Cross-Training for the GMAT

 ©iStockphoto.com/Eric Hood

©iStockphoto.com/Eric Hood

Just as athletes mix different types of training to develop strength, agility, speed, and endurance, you can work a variety of study techniques into your GMAT prep regimen to boost your performance on exam day. Three important types of work include skill building, speedwork, and practice exams.

Skill building involves learning or refreshing your knowledge of the concepts tested on the GMAT. It includes class time, tutoring time, and time spent doing problem sets online or in books. Your goals for skill building are to master the concepts, to master the strategies associated with every question type, and to improve your speed. Take the time to absorb each concept thoroughly, connecting the dots so that you will understand each topic from many different perspectives. This is critical because the GMAT tests your ability to reason and think on your feet. It measures how well you can diagnose new twists and apply your skills to new variations on classic problems. While you don’t always want to worry about time when you do skill building work, you do always want to look for shortcuts and ways to improve your speed, even on simple tasks.

Introducing speedwork into a GMAT prep program is something that I’ve seen produce remarkable results, especially among people who have already studied for months and hit a plateau. Simply select 10 verbal and 10 quant questions, and strictly limit yourself to two minutes per question, except make it 1:30 for sentence correction. Use the countdown clock on your phone and set an alarm or vibrate that goes off when the time is up. If the time runs out, stop work and write down your final answer or best guess. If you finish a problem early, don’t use the extra time on the next problem. The goals of speedwork are to improve your decisiveness and to give you a sense of how long two minutes is and how long 1:30 is for sentence correction. To improve your pacing on the exam, you need to have a sense of when you’re going overtime on a problem.

Of course, taking several practice exams is essential to prepare for the GMAT. But what makes the difference is how you go about it. First, do not study from books for months and save all your practice exams (CATs) for a week or two before your test date. Schedule your CATs one to two weeks apart. Secondly, take your practice exams seriously. Treat each one as if it were the real thing. Tell yourself you’re going to give it everything you’ve got and stick with it until the very end. By the time you get to the real exam, your brain will say, “I’ve done this several times before,” and before you know it, you’re in the “zone.” After taking each CAT, review your results thoroughly – the problems you missed and the problems you got right. Finally, if possible, take your practice exams at the same time of day that you’re scheduled to take the real exam. Get your mind and body in the rhythm of focusing for 3.5 hours at that time of day, so you’ll be ready to deliver a peak performance on exam day.