The last exception to this rule was the 13th edition in 2012. This was the year GMAC replaced one of the essay questions with the IR section. This year, you did need to use the newest version.
Every year students have this question, and most years the answer is the same: You can get by just fine with last year's version. That being said, the past 3 years' new editions have each come with about 10-15% new questions. GMAC is constantly refining their question pool, so newer questions are slightly better, but not enough to make a substantial difference in your score. If you have a version that is 1 year old, you're fine. You can study with the 2017 or even 2016 version and be alright.
The last exception to this rule was the 13th edition in 2012. This was the year GMAC replaced one of the essay questions with the IR section. This year, you did need to use the newest version.
"I have taken 6 practice GMAT exams this week, from Manhattan, Veritas, Kaplan, Princeton Review, Magoosh, and GMATPrep. My scores were 580 610 610 600 590 600. Why isn't my score going up?"
This is a very common question I see on GMAT forums and one that many of my new students ask me. The misconception is that if you're trying to raise your score on an exam, you should just take that exam over and over and over. The flaw in this reasoning is that it assumes that you will actually get better by mere repetition. On the contrary, repetition merely reinforces whatever habits you have, good or bad. If you want to score higher, you need to deprogram your ineffective habits and reprogram effective ones.
Once you have some basic familiarity with the GMAT (after 1 exam administration) taking many practice exams without putting in considerable study in between (50-100 hours) will only serve to discourage you. Each exam is 4 hours long and grueling. The student at the beginning of this post could have spent 24 hours studying and seen improvements in their scores. Instead they burned a lot of energy and became jaded. Being discouraged will damage your future efforts and make you cynical.
Moreover, not all practice exams are created equally. GMATPrep makes the best ones, and there is only a small finite number. Since the question pool in a practice exam is limited, once you have used a given exam it is useless as a score diagnostic until several months have passed and you have forgotten all the questions.
Good news everyone! As of July 11, 2017 you can select the order in which your GMAT sections appear! That means you don't have to finish the GMAT on your weakest section, when you've been at it for 3 hours and you're tired and possibly hungry.
You can choose from the following orders:
AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal (Original)
Quant, Verbal, AWA, IR (NEW)
Verbal, Quant, AWA, IR (NEW)
Put your weakest section first and IR/AWA last. For most people that means Verbal first, Quant second, and IR/AWA last. (Remember that your 800-score is determined by your raw scores (out of 51 points) on Quant and Verbal, not your percentiles.)
Note that as of this writing, GMAC has not updated GMATPrep to incorporate this feature, so you'll still have to follow the traditional order of Essay, IR, Quant, Verbal in the GMATPrep practice exams.
Josh has written a blog post titled "How to Prepare for the GMAT" which you may find helpful, but for a quicker read, check this out first:
1. Save GMAC practice questions and exams until you've exhausted all other materials. These materials (GMATPrep and the Official Guides) from the makers of the exam are your most valuable resource for practicing questions closest to what will be on the actual exam. You do not want to have seen these questions already when you practice, and you do not want to be used to imitations of GMAT questions when you take the real exam. NonGMAC materials are best for content mastery in the early stages of your preparation, not later. It's not the end of the world if you've already used all of these materials--It's just not ideal.
2. Avoid repeatedly doing random practice problems without significant study in between if you're under 600, more than 40 points from your target, or trying to break 700. We see many students try to just solve hundreds of problems in the hopes of gaining 100 or even 150 points, and while it is necessary to solve many problems, a more efficient use of your time is to build a strong conceptual foundation first by learning the general principles, before trying to solve so many problems. Otherwise, all the ideas you will learn from solving problems will just be scattered fragments of ideas your brain will scramble to attempt to assemble into a coherent whole. It's much faster to see the coherent whole first than to try to build it from all the bits and pieces. The wheel has already been invented!
3. Avoid repeatedly taking practice tests without significant study in between, even if they are nonGMAC, as that time is better invested studying how to get questions right in the first place, before getting them right quickly. It does not make sense to time yourself as you are learning new material or concepts, since it could take you 10+ minutes to learn how to do a new problem type, but once you master it with us, less than 2 minutes.
