Category Archives: Test Prep Advice
December 9, 2015
What does it take to get a top score on a standardized exam? The test prep experts at Magoosh surveyed more than 400 students who scored in the top 10% for the GRE, GMAT, SAT and ACT, and have shared those results with us so that our readers and clients put their best foot forward when it comes to preparing for this important component of the MBA application.
Here are the biggest takeaways from what they learned about the way top scorers prepare for test day:
- Top scorers prefer to study alone. 98% of students said they chose to study alone instead of with friends or a group.
- They don’t break the bank. 88% of respondents said they spent only $300 or less on their test prep. A majority also reported that they performed better on the exam than they thought they would.
- They study for at least a month. 84% of respondents studied for a month or longer.
- They don’t cram. 71% of respondents said they gave themselves a break the day before the exam instead of studying to the last minute.
- They don’t listen to music while studying. 63% of students said they chose to study in complete silence, while only a few chose to listen to classical music or white noise.
- They have a regular workout routine. 68% of respondents said they hit the gym or exercised at least 1-2 times a week while studying.
- They aim to take the test once. 68% nailed their top scores the first time they took the exam.
Most Common Advice From Top Scorers:
Develop a routine and stick it to it. Many students from the survey said you should work a strict study schedule into your daily routine. Give yourself 3-6 months to study so you can spread out your prep time. Studying more than that might wear you out, while studying less might inadequately prepare you for test day. You can keep yourself from burning out by limiting yourself to no more than four hours of study in a single day.
It’s not the number of questions you practice, but how much you learn from each question that counts. Top scorers from the survey said that while studying, you should be mindful of the mistakes you make. Take time to learn from every question, and don’t rush through them. Several top scorers from the survey also mentioned that they kept a log of their errors to help them learn and move on from each mistake.
Focus on your weak spots. Do a diagnostic test, review your answers and determine the types of questions you struggle with. Make it a point during your studies to focus on those weaknesses, then practice those question types until approaching and solving them feels automatic.
Pay attention to timing. It’s not enough to just know how to approach a question; you need to be able to complete it accurately under time constraints. At the beginning of your studies, you should work through questions slowly and develop your technique, but as you near the end you should start timing yourself to prepare for the realities of test day.
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Image credit: Flickr user Steven S. (CC BY 2.0)
September 2, 2015
Guest post by LA Tutors 123 Decisions, decisions. Now that most business schools accept either the GMAT or the GRE as part of your application, which standardized exam would be better for you to submit? …
Guest post by LA Tutors 123
Decisions, decisions. Now that most business schools accept either the GMAT or the GRE as part of your application, which standardized exam would be better for you to submit? Is the GRE easier? Do admissions committees like the GMAT more?
First, let’s take a look at each of the exams. There are ways that the GRE and the GMAT are alike and ways that they are different. For example, in the United States, both tests are taken on a computer and adapt to your skill level. They both have writing, quantitative, and verbal sections. Also, sitting for either the GRE or the GMAT can consume your entire morning or afternoon: the total time is almost four hours for each test, plus breaks.
However, there are differences between the exams. The GRE currently costs $195, while the GMAT fee is $250. Furthermore, the quantitative and verbal sections aren’t the same on each test, and neither is the scoring. On the GRE, in addition to a Writing score from 0 to 6, the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are each scored from 130 to 170. On the GMAT, there is also a Writing score from 0 to 6, but there is also an Integrated Reasoning score of 1 to 8, and a Total score from 200 to 800, which combines the Quantitative and Verbal results.
Confusing, isn’t it? To simplify this issue, you should take a diagnostic test or practice exam for the GRE and for the GMAT to see which one you feel more comfortable with and which you think you can perform better on.
Second, ask your schools which exams they take and which exam they prefer. Talking with the admissions officers at your business school is a good idea anyway, to let them know who you are and why you’re interested in their particular MBA programs. It will also give you insight on how they view the GRE and the GMAT, especially in regards to your application.
Which leads us to our third issue: how your exam choice and score will fit into your overall package. If you didn’t take many math classes in college, or you don’t do much quantitative analysis in your career, getting a good score on the GMAT could enhance that area of your application. On the other hand, if you think you can do considerable better on the GRE than on the GMAT, then the GRE might be your best course of action.
