GMAT Prep Advice: The most important component of GMAT practice.
I tried to write a “quickie blog” for this question, but it unraveled into a mini diatribe. So, here’s the spoiler: the most important thing in practice is: REVIEW. If you’d like to understand the particulars, do read on…
Students often ask me: “How long do you think I should practice?” “How many problems should I do every day?” “If I do all the problems in this book, will that be enough to score over 700?”
The reality is that the answers to these questions vary for each individual. Many factors determine optimal practice strategies, including: your current level of performance, the target level you are trying to reach, how much time you have available per day for practice, how long you have before your actual test date, etc, etc. That said, none of these questions capture the most important aspect of practice, which is: review.
It really doesn’t matter how many questions you do and how often, if you’re not learning much from the practice itself. This is where review comes in.
Every question you answer incorrectly in practice is a tremendous learning opportunity and should be treated as such. All wrong answers must be logged, studied carefully, and your mistakes on these questions understood thoroughly. Due to some fuzzy logic particulars of the GMAT scoring algorithm, it is more important to thoroughly review your mistakes on the easier questions (roughly the first three-quarters of the practice sections in the Official Guide) than on the most difficult ones.
For every question you get wrong during practice:
- Note what type of error you committed. Did you miscalculate? Did you try to solve it in your head? Did you not know how to solve the problem?
- Identify the topics tested by that question. Very often, especially on the more difficult questions, more than one topic is tested. Make sure you identify all topics present in the question. Be thorough. Did you think this was a rates questions because it happened to use the word “rate”, even though the solution demanded that you setup a proportion, hence testing your ratio knowledge?
- Take time to fully understand the correct solution to the question. Make sure you can answer “Why” each step of the solution is what it is. Note: very often the solutions offered in the back of the OG are not optimal and would be useful on the actual test – you may need to look further to find better explanations of approaches to certain questions.
Once you’ve learned from your mistake, redo the question to make sure you understand how it’s done and schedule it for review in one week (or more) to make sure you still remember how to solve it.
If you answered a question correctly but it took you too long to answer it, or you guessed, or you used brute force, you must still mark the question for later review. The reason for this is that on the actual test, you want to be assured that you will be able to answer any permutation of this question. If you guessed or brute-forced it, you may have gotten lucky with selecting the right answer without actually understanding the solution or reasoning behind the question.
Be intentional about your review — integrate it into your practice schedule. For example, you can start every practice session with 20-30minutes of review, either by reviewing questions you’ve gotten wrong or by reviewing topics that continue to give you a hard time. Additionally, you can schedule one day out of the week dedicated completely to review. During your review day, you will not work on any new problems and, instead, review the questions you’ve gotten wrong and review the topics you’re finding difficult.
Making review, as opposed to the quantity of problems attempted, the central component of your practice will catapult the effectiveness of your study time and provide tangible gains in your score over time.