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8 Common, Must-Avoid GMAT Prep Mistakes - Can You Spot Them ALL?

By Max Peterson On Oct 9, 2015 In  Study Plans General GMAT 


The following article is meant as a critical thinking ‘test’ – the following Test Taker made at least 6 different ‘mistakes’ with his/her studies before taking the actual GMAT and has some questionable ideas about how to approach the next round of studies. Can you define what those ideas are and why they are mistakes?


I took the GMAT last week and got a 660 (Q 51/V 28). I am extremely disappointed with my verbal score. I plan to take the GMAT again in 2 months.

I worked with a private tutor and most of his materials were questions taken from official guides and Manhattan. I worked through the material several times and used to do each problem within 2 minutes.

While studying, I didn't have much of a problem with either Quant or CR. My accuracy in RC was consistently bad until a couple of weeks before my GMAT. I am not sure if the accuracy improved because I started getting better at RC or if I was more familiar with the passages. My accuracy in SC improved considerably and reached a stage where I was getting only 2 SC questions wrong per set of 10 questions and on my CATs. About two weeks before my Test I stopped studying SC. Instead I started doing Quant & RC. 

I gave my MGMAT mocks again one week prior to my GMAT and was very pleased with the results (considering the fact that they are known to be tougher than the real GMAT) 

MGMAT 3 710 - Q47 V40 (27/08)

MGMAT 4 690 - Q46 V38 (29/08)

MGMAT 5 720 - Q47 V41 (31/08)

MGMAT 6 730 - Q50 V39 (01/09)

GMAT PREP 2 760 - Q51 V40

Exam Day

On the exam day, AWA, IR & Quant went pretty well. Once I started my Verbal, I found the sentence correction problems very "unfamiliar". I was unsure about the answers I marked for many SC questions. I tried maintaining the 2 minute/question time limit, but by the time I reached the 20th question I was lagging behind. I ended the Verbal section a minute ahead of time, so I think I might have gone through the last 20 questions a bit too fast at the expense of my accuracy. RC passages were not easy. Even as I was doing my verbal, I was getting a feeling that it was going very bad.

I have never got a V 28 in any of my mock exams. I guess there was Exam Stress and I didn't sleep that well the day before my exam. My plan going forward is to do 2-hour blocks of RC and use LSAT materials for extra RC and CR practice.


Based on the above ‘story’, here are the mistakes with the initial round of studies – this is a list of what could have hurt this Test Taker’s performance:

1) Planning on spending about 2 minutes per question. The amount of work that is required to answer an SC question is considerably less than the amount of work that's required to answer an RC question, so planning to spend the same amount of time on each question is not a good idea. It might work for a time, but it's not a good plan. As a general rule, SCs should take 1 to 1.5 minutes, CRs should take about 2 minutes. RC is tricky because it's best to read the passage and take notes BEFORE you answer the questions (and since RC passages vary in length/content, you could spend up to 5 minutes just reading and taking notes - that's time WELL SPENT though, because it makes answering the questions much faster and easier). 

2) Not studying SC for the last 2 weeks before the Test. GMAT skills fade if you don't practice them. Silly mistakes are more likely to occur, etc.

3) 5 CATs in 1 week was a TERRIBLE IDEA. That can lead to a much higher chance of "burn out" right before taking the actual GMAT. The general rule is no more than 1 CAT/week; you need time to review it and do additional practice before you take the next one.

4) Rushing through the last 20 questions. If that is true, then the Test Taker was unable to handle HALF of the Verbal section properly. It's tough to score at a high level in any section if you're rushing through it.

5) Stress & lack of sleep. This is likely the "biggest" cause of many score drops in the Verbal section. Lack of sleep can have the same "effect" on performance as being really drunk. I hope it goes without saying that neither option will lead to a great result on Test Day.

6) Retaking a CAT that you’ve already used almost always means that you’ll see repeat questions. Any number of repeat questions (on a practice CAT) can artificially "inflate" your score results (some or all of your practice CAT scores could have been 50-100 points higher than your actual ability). If that occurred, then a 660 is within range (albeit at the low end) of how you were actually performing.

7) Doing 2 hours of RC practice in a row is a bad idea. There's no point. On the real GMAT, you won't see any RC until over 3 hours have gone by (and after you've worked through the essay, IR, and the Quant). Everybody is tired by that point, so you have to train to handle RC when you're tired.

8) There's been some debate about using LSAT material to prep for the GMAT. While it has worked for some people, I don't recommend it. LSAT RC is different from GMAT RC - it's longer, has more questions and is pencil-and-paper based. LSAT LR is different from GMAT CR - The questions sometimes involve logic that does NOT appear on the GMAT, includes question types that don't appear either and is also pencil-and-paper. The most realistic practice involves GMAT material used on a computer… and you have to be able to take notes and think while tired.

Think about how aspects of this scenario might match how you are currently studying. Work to adjust your studies so that you can avoid the pitfalls that impact many other Test Takers. The GMAT is a predictable, standardized Test – so are the errors that many Test Takers make during their studies. To that end, we’re here to help.

GMAT assassins aren't born, they're made,


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