GMAT Advice: What to Do When You Are Not Doing Well

by on June 4th, 2015

I’m so confused. After studying for the GMAT for 3 months, my practice scores were consistently in the 580 range. On test day, I felt confident that I could achieve a 600, but I scored well under 500! I’m so disappointed and wondering if I should retake as soon as possible or wait a little longer.


Flabbergasted About Flunking

Dear Flabbergasted About Flunking,

I’m sorry to hear that your score wasn’t where you hoped it would be. However, there are a few questions we need to dig into a little deeper to help you score 600 on your GMAT.

1) Time constraints

It’s important to consider the conditions under which you took your practice exam. While the scores you mentioned are indicative of the potential of scoring 600 on your first attempt, they don’t always tell the whole story. Our students typically see their scores fluctuate +/- 30 points on any given practice exam, but any practice exam that isn’t taken under similar conditions you’ll experience on test day won’t truly be indicative of how you’ll perform on the GMAT. Time is one of the most important of those conditions.

If you haven’t done so already, take another practice exam under the actual time constraints of the GMAT, including timed breaks. Your performance under these conditions will paint a much clearer picture of your weaknesses and allow you to refocus your study plan to attack those areas. For additional tips on time strategy, review this article by our head tutor, Isaac.

2) Test-day stress and routine

No matter how well a test-taker simulates a test-day environment at home, even the best practice-test-taker can be caught off guard on test day by the stress and performance anxiety of taking on the real thing. The good news is that when you take the GMAT again (don’t worry, graduate schools expect students to take the exam at least twice), you’ll have a much clearer idea of what to expect.

Also (this may seem obvious now, but just wait until you get those test day jitters) remember that seemingly small factors like how hungry, tired, or jacked up on caffeine you are will ultimately affect your ability to focus on test day. That’s why our GMAT experts continue to drive home the importance of maintaining a normal routine on the night before and morning of your official exam. Don’t stay up cramming. Don’t chug energy drinks the morning of the test. Do get plenty of sleep, get some exercise, eat healthy, and do some light warm up questions right before the test to get your brain into “math mode.”

3) When to schedule a second official exam

Since your GMAT score is well below 500, it’s clear that you’re struggling with the entire exam more than you originally thought. It’s also important to consider what your previous practice exam scores are actually telling you. Consistently scoring in the 580 range is a solid start, but also indicates that you haven’t improved since you began preparing for the GMAT.

To properly identify the concepts you still are not grasping, as well as any timing or stress-related issues that could be holding you back, I’d suggest that you devote a significant amount of time—even 2-3 months if you can afford it—to further in-depth studying before scheduling your second GMAT attempt. I know it’s difficult to stomach the thought of additional months of study, but with your GMAT score currently below 500, it’s clear that your prep moving forward will need to be far more than a quick tune-up. If you’re having trouble getting started, take a look at this article we posted earlier this year on how to identify and improve on your weakest areas of the GMAT. Lastly, consider hiring a private tutor or enrolling in a comprehensive GMAT prep program. These programs have a track record of generating results where self-led study has fallen short.

Best of luck to you, Flabbergasted.

This post appeared first on the Economist GMAT Tutor blog.

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