The anxiety and anticipation ramp up as your GMAT test date nears – it’s unavoidable. While you may not be able to fight off the butterflies, there are a few things you can do that will positively affect your performance on test day. However, they may not be the things you’d expect.
In the last week before their test date, many people succumb to the compulsion to study more than ever in an attempt to squeeze in all the practice they can get. If you’ve hardly studied for the GMAT up until this point, this method may help, but if you’ve been prepping for a while, this final sprint will likely have little impact on your score. The closer you get to taking the test, the less time you have to learn new material. In fact, if you’re trying to learn new concepts in the last week, you may hurt your ability to recall the things you’ve already studied.
A week out is not enough time to significantly improve your weaknesses or learn new material. It is, however, enough time to reinforce your strengthens by reducing your tendency to make careless errors.
As we outlined in an earlier post, no one gets every question on the GMAT right. In fact, whether you score a 730 or a 430, you’ll only answer somewhere around 60 percent of the questions correctly. That’s because the GMAT algorithm calculates your score based on the difficulty level of the questions you answer, so it’s better to miss on hard questions rather than easy questions.
Therefore, with your test date near, the best way to pad your score is to ensure you don’t succumb to too many careless errors on questions within your ability. To do this, you’ll need to be able to recognize the careless errors you’re prone to making and set up a few habits to prevent making them.
While you continue to practice questions, keep a tab on the questions you answer incorrectly. Use a word doc or Excel sheet or the Bookmark feature in the Prep4GMAT app that allows you to bookmark individual questions and create your own question sets. Also revisit questions you answered incorrectly in the previous study sessions.
Once you’ve amassed these questions, single out the ones in which you made a careless error. Not every wrong answer will be due to a careless mistake. Careless mistakes occur on questions that you should have answered correctly, questions in which you knew how to answer the question but made a silly mental slip.
For example, in a work-rate problem solving question that compares the rate of work of two painters, John and Sam, you may have selected the answer for the number of rooms Sam painted in an hour when the question asked you for the number that John painted in an hour. Another example may be a simple calculation error that you made in the initial stages of solving a problem, which subsequently skewed the rest of your calculations.
While quantitative questions can foster a bevy of mental slips, careless errors are just as easily made on verbal questions. On a sentence correction question, for instance, you may have quickly selected the answer that sounded right, but failed to notice a simple grammatical error, or on a reading comprehension question, you misread a question stem and selected the answer that strengthened the author’s argument when you were asked to weaken it.
Now that you’ve singled out some careless errors, it’s time to look for patterns. Ask why you made the error. Perhaps you misread the question stem as in the above example or solved for the wrong item or made an error in a mental calculation.
Often, people have their own “top 2” or “top 3” careless errors they make. You may not even need many examples to discover what yours are. Categorize these errors by the action that lead to them, whether it’s a mental miscalculation, misreading of the question or losing track of the question stem.
With your “top careless errors” identified, ask yourself what would help prevent you from making these on future questions. Sometimes the answer is obvious. For example, if you see that you occasionally solve for the wrong item in quantitative question or misread a question stem in a CR or RC question, a quick glance at the question before you select your answer will prevent this error.
If your careless errors are a little more complex, such as making a mental slip in a calculation, you may need to experiment a little with what helps you avoid these errors. One solution may be to write more of your work out on your scratch paper or come up with a simple notation system for yourself.
Once you recognize the careless errors you’re prone to making and know some habits to help prevent them, practice these habits whenever you study. Of course, we’re never immune to careless errors – they’re always going to happen because we’re human – but by minimizing the amount of them you make, you set yourself up to max out your score.