Knowing that your performance on the GMAT or GRE is an important indication of your potential for success in a rigorous graduate program, you’re going to spend weeks, if not months, preparing for your entrance exam. You’ll develop a study plan, and you’ll focus on those areas where you need to improve the most.
Despite all that preparation, it’s inevitable that you will make mistakes when the time comes to take the actual test. It happens; the GMAT and the GRE are roughly four-hour tests and no matter how hard you try, some bad answers or careless mistakes will slip through.
But there are ways to minimize the mistakes you make before you take the test that will help you improve your likelihood for greater success on test day.
Prepare – and Prepare Some More
This should go without saying. With all the test prep services and practice quizzes available, there’s no reason you should be caught completely off-guard by the types of questions you’ll face on test day. How much preparation? That’s up to you, but 49% of 2012 GMAT test takers spent at least 51 hours studying and only 23% spent less than 20 hours total. Perhaps more significantly, the average number of hours spent studying was reflected in higher test scores. Of the 2012 test takers in the magical 700 club, the average time spent in test prep was 96 hours.
The more familiar you are with the work you’ll be doing, the less likely you will be to make a silly mistake under comfortable conditions. So set aside time every night or every week to give yourself a better chance at success.
Show Your Work — and Double Check It
It’s particularly true of math questions that if you jot down the problem you can not only work it through correctly, but you’ll have a record of all your steps if the numbers just don’t add up. The easiest way to correct a mistake is to catch it, so work out the problem on paper before committing to an answer. Showing your work as you study for the test might also reveal some fundamental problem you’re having with the way you’re attempting to solve the question in the first place, so the sooner you implement it into your game plan, the better off you’ll be.
Keep Calm and Carry On
The sooner you develop a system for taking the test, the better. It will help you eliminate bad answers in your decision-making faster, it will help you pace yourself and get a feel for how long to spend on each question, and it will really come in handy with questions you just can’t answer (Hint: don’t answer those). While you may think completing the test is key, the reality is that answering as many questions as you can to the best of your ability will be a better reflection of your overall preparedness than speeding through the entire exam.
Having trouble with a difficult question is to be expected, so if you get caught on one, remember that it’s better to take the hit there instead of getting rattled and missing opportunities to answer questions you do know. So don’t dwell too long on one problem; instead move on and focus on your strengths.
Stay on Track
Finally, keep in mind that the entrance exams are a big process. From studying to finding the right time to take the test to making the necessary preparations for the actual test day to where you’re sending your results – the GMAT and the GRE require planning, time and focus. So come up with a strategy that works for you and your schedule and stick to it. It will help you study, address the concerns you need to tackle, and be more comfortable, relaxed, and ready on test day.