Survey Reveals the Study Habits of Top Standardized Test Takers

GMAT test prep

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.

And finally…

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.

You may also be interested in:

5 Test Prep Steps from UM Ross Admissions Director

Image credit: Flickr user Steven S. (CC BY 2.0)
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