As the saying goes – “No one plans to fail, but most people fail to plan”, planning their GMAT preparation right is something only a few people manage to do right. That’s why most people who take the GMAT fail to achieve 720+ score in their first attempt. (Read Dream score of 740 in 5 attempts)
There are several myths and misconceptions that cause people to make some expensive mistakes that increase their preparation time by up to 3 times and ultimately demotivates them to take the GMAT.
In this article, we aim to look at 5 top mistakes most GMAT aspirants make and how you can avoid them to ensure that you get the maximum out of the time you spend on your preparation.
5 most common GMAT mistakes to avoid in verbal and quant
1. Relying solely on the Official Guide for Preparation
Popularly known as OGs, the Official Guides by GMAC contain a repository of retired questions that originally featured on the GMAT.
While it is a must to refer to OGs, a common mistake that students make is they begin their preparation with the OG and go to the extent of relying solely on OG.
While having a discussion with these students, most of them tell me that even after solving all OG questions and reviewing their solutions, they’re still struggling to even come close to their target score.
No doubt, OGs are one of the best books when it comes to high quality questions but there are few things that one needs to keep in mind before starting their prep:
- OGs don’t cover all the concepts tested on GMAT in depth. It is a great question bank without enough focus on concepts
- OG solutions to questions are not very elaborate for beginners and hence students tend to memorize the solutions rather than learning from each question. Since the same question is not going to repeat on GMAT, memorizing the solution doesn’t help
- To solve questions within 2 mins, one needs to learn a concrete and logical method of solving questions. This method must be learnt first and then practised. OGs don’t focus on these methodologies
So, it is very important that you start your preparation with a proper plan of action rather than rely solely on practising questions.
We have shared a detailed article on creating a study plan in depth. You can find this article here.
2. Accuracy is all that matters on the GMAT
A general misconception that students have is – the more accurate they are, the higher their score will be on a test.
This is where most students go wrong.
They treat GMAT like any other ordinary test. What they do not realise is that unlike other tests where you can skip questions from a particular topic or focus on getting certain specific questions right, the GMAT is an adaptive test.
This means you do not have the luxury of skipping topics or escaping difficult questions. Instead, you must answer each question to move forward.
The difficulty level of questions you get on the GMAT depends on your performance on the current questions. This means accuracy alone is the wrong metric to look at while taking the GMAT.
Let’s take a case study to understand this in-depth. Below, we have taken the Enhanced Score Reports (ESRs as they are popularly called) of two students who took the official GMAT –
As you can see, Student A made 7 mistakes in Verbal, with 2 mistakes each in the first and second quadrant, zero mistakes in the third, and 3 mistakes in the last quadrant.
Whereas the Student B made 5 mistakes, with 3 in the first quadrant, and 1 each in the 2nd and 3rd quadrant.
Now, at 7 mistakes, Student A got a decent V41 (or 93 percentile). Can you guess the Verbal score of Student B, who made just 5 mistakes (2 less than Student A)?
While you may think that Student B should have scored higher than Student A because he made less number of mistakes, he actually only managed to score a V34 (or 71 percentile).
Shocked? Yes, that’s how different GMAT is as a test.
Even with 2 less mistakes the student scored 20 percentile lower and her overall score could have been easily 40-60 points lower than the other student.
Why do you think this difference exists?
This huge difference happened because accuracy is not the only thing that matters when it comes to scoring well on GMAT. You also need to be good at every difficulty level.
If you look at the ESR on the right, the student made 3 mistakes in the very beginning.
Now, since the questions that are served to you in the first quarter are generally of easy-medium level difficulty, the GMAT algorithm will serve you easier questions.
It understands that one doesn’t have the capability of getting Medium questions right, so let’s serve them simpler questions.
So, even though the student B was fairly accurate in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quadrant, she was not able to score well in the GMAT unlike Student A who performed slightly better in the 1st and 3rd quadrant.
