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What Are The Biggest GMAT Prep Mistakes?

Every GMAT prep guru has their favorite hack for improving your score, but what should you avoid doing? We ask our GMAT experts for their biggest GMAT prep mistakes

Sat Nov 7 2020

It seems like everyone involved in GMAT prep has their favorite hack for improving your score. However, it also helps immeasurably to know what not to do. 

Our GMAT experts map out some of the pitfalls that might set you back on your GMAT journey, and offer some advice on what to do instead. 

Losing perspective—Brett Ethridge, Dominate Test Prep


In my 15+ years helping thousands of students from around the world prepare for the GMAT, the following three mistakes impact test-day scores the most. Fortunately, they’re easily avoidable with a slight mindset shift. 

First, remember that the GMAT is a reasoning test. The mistake a lot of students make is that they approach all quantitative questions in a traditional, mathematical way. While that’s sometimes the way to go, often the better strategy is to solve questions in a non-standard way and reason your way to a right answer. Remember, your job is to get right answers, not to make your high school algebra teacher happy. 

Second, don’t run out of time. There’s a penalty for leaving questions unanswered so if you’re running short of time at the end of a section, go ahead and guess. You can’t get a question right if you don’t select an answer! 

Finally, keep the proper perspective about the exam itself. When you make the mistake of blowing the GMAT out of proportion, the result is increased anxiety which generally leads to a poorer test-day performance. You want to get a high score, certainly. But it’s not life and death. The sun will come out tomorrow!

Generic GMAT study plans—Rajat Sadana, e-GMAT

A GMAT study plan is the blueprint of your strategy to ace the test, and ninety percent of students use a generic 1-month, 2-month, or 3-month study plan. As a result, they either end up wasting up to 70% of their prep time or settling for lower scores. 

A personalized study plan built around your strengths and weaknesses can cut down up to 70 hours of prep time, boosting your score by 60-points or more. It can be the difference between a 700 or a 770. 

The key to excelling on the GMAT is ability first and timing next. A lot of students start to focus on timing early on in their preparation. As a result, they do things such as rushing through an RC passage, reading the sentence quickly and overlooking logical errors while solving SC questions, and failing to observe constraints in Quant. 

These habits prevent them from reaching a high score despite practicing thousands of questions and spending countless hours preparing. On the other hand, students who focus on learning consistent methods not only achieve high accuracy but also improve their timing, earning high scores.”

Not putting in time to practice—Sue McLaggan, Admissions Africa 


I'm highlighting the following mistakes because I see them happen too often: 

Not doing the GMAC full length practice test or doing too few of them. GMAT is a test of skill and skill is honed through practice. Practicing consistently and often is key, and doing mock tests in the last stages of test prep plays a very important part in helping students ascertain where they are falling short and where they are strong.

A neglected area is consultation with family members (spouses, partners, children and parents especially) when planning test prep practice. Quiet time to study away from distractions is important and goes a long way to enabling more effective practice. When planning a study schedule the student’s needs, as well as the families' needs, should be taken into account to enable effective study time. This applies to friends too!

The last area I would like to highlight is overestimating how strength in one section of the test will ‘carry one through’ the entire test e.g. Strength in Quants will make up for weakness in Verbal.  This applies within a section too e.g. Strength in Critical Reasoning will make up for not brushing up on the grammar rules one requires for success in Sentence Correction.

Over-stressing—Bara Sapir, City Test Prep


The two biggest mistakes GMAT test-takers make are believing their anxiety will disappear or their time management will improve solely through content mastery and consistent practice. Even students who adhere to a comprehensive study regime may find themselves stressed, freaked out, slowed down, or stumped in the high stakes testing environment, and this inhibits their ability to perform up to their potential. 

Students can quickly improve focus, increase confidence, and emotionally regulate through holistic and mindful modalities, such as but not limited to, mindfulness, hypnosis, visualization, NLP, Tapping, and EMDR. These modalities succeed in getting the student out of his or her own way and have a positive impact, even right before taking one's exam. 

The single most effective way to improve one's time management while taking a test is to increase reading speed, which benefits pace on the test overall.  If reading speed is less than 350 words per minute, both performance and score can improve through speed reading techniques. Eliminating anxiety and increasing reading speed becomes a game-changer for many test-takers, turning good scores into great scores. After all, tests don’t only measure what you know, they also measure how well you take tests. 

A word from the makers of the test…

Cramming will get you nowhere—Pamela Brown, Graduate Management Admission Council


The GMAT exam is not like other exams—it’s testing your higher order reasoning skills, which means that you can’t just memorize a bunch of stuff and expect a higher score. 

I’d recommend candidates take the time to familiarize themselves with the various question types, and practice, and then practice some more! The GMAT is not an exam where you can cram for a week and be done.

Read more from our GMAT experts