Last week GMAT prep strategies

A year ago, I read a story of a GMAT aspirant who jumped off the high-rise Magnolia towers on the Golf course road Gurgaon a day before the GMAT. Reading that made me both angry and sad. I was angry at the given state of the mindset of the students, and I was sad as I had not had the opportunity to share what I am about to share with all of you.

GMAT IS AN Easy Test. It is a skill-based test and one has to induce discipline during the entire preparation, but is a test that can easily be tamed. It is not a tough test for Indian applicants.

GMAT is a skill-based exam, and not knowledge based. A lot of conventional tests that we have taken throughout our lives were very significantly impacted by last minute preparation, as we had to memorize a lot of theory before the delivery day. On the contrary, those strategies will not work with GMAT. You have reached a stage where your stamina, and your knowledge are significantly up from your week 1.

If you think you have not done enough, and are still getting 600’s on the mocks, and are targeting a 700 +, you should reschedule the test. Nothing that you will do in the last one week will give you a very significant spike. The last week is about a very active maintenance of your preparation levels rather than an overhaul. I have even seen some IIT engineers going wrong with the last-minute preparation and getting mid 600 range scores.

Yet, the last week of your GMAT prep is crucial for your success in the test. I don’t say this because this is the last chance you will have to cram any more concepts, but because this is the time you can utilize to be completely prepared for the test-day as a whole.

It is very important for a test-taker to stay stress free during the GMAT exam so that they can use each and every strategy and concept they have spent time learning for the past 2-3 months. This makes the last week especially important for you to be prepared with a plan for anything and everything that could possibly go wrong on the day of your GMAT. In my experiences, I have seen a lot of people freak out as well the last week as they start to get affected by imaginary threats. Think about it this way- GMAT is not very different from BookMyShow. If you are getting nervous, all you got to do is remember that you have nothing more than $250 at stake. Seriously! Nothing else is at stake. Your reputation is not at stake, your job is not at stake, and if someone told you that GMAT or an MBA will give you a great life probably did not know that an MBA will only give you an MBA  and nothing more than that. So, a great life is not at stake either. You can begin to have that right away.

So, literally nothing is at stake other than $250 and I know that for most of you, that is not a big deal either. So, if you are a victim of a panic attack, calm yourself down.

Since this is the last week of your prep, you might be tempted to work extra hours on your GMAT prep. I have seen students who would lick the GMAT Official Guides clean of ink if they could, in the last week.

But we won’t be those people. We are going to come up with a few things that can help us endure the nerve wrecking 3 hours of the GMAT without even breaking a sweat.

FOCUS ON PRACTICE SETS

practice gmat questions sets

I would advise against going over any new concepts or indulging in practicing hundreds of questions in the week leading to the GMAT test day. However, I can understand the need to go over a few concepts and strengthening them.

This is why I suggest focusing on practice sets rather than single questions or mock tests. Taking practice sets will give you an opportunity to monitor how and if you’re applying all your test strategies including the time management strategies.

TAKE A COUPLE MOCK TESTS

Please pay attention to the word ‘couple’. Do not go crazy and take a mock test every day, or even four days. Stick to two mock tests. One on day 1 of the last week before the test and the other on day 3 or four at max.

Taking a mock test on day 5 or 6 won’t help you. In fact, it might work against you. Your score on the mock isn’t an exact representation of how you would fare on test day. There could be changed circumstances and your score might get affected.

If you give a mock, at max, on the fourth day of the last week before the actual GMAT, you will still have two more days to make small changes.

Also, our aim to give mock tests in the last week is to analyze our mistakes and formulate guessing plans and two mocks seem to be fair enough for that.

PICK OLD TESTS THAT YOU DID WELL ON

This is an important strategy. Since you are not going to be taking too many new tests in the last one week, I still want you to stay used to being hooked onto that computer screen solving GMAT questions. Pick up the old tests that gave you your dream scores, and take them again. YES! Go through the same tests again, and practice as if you are doing them for the first time. This is the moment to fool your mind into seeing the inflated scores at the end. I do not want you to take a new test in the last two days, as a low score can create panic.

