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How Not to Prepare for the GMAT — a Top-10 List

Practice, practice and more practice is the single best way to prepare for the GMAT — everyone knows that. But what about the worst ways? On this page you'll find the answer. Avoid the 10 pitfalls discussed below, or you might end up with mediocre GMAT scores and a pile of rejection letters from your top-choice B-schools.

  1. Overconfidence in your test-taking abilities

    Perhaps your college GPA approached 4.0, or perhaps you "aced" the SAT back in high school. Even if so, don't assume that you can stroll into the GMAT testing center and crush the competition. Be forewarned: There are many test-smart MBA candidates out there who are taking the GMAT very, very seriously — and therefore so should you.

  2. Overemphasis on certain testing areas at the expense of others

    In preparing for the GMAT, some test takers focus too much on the test areas with which they are most comfortable, while other test takers focus only on their weak areas while neglecting their strong suits. Both approaches are ill-advised. You'll be issued separate GMAT scores for the Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning and AWA sections, and each school has its own methodology for weighing these scores.

    What's more, your GMAT Quantitative and Verbal scores will be based not only on how many questions you answer correctly and their difficulty level but also on the range of question types and specific knowledge and skill areas covered by those questions. So be equally diligent in preparing for all sections of the exam and all question types within each section.

  3. Obsessing over troublesome practice test questions

    It's one thing to review a practice-test question that you've answered incorrectly to find out if you erred in your reasoning and to learn from that error. But it's quite another to dwell on one or two particular questions that you either "take issue with" or still don't "get" after a few reflective minutes. Get a second opinion, and then if you're sure it's the publisher and not you who has erred, by all means alert the editors (they'll appreciate it), and then move on. Obsessing over any particular practice question (which, by the way, won't appear on your actual GMAT) is, in a word, counterproductive.

  4. Undue emphasis on practice-test scores

    Perhaps you have a particular MBA program in mind as your first choice, and you think that you need a particular GMAT score to gain admission to that program. Setting a goal for your GMAT scores is understandable. But try not to concern yourself as much with your scores as with what you can constructively do between now and exam day to improve your performance.

  5. GMAT burnout (over-preparation)

    You should plan to spend a significant amount of time and effort preparing for the GMAT. It takes time to eliminate bad test-taking habits, to become comfortable with the exam's format and time limits, and to hone your verbal, math, analytic and writing skills. Yet, there will come a point when your attention, motivation and performance level peak. Beyond that point further preparation may prove fruitless, if not counterproductive. So don't drag out your GMAT prep by starting several months in advance or by postponing the exam to give yourself more time than you really need for preparation.

  6. Unrealistic expectations

    Every individual is constrained by his or her own innate potential. Top GMAT scores are simply not within reach for most test takers. Accept this fact, and focus on performing as well as you can reasonably expect for yourself. There's only so much that you can do, no matter the effort, to boost your GMAT score. Also be realistic about the benefits you can expect from any GMAT website, book or course. There are no secrets or tricks to attaining top GMAT scores.

  7. Not taking the GMAT essays seriously enough

    Although the B-schools clearly state their admissions policies regarding GMAT Quantitative, Verbal, Total and IR scores, most are hazier about their requirements for AWA (essay) scores. Does this mean that you shouldn't take the AWA seriously? No. Look at it this way: The highest-ranked B-school you can get into is one at which you're a borderline candidate. And it's borderline candidates who are going to receive closest scrutiny, which entails a close look at GMAT essay scores.

  8. Insufficient practice under exam conditions

    The timed portions of the GMAT run 3½ hours in total. Needless to say, endurance plays a significant role in GMAT testing. Condition yourself to go the distance by taking at least two or three full-length practice tests straight through, with only a few short breaks. Try to simulate testing conditions as closely as possible. Ask a friend to serve as your proctor; take the exams in computerized format; and limit your use of word-processing features to the ones available on the actual exam.

  9. Fatalistic thinking

    Many test takers tell themselves: "I'll give the GMAT one shot, and if I do poorly, I'll just forget the whole idea of an MBA program." Don't succumb to this sort of fatalistic, self-defeating thinking. If you have time and can afford it, you should register for and take the real GMAT once as a dress rehearsal — just to get comfortable with the testing environment. (You can cancel your scores immediately after the test.) You'll get some of those butterflies out of your system, and if you're like most test takers you'll be far more relaxed next time. In fact, the testing service's statistics show that among repeaters, the great majority improve their score the second time around.

  10. Taking the GMAT too late to retake it

    Admission application deadlines vary widely among MBA programs. Find out the earliest deadline you need to meet, and schedule your GMAT testing date early enough so that you can retake the test and still meet that deadline. In any event, try to schedule your testing date for a time when you're free of distractions and time-consuming commitments.

    NOTE: If you want to repeat the exam, the testing service requires that you wait more than 31 days; so plan accordingly to avoid the time squeeze.