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Spot the 6 Major Problems With How This GMAT Test Taker Studied

By Max Peterson On Oct 23, 2015 In  Study Plans General GMAT 


Much like the article from October 9th, 2015, 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. Can you define what those mistakes were and why they are mistakes?


The Story:

My GMAT studies started off in February with the view of taking the exam in September. I hired private tutors for both the quant and the verbal. I was always better off with quants as compared to verbal.

From February to April:

Studying was difficult because of work. I stopped studying for a month, as work got really busy.

I practiced from sources provided by the private tutors to get a grip on the basics of the GMAT. The quants sources seemed to be a bit outdated and they seemed like non-GMAT type questions. The tutors told me to start off with the least effective book for the GMAT and then gradually move onto better books.

From May to June:

For Quant - practiced from the sources provided by the tutor. I felt that they helped me to get a feel of the topics covered in the GMAT, although not right from the basics. Everything felt like it was moving very slow.

For Verbal - did not get much time to practice for the verabal section. Was completely tied down because of work.

From July to August:

This is when I started my intense preparation for the GMAT. I took leave from work so that I could devote the entire day for the GMAT.

For Quant - Revised the questions practiced from the material given by the tutor. Solved questions from the OG in exam type format i.e. 37 questions at a time (22-PS & 15-DS). Scores on these tests kept decreasing, as I assume the difficulty level was increasing. Did not complete the OG - was left with around 100 questions in Quant. Also started working with the Manhattan Strategy Guides (All 5 quant books). Completed them in 10 days.

For Verbal – Worked through Verbal books from Aristotle, The Princeton Review, Cliff’s Guide, Arco guide, Kaplan Verbal book, GMAT Bible and Manhattan Strategy Guide for CR.


3 weeks before my test date, I started taking CATs. The following are my scores: 

1. GMAT Prep - Test 1 - 570 (Q41 V28)

2. GMAT Prep - Test 2 - 610 (Q46 V28)

3. Barron's - Test 1 - 580  

4. MGMAT - Free - 570 (Q42 V27)

5. MGMAT - Test 2 - 630 (Q43 V33)

6. MGMAT - Test 3 - 510 (Q37 V23)

7. MGMAT - Test 4 - 590 (Q44 V28)

8. MGMAT – Test 5 - solved at midnight. Got tired and randomly marked answers (didn't bother about score)

9. MGMAT - Test 6 - 570 (Q42 V27)

10. Kaplan - Free - 630  

11.MGMAT - Test 1A - 590 (Q45 V27)

12.Veritas - Free - 650 (Q44 V35)

Real GMAT - 550 (Q46 V21 IR4 AWA6)


GMAC has publicly stated that a Test Taker’s Official Score is within +-30 points of actual ability, so this student’s Official Score (550) isn’t that far off from many of the practice CAT scores.

Based on the above ‘story’, here is a list of what almost certainly hurt this Test Taker’s performance:

1 - Since this student admits to being stronger in Quant than in Verbal, waiting so long (several months) to really work on Verbal concepts was a bad choice. If it’s going to take longer to improve in a certain area, then you need MORE time (not less).

While I can't speak to the ‘expertise’ of these tutors, some of the activities described are strange:

2 - Starting off one’s studies with questionable resources and "the least effective book" seems like a waste of time. With so much quality practice material on the market, it seems odd to spend time with material that anyone would refer to as "least effective."

3 - If you’re not comfortable with the basics, then working through tougher concepts is not a logical progression. For example, there’s no point in working through higher-level Algebra if you cannot properly do the basic arithmetic ‘steps’ involved.

4 - Attempting to use the OG in "exam format" (working through 22 PS and 15 DS at a time) is an odd way to use that book. Assuming the user simply chose those questions ‘in a row’, it’s unlikely that the sample was diverse enough to represent the overall pool of subjects that he/she would have see on Test Day. There’s also little variation in the difficulty of the material. I'm NOT a fan of this idea at all; it's a waste of a great resource.  Given that this book is one of the MOST realistic sources for practice questions available, leaving a ‘block’ of those question unanswered also seems like a questionable choice.

5 - Using a variety of resources during one’s studies is fine, but the high number of books listed (and the speed with which they were worked through) implies that little of the concepts/tactics/advice were actually absorbed (or even practiced). Churning through practice questions without ‘honing’ one’s skills is pointless. Evidence of this problem occurs when….

6 - So many CATs (12 in total!) were taken during the last 3 weeks. Most of those scores are within 30 points of 600, so improvement was clearly NOT happening.  It takes time to review each CAT, focus on the mistakes that were made, put extra practice time into those areas, etc.  With so many CATs in such a short period of time, it’s clear that NONE of that review/improvement happened.

The reference to taking CAT5 at midnight also seems problematic. If the other CATs were taken at that time (or even at inconsistent times) then there would be little way for this student to be mentally ready for the start time of his/her Official GMAT.


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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