4. If you don't know your starting score yet, register your MBA.com profile (takes 48 hours for first-time users) and download the free GMATPrep software and Exam Pack 1 from MBA.com. (Note that if you've already downloaded GMATPrep in the past, you will need to install the latest version of your operating system as well as GMATPrep, otherwise the program will crash in the middle of your exam and you will lose your data.)
After reading the rest of this section (Section 4) take Exam 4, save screenshots of all the summary data as pdfs, and send them to me. I recommend downloading Exam Pack 1 both because it offers more detailed score reporting than the free GMATPrep Exams, and because exams 1 and 2 are best saved for the very end of your study, since they have a larger question pool.
Click the Prepare button and read about the exam format and question types. Then click the Practice button and do one Reading Comprehension passage and one easy, medium, and difficult practice question of each of the remaining categories (Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, Problem Solving, Data Sufficiency, Integrated Reasoning) in Exam Mode (timed). Don't do more questions than this just yet! After a full night’s rest and healthy meal, allot a solid 4-hour block for taking a full-length practice test, free of distractions and with no prior preparation or aids (calculator, etc). Then refer back to step 1!
5. If you haven't already done so, register for a GMAT test date so you have a concrete deadline to motivate and structure your study.
(In case of emergency, you can always reschedule a week in advance for $50.)
6. Send your complete score breakdown (raw scores out of 51 points, not percentiles) and we will help you develop your study plan!
In addition to knowing where you are and what you have to improve, now you know the amount of energy and focus necessary to perform well on the exam. Your mind is in high-speed mode for almost 4 hours straight. It’s going to take some serious effort to get in the habit of performing at your peak capacity for that length of time. I recommend working with me in at least 2 hour blocks, both to prepare for that level of intensity and to maximize what you get out of the lessons.
7. In the meanwhile, exercise, diet, and sleep!
We all know we’re supposed to take care of our bodies, but if our bodies aren’t in top shape, neither will our GMAT scores be. Our productivity culture looks down upon sleep, but if you’re tired, it means you’re not sleeping enough. Period. In fact, this is so important that I've written an article on Quora about it.
When you take the GMAT, you essentially have to sustain your top focus nonstop for almost 4 hours. Your mental stamina is tightly correlated with your physical stamina. As a general guideline, if it takes you longer than 8 minutes to run a mile, and if you can’t jog 3 miles in under 30 minutes, you might burn out before you finish the exam, and thus not get your top score.
Focus on extended cardio/endurance, stuff that makes you sweat and breathe. You should be a little tired after your workouts, not from a long day or lack of sleep, but actually tired just from the exercise itself, and need to take a few minutes to recover. Keep pushing yourself in your workouts so that you're always improving, too. Ideally you would exercise every day, but at least every other day will still make a big difference. Avoid the fatty, fried, oily, sugary (and even too spicy) foods, and lean toward plants, more on the raw or steamed/baked side. The leaner your body, the leaner your brain, and the more efficient it will be for the exam.
How and how much you should study depends on your starting/target scores and how much time you have to study, but this guide should give you a good sense of how to structure your study. Use multiple GMAT resources, but be deliberate about how you use them so as to maximize your efficiency (as I describe below). If after reading this you would like to ask questions about your personal situation, please post them on Test Prep Unlimited's Facebook Page, or submit the Contact Form. I also have more information up on my website, including GMAT Myths Debunked.
Your first step is to learn how to speed-read if you don't already know how. Your words per minute should be at least 400 (with >95% comprehension). Faster is better; 500+ would be great. Here's a test for you:What speed do you read?
Next, download the free, official GMATPrep® Software from the makers of the test. Read a little bit about the format and structure of the test, do maybe 1 easy, 1 medium, and 1 hard question of each type (but save the rest of the questions and exams for later!), then take a full-length diagnostic exam under semi-realistic testing conditions (no outside reference or calculator, no pausing the exam to think about questions, etc).
