## GMAT Practice Accuracy

One of the most common questions I field from students posting on MBA forums, is whether Kaplan CATs are accurate.

Some people see official scores so far above or below their expectation that they assume a math error is the only explanation. Others hear that a batch of Kaplan tests from around 2007 had some scoring irregularities, and assume (incorrectly) that we haven’t fixed things in the past five years. And still others just haven’t practiced enough to understand the ins and outs of the GMAT’s adaptive testing. But the question is always the same: are Kaplan tests mathematically representative of the real GMAT?

The answer is “yes.” Kaplan uses the Official GMAT tests to normalize our scores; students who take a Kaplan test and the Official GMAT in the same weekend usually get scores no further apart than the test’s statistical margin of error, 29 points.

But that’s not the whole story. As I mentioned, many students do see scores on test day that surprise them. Test scores on practice tests can vary wildly from exam to exam. Assuming an “accurate” test, this seems impossible; the GMAT produces very consistent scores.

The key lies in the fact that practice tests are practice. The GMAT isn’t purely a test of grammar, logic and math. It’s a mental game, testing your endurance and focus. Students who force tests into a busy schedule will find their late-night scores plummeting. Conversely, students who were nervous going into the real test but relaxed under the low pressure of a diagnostic may find their practice scores leagues higher than their official results.

So when you take a Kaplan test, you can be confident that it’s an accurate mathematical representation of your score. But you can’t be sure it’s an accurate real-life approximation. Instead, you need to ask yourself: how did I feel when I took the mock test? How will I feel on Test Day? If you realize there’s a discrepancy, take that into account when you look at your score. And try to minimize the factors that could disrupt your score; you can reduce study-stress by planning out a study schedule, and use stress-reduction techniques on the day of the GMAT to make sure your head stays in the game.

## GMAT Study Plan Details

Studying for the GMAT is not something that most test-takers take lightly and is usually a commitment of 2-3 months or more. While most students studying for a test like the GMAT often know what to study, they have many questions about how to study. Study schedules can definitely vary depending on your particular situation such as goal score, starting score, work schedule, school schedule, and family obligations, but, based on a long history of working with students and studying how we learn, here are some general rules of thumb to remember as you begin to form your personalized study schedule.

The first thing to know about studying for the GMAT is that the GMAT is not a test that you want to cram for. Studying for the GMAT is like preparing for a marathon. You want to build up to test day with a plan that builds your skill and stamina. Because the GMAT tests your critical thinking skills and various content skills, you need to know how to think flexibly and thoroughly about the material tested. Flexibility and critical thinking are skills that ideally require knowledge of the patterns in the GMAT. Therefore, it is best to build this type of depth and flexibility in a gradual way.

Next, remember to be deliberate in your study schedule. Make dates with your GMAT books and practice tests and keep them! The easiest thing to do is to procrastinate because the deadline is weeks away and nothing is naturally there to keep you accountable. Therefore, find a way to stay accountable by setting a date reminder and/or having someone help you stay on track with your schedule.

Along with deliberate study times, be purposeful with your GMAT dates. Instead of just putting “study GMAT” on the calendar add specifics about the purpose of the session; for instance, June 13th could be your night to spend some quality time with right triangles in geometry and subject-verb agreement in sentence correction. At the beginning, the purpose of your session should be aimed at mastery of specific topics. Closer to test day, start to incorporate timing sections and mixed practice into the goal of your sessions.

Studying for the GMAT takes time. As Lucas mentioned previously, plan to spend about 2-3 months and 100-120 hours studying for the GMAT. The top scorers on the GMAT spend 120+ hours, on average, studying for test day over a period of time. The length of each study session will vary based on your specific situation; however, most students aim for sessions between 1 and 3 hours in a sitting. If you take the average 120 hours of studying for a top scorer and divide that over the course of the average 10 weeks of studying, you get approximately 12 hours per week. This includes time spent in class sessions and tutoring sessions for the GMAT. If you spread those hours equally, it’s best to do about 2-3 hours per day, 6 days per week and to take one day off per week.

During each incremental session, it’s also important to take periodic breaks. There is quite a bit of research to support spaced learning, which, in essence, means to set up to chunks of study time with short breaks built in. Give your brain periodic breaks to process the information that you are taking in. The frequency and length of your breaks can vary a bit; however, a 5-10 minute break every 25-30 minutes of studying is a good rule of thumb. Time of day can matter as well. Know your good times of day and try to study during those times in which you are most alert. There is research that suggests students learn best in the evening; however, know yourself and when you work best.

