on questions as it has been noted that not finishing the test carries significant score reduction.

    This also brings us to guessing on the test when pressed for time. You can either use the process of elimination for this guessing or simply take a wild guess if you have almost no time left to allocate to a certain question.

    However, if you have guessed on a couple questions, solving the succeeding one should be a priority.

  12. LEARN TO IGNORE THE CLUTTER

    This can be considered an extension of the fourth point.

    A question on the GMAT often comes with a lot of cushioning. While attempting these questions, it is important to separate the relevant information from the extra information provided to you.

    In the IR section, you are generally provided with multiple charts, graphs, or tables, and have multiple questions relating to them. While you might need the first two tables for the first question, you might require the first and the last table for the second one.

    Similarly, in the GMAT Verbal section, sometimes modifiers are used to confuse the test-taker in long sentences. If a modifier is removed, the sentence wouldn’t ever be grammatically wrong. this means, when if you ignore the modifier, you will be able to put your knowledge of grammar rules to good use and find the error. However, this should only be done when you are definite that the error is not in relation to the modifier.

    Knowing how to ignore any extra information will help you to not get confused and select the wrong answer.

  13. PRACTICE QUESTIONS JUST LIKE THE TEST

    I am pretty sure that the importance of following the strategies for your GMAT test during practice sessions has been made very clear in the points preceding this one.

    If you have missed it, I will happily repeat myself.

    If you take a mouthful of hot food, you automatically blow air out to cool it down. If you don’t, then you’re probably a superhero. For the rest, you don’t even have to think about this reaction and it just happens. This is because since you have known this solution, you have repeated it enough times that it’s now muscle memory.

    A similar rule applies to almost everything in life. The more you practice something, the more it becomes a reflex rather than a choice.

    This means that if you practice questions with all the strategies you have learnt during the GMAT prep, that will be the only way you would know how to react to (solve) those questions.

  14. USE THE OFFICIAL RESOURCES

    Although there are various study material and test bundles available on the market for GMAT prep, the GMAT Official Guide (OG) is a must in your collection.

    I wouldn’t ask you to only stick to the OG. In fact, I would recommend investing in your GMAT study material as it would expose you to a larger number of questions and strategies that the OG won’t provide you.

    However, studying from the OG is a must as it is the most accurate representation of the actual GMAT.

  15. STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

    I do recommend skipping and guessing on a couple of questions on the GMAT. Most high-scorers will tell you that they did this as well. However, the most important trick to it knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

    The GMAT tests you on numerous concepts in each section. From statistics, geometry, algebra, to data interpretation, and grammar, it is not possible for a student to have a grip on each and every concept.

    Your aim during GMAT prep should definitely be to strengthen each and every concept that presents itself to you. But, in case you aren’t able to, you should make a mental list of the concepts you are weak in.

    These will be concepts that you get most of the questions wrong for. These are the questions that you should consider while skipping or guessing on the test.

    If you get stuck on such a question for over a minute, and still have no plan of action for the solution, guessing might actually improve your chances of getting the question right. In addition, you will be able to save some time to utilize in lengthier question that you can solve.

  16. QUALITY VS QUANTITY

    woman multitasking fail

Humans think they are amazing at multitasking. They are not! Studies have shown that when people try to multi-task, they often aren’t able to produce optimal results in any of the tasks they under-took.

So, if you’re studying for your GMAT while having lunch during work, or travelling back from work, or meeting your personal obligation, you are more likely to not see any progress in your score.

Do not ask me why you’re still at a 570 score even after studying 40 hours if you were multi-tasking for 30 of those.

Two-hours per day, of focused GMAT prep without any distractions, for 20 days will provide you with a much better result that 5 hours a day for 20 days with distractions of any sort.

Prepping for your GMAT isn’t an easy task especially with a job. But it is also not impossible. Your social life might take a few hits for the 2-3 months duration that you spend preparing for the GMAT but your score will be reflective of the sacrifice.

Although, you must remember that the GMAT isn’t testing you for the hard work you have put into preparing for the test. While some people crack the GMAT 700 score line in one month, some might take a year and still only reach to a 690 score. This means there is no reward for senseless hard work. I won’t say you can score well on the GMAT with just smart work either by just following these GMAT strategies.

Only a combination of both these aspects will help you reach your goal score on the GMAT. This is why I will once again place emphasis on the value of practicing these GMAT strategies throughout your GMAT prep and not only in the last few weeks.

Remember, the goal is not to finish the course material available in the world. The idea is to take the test, and get a great score. Only if you follow a very disciplined approach, you will see the value of your preparation.