So, it is not the number of questions you get right that matters, but the difficulty level of those questions that decide your ultimate score.
In other words, you should not get stumped by hard questions and display skill more than accuracy.
What happens if you make Mistake 1 and Mistake 2 together?
As I mentioned earlier, many times, students refer to OGs alone for preparation. Without proper tools and missing marking of difficulty levels in OGs, they simply rely on the overall accuracy in OG.
Most students who end up getting 80%+ accuracy on OG tend to believe they are ready to take the GMAT. However, when they take the actual test, they hit a plateau of around 550-650.
Let’s understand why –
The percentage of hard questions on OGs is fairly less (in some cases as low as 10-15%).
However, if you’re targeting a 700+, you would easily get 30-40% of the total questions as hard questions on the actual test.
So, if you’re just preparing using the OGs, you’re most likely not ready to face as many hard questions.
Therefore, 80% accuracy on OG alone will not suffice. What is more important is to understand what your accuracy in the hard questions is.
That’s why, at GMATWhiz, we always recommend students to measure their accuracy across different difficulty levels.
In fact, at GMATWhiz we offer a detailed Dashboard that shows you your accuracy across difficulty levels and predicts your Projected GMAT score on basis of these data points and timing.
If you’re interested in checking out the tool, click below to sign up for a free trial of the GMATWhiz course.
3. Learn shortcuts to save time
Since GMAT is a time-constrained test, students find it difficult to solve 700-level questions within 2 minutes.
If given more time, say 3-4 minutes per question, most students agree that they can solve even the hard questions correctly.
So, as a result, they begin to look for shortcuts to save time without realising that it is not the time that is the issue here.
Poor timing is just a symptom of a much deeper problem.
Instead of focusing on the right approach to solve the question because they believe they have the requisite skill, students tend to look for ways to solve them in the least possible time and end up compromising with accuracy.
Why do people focus on shortcuts and how it impacts their performance?
Students believe that to solve the question correctly, they must save time on reading the question and only then they can have more time to analyse the option choices better.
So, they read the question stem too quickly, leading to a rough understanding of what is being stated.
Now with a rough understanding, they are able to eliminate 2-3 options easily, but usually end up getting stuck with 2 or 3 close choices, especially with 700-level questions.
Ultimately, they tend to re-read the question multiple times and end up underconfident while marking the answer.
There are 2 reasons why students do this –
- They are following the wrong approach and
- They are worried about the timing.
Now, it is important for you to understand that using the right approach does not mean that you will be consuming extra time. Instead, you will be consuming the right amount of time.
On the other hand, when you take more time to solve a question, it usually signifies a lack of proper approach to solve the questions.
So, while you may be trying to save time to solve questions, you are more likely to end up consuming more time for each question, thereby entering a vicious circle of taking up even more time per question and inconsistent accuracies.
Hence, it is important to focus on learning the right methods because timing is a natural outcome of learning the right method.
4. Practice makes a man perfect
Practice does make you perfect, but not when you are practising using the wrong approach. Students believe that if they just go on practising more and more questions, their GMAT scores will improve.
While that approach may have worked in your favour in school or in other tests, practising alone will not do you much good on GMAT.
A prominent reason why practising more questions is not helpful when preparing for GMAT is that you won’t be getting the same questions on the actual test.
So, instead of memorising the mistakes you made while practising questions, it is more important to understand why you made that mistake.
This understanding of the gaps in your approach will take you a long way in improving your GMAT score.
What’s the right strategy for practising GMAT questions?
1. Build the right approach first
Every question on GMAT can be solved within 2 minutes if you know the right strategy to solve it.
To learn the right approach for solving a question, you should refer to solutions that follow a consistent and logical method, like using meaning-based approach for SC questions.
