Written by Christina Yu.
No matter how prepared they are, all GMAT students have concerns going into test day. Here are some of the top anxieties about taking the GMAT — and what you can do to address them.
1. You’ll get thrown a curveball on test day
You’ve got rates and probability down, sentence correction seems intuitive, and the essay is a matter of putting your hands on the keyboard. But maybe you have a peculiar inability to visualize spatial situations described in math problems. What do you do then, if question #4 on the quant section looks like a cross between a diagonal-of-a-cube problem and an Escher drawing? In some alternate universe, you’re happily zipping toward the 700 you deserve, but now this one indecipherable question is standing in your way.
Prepare for a Non-Ideal Situation: Understand you won’t get the “perfect” test on exam day. No matter how much you study, the real GMAT will somehow be different than your practice tests — anti-climactic, weird, or just plain hard. So prepare for those stressful situations where you might have sunk 90 seconds into a question only to find that your answer doesn’t match any of the choices. As our GMAT teacher Rich advises, every test-taker should know when to move on. Don’t let a curveball question derail the rest of the section.
2. You’ll mix up the protocol
In your quest for the perfect GMAT score, maybe you’ve developed some unorthodox test behaviors like reading the question aloud to yourself, pointing to the screen while doing a math problem (and underlining the occasional phrase with a marker), using the bathroom several times an hour, consulting the dictionary during reading comp, or going through reams of scratch paper. You’ve told yourself to start prepping for the real thing, but how will you react when the stringent restrictions of exam day kick in?
Do It Right: Start following the official test center rules now. No dictionaries, notes, excessive breaks, phone calls, or music. As you get closer to exam day, your GMAT practice should start to look more and more like the real thing. You want to be pleasantly surprised when you get to the test center, not disappointed.
3. Your greatest weakness will be exposed
Your deepest fear is that the GMAT will draw your deficiencies into relief. Maybe you chose your undergraduate institution solely because it didn’t require that you take English. Data Sufficiency you have down (those are awesome because you don’t have to solve half the time) and Reading Comp you can deal with because the answers are right there in front of you (thank God vocab isn’t an issue; words like demur and tincture refuse to stay put in your head). But what the heck is a participial phrase? And why, of all times, does this have to come back and haunt you?
Time to Face the Music: No way around this one: Attack your trouble areas now. Start by using practice tests to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Over time, you might realize they’re not “weaknesses” at all. Some students struggle endlessly with writing English papers and yet ace grammar questions because they’re precise and logical. GMAT performance is a matter of mastering the peculiar idiosyncrasies of the exam — not necessarily the entire subject (Reading, Writing, Math) as you remember it from school.
4. You can’t handle the stress
You know your stuff, but sometimes you can’t perform. Under pressure, you nail permutations but the most basic conversion problems put your head in knots. Something about exponent rules also makes you dizzy when time is ticking. When do you add exponents again??
Yes, It Is A Stress Test: Stress is part of the point. Stress is to a test what pain is to athletics. The GMAT wouldn’t be a test unless you were somehow required to perform, to channel your energy and make it happen. Understand that the GMAT involves physical and mental endurance, so eat and sleep as if you’re prepping your body for an athletic competition.
Make sure to grasp the basics — like the “rules” for rate problems, right triangles, and parallel lines — because pressure has a way of heightening any fuzziness in your general knowledge. Also, the difficult problems can sometimes involve several layers of understanding. For instance, even if you’re not looking at a textbook “conversion” question, you might need to convert between units to get to the answer. To avoid getting stumped, make sure every math and verbal rule is second nature to you but that you also understand the rules actively and thoroughly to avoid sudden memory blips.
5. You won’t get the score you’re “supposed” to
Maybe you think you don’t have time for prep, or people assume you don’t need it. You have a 3.7 from college, your boss considers you his protege, and your essays are so polished they reflect light. Anyway, you’ve heard the GMAT is just like the SAT in terms of percentile and scoring. Your friends assure you it’s about how you score in relation to others. Since you rocked the SAT (760 on both math and verbal), that means you should get a 760 (give or take 30 points) on the GMAT, right? You can’t be bothered by the tiny fact that…. um, you haven’t actually taken it yet.
Except You Do Have To Take it (If You Want An MBA): Yes, you’re awesome, and you’re busy, but you need this score to round-out your profile. A stellar GPA and top-notch SAT score do not necessarily mean that you’ll ace the GMAT on your first go-round. Don’t count on coasting through the test; shift your priorities so that you have time to prep. You can thank yourself later – when you’re at the b-school of your dreams.