Here are some facts, reminders, and strategies to improve the last couple weeks or so of studying until you face off with (and hopefully destroy) the GMAT.
In the last few weeks you should be winding down your prep and spending most of your time accomplishing a comprehensive review. You should review all formulae, rules, approaches, strategies, and personal notes from the very beginning of your book/preparation materials, and ensure that everything is committed to memory.
Review Review Review
How to review
A good review strategy is to go through your preparation materials and look at every problem asking yourself what was the point conveyed on that page or by that problem. Most companies use example problems to convey a particular concept/technique/strategy. Thus, if you look at each problem you should be able to identify the major concept conveyed and the approaches outlined. If there is more than one problem associated with a concept then you should identify the nuances associated with each problem. Reviewing in this way will hopefully leave you with a comprehensive map of the topics and strategies for the GMAT.
Map your strategies
As you review for the test you should focus on overriding strategies. Strategies come in many flavors, but two key types of strategies are: content strategies and guessing strategies. You should be sure to organize and use them accordingly.
Content strategies are based on the subject area and define the approach to that area. This approach should be flexible enough to encompass all major variations of questions in this area.
Optimally you will never use guessing strategies, however, if the unthinkable happens and you have to guess, you should have strategies in place.
Your practice in the last few weeks/days should not only shift to review but should also broaden in scope. The closer you get to your actual test date the fewer new or topic specific questions you want to do. The closer you get to your test date the more your practice should become comprehensive. In the last couple of weeks you should choose one or two specific areas to focus on improving and then practice comprehensively with the rest of your time. You should also consider how you will use practice tests.
Practice tests are evaluation tools and should be used as such; they are NOT learning tools. You use tests to asses what you have learned and your ability to apply that learning under conditions as similar to the real exam as you can make them. As such you should only be taking practice tests about once per week (unless you are not working), and the tests should simulate the conditions of the actual test as much as possible (especially in the last few weeks before the real exam).
Key points for simulating practice tests:
- Do the practice test at the same time of day as you’ve scheduled the official test for.
- Simulate the erasable notepad or use 10 sheets of yellow grid paper fastened at the top (if you are concerned about using the notepad you can purchase one here).
- Use tests that are as similar in look and feel to the actual exam as possible, which means use GMATPREP.
- Accurately simulate conditions: the room should be quiet but not silent (libraries are probably better than your house).
- Accurately simulate test rules: no snacks or drinks during the test, take exactly 10 minutes between sections, and complete the essays.
Review your practice tests in detail
The only way to improve your performance is to spend significant time reviewing your performance. You must analyze what you did well and what you did poorly. More importantly you must develop a plan to correct and prevent what you did poorly. Because you must give yourself enough time to review the test and potentially find your teacher to answer questions you don’t understand, taking a test in the last week before your exam is not a good idea (it often does not allow enough time to act on any problems or issues you find).
Relax and Refresh
The process of studying for the GMAT can be long and sometimes painful. Take these last few days and weeks to re-energize for the test. You want to go into the GMAT energized, confident, and feeling prepared to make your best effort. Do whatever you need to find the positive in your practice test. (Remember a low practice score does not mean you didn’t learn anything.) Some key things you can do to ease the stress and anxiety going into the test:
Find the silver lining
Every time you review a set of questions or test note to yourself first all the things you’ve done well, all the ways that you’ve avoided mistakes you made in the past, and all the ways you’ve put the studying you’ve done to your advantage. If you get more right in the first 10 of a practice test that’s IMPROVEMENT (even if the total score is the same). You should then focus on extending that streak further so you can see improvement next time. If you get all the exponents right this time and previously you didn’t that’s improvement. Finding the silver lining will make a big difference in your attitude, help you stick with the plan, and ultimately get you a better score.
Stay positive, apply motivational techniques
Yes the GMAT is annoying, frustrating, disconcerting and a whole lot of other adjectives that are rude to type, but you must absolutely not let it depress, de-motivate, or dissuade you. You have to personally step up to the challenge. You have to accept that you will lose some fights. You will get your butt kicked sometimes but that will not deter, derail or diminish you. Find ways to motivate or trick yourself into relaxing as much as possible on the test. If you get pumped up by music, create a playlist to listen to before you start any GMAT study and before your real test. If you work better when relaxed, go to the spa for a nice massage the day before your exam.
Catch up on your rest. You cannot make up in one night not getting proper sleep for 2 months. Take these last few days to get 8 hours of sleep each night. Go into your GMAT rested and prepared to concentrate for 4 hours.
As always, good luck. Now go destroy the GMAT!