Never Give Up on the GMAT

One of the most important tips I can give someone preparing for the GMAT is, “Never give up!” This is the very last reminder I give my private tutoring clients just before they take the exam.

Too often, people tell me, “I thought I bombed the quant.” Then during the break between the quant and verbal sections, they tell themselves, “Ugh! I’ve got to take this thing again!” And so they give up on the verbal. When they get their scores, they find that they received their best quant score ever, but their verbal score was terrible.

The nature of the GMAT makes it very difficult to tell how you’re doing as you take the exam. First of all, the exam is adaptive, so you might think you’re doing poorly when in fact you’re just getting difficult questions and you’re doing well. The GMAT is designed to feed you more and more difficult questions until you start to miss 30 to 50% of them. This is why many people are shocked to find that when they break 700 on a practice exam for the first time, they’ve still missed such a large percentage of the problems.

Secondly, both the quant and the verbal sections of the exam will have several experimental questions. These questions are experimental because the GMAC doesn’t yet fully know how difficult they are. So you might get an easy experimental question even though you’ve been doing well, and conversely, you might get a difficult experimental question even though you’ve been doing poorly. It’s impossible to know.

Third, what might be a difficult question for other people might not be a difficult question for you. When people ask me, “How difficult is that problem we just did?” my answer is often, “It’s easy if you know how to do it. It’s impossible if you don’t.” That’s just the way it is for some problems.

And BTW, even if you do “bomb the quant,” you’ll want to maximize your performance on the verbal section to get practice with as many difficult verbal problems as you can.

Finally, the take-away strategy is not only “Never give up!” but also don’t worry about how difficult the problems are as you’re working through them. I’ve seen many people get defeated by focusing too much on whether the difficulty of the problems they’re seeing means that they’re doing well or doing poorly.

So how can you implement this strategy? Train your brain to perform the way you want to perform on test day by never giving up on practice exams. If you are tempted to give up, tell yourself that part of your training is to learn how to muster the motivation to keep going no matter what. Unless the building is burning down around you, stick with it! Just focus on one problem at a time and keep track of your pacing. Give it everything you’ve got until the very last question, and let the score take care of itself.