The Hidden Key to GMAT Preparation

“The secret is reps, reps, reps.” –Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Whether in sports, running the same drills over and over, or in business practicing a sales pitch or refining a presentation, we gain through preparation a sense of mastery and self-confidence that can be taken into the real game.” –Joe Montana

The key to success on the GMAT is to repeat the questions that you get wrong.

Strangely, many people seem to think that one of the best things that they can do to prepare for the GMAT is to find as many questions as possible.

Arguably—and in direct negation of what certain sites might say—in the case that you learn all of the questions in the Official Guide and can solve them quickly and easily, you will be able to get a 650+ on the GMAT.

(This is a conservative estimate, of course, because if you really understand the questions fully there is no reason that you couldn’t reach 700; however, the density of 700+ level questions within the Official Guide is notoriously low, and practice from other sources is usually necessary here.)

But Why Would I Stick to One Book?

Back up a second.

There is nothing to say that you need only to use the Official Guide. It has its faults, not least of which is that its explanations of what makes a “correct” answer are dubious at best.

However, the Official Guide does provide a generally good idea of what the scope of the GMAT is.

That is, it is unlikely that you would encounter a question on the GMAT regarding a topic that is not addressed in at least one of the 900 questions within the OG and its supplements.

There Are Other Good Books for Learning Topics

Personally, I recommend:

–The Ultimate GMAT Quant Guide
GMAT Hacks
Manhattan Advanced Quant

At various times, I have worked through each of these with students, and while I do not find all of the material to be “perfectly written” GMAT questions, the topics covered are important.

The Most Important Thing

…is not the topics themselves, but the methods, or “algorithms” for solving problems.

This is what these books cover in great detail, and what the student’s focus must be on when using them.

Back to Repetition – How Does It Work?

In all my years as a GMAT tutor in London, I cannot stress enough that students keep a log of all the questions they complete.

In this log, I suggest rating the questions in a format similar to the following:

1) This question is so easy I will be able to do it next time with no trouble.
2) Not 100% sure, but fairly confident.
3) Maybe I got this right… maybe not. Still not convinced.
4) Got it wrong, but I more or less understand what happened.
5) Not a damn clue.

When you have all of your questions logged and numbered, the repetition phase can begin.

At this point, all you need to do is repeat the questions.

Do the questions every 2-3 days for as long as necessary, at least until everything becomes 1s and 2s.

But What If I Remember the Answer?

Good! Now can you get me there, step by step?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Let’s be honest here: in 9+ years of GMAT tuition, I’ve forgotten more than most people will see regarding GMAT preparation.

Still, I forget exactly how to do certain problems—it takes me a little bit of exploratory work to figure out how to do the problem.

In short,

It’s About Process, Not “Answer Choice B.”

Or A or D or any of the others. This isn’t a test in secondary school. The answer choices will shift in position and content depending on the whims of the computer.

Memorizing that an answer was B is totally useless. However, remembering the basic question type and the technique for tackling it will get you everywhere.

How Do I Learn to Do This?

We can speed up the process dramatically.

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p.s. Do you believe the Official Guide’s explanations are always the best method? Have you come up with any shorter solutions?

p.p.s. Stay tuned for my Getting Started with the GMAT guide, coming soon!

About the author

Rowan Hand Head Coach Rowan Hand has been a GMAT tutor and content developer for more than 10 years. Rowan has coached hundreds of clients in private and group classes. Former clients have gone on to Harvard, LBS, INSEAD, Wharton, and other excellent business schools.