GMAT Prep and Review by Test Section
As the gateway exam to business school, GMAT tests your analytical, decision making and reasoning skills, that is skills that will be useful in leadership positions and that will help you succeed in an MBA program. The test is structured to present you with arguments and situational problems, and of course data analysis, for decision making. Although many of these skills will be ones you already have, the task now is to put them to work on an exam with a particular structure, that is long and that has to be completed within strict time limits, and that penalizes you for each question left unanswered. And, with the exam now taken online, you can’t go back to a prior question, so you need to be able to find the best answer, quickly, the first time.
Prepare for the Four Sections of the GMAT Exam
The way to get ready for a complex, but general, skills test like the GMAT is to break the test down into its component parts, then practice each one until you have mastered its format. This will allow you to move more quickly and deliberately through the actual exam and improve your skill at choosing the right answer. Each of the four sections of the GMAT differs in how it tests your skills and abilities. Your goal is to understand the patterns and techniques used in each section, and then practice sufficiently to feel comfortable in answering the wide variety of question types that you might encounter on the actual test.
Here are the four sections of the exam and how to approach each of them:
The good news is that the 75 question “quant” or math section of the test does not actually contain advanced mathematics – only high school level math. It is meant to test your ability to use mathematical concepts in context with analysis and decision making. The section consists of two types of questions: Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Problem solving is multiple choice and fairly straightforward, similar to the SAT or ACT exam format. You can practice for it as you would the SAT, mostly by refreshing your knowledge of algebra and geometry concepts.
The Data Sufficiency (DS) section is a more challenging format. The point of DS is to figure out if a set of data you are presented is sufficient to answer the question posed. Approach this section like a game, which it essentially is. Remember, you don’t need to solve the DS math problem, so don’t get hung up on calculations. You only need to test the data presented just enough to come to a decision on whether it answers the question.
To help you get a headstart on the section, remember that the DS answer choices, A-E, are always the same (i.e. D is always “EACH statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question asked”) so get to know what A through E are and, during the actual exam, you can simply focus on figuring out which answer applies.This way, you will be better at spotting the answer, and you’ll move through the section more quickly. This section is best mastered with a lot of practice so that you are comfortable with the non-intuitive format.
The verbal section may seem straightforward but it can be challenging for both native English speakers and particularly for students whose native language is not English. No matter your language background, since English grammar rules can sometimes be “fuzzy”, preparation for this section means understanding how GMAT interprets the rules of English grammar. This can only be done by thoroughly reviewing and completing actual practice questions. The Official Guide to the GMAT is your best source for guidance on what rules of grammar you are likely to encounter and how they should be applied.
In the Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension sections, practice relaxation and focus in order to allow yourself to read quickly with clear comprehension. We all have tendencies to skip over things we don’t find interesting, but on the GMAT, the devil is in the details. When you get to the answer choices, immediately eliminate those that are clearly untrue. The right answer, however obscure, will be clearer to you once other choices are eliminated, but make sure it is entirely true before you select it. Some of the choices will be deceptively “close,” but not the right answer.
When it comes to Sentence Correction, the best way to get it right is to “hear” the sentence yourself. In practice, say it out loud. Your ear is a better judge of what sounds right than your brain, which may tend to parse and overthink it. Be sure to review a list of GMAT-used idioms during your preparation so you are not surprised by ones you are not familiar with.
Integrated Reasoning (IR)
Only a few years old, the IR section is still evolving its role in the exam. Most of the skills you use in this section are the ones you are also practicing for the other sections. The trick here is in how the disparate data is presented and organized. Although you’ll have 12 questions in 30 minutes, or only 2.5 minutes each, the problems being presented in IR can be complex, so you first need to be sure you understand the question. The section is visual, using tables and graphs, but otherwise is not a lot different from the rest of the exam. After understanding the question, scan the types of data available so you can put the data in context to the question before moving into the data itself.
The IR section consists of 4 types of questions, so learn to spot each type and practice each one sufficiently to be able to know how to locate and analyze data relevant to the solution. The four types of questions you will encounter are: multi-source-reasoning, two-part analysis, table analysis and graphics interpretation.
Again, practice on this section makes perfect, so do a number of IR problems in practice sessions, and be sure to time yourself so you are able to work at the pace of the actual exam.
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
While the essay is scored separately, this section is still an important factor in many business school admissions decisions. Your preparation for the GMAT essay, which focuses on testing your ability to analyze and critique an argument, should include two main focus points. The first is to learn to recognize the components of an argument (the premise and conclusion) and be able to spot and reject irrelevant or tangential facts and statements that don’t support a conclusion. You will then be able to dismiss or explain how such facts distort or confuse, rather than support, the argument.
The second focus of your study for this section should be identifying logic errors. While the essay subjects will vary, AWA will always include some recognizable logic errors in the argument presented. In your test prep, focus on learning to spot them in context. Practice writing essays that focus on breaking down the premise of the argument presented. Your essay will be scored on how well it explains the reasons why a premise is not logical, not just on whether you come to the right conclusion.
Plan your GMAT Review
GMAT prep can be a long and intense process, but if you have a few good review tools and dedicate enough time to it, you can be better prepared and improve your score. A focused and carefully planned test prep program that includes a strategy for each of the four sections and incorporates a lot of practice questions, with additional focus on your weak areas, will bring the most improvement in your score.