The truth is, your test score is only one part of your application. Plus, if you’re making a conscious decision to study for either the GMAT or the GRE, then you’re already ahead of the game. The key to success on either exam is advanced preparation. Start crafting a plan today; you’ll have more confidence about whatever choice you make, and more confidence on test day.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. Do your research, and then decide. And if you need assistance, either with making a choice or getting prepared to take your exam, LA Tutors can help. For more information, click here, or call 866.60.TUTOR to be matched with your own personal instructor.
May 12, 2015
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not everyone has a clear grasp on when and how the exam fits within the context of the whole application process.
In an ideal world, you would take the test just coming out of college, while you’re still in study and test mode as a recent student. Since both GMAT and GRE scores are valid for five years, getting the exams out of the way years in advance would free you to focus on all of the other elements of the application.
If, like most applicants, you didn’t have the foresight to take the exam right after college, the next best step is to plan your application strategy so that the GMAT is finished before you finalize your list of schools. Your score isn’t everything, but it is an important part of the admissions equation.
If you bomb the exam and can’t improve your score, you may need to reassess your target schools to include less-competitive options. Conversely, you may be able to add one more reach school if the score was higher than expected.
Round one of business school admissions is about four months away at many schools, and if you still need to take the GMAT, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Unless you’re a natural at taking standardized tests, you’ll need to train your brain to get it back into test-taking form.
Most applicants devote at least 100 hours to test preparation, and depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once. If this is the case, the first round may not be a realistic option unless you’re able and prepared to completely immerse yourself in the process.
One client, Tasha, came to us just five weeks before the round she was targeting with some idea of her school choices and a GMAT score she wanted to improve. With her limited time she needed to schedule the GMAT for two weeks before her application deadlines. That meant she did not have the luxury of focused studying for the GMAT in all of her free time.
To help Tasha manage her time, we wrote down all of her tasks, including the number of essay iterations we expected her to go through, and then we worked backward from her deadlines to see how many days she had to work. Tasha then started alternating essay writing and GMAT study until the day she took the test.
This abbreviated yet methodical time management system worked for her, and Tasha was able to improve her GMAT by 30 points and submit a strong application to her three target schools. She ultimately gained admission to Stanford Graduate School of Business and Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Tasha’s strategy won’t work for everybody, but we see applicants pull off the impossible every season.
I typically advise clients to plan for two attempts at the GMAT, leaving a buffer for a retake if needed. There’s no harm in taking the test two or even three times, and unless you score really well right out of the gate, you often will do better the second time. This is because you’ll have fewer nerves, more familiarity with the process and no big surprises. There is no such thing as a bad test, just opportunities to build on and learn from.
Average scores are creeping higher every year at the top MBA programs, making it hard to offset a bad GMAT score. It truly is a level playing field, and I often cringe when I read essays where people try to rationalize a low score.
What you can do, however, is acknowledge the score and say you don’t find it truly reflective of your abilities. Then show why you are actually strong in quant or going to excel academically by pointing to your college GPA, work experience or by encouraging your recommenders to focus heavily on your intellect.
Timing and planning are key to reducing the stress of the application process. I generally encourage applicants to not cram everything into too short of a timeline, but everyone has their own style and you need to figure out what makes the most sense for you, your goals and your schedule.
February 3, 2015
The Graduate Management Admission Council has launched a new GMAT Enhanced Score Report, providing test takers with access to an in-depth analysis of their overall performance on the GMAT, including their performance on the various …
The Graduate Management Admission Council has launched a new GMAT Enhanced Score Report, providing test takers with access to an in-depth analysis of their overall performance on the GMAT, including their performance on the various sections and subsections within the exam.
The report provides metrics that describe everything from the test taker’s average time to answer each question type, to overall time management relative to other test takers, and provides insight and analysis about how students might use the report to talk about or improve their score.