On timing: You'll want to spend about 2 minutes per Quant question (perhaps more for Data Sufficiency and less for Problem Solving) and 2.5 minutes per Integrated Reasoning question. For Verbal, maybe 75-90 seconds for each Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning, 2-3 minutes for each Reading Comprehension Passage +90 seconds each for the 3 or 4 questions that follow. The Verbal numbers will vary slightly depending on your strengths and weaknesses, but you have about 1 minute 49 seconds per Verbal question.
If your starting score is under 550, you will want a thorough foundational overview. If your foundations are particularly weak, there are specific materials I will recommend. Otherwise Manhattan's Foundations of GMAT books are decent resources for a refresher. Attempt some of the drills at the end of the section, and if they take you more than 15 seconds each to get correct, read the section lesson and try again. Then you can move onto comprehensive strategy guides. (See below.)
If you're between 550-650, you will still want that foundational overview, but you can do it more quickly. Then you can move onto comprehensive strategy guides. (See below.)
If you're between 650-700, you can skip the foundational overview and
work on the comprehensive strategy guides. (See below.)
If you're already above 700, just focus on the 700-800 level questions, and on the specific subjects you need help with. Kaplan has a GMAT800 book, MGMAT has an Advanced Quant book, Veritas has a Data Sufficiency book, an Advanced Verbal book, etc.
Books and Resources: The two most popular printed sets of comprehensive strategy guides are MGMAT and Veritas Prep. Neither is perfect, but I personally prefer Veritas's books; They offer a better explanation of the test, and their questions are closer to real GMAT questions. MGMAT's guides are not exactly like the GMAT. Useful, but far from ideal. They are a good first step, or are ok by themselves if you don't want to gain more than 100 points or push past 700, however. On the other hand, Veritas's last 5 or 6 Reading Comprehension passages are particularly weak. You can message me for customized material recommendations.
You cannot neglect studying Verbal! This is true even if you are a native English speaker (or even an English major!). The reasons are a) The Verbal skills cultivated in college are not exactly what the GMAT measures, and b) Many international applicants with superior Quant but weaker Verbal skills take the GMAT and skew the results so that the tail is much longer above V45 than for Q45. So if you have a solid Verbal score, you can still break 700, even with a less-than-stellar Quant score. For example, with a 40 in Quant, you could still break 700 with a 45 in Verbal. (In practice this is extremely difficult to attain, even for most native English speakers.) But it's better and safer to have a more balanced score. Many people leave a lot of points on the table with Verbal.
If your Verbal score is below 35 and you have the time to do so, start your Verbal prep by using ACT and SAT verbal prep materials (take all of their practice tests). Yes those are for high-schoolers applying to college, but what is more important here, your MBA or your ego?
If you want to be a Verbal superstar, which is required to score above 750, do the Verbal sections from past LSAT's, as they are harder than the GMAT's Verbal. These are good for Reading Comprehension and especially Critical Reasoning, but not Sentence Correction. Don't do the LSAT Analytical Reasoning (as there is no parallel in GMAT), just the Reading and Logical Reasoning (which is similar to GMAT to Critical Reasoning).
Avoid repeatedly doing practice problems without significant study in between if you're under 600, more than 40 points from your target, or trying to break 700. I see many students try to just solve hundreds of problems in the hopes of gaining 150 points, and while it is necessary to solve many problems, a more efficient use of your time is to build a strong conceptual foundation first by learning the general principles, before trying to solve so many problems. Otherwise, all the ideas you will learn from solving problems will just be scattered fragments of ideas your brain will scramble to attempt to assemble into a coherent whole. It's much faster to see the coherent whole first, then try to build it from all the bits and pieces. The wheel has already been invented!
Avoid repeatedly taking practice tests without significant study in between, even if they are nonGMAC, as that time is better invested studying how to get questions right in the first place, before trying to get them right quickly. It does not make sense to time yourself as you are learning new material or concepts, since it could take you 10+ minutes to learn how to do a new problem type, but once you master it with me, less than 2 minutes.
