Once you’ve done your research on the format and content of the GMAT and GRE tests, you’re ready to settle on which one you want to take and start your preparation.
If you still need a review of each test to help you navigate the details, see our previous post examining both test options.
Test preparation is critical. The tests are rigorous, but your prep has the advantage of getting you in the right mindset for entering a top MBA program– where the exams and workload will be just as challenging, if not more so.
Prep tools include books that take you through the format of the test and offer practice exams, as well as formal prep classes (in person or online) and tutoring that can cost hundreds of dollars. Going with a more affordable option can work for some candidates.
“If you did well on the SAT or if you have a rigorous math background, you might be able to prepare on your own.”
– Jamie Nelson, an instructor with Manhattan Prep, which offers test prep classes in Dallas, Houston and Austin.
Here are some top prep tips from students and test prep instructors:
Plan to take the test at least twice.
While many candidates take the test only once thinking it will fulfill the requirement, others recognize that a second effort is likely to yield improvement. It comes at the cost of additional time and another test fee, but the payoff can be significant if it makes you a better candidate. “We’ve seen that on the second try people do at least 30 points better (on the GMAT),” Jamie says. “It’s part of your process to business school. It will benefit you to have your highest possible score.”
Prepare for the environment, not just the content.
Both tests are online, and you’ll be taking them in a testing center with lots of other anxious graduate school candidates. You’ll put all of your possessions in a locker and be given only basic tools to make calculations by hand. So do your best to plan for this. “I got there a half hour early,” says Nishanth Ramesh, MBA Class of 2018. “I made a checklist of everything that I was allowed to take to the exam. I was allowed to start my exam as soon as I got to the center and completed the required paperwork. I took most of the break that was allocated between sections. I knew the score I was targeting.”
Test anxiety is common. Know what might trip you up.
It’s natural to have anxiety before a test; the key is to channel that anxiety toward a better performance rather than letting it inhibit you. One of the most common psychological techniques is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, so if you feel a question didn’t go very well for you, you can shift your focus toward conquering the next question. It also helps to know specifically the source of your anxiety on a test. “I had tools in place to get me through times where I would traditionally falter,” says Kayla Tompkins, MBA Class of 2019. “If it is taking me longer than normal to get through a problem, it tends to frustrate me, and I can make careless errors. I knew as I started to get frustrated, I needed to take a second to regroup before proceeding.”
Know the tricks of test-taking.
Both the GMAT and the GRE are multiple-choice tests, and the testing companies are masters of creating wrong answers based on incorrect assumptions that test-takers can make. A prep course is designed to help you think like the folks who create the test. “My rule (in preparing for the test) was to never move on from something until I truly understood the concept deeply and knew why the right answer was correct, why the other options were incorrect, and what might have caused someone to choose the incorrect answer,” says Puja Ghelani, MBA Class of 2018.
Consider online resources.
For those candidates who travel frequently or don’t have time to take a full class in person, most of the major test prep companies offer online versions of their prep classes. Also, there are simple online resources with affordable pricing. Some online platforms, like Magoosh, have online videos and timed practice questions you can try on your computer or mobile device. Many McCombs students have used these platforms to prep for either the GMAT or GRE. “The mobile applications were a great way for me to squeeze in a few minutes of practice, especially when I was traveling for work,” said Dane Riggs, MBA Class of 2019, who also took a formal prep course. “The fact that the program was entirely digital made it ideal since I didn’t have to carry around textbooks.”
The bottom line: There are a multitude of resources available to you in preparing for the GMAT or the GRE. Make the most of these tools, embrace the challenge of preparation, and do the best you can on the test.