7 Deadly Mistakes GMAT Test-takers Make

Last updated on February 6th, 2015

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Here are some things we’ve heard GMAT test takers say time and again:


“I score well in practice sessions but I don’t know what happens in the test.”


“I lost track of time during the test.”


“I ran out of time and had to guess towards the end of the test.”


“I just couldn’t focus on the first few questions, and then I panicked!”


Any of these sound familiar? If yes, congrats! You’re about to discover one or more of the reasons why your score isn’t where it should be.


The GMAT is your ticket to a B-school, where you’ll be transformed into a future business leader. So, like any good business decision, your preparation for the GMAT must also be driven by strategy, meticulously planned and well-executed. However smart or hardworking you are, if you do not have a clear strategy for the GMAT and do not manage the challenges and traps the test sets, you will end up with a score far removed from your expectations.


Today, we’d like to share with you, some best GMAT Prep methods that have worked extremely well for hundreds of our students.


1. More Is Not Better


“I have completed all the questions from the OG and the Verbal & Quant Reviews. But I am still getting about 40% of them wrong. Can you suggest more material to practice from?”


We see a lot of GMAT students worry themselves silly about not having solved enough questions, even though they may have solved a few thousand questions already! We’ve also encountered some ‘serial question killers’ – they will dig out questions from the core of the earth, regardless of relevance or quality, in the mistaken assumption that ‘more is better’.


What they miss is the real problem – if you have solved close to 3000 questions, and still do not see significant improvements in your score, then more practice is not the solution.


You need to identify where and why you are going wrong, identify mistake patterns and work towards rectifying specific errors you’re making.


2. Accuracy – A Bad Metric


“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Albert Einstein.


Accuracy may not always be a true indicator of your performance. Let’s say you scored 13/20 in a drill. The following week, you take another drill and get a score of 17/20. Do you think you’ve improved? Your score certainly suggests this!


However, the improvement can only be determined if we analyze the complete drill in detail, and not just the test results. Some important questions to ask are:


Have you identified your errors in the first drill and worked on them?


What was the difficulty level of the second drill compared to the first one?


How many questions did you guess in each drill?


If the second drill was easier than the first, or you got a large number of guesses correct in the second test, you may not have made any improvement at all!


3. Analysis of Test Performance – Why & How


Let’s look at how 2 GMAT test-takers, Joe and Jenny, have cracked a Sentence Correction question – both of them got it right.




Eliminated A for passive construction


Eliminated C for wordiness


Eliminated B and D for an idiom error


Picks E




Eliminated A and C for Subject verb agreement error (also considered wordy and passive constructions)


Eliminated B and D for parallelism error


Found idiom error in B and D


Picks E


Joe based his elimination on style and structure errors, and played it by the ear. However, Jenny identified the rules and also considered the structure of the answer choices. Who do you think is preparing effectively for the GMAT? J


So how should you analyze your test performance?


Go over the questions you’ve solved and try to identify

What concept(s) were you tested on?

What areas are you making mistakes in? – SC, CR or RC?

Which concepts within SC, CR or RC are tripping you up?

What kind of mistakes are you making- silly/ conceptual/ timing?

Use an error log to categorize your mistakes.


Refer to this error log later to understand error patterns and work on those specific areas.


4. Asking The Right Questions


Reading Comprehension is many a test taker’s Waterloo. A major reason for this is that we are habituated to reading what is given to us; however, we need to change our approach to read only what is required in order to answer the question correctly or draw a conclusion on the matter.


Take for instance, GMAT reading passages are dense but do we need to read everything in detail to be able to answer questions? Given that we have limited time to answer questions, the most effective strategy would be to read and identify only the relevant part of the text that helps to answer the questions!


Likewise, Sentence Correction also requires you to ask the right questions. For example – if a sentence begins with a modifying phrase, the right question to ask would be “What does this phrase intend to modify?” If the verb is underlined, the right question to ask would be “What is the subject of this verb?”


5. Picking Variables Over Numbers


When Problem Solving questions have answer options as percentages or fractions, a number could work more effectively than the variable ‘x’. Take a look at this GMAT Prep question:


At the end of the first quarter, the share price of a certain mutual fund was 20 percent higher than it was at the beginning of the year. At the end of the second quarter, the share price was 50 percent higher than it was at the beginning of the year. What was the percent increase in the share price from the end of the first quarter to the end of the second quarter?

A. 20

B. 25

C. 30

D. 33

E. 40

In the question above, observe how easy it is when you assume that the share price of the mutual fund at the beginning of the year is $100! The probability of you going wrong is higher when you use variables than when you use numbers. This is because we are innately better at dealing with numbers than with variables. In fact, we calculate using numbers at least once every 15 minutes!


6. Losing Sight of the Forest!


This is an error of technique than of concept. In GMAT Quant, you may feel compelled to minutely calculate each aspect of a problem – yet this is unnecessary! As we all know, all the figures in problem solving questions are drawn to scale (unless stated otherwise) which means that we can ballpark effectively without wasting time. Let us see one tough question.


An equilateral triangle, with a circle inscribed, is inscribed in a square as shown above in the figure. What is the ratio of the area of the circle to the area of the square?

A. π/2

B. π/4

C. π/6

D. π/8

E. π/12

Since the figure above is drawn to scale, we can clearly see that the circle takes approximately half the area of half the square, which means it take one-fourth the area of the square. So by plugging in π as 3+, we can see that answer option E is the only possible answer. Therefore, ballpark when it comes to Problem Solving Geometry if you get stuck.


7. Be Adaptive – after all, the GMAT is!


GMAT Quant uses Math but in a crooked way: so, taking the GMAT armed with just knowledge of math is very dangerous. What you need is multiple strategies when it comes to attacking a question. For instance: plugging in numbers or negating the first statement to disprove the second statement.


All GMAT quantitative questions will test how observant, careful and logical you are. This is why GMAT is a STANDARDized test: every person has an equal chance of solving all the questions, otherwise mathematicians would rule this world!

Here are six traits B-schools look for in MBA applicants. Check the article to find out if you have those traits.

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