If you’re thinking of going to business school, chances are you’ll have to take the GMAT.
And make no mistake, this is no ordinary multiple choice math exam. With four sections, including one focused entirely on real life work skills, the test is designed to see how candidates will fare once they enter the world of business.
We spoke with 10-year veteran Kaplan GMAT instructor Dennis Yim for tips to tackle the exam with confidence.
Get an early start
“This is not a test that you want to cram for,” says Yim. And that’s not only because students need to familiarize themselves with an extensive amount of material. They also need to designate time to run through full-length practice tests.
Doing this not only gives them relevant experience with the specific kinds of questions they’ll be asked, but it also prepares them to better tackle another test day challenge: choosing how to order the exam.
“There are many students who like to get the sections that are difficult for them out of the way, but then there are those who find it very confidence-boosting to be able to knock out a section they know that they can manage first,” he explains.
The thing is, you won’t know which system works best for you until you try out every order. So run through the exam in every possible way before coming in on exam day, Yim advises. At the end of the day, it all boils down to getting realistic experience: “In other words, are you getting the chance to work through the GMAT in the same way that you’ll face it on the actual test?”
Don’t try to be Shakespeare
For most students, the essay section is the most intimidating part of the exam. But that’s only because they don’t fully understand what is expected from them, says Yim.
Rather than think of it as a work of literature or an essay you might compose in a creative writing course, students should envision the assignment as a very straightforward and concise email to a very busy boss or professor.
“They need to be able to get their point across in an analysis of an argument in a very direct way,” says Yim. It’s not about how flowery they can make the writing or how good they are at throwing in a plot twist. “It’s more about how well they can put their argument points down on paper — and in a very precise way,” he explains.
Know when to move on
Timing can be very brutal for first time test takers. “Most students are like oh man, ‘I’m never going to be able to finish this,’ ” says Yim, “but the GMAT is not a test where you can’t expect to devote the full amount of attention to every single question. Sometimes you have to pick and choose where you’re going to throw your time.”
Take the quantitative reasoning section, for example, where students have two minutes to complete each multiple choice question. What happens when they need four minutes to work through a problem? In that instance, their best bet is to simply make an educated guess for the next few questions to recoup some time, says the expert. “As long as it’s intentional, skipping— and by that I mean answering the question very quickly and moving on — is a very valid strategy,” says Yim. In fact, in most cases, it’s the only way you’ll get through the exam.