GMAT/GRE : A framework to understand the preparation required

About: I had written GRE in September 2015, and scored 331 (V165, Q166, AW5) out of 340. I appeared for GMAT in June 2016, and got a score of 770 (V45, Q50, AW5). In the post below, I try to describe a framework to understand the preparation that helps one in getting the best possible score one could get on an aptitude test.

The way I see it, there are three levels of preparation that take you to a good score on an aptitude test such as GMAT or GRE.

First is the preparation that you have done so far, during all your academic and professional life, while learning English language and solving Math problems. I believe that this decides one’s baseline score, which is what you get when you write a GMAT/GRE mock for the first time with only a basic idea of the test format (sections, time limits, question types, etc.). It is extremely helpful to know this baseline score in my opinion, so if you are planning to write GMAT or GRE, start with writing a mock test!

The second level of preparation is what you do by working on problems and questions for a few months. During this time, you would want to use all the available official and unofficial (in that order*) resources available. Through this focused practice, your goal should be to eradicate avoidable mistakes and develop an instinct for each type of question you may face in the real test. Writing mocks during this time is necessary to check your progress and track improvement in your performance.

The third level, which is often neglected by many, is preparation for the day of test i.e. ‘Judgement Day’. If you do this part well, you should be able to score at least as much as your latest mocks, if not more. How should you do it?

– It is all about being mentally prepared for the tiring challenge of 4+ hours, while keeping calm nerves. If you have actually given the second level enough time, then you know that you’re ready. You understand the test well and your mock scores are good. Use these facts. Tell yourself that you’re ready to give your best.

– Book a slot at a time that is comfortable for you. I felt that I didn’t want to overthink about it on the day of test, so I booked a morning slot. This way, I left no time on that morning for me to ponder too much about how it would go. You may have your reasons to find the afternoon slot better. Whatever it is, try not to compromise on this part.

– If you haven’t done it already, give some time to prepare for the Analytical Writing and Integrated Reasoning (only in GMAT) sections as well. While the scores on these sections aren’t considered that important, performing badly on these could affect your momentum. Why opt for a jittery start when you could have a great one?

– One section at a time. It’s like a ‘mantra’! I think it is extremely important to have this policy if you want to give your best performance. Regardless of how good or bad you think (notice how I said, think?) you did on the section you just finished, use the break between sections to make sure you completely forget about it. Take deep breaths and walk a few steps (within the area you’re allowed to, of course). I found this amazing TED talk few days before I wrote GRE, and I believe the idea of “power posing” – trying to reverse the cycle by adopting a relaxed and confident body language to feel relaxed and confident, really works. Do give this phenomenon a try.

– While it may seem a bit counter-intuitive, understand that you will not be completely sure about every single option you mark for all the questions on the test. If you have prepared well, you will certainly be confident about most of those, but it is unrealistic to expect that for each one. There are going to be some questions on which, your instincts (that you developed with the second level prep) will bring you to one option, but you’re just not sure enough. What could happen then? Most likely outcome of your lack of confidence there is that you spend more time on it. Try not to. Try to differentiate between ‘checking if I made a mistake’ and ‘want to be sure about it because not feeling confident’. Embracing a degree of uncertainty on a few of the tougher questions will help you avoid wasting time on those.

– Enjoy the test. Yes! Why shouldn’t you? These aptitude tests ask some really interesting questions. Be it the verbal or quants, both sections usually offer you questions which give you an intellectual stimulation. Sure, some of those may leave you troubled, and joy might be the last emotion on your mind at that point, but most aren’t like that. If you read each question and passage with a genuine curiosity and interest, you would find yourself doing better at comprehending the information provided and required.

I hope this framework is useful for you. All the best!

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