In our GMAT Score Booster Webinar Series, we have covered multiple methods and strategies to accurately solve the 700-level questions on GMAT. You can access the webinar recordings using this link
2. Practice one question at a time, applying the right approach
Once you have learned the right approach for a topic, your next step should be to learn to apply it. The best way of doing that is to solve at least 10 questions from that topic using that standard approach.
To teach you the right method, in our course at GMATWhiz, we have specially designed Concept Boosters lessons to cover the most effective strategies for all type of questions that one can come across from a particular topic.
For each question that we serve, we provide a detailed solution to help you analyse the right approach.
3. Practice sets of 5-10 questions 7-8 times to perfect the approach
Now that you have learned the right approach, the next step should be to perfect the approach.
It is not necessary to solve hundreds of questions to perfect the approach. Solving 50-60 questions per topic is usually enough.
Remember, nearly 80% of your time should be spent on reviewing questions.
Note down the variances in your approach vs the right approach to see that you are improving.
It is important to contextualise things as you read. Once you do this, you will start seeing improvement in your accuracy.
4. Focus on improving timing
Once you have perfected the right approach, you can focus on improving timing.
The key is not limit yourself when learning the right methodology and only focus on the time element when you have gained considerable accuracy using that approach.
To improve timing, you can focus on taking quizzes of 10-15 questions each with gradually decreasing timing.
For example, if you’re taking 2.5 mins per SC question, you can take the first quiz by taking 10 question with an average of 2.25 mins per question.
Once you’re comfortable with this timing, then reduce it to 2 mins per question and so on till you arrive at close to 1.5 mins per question for SC.
5. Common GMAT verbal mistake: Studying SC, CR and RC in parallel
Another common misconception students have while preparing for GMAT Verbal is that they believe they should learn SC, CR and RC in parallel. Let me tell you why this is wrong –
First let us understand the skills that are tested on GMAT. The 3 skills that are tested on GMAT Verbal are –
- Comprehension Skills – Or clearly understanding what is stated on the question.
- Analytical Reasoning – Or identifying the connection between multiple pieces of information and identifying the assumptions.
- Focus on the main point – Or identifying the intent behind something that is written.
Now, if you map the individual sections of GMAT Verbal, the only skill SC needs is comprehension.
On the other hand, in CR you need to understand the individual sentence and understand the gap or flow of information.
Therefore, CR requires you to have good Comprehension as well as Analytical skills. And lastly, RC needs all three skills at the same time – comprehension, analytical reasoning and focusing on the main point.
So, if you start working on RC first, you will need to develop all three skills at the same time. Or if you take all 3 sections in parallel, you won’t be able to get the required outcome.
Therefore, the best thing to do is to take SC first, then CR, and then RC. This way, you will only be learning one skill at a time.
If you wish to create a personalized study plan to give better direction to your preparation, you can do so for free using this link.
Bonus Tips to Boost your GMAT Preparation
1. Don’t skip any topics
In GMAT, we don’t have a choice to pick the questions that we wish to answer. So, you should at least prepare to answer the easy and medium questions from every topic.
If you skip a topic, you may not be able to get a high accuracy in the first 15 questions, thus compelling the algorithm to serve you with easier questions, causing your score to take a serious hit.
This is another mistake which some students make, so it will wise to not do this.
2. Learn the right test taking strategy
Most people prepare a lot for the actual test, but don’t prepare for the test day or in other words they do not know how to tackle the GMAT Adaptive algorithm. In our next article, we will cover this aspect in depth.
If you wish to know more about the test taking strategy now, you can check out this webinar recording.
I hope this article helped you understand some common mistakes that you should avoid while preparing for GMAT.
If you’re looking for a personalized and interactive way of preparing for GMAT, you can reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer truly personalized learning options for GMAT and have helped many students achieve great results in record time.
For a free trial of our AI driven GMAT study planner, register using this link below:
About the author: Piyush Beriwala is the founder of GMATWhiz. He has spent over 8 years in the education field and trained over 5000 students. He has earlier worked with TIME, KPMG and e-GMAT.