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GMAT Preparation Tips From A 770 Scorer

Elinor Song studied five hours a day for three months to achieve a GMAT score of 770. In the end she did better than expected on the part she found the toughest: the verbal section!

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Thu Nov 22 2012

The GMAT test is a key selection criterion for entry into top business school programmes. Like most standardized tests, it creates a lot of anxiety: everyone has an area they're not too confident about, and they don't want it to let them down on the day!
We spoke to top GMAT scorer Elinor Song to find out how they tackled the test. 
Elinor is a second year Masters in Finance student and scored 770 when she sat the GMAT test in 2010. The Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance is renowned for its academic rigour and only considers applicants with an average GMAT score of 680. Although the test has changed since she took it, Elinor maintains that there are concepts you need to master to do well in the GMAT. 
Practise Practise Practise
Elinor spent about three months preparing for the GMAT but that it was quite a short amount of time to study for it.
When she learned that she needed the GMAT to get into Masters degrees at top business schools, she didn't have much time to take the test and score highly before the application deadlines came round. She was under a lot of pressure and put in a lot of effort, studying on average five hours a day. She was lucky to have been on a winter break from mid-January to March so she could easily fit in the intensive study sessions but she studied just as hard when the new school term started. 
She used the official GMAT test guide during her study period. Using the official test material is a good way to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses she says. She also did training classes with local GMAT tutors at the New Oriental School in Shanghai and read English newspapers as a way to build up her grasp of sentence correctiion. 
Draw on your prior test taking experiences
Elinor had already taken several standardized tests including the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the professional qualification of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). These test experiences were particularly helpful to her as a non-native English speaker. She was already familiar with reading and responding to questions in English and this came in handy for reading comprehension in the GMAT. 
Elinor also encourages drawing on experiences outside test taking. Her background as an accountant meant that she was confident about dealing with numbers for the quantitative section. She said, "I remember I spent most of my time on the verbal part. For the maths part, it was just to get familiar with the type of questions and as time moved on I began to focus more on data sufficiency". 
Take as many mock tests under real exam conditions 
Elinor stressed that taking as many mock exams as possible and correcting mistakes were important for improving her performance. It helped to understand the style of questions and increase her confidence levels. Elinor's total scores in the mocks were between 730 and 740 but on the real test her score for the verbal section was considerably higher than she had expected. 
There is nothing to be nervous about!
Elinor doesn't believe that the GMAT score is a good reflection of how smart a person is. "There are many skills that smart people have that cannot be captured by maths and verbal tests. It's about developing the right study habits and using the habits of critical and analytical thinking to answer questions", she said.
We asked if it was hard to spend that much time studying and she said no. "My teachers mentioned other students who had very high scores and said they had studied for longer. I liked the questions and am not afraid of taking the test. Solving the question is interesting and you get to know how they work and what is expected the more time you spend on it", she said. 
Elinor said that if she were to take an impromptu GMAT test, she would probably score over 700. There isn't anything to be nervous about if you prepare well. "Just don't take it too seriously. If you care too much about the results, you will be under a lot of pressure and not do well", she said. 

Read more articles about students, alumni and programmes at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance