Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

Common GMAT Challenges And How To Overcome Them

Avoid the pitfalls of your predecessors and learn from their mistakes: Expert teachers Varsity Tutors explain how to avoid common GMAT errors.

The GMAT can be a lonely undertaking. The test itself is a lengthy endeavour, peppered with too-brief interactions with your proctor for additional scratch “paper”. The process can make you feel that you are alone, with no one to support you.

However, you are only half right. Come assessment time, your results rely on you alone. But you can learn from the common problems that have plagued many a GMAT test-taker before you. Identifying these three major issues will aid you in avoiding the pitfalls of your predecessors.

1. Allotting Excessive Time Per Question

The GMAT requires you to maintain continuous progress. You will have 75 minutes to complete 37 or 41 questions, depending on the section. This averages to two minutes per problem, approximately. There is also a significant penalty for leaving questions blank.

Too often, test-takers pause indefinitely on one problem. Analysis of practice assessments typically reveals at least one question on which the test-taker spent five or more minutes! More often than not, in my experience, when an individual dawdles for that long, he or she answers incorrectly. That time goes to waste, yielding nothing. 

The solution: If you cannot determine the answer to a problem, try utilizing various alternative methods, such as Picking Numbers or Using the Answer Choices. Or try eliminating as many answer choices as possible, using logic and whatever part of the problem you do understand, and then guess. 

The bottom line is that you must be willing to let the issue go. Getting one question wrong will not doom you; rushing through multiple problems to make up time or omitting several definitely will. Adhere to the two-minutes-per-question rule as closely as you can.

2. Misunderstanding The Material

Relatedly, many individuals find that they have the problem of reading, but not understanding, GMAT content. In the mathematics section, lengthy word problems are often an issue; in the verbal portion, critical reasoning passages can seem unfathomable. The reading comprehension selections are dense, confusing and sometimes boring.

In all cases, a test-taker fritters time away reading and re-reading, as well as breaks his or her concentration, slowing any momentum that has been accumulated. And, he or she will not be as focused as they need to be for the question at hand – and those that follow. 

The solution: Take notes. After you read a mathematics word problem once, the very next thing you should do is locate the pertinent information (at the very least, the numbers provided) and copy it onto your scratch paper, separating what's needed from what is just backstory.

On critical reasoning questions, quickly summarizing the argument and/or identifying evidence, conclusions, and assumptions will usually direct you to correct answers.

Outline reading comprehension passages as you encounter them, which will allow you to remain with the piece and also identify specific places to search for answers. In all cases, you should be recording the information that is on the screen, and distilling it, in your own words, to the details you require. By doing so, you will remain involved, present and focused.

3. Difficulty Choosing Between Potential Answers

Often, test-takers, even having understood the passage and its questions, still repeatedly come upon another issue: two answer choices seem equally correct.

In the verbal section, answer choices for sentence correction, critical reasoning and reading comprehension are often slight variations of one another. In mathematics, data sufficiency options can be downright confusing, while sloppy calculations on problem solving questions might lead to an answer that is close to more than one of the choices.

How do you select the correct answer? 

The solution: Determine the answer independently, as specifically as possible, before referring to the answer choices.

In mathematics problem solving, this may involve identifying what is being asked and keeping your calculations organized so you can easily check answers before selecting the correct one, while also avoiding traps.

In sentence correction, do your best to adjust the sentence on your own, and then review the answers to see which matches yours or corrects the same errors you identified without creating new ones.

In critical reasoning and reading comprehension, you should be aware that even the smallest word can shift the meaning of a choice from something you intend to something you didn't mean at all.

The writers of the GMAT are adept at constructing and including the wrong answers people look for. A strong sense of what is correct is the best way to combat this trick. 

Yes, GMAT preparation involves a great deal of self-study and self-discipline. But do not allow that fact to prevent you from finding the support, assistance, and advice that you require.

Join websites where you can interact with other future and past test-takers. Continue to read articles like this one. Learn from the experiences of others who are in your shoes or who have been. Take it all in, utilize what seems useful, and soon you won't be alone – you will be in a business school classroom.

Toby Blackwell is a professional GMAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. He graduated with honors and received his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. He scored a 770 on the GMAT.