In a typical studying chunk of time over one particular subject, here is my favorite way to arrange your early studying when you are building content mastery. Each chunk takes about 1 hour and 20+ minutes with 1+ hour devoted to study. Ideally, you will get 2 chunks in a normal day and 3-4 chunks in on a completely free day.

Each Studying Chunk – For the entire chunk, stay within one area (i.e. Number properties, geometry, etc…)

1)     Set a timer for 20-25 minutes

2)     Review Notes on that particular topic (5 minutes)

3)     Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (15-20 min)

TAKE A 5-10 MINUTE BREAK – NO GMAT – DO SOMETHING DISTRACTING

4)     Set the timer for 20-25 minutes – stick with the same subject area

5)     Review Notes (2 minutes)

6)     Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (18-23 min)

TAKE A 5-10 MINUTE BREAK– NO GMAT – DO SOMETHING DISTRACTING

7)     Set the timer for 20-25 minutes – stick with the same subject area

8)     Review Notes (2 minutes)

9)     Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (18-23 min)

END OF CHUNK ONE — CHANGE SUBJECTS FOR THE NEXT CHUNK

Even if your studying chunks vary a bit, it’s important to review your notes on the topic at the beginning of each session to reinforce the proper technique and approach. You also want to review every question, even those that you get right. The more you compare your reasoning with expert reasoning, the more you adopt the expert reasoning. Also, as you walk through the questions, practice asking yourself those critical questions that your instructor or tutor asks you as you navigate questions in your sessions. So, now that you know the “when,” what about the “where”?

Most people have preferences about study location. However, it’s good to vary your study location periodically. Information that you learn can become context dependent if you study in the same location over and over. If you vary the location and even the noise level a bit, the content and skill that you learn will be more flexible and the unfamiliar context of the testing room won’t hinder your ability to access that information.

Finally, keep a positive attitude about your progress. Progress on the GMAT can be an up and down road with periodic spikes and dips. Through it all, keep your eye focused on improving your skill and critical thinking approach. Always give yourself action steps and make mistakes with a growth mindset. Use your mistakes as learning opportunities instead of letting them diminish your confidence. Attitude matters! Give yourself the grace and time to stumble and grow. Now, it’s time to strap on your tennis shoes and start training for this marathon of a test!

## The GMAT needs a runway

I was having a conversation with my students this past Monday evening, checking in on how prep is progressing for them.  That class marked the close of the first third of their course and perhaps the first quarter of their prep schedule—a good time for anyone to take stock of where you’re at and how well it’s going.

Invariably, everyone who preps for the GMAT comes to the same realization: I need more time than I’d anticipated.  We walk into this test with the well-earned self-perception that we are smart, quick on the uptake, and just need a little grease on some old gears so we can score a 700+.  Yeah…

Once you begin really taking your prep seriously and learning what the GMAT is all about, you very quickly realize that your initial surface scratch has revealed a massive and intricate world for which you need a map, some tools, and a good bit of time to navigate.  The more you study, the more you come to understand that you deserve that time and those resources.  It becomes a point of principal: if I gave myself the chance to really do this right, then I really could manage to hit a very solid score.

Sadly, all the other stuff we have going on in our lives doesn’t seem to care we have chosen embark on such a significant and demanding journey.  Work, family, friends, and the unexpected keep demanding (and sometimes stealing) our time.  Days might pass and all the while you are thinking of how you really ought to be studying for the GMAT.  You’ll feel guilty about it.  Then, you will finally get back on the GMAT wagon and you’ll wonder just how many hours you squandered away that you could really use right about now.

Even after you’ve whipped yourself into a disciplined study schedule, that nagging sense of time constraint will never go away.  Your Test Day will loom on the horizon, drawing ever closer, and you’ll pine for just one more week so you can study just a little more.

The GMAT is definitely NOT a test for which you can cram.  You need 100-120 hours over the course of 2-3 months of regular, progressive study to set yourself up to attain the score you deserve.  If you think you can conquer the GMAT in a month, well, I promise that thought will evaporate by the end of the first week.

Respect the test.