The GMAT is a tough nut to crack. Like many other adaptive tests, the GMAT requires rigorous preparation in the weeks leading up to the exam date. With the right approach and proper planning, however, acing the GMAT is well within reach.

INSEAD MBA students Ekaterina Kuznetsova, Wenyu Yang and Silvia Nelba share some insights on their GMAT preparation strategy and their secrets on how they achieved competitive scores. 

GMAT exam preparation

How long did you take to prepare for your GMAT?

Ekaterina Kuznetsova (EK): I took my long Christmas break as an opportunity to study and approached the GMAT preparation as if it was a real job – getting up early and working on my practices. I spent two intensive weeks preparing for it.

Silvia Nelba (SN): I bought GMAT preparation books at the beginning of October and did my exam at the beginning of December. Overall, I spent two months studying, but only in the evenings after work, and over weekends.

What kind of preparations did you do?

EK: First, I took the mock exam on the official GMAT webpage (a mock exam is also available here). Then, I did simple GMAT questions in the official book. As I was still not getting better, I bought all the Manhattan GMAT books, read them and solved the questions. Manhattan had a breakthrough effect on me. I also bought the Manhattan question banks and practice exams (online resources), which are essentially more GMAT mock exams you can use