This new GMAT Enhanced Score Report is delivered to a test taker following their sitting of the exam. In 2014, GMAC introduced the Score Preview feature for the GMAT exam that allows test takers to cancel a GMAT score if it isn’t up to their standards or expectations, before sending it to a school.
Both Enhanced Score Reports and the Score Preview feature provide test takers with greater control over how and when they report their scores to the schools to which they are applying.
“The value of the GMAT Enhanced Score Report is that, used alone or together with the GMAT’s other prep and score reporting features, it can help students strengthen their performance, improve their scores and be better prepared for the process of applying to business school,” says Ashok Sarathy, vice president of Product Management at GMAC.
The GMAT Enhanced Score Report can be purchased following the taking of the GMAT exam for $24.99 (USD) through the mba.com store.
January 26, 2015
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com While I occasionally hear tales of MBA applicants offered admission in a top business school with a 640 GMAT score, the truth is that accepting students …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
While I occasionally hear tales of MBA applicants offered admission in a top business school with a 640 GMAT score, the truth is that accepting students with stellar scores of 700 or higher is more the norm at the most competitive programs.
Before you start to panic and become hung up on achieving the highest score possible, or fixate on the average GMAT score reported by the schools, I urge test-challenged clients to focus instead on aligning their scores within the 80 percent range, which schools usually list within their admitted class profile.
Many experts in the test prep industry advise all students to plan on taking the test twice. If your score after the first attempt is already at or above your goal, you can always cancel the second sitting. Remember, top schools want to see scores in the 80th percentile in the quantitative section. So if you score 100 percent in verbal and low in quantitative, you would want to retake the exam, especially if you don’t have a strong quantitative background outside of the GMAT.
[Learn about ways to fix a low GMAT score.]
There is absolutely no reason to retake the GMAT when you score over 700, test prep company Magoosh says emphatically. You’ve already proven you can handle the quantitative component of the curriculum, so turn your focus toward ensuring all of the other parts of your application are as strong as possible.
Keep in mind that this high number is primarily for those targeting a top-tier MBA program. If you scored a 680, the decision to retake should be carefully considered, as you may be better off focusing on your essays or coaching recommenders instead. Applicants looking at programs in the top 20 or 50 should check the average scores of admitted students to determine their personal target GMAT score.
If illness, nerves, exhaustion, or simply a lack of adequate preparation resulted in a low score, then a second attempt becomes a necessity. Repeat test-taking, with additional preparation, typically results in a higher score as students become familiar with the experience, and therefore, less stressed out.
Although the Graduate Management Admission Council allows you to take the test as many times as you like, you must wait 31 calendar days before retaking the exam. Make sure to check your target schools’ application deadlines in order to allow enough time to send in your final scores.
Applicants self-report their highest score, and it’s worth noting that the admissions committee doesn’t have an issue with students taking the exam more than once. In fact, committees may look positively on the dedication you’ve shown to improve upon your prior performance. Mind you, I’m talking about a score report with two or three scores, max – not one that shows you’ve sat for the GMAT seven times.
After your first test, it’s time to go over your entire GMAT performance to determine your weaknesses and double-down in those areas as you resume your studies. Don’t completely ignore the sections you did well on, however. You wouldn’t want to improve in one area but do worse in another the next time.
If you studied alone or took a class for your initial preparation, you might consider studying one on one with a GMAT tutor for the second go-round. A test prep expert can work around your schedule and tailor the curriculum to your needs.
Finally, some people aren’t natural test-takers and have a less-than-optimal performance no matter how well they know the material. One of the primary causes is stress under pressure, and it may help to watch this video tour of the GMAT Test Center and detailed explanation of all procedures to increase your comfort levels about what to expect.
If that familiarity still isn’t enough to calm your nerves come test day, consider using relaxation techniques such as meditation and visualization to reduce test anxiety. Also, taking the GMAT in the same center will help you feel more comfortable with the test-taking process and any logistics that may have thrown you off the first time.
Business school hopefuls can be incredibly hard on themselves when they make mistakes on the GMAT, but each error is a learning opportunity and a chance to improve. So don’t become discouraged if your first score isn’t where you’d hoped. Relax, and think of it as a dress rehearsal for a stellar performance to come.