For every 40 hours of study, or once you finish a set of guides, take another practice test under exam conditions and review the solutions. GMATPrep has 4, and you've used 1 already, so if you plan on taking several practice tests, use others first then come back to the GMATPrep exams at the end. Don't take practice tests without significant study in between unless you're already in the 750+ range; Otherwise you're just burning through them without gaining what you could.
Do not dwell on any questions you miss, as doing so is wasting valuable time, just as a good leader does not dwell on minor failures, but rather keeps moving forward. And remember, the GMAT is like a marathon. You have to be at peak performance for 4 hours! The only way to build that level of endurance is to practice sustaining focus by studying in blocks and taking practice tests. Just don't burn yourself out.
Practice at/slightly above your level. Many students work on questions that are too far above the student's current ability level. Missing easier questions hurts more than getting difficult questions correct helps. Even if you can answer some tough questions, it will take you too long to answer them on the exam if you don't have solid foundations, and you will lose points by missing easier questions.
When to seek outside help:
If you can afford it and would benefit from doing so (i.e. your score is more than 40 points below your target, deadlines are approaching, or you're trying to push past 700), hire a private tutor to structure, motivate, and expedite your study (this will cost between $1,000-10,000 dollars). Yes it seems expensive in the short term, but it's a (very worthwhile) drop in the bucket compared to your post-MBA lifetime earnings. Be aware though: Tutoring companies take a large percentage of the tutor pay, 70% or more, so if you can find an independent tutor with excellent credentials, teaching experience, and reviews, that's a much more cost-effective route. I am a GMAT tutor in the San Francisco Bay area offering in-person and Skype lessons, and my students average a score increase rate between 3 and 7 points per hour we spend together, which is 5-12 times their self-study rate.
You can also take a class, but if you're disciplined about your GMAT studies, you won't get much more out of it than you would by following the program I've outlined, especially if you're ahead or behind the curve for the class, as you will not move at your optimal pace. Actually the primary potential benefit of a class in this case is the potential for community you can form with your peers, but you will have to take that initiative and there is no guarantee you'll get what you're looking for. Anyway, many of my students chose to work 1-on-1 with me because they were not satisfied with their class experiences.
Finish your study with GMAC materials, first with The Official Guide for GMAT Review 2015 and the supplemental Quant and Verbal Guides. Always try to do the question first without looking at the solution, but don't spend more than 5 minutes trying to solve a question if you're stumped. Try to keep in mind actual test pacing, but spend as much time on each question as is necessary for you to complete it and understand the solutions provided (which are often not the best or fastest way to do the problems, by the way). In other words, first focus on getting questions right, then focus on getting them rightquickly.
Take another practice exam (see the timing suggestions at the beginning of this post), go over the answers, then do *ALL* of the GMATPrep questions in exam mode. Then take another practice exam, look at the solutions, and repeat as necessary until you feel satisfied with your results.
Since OG and GMATPrep are real GMAT questions from the makers of the test, you will develop appropriate habits for test day as opposed to using test prep company materials which are imitations of, rather than substitutes for, real questions. So if you're going to use multiple materials, DO NOT START YOUR STUDIES WITH GMAC MATERIALS!!! Once those questions are gone, they're gone, and if you're unsatisfied with your score, you'll have to wait until either you forget these materials, or they release an entirely new set of questions (which will take years, since the updated questions are not for the entire set).
Come test time, relax the day before the test (don't cram!) and make sure you eat a healthy meal and sleep well. Know your biological clock and pick a 4 hour block for the test when you will be most alert and energetic, one that doesn't require you to skip a meal. Bring healthy snacks, and stay hydrated, focused, and positive!
If you liked this article, please comment and share so others will see it. Also visit the Facebook page for Test Prep Unlimited, like it, share it, and ask a question in the comments for free help. I welcome any feedback. Good luck on your studies and on your dreams!
By Josh Jones
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