Below is a letter from a test-taker seeing advice for GMAT preparation (some names have been changed to maintain the person’s anonymity):

Hello,

My name is Nunya and I am currently planning to apply to MBA programs. I am struggling with the GMAT and am looking for any suggestions on study strategies that you may have to offer.

Last year, I took a six week GMAT prep course that the University of Malawi offered through their College of Continuing Education program. The course ended on July 19 and I took the GMAT on August 30. I will admit that my study schedule between the last class and the day of the test was not consistent and I could have devoted more time to it. My overall score was a 530 with a 32 in Verbal and 31 in Quantitative.

This year, I decided to get more serious about the test. I took an eight week Kaplan course that ended a few months ago. From the day that the course ended until last week (3 months), the day of my test, I studied three hours a day and took one practice exam almost every week. Most of my studying was focused on the quantitative area. When I first started taking the practice exams, my scores were all over the place from 490-590. In the last four exams, my scores were consistently at 590, however, I never scored in the 600s. On the day of the exam, I scored 540 overall with a raw score of 29 in verbal and 35 in quantitative.

I am going to retake the exam, but I undoubtedly need a new strategy. Is there anything that you would recommend? Any suggestions or feedback is greatly appreciated.

Thanking you in advance,

Nunya B.

Dear Nunya,

Let me first give you my observations based on your scores and comments.

First, GMAT scores (especially practice tests that are not from GMAC) are approximate and any score should be thought of as a range, so basically you scored exactly where you were scoring in practice (assuming all practice tests have a margin of error of 30 – 50 points up or down). Your quant is up (as you had been focusing there) and your verbal is flat (again not surprising). So your performance held true. This is actually exactly what you want, so you know that you have to see growth in your practice scores before you take the official test again since you are consistent in how you score on real and practice tests (when you take into account the margin of error).

None of your commentary speaks to causes of your score. You mention the score and the amount of time you’ve put in, and the courses you took but you never provided an analysis or mention of what you think has prevented you from reaching the 600 level. You should dig into that a bit more. You can only really make progress by understanding what the roadblocks are. Every time you get a question wrong you need to know why you got it wrong (is it Knowledge, Recognition, or Execution) and then how you are going to prevent the same mistake next time (what practice will you do, what skill do you need to develop, what formula do you need to memorize, what indicators existed in the problem that would have told you the proper approach?).

I’m not sure exactly what new strategy I could give you, since I don’t know what strategy you’ve been using. It seems that since your score is reflective of what you’ve been doing in your practice, you need to analyze how you’ve been practicing and how to further increase your effectiveness, and how to get out of the score range you are in. I have a few suggestions (really questions and considerations since I don’t know you well enough to give firm suggestions). From my observations most test-takers who get stuck in the 33 – 38 quant range or the 29 -35 verbal range, tend to have trouble transitioning from memorizing to applying, have trouble balancing strategy and content in order to make a clear choice as to the best approach based on the problem at hand, or have trouble combining multiple approaches/strategies/formulas. You need to assess who you are as a test-taker and then work on making that you better.

Suggestions:

1. Spend as much or more time in analysis of your errors as you do in doing problems or looking at explanations. Explanations are only good if they relate to how YOU did the problem and provide insight into how you make mistakes. You don’t care how someone else would do the problem you only care about how you did it and what was good and bad in what you did.

2. Analyze the amount of content understanding you have. Kaplan is big on strategy but tends to leave you on your own for learning much of the content. You need to know how well you actually understand the rules.

3. Identify the primary drivers in your score.
Once you identify the primary drivers in your performance we can start to figure out how to fix it. That answer might be a tutor but a tutor may not be effective if he/she doesn’t have the ability or incentive to help you diagnose whats going on, as the diagnosis of the causes of your score and recommendation of solutions is the hardest part of tutoring. If your only trouble is content, then its much more likely you will be successfully with almost any tutor, as teaching the content is easier, though teaching how to apply that content can be a bit trickier.

I hope this helps, let me know if you need any clarification.

Best,

Akil

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