The Multiple Components of GMAT Success

Recently someone contacted me with a request. He wants to score 800 on the GMAT and he felt that by using meditation and visualization, along with practicing and studying more, he could get there. So he wanted me to help him with learning about the psychological aspect of the GMAT game.

He was already scoring 48 on the quant section of the GMAT and was getting almost all critical reasoning and reading comprehension questions right. So after we spent hours working on psychology, meditation and visualization, AND after weeks of discussing other aspects of how he could increase his score, I thought he was pretty much set.

So I checked in with him to see how things were going and found out that, so close to achieving his goal, somehow he was getting distracted by this and that and he was not making much progress. That’s when it hit me. Succeeding at increasing a GMAT score, or at doing anything really, takes multiple things going right together.

I have seen various fails happen for various reasons and in various ways, from a person freaking out and not preparing because of little noises in the house where he lived to a guy who, after preparing for months, blew the test by going out and drinking hard the night before he took it.

So succeeding at rocking the GMAT takes more than just learning math and verbal concepts and practicing applying strategies. Here are some of the components.

Understanding What The GMAT Tests – The GMAT is not a math test that tests one’s understanding of math concepts or an English test on which on will do well by showing off one’s knowledge of a bunch of rules. The GMAT is more a reasoning game that uses math concepts and English rules as building blocks. So just understanding the building blocks is not going to get you a high score.

For example, I have worked with someone who knows so many GMAT verbal rules it’s ridiculous. Having studied intensely, he is a wizard at explaining in detail why a sentence correction choice is wrong or right and showed me some cool stuff, stuff I had never heard of or thought of. The only problem is that what all that had gotten him at the time I wrote this is a verbal score of 14 on his most recent GMAT. That score’s in contrast to his verbal section score goal which is more like 40. Learning every rule is not what it takes to score high on the GMAT.

What is takes to rock the GMAT is understanding how to apply whatever you know and get right answers. There are people who, without  knowing many of the rules or concepts that guy knows, can score rather high on GMAT verbal without too much trouble. Why? Because they understand what the test is about and prepared accordingly.

So yes, make sure you understand certain necessary concepts. At the same time, what you really need to learn is how to figure out what the credited answers are, via hacking, eliminating, and whatever it takes.

Ability to Use Resources –  Whether one is dealing with a tricky problem solving question or looking for decision points in a sentence correction question, getting right answers on the GMAT involves using whatever resources you have available, resources including both what’s provided in the question and what you bring to the test in terms of skills and knowledge. Two test takers may have the same basic understanding of certain concepts or strategies, and the one who will score higher is the one who is better at employing them. To a degree I can tell how a person will do on the test by seeing how well the person is able to make use of imperfect prep materials. Those who can somehow make use of less than perfect test prep resources tend to be in a better position to figure out how to get things done when the test serves them with challenging questions. So get good at getting use out of whatever resources you have available.

Attention to Detail – I have seen people prepare for months, learning strategies and concepts, and then miss questions because, for instance, they didn’t bother to read the last word in a sentence in a verbal question or answer choice. Getting GMAT questions, especially higher score level questions, right tends to require being rather careful and detail oriented.

Being Well Set Up On Test Day – While yes there are cases of people scoring pretty high on the GMAT after getting little sleep or while stressed by something going on at work, there are many many more cases in which people blew the test because they were just not in a good state the day they took it. After all the preparing you may have done and given that a GMAT score can be a pretty key part of a business school application, it just makes sense to do what it takes to be well fed, well rested and minimally stressed the day you take the test as this can make a big difference in the score you generate.

Positive Ways of Handling Issues – When you are preparing for or taking the GMAT, things can be all good until they are not and there is some issue such as a dog barking outside, or a question that you take forever to answer or your looking at the clock and getting a little freaked out by how much time has passed. How things go at that point depends on how good you are at handling issues. If you are good at just keeping at things and seeing how well you can do, you will do much better than you would if you were to tend to get angry, freak out or panic when things get a little out of whack.

One thing you can do when faced with a challenge or issue is say to yourself, “I can handle this.” If the conditions you are preparing under are not optimal, keep preparing anyway. That could end up being great practice for handling test day distractions. If you lose focus when taking the test, don’t panic and distract yourself further; just get to work and get focused by getting involved in looking for right answers.

The better you are at remaining calm and handling any issues that arise, the better you will do on the GMAT.

Intensity and Determination – With its computer adaptive format, the GMAT is designed to serve questions that constantly challenge the test taker. So key to handling those challenges is being determined to do so. In many cases it can be so easy to decide that one has done one’s best to answer a question correctly when with a little more intensity one could have actually completely figured out the question and definitely gotten the right answer. Myself, even with all the experience I have with GMAT questions, I notice that if I slack off when doing a question I have not seen before, I can still get smoked. Every time that happens I am reminded of the importance of intensity and determination.

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