I remember making this mistake of taking a new test a couple days before the final test. While I had been getting consistent 770 to 790 on all my GMAT practice tests, I scored a 660 in one of the Kaplan tests exactly two days before the final test. It freaked me out considering I had started my GMAT preparation with a 640 on Kaplan 10 weeks ago, and a mere 20-point jump at that time seemed to the end of life. I was on a break from office, a lot of things were stalled because of the GMAT Preparation, and seeing a 660 just before the final day was not a great feeling. Somehow, I did not remember all the 780’s I had scored on all the mocks I had taken as the impact of a 660 was way more significant. 660 occurred like the final stamp of the preparation, and I got so disappointed that I threw everything away, and went for a good nap. I woke up with a sinking feeling when it occurred to me that I am just getting impacted by one data point. In the entire span of 10 weeks, I have seen so many great scores, and I am right now just getting impacted with a single data point. That was the time I decided to pick up all the old tests I had scored 750+ on, and took them again. YES! I even reread the same passages, and solved all the Critical reasoning and Sentence correction questions.

As I remembered most of the tests taken, I had done a very comprehensive analysis, it did not take me more than 20 hours to finish each test, and I took 5 of them after the horrible Kaplan test experience. I was not worried about the final test day, but seeing inflated scores in the last two days was a great way to fool the mind.

I am not suggesting that only fooling the mind is a strategy that will work at the end. No! I am just sharing my survival strategy in the state of panic I had.

It all worked well. I reached the test center on time, had a hot cup of tea before moving to the test center behind the Indian oil building in Lado Sarai(New Delhi). Started the test with zero baggage, and walked out with a 99th percentile score.

FOCUS ON MISTAKES

I know you’ve been told to focus on your strengths and be proud of them in life, but for the last week of GMAT prep it is vital to focus on your mistakes.

This week, you don’t want to pick up any new concepts and work on them. Instead we want to bring out the best results in the concepts we’re lagging at. You might already know how to work on algebra questions but aren’t able to solve them correctly for some reason. Work on that. Try to find out why you’re not able to get the right answers even though you know the concepts.

Use this time to correct silly mistakes or small holes in your skills rather than trying to fill a crater.

FIND OUT THE WEAKEST CONCEPTS

By the last week of GMAT approaches, you already know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Like I explained before, your strengths aren’t really any of our concern at this point.

Let’s talk more about your weaknesses. I want you to figure out your weakest concepts in each section, Verbal, Quant, IR.

We’ll chuck these concepts out of the window now. No more wasting time on getting that differential equation solved or attempting that modifier-based sentence correction question.

I want you to try your weakest questions one last times. If the end result is still the same read the next point to know how to deal with them.

COME UP WITH A GUESSING STRATEGY

Everyone guesses on the GMAT. At least everyone who scores more than 700. Don’t believe me? Go ask a top scorer, on any GMAT forum, if they guessed on questions.

This is because guessing is a strategic play when it comes to the GMAT. Guessing gives you a chance of getting the question right without working on it. There are times when you will be pressed for time. I am sure of it because I have never met anyone who said they had enough time to attempt every single question on the GMAT.

So, when that time comes, you better be ready to guess because when you leave un-attempted questions, the GMAT penalizes you more than it would if you answered in-correctly.

Now you could come up with your own guessing strategy but I would like to share mine with you.

Remember the weakest concepts I asked you to pick out in the previous points? Guess on those. Spend roughly 40 seconds to a minute on these-question and if you still don’t have a plan of action for them, just take a guess.

If you’re sure about getting every other you attempt answer right, I would suggest guessing straightaway without even the one-minute.

But how would you know if the one-minute is up? You can’t keep looking at the timer and counting backwards to know.

LEARN THE FEEL OF A MINUTE

To get the feel of a minute on the test, you will have to start by timing yourself on practice sets. You don’t have to solve every question on these sets yet. We just want to practice our plan of attack for these questions.

Start the stopwatch on your phone. If you think you are getting too distracted by other applications on the phone, buy a conventional stop watch. Timing yourself, and checking Whatsapp messages is not going to create any results. Follow the blue-print for the one-minute GMAT rule and hit lap every time you complete step four. You might start by completing step four at the two minute or one minute thirty seconds mark but you end goal should be to bring that time down to one minute.

Once you hit lap for a question, pause the stopwatch and attempt it properly.