Yesterday I took the GMAT. I was less than pleased with my scores: I didn’t even hit the national average score, which is 570. So, there’s a strong chance I may have to take the GMAT again, which is a frustrating and expensive lesson to learn, considering it costs $250 each time you take it.
Despite my first-try flop, I can at least walk away with some knowledge and experience to impart. Behold my list of dos and don’ts for taking the GMAT:
DO: Take a prep course.
I took a Bobrow test preparation course for the GMAT. It also offers prep courses for the GRE, LSAT, SAT and other tests with which I am unfamiliar.
The main reason I took the prep course was for the math review, which I found very useful and helpful. I also liked that it got me back into a “school-time” mindset.
The GMAT prep course that I took was $425 for four classes held each Sunday for one month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It included a current edition of the Cliffs Test Prep GMAT CAT. Also, if you want to take the courses again, you can do so for free as long as you show your receipt.
DON’T: Cram all your studying into one week before the test.
This is the biggest mistake I made. It wasn’t until my last day of class that I overheard some of the other students talking about how they had been going to the library every day after work to study for an hour or two. I remember thinking, “Really?! Uh oh, I might be in trouble,” and “How do they have the time to do that? Don’t they have lives?” Turns out, they were on to something.
As I mentioned above, the classes were great in getting me back in a “school-time” mindset, but I just went to the classes. I didn’t really start studying until right before the test, a strategy that served me perfectly well in college.
Sadly, I discovered that is not a smart/effective way to study for the GMAT.
DO: Break your studying up to an hour or two every day.
Again, I think the people in my class had the right approach. I have a feeling I would have done much better on the test if, starting with the first day of class, I had come home and spent an hour or two every day studying. With that approach, you don’t feel overwhelmed, and you’re better able to digest and process what you’re learning.
DON’T: Rely on your essay responses to help boost your score.
I misunderstood that the test was scored 1/3 for essays, 1/3 for quantitative (math) and 1/3 for verbal. In actuality, your total score is based just on the quantitative and verbal scores. The essays are scored separately and have no impact on your total score, not to mention the highest score you could receive is a 12, which means you would have received a 6 on each of the two essays.
DO: Practice healthy habits before the test.
This one may seem obvious, but the clearer and sharper your mind, the better you’re likely to do on the GMAT or any important test for that matter. At a minimum, make sure you’ve taken these actions the day before your test. At best, we should all be striving to meet this checklist daily.
- Get the recommended seven-to-nine hours of sleep a night.
- Exercise (Exercise is good for cognitive skills as well as physical health.)
- Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Cut out alcohol and recreational drugs. An exception to this would be caffeine, which can help your concentration.
- Practice mediation to help reduce anxiety and improve focus.
The night before my test, I came home from work and went on a short run, had a salmon salad for dinner, skimmed my notes, and went to bed at 9:30 p.m. The morning before my test, I got up at 6:30 a.m. and went for a half-hour run. For breakfast, I had cranberry crumpets with syrup, a yogurt-and-granola parfait, and a large skinny vanilla latte with an extra shot of espresso. (Thank you, Starbucks!)
Sure, my score was still below average, but I felt clear-minded and confident heading into the test center. Who knows how much worse I might have done had I headed in with five hours of sleep, a hangover and a belly full of greasy fast-food breakfast?
DON’T: Freak out if you didn’t do as well as you anticipated.
One of the blessings and curses of the GMAT is that you are able to see your scores immediately after taking the test, if you choose to report them to the school. If you decide not to report your scores and cancel them, you also don’t get to see your scores.
Seeing as how I thought I did at least average, I chose to report them to California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Then when I received my score print-out, my heart sank.
Apparently, one of the women at the Pearson Professional Center (2190 Towne Center Place, Suite 300, Anaheim, CA 92806) where I took the test was familiar with this look of utter defeat and despair. She gently reminded me that a lot of people walk out without getting the scores they wanted and not to get too bent out of shape about it until talking with the office of admissions. And, of course, she reminded me that I can always take it again.
I’ll be taking her advice and contacting Mark Okumori, graduate evaluations specialist for CSUF, on Monday.
Unfortunately for me, you cannot take the GMAT more than once a month, so considering my application deadline for CSUF is Oct. 31, I would have to take it at beginning of October, assuming there are still spaces left. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Considering CSUF doesn’t require a minimum score on the GMAT, maybe I’ll be fine.
Take my advice, learn from my mistakes, and may you succeed on your first tackle of the GMAT.
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