As noted in a past post, most testers improve their GMAT score on their second attempt at the exam.
Average improvement is moderate: a 33 point increase for testers who scored in the 500s on their first test and a 20 point increase for testers who originally scored in the 600s.
GMAC reports, however, that these figures are likely over-exaggerated, skewed higher by many test takers who didn’t study for their first test, planning all along to take the exam a second or third time.
Whether or not the improvements recorded by GMAC are overblown, it is possible to dramatically increase your GMAT score on a second or third attempt. In fact, it happens more than you may expect. GMAT forums abound with stories of students increasing their score from the 500s to the 700s in the span of two exams, and what separates these test takers from the average re-tester isn’t a sudden increase in IQ but rather a structured approach to studying before retaking the GMAT.
Uncommon improvement requires uncommon preparation as well as a hearty dose of perseverance. The five steps below outline how to study for your second or third GMAT in order to go beyond average improvement.
Motivation is fuel. It’s the force that gets you out of bed in the morning to workout, the energy that allows you keep trying when learning something new, and the persistence that makes you study for the GMAT again. Studying to improve your GMAT score is a marathon rather than a sprint, so if you desire to make your best effort to increase your score, you must start with plenty of fuel in the tank.
Motivation comes from your reasons for doing something: It answers the question why? Ask yourself why it’s so important to score higher on the GMAT. Is it to give you a better chance to be accepted at a certain school? If so, what’s so great about the school? What do you hope to achieve with a degree from that program? What will it mean to you to reach the goals you have set in going to business school?
Answering questions like these help reveal your underlying reasons for taking the GMAT again, and it’s these reasons that will help you find the energy to stick to your study schedule and apply yourself in studying.
Woody Allen once said that showing up is 80 percent of success. While the math is debatable, the sentiment is true for your prep. If you want to increase your score, you need to make studying a priority, and this means cutting out some time in your schedule to devote to prep.
Show up to study everyday, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. You can slowly build your study time as daily prep becomes a habit. The key is to study consistently without exhausting yourself. An hour of focused study (see step 4) is more valuable than 5 hours of mindlessly practicing GMAT questions.
Almost every tester who increased their score after taking the GMAT a second time set a study schedule to follow. It gave them something to show up to, and it will do the same for you.
Having already taken the GMAT, you have a distinct advantage in that you know the sections of the test and the question types that you found the most difficult. While you shouldn’t neglect or forget about improving your strengths, your GMAT weaknesses are your best opportunities for improving your score.
As much as possible, narrow your weaknesses down to the specific concepts found in each question type. This simplifies studying and makes your progress measurable. For example, if you’re weak at PS questions, figure out which type of PS questions: Is it word problems? Rate of change problems? Number theory? With your specific weaknesses identified, you can then devote study sessions to learning how to tackle these problems, eliminating weaknesses one by one.
If you’re not sure how to find your specific weaknesses, there are many tools you can use. Prep4GMAT’s analytics tool can narrow down weaknesses to specific concepts, or a practice test with a detailed score break down can help tremendously as well.
Testers who make large improvements in their score are not only unique because they stick to study plans and focus on improving weaknesses. They also study to understand GMAT questions, not just to practice them. Understanding GMAT questions means getting at how they work and drilling down in your mind why the right answer is correct and why all the incorrect answers are wrong.
This follows a three-step process. First, you review the theory and how to solve a specific concept or question type, for example, PS rate of change problems. Second, you practice questions that test this concept. Finally, you reexamine the explanations of each answer choice for each practiced question, taking notes on why your correct answers were right and your incorrect answers were wrong.
Dissecting your answer choices builds your understanding of the concept, reveals common patterns and answer traps in questions, and alerts you to the errors you’re prone to make.
If there is a single trait common to all the testers who increased their score the most, it is that despite set backs and difficulties, they stuck to their study plans and didn’t give up hope. In short, they showed resilience when many others gave up or fell back.
The most difficult part of increasing your score is not necessarily the actual GMAT questions or taking the exam. Instead it’s doing what’s necessary, taking the small steps everyday in order to score higher. Use the above steps to re-focus your GMAT prep and score higher when you retake the test.
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