With second round application deadlines rapidly approaching, there’s no time to waste in your GMAT prep. However, working hard and working smart can often mean two different things, and with time at a premium, it’s important to get the most out of your efforts. If you take practice tests without analyzing the results in order to optimize your studying, you’re losing the essential value of these tests and wasting time and effort.
Obtaining useful feedback from a practice test is akin to extracting gold from the earth. The initial task of taking the test, like mining gold-rich rock and ore, is necessary but not valuable in itself. It takes another step to refine and extract the value out of the raw material. For mining, this means separating the gold from the other rocks and minerals, and for practice tests, this means distilling actionable information from your test practice metrics. This actionable information outlines what you should study and what strategies you can implement to best improve your score.
The following two posts break down the process of evaluating your practice tests into five steps. This first post will cover how to use the results to spot relationships between how you manage your time on the test and the amount of questions you answer correctly. The next post will then describe how to find the specific weaknesses that are holding you back from a higher GMAT score.
Begin with the practice test’s problem list. Most GMAT practice tests supply a problem list that displays whether you answered each question correctly or incorrectly and the amount of time you spent on each question. This is the raw material with which you will work.
First scan the the problem list for general trends in your correct and incorrect answers and in the time you spent on each question. Look for series of incorrect answers and instances where you took too much or too little time (we’ll cover these time standards in the next step). You may begin to notice apparent relationships between your pacing and whether you choose the correct answer. For example, a series of three or more incorrect answers could stem from a weakness with a particular question type or be the result of rushed pacing due to a previous question you were stuck on.
You can evaluate how well you managed your time in a section by checking the time spent on the last five to 10 questions in a section. A final series of answers in which you spent under 30 seconds per question signals that you need to rework your pacing in this section or implement a guessing strategy — depending on the section and how high you hope to score — in order to avoid rushing. In the next steps, you’ll pinpoint the origin of these timing issues as well as assess your overall pacing.
After looking over the problem list, sort your answers according to the amount of time you spend on them. Begin by tallying up all the questions you spent too long answering while keeping track of whether you answered correctly or incorrectly. To do this you’ll need to know how long you should be spending on each type of question. Spending more than three minutes on critical reasoning or quantitative questions, more than two minutes on sentence correction questions more than an average of 3 to 3.5 minutes on reading comprehension questions equates to too much time.
After the “too long” questions, add up all the questions you spent too little time on. Too little time means spending less than 1.5 minutes on CR and quantitative questions, 1 minute on SC questions and 1.5 minutes on RC questions. How you organize these lists is up to you, but you should end up with a total of 6 categories: correct answers answered in too short, too long and the right amount of time and the same three categories for incorrect answers.
For each of these pacing categories, compare the number of correct answers to the number of incorrect answers and note any patterns by also looking at question type. Are there any consistencies among incorrect answers that you spend too long on? Does spending longer on a question generally result in a correct answer or an incorrect answer? Does test section or question type make a difference?
For example, if you take an average of 5 minutes on quantitative problems that feature coordinate geometry yet still get them wrong, then on the next practice test or on the actual GMAT you could implement a strategy to select your best guess and move on before becoming stuck and wasting too much time. In this instance, the added time would likely give you a better chance to answer other questions correctly.
In the next post, we’ll discuss how to combine the pacing information you’ve gathered with other test metrics to explore your GMAT strengths and weaknesses.