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Mastering the GMAT

If you’re considering going to business school, you’ll probably be expected to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Sure, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) has become a popular alternative at many business schools, but many more still prefer you take—and do well on—the GMAT. The test does carry weight on your application, which explains why many would-be business school students postpone their applications until they’re truly ready to take the exam. The average GMAT score at the top business schools in the country is around the low 700s; averages at the good state schools run around the high 600s. Considering a perfect score is an 800, based on your total score across three sections, that doesn’t leave too much room for error. The test also has some competition built in, as the scores come with a percentile rank that considers who scored below you.

If you’re passionate about business, taking the GMAT makes sense. An advanced degree in the field of business is particularly useful, and often opens doors to management opportunities and higher-paying positions that you may not have had access to otherwise. Any reports of how tough it is, by the way, can be addressed through some good old-fashioned studying and preparation. We’ve come up with some information below on tips and tricks for preparing for the GMAT to get you started. It really is up to you though to do well, as only you know the areas where you need more help.

Preparing for the Test

As with any standardized test, you don’t want to cram for the GMAT. Many people choose to get outside tutoring help for these tests, as it may have been a while since you’ve been in school. You can prepare independently, though. First, make sure you understand the format of the test. The GMAT is made up of three sections: the Analytical Writing Assessment and the Quantitative and Verbal sections, in that order. Those last two sections are computer-based, and the writing assessment is just that—you’ll be judged on how coherent and cohesive your written responses are to given prompts. Don’t neglect this portion of the test when you’re studying. The Graduate Management Admission Council posts topics online that will give you an idea of the kinds of prompts you’ll be expected to reflect on. In fact, the list they have is so extensive we don’t recommend you try to answer them all to feel prepared. Take a stab at a handful, and see how do timed, as it’s a lot tougher to write a well-crafted essay in an unlimited period of time as it is in 30 minutes.

A good way to prepare for the multiple-choice sections is to take as many practice tests you can get your hands on. This way, you’ll see exactly where you should focus your time, and which sections you’re strong in and can spend less time on. Try not to succumb to information overload. If you have the time, answer practice questions one section at a time, so that you’re not jumping from an algebra problem to a grammar-related query. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen any geometry, you may want to brush up on those basic math skills even before you take a practice test. You don’t want to feel so dejected that you end up setting your studying materials aside indefinitely. As the testing day nears, try not to panic. If you’ve studied hard and prepared well, you should feel more confident than scared. And remember to get a good night’s sleep before the big day.

The Test Day and After

As you probably remember from other standardized tests you’ve taken, leave the cell phone and any other electronic devices at home or with a proctor at your testing site. You’ll have three and a half hours to finish the test. That may seem like a long time at first, but you’ll need to use your time wisely to complete every section. From your practice tests, you should have a good idea of the kind of time you need and used per section, and the kind of pace you need to keep up once you’re seated at that testing center. You should also be well aware about what each section will ask of you, but it’s never a bad idea to skim over those directions before moving from one area of the test to the next. If you need to quit at any time, you can do that without having your exam scored up to that point. You also have the option of canceling your scores after taking the test if it’s before you request an official score report. (That means you can’t cancel your scores after you see what they are; you need to do so while still at your testing site.)

If you didn’t do as well as you wanted, you are able to re-take the test. In fact, you can take the GMAT as many times as you want, as long as it’s not more than once in a month. The test isn’t cheap though—the cost is $250 per exam—so you should make sure you sign up when you think you’ll be able to do your best on the GMAT. Your scores, of which the most recent three will be sent to the schools you apply to, will be valid for five years. If you wait longer than that to forward your scores or apply to business school, you’re out of luck and will need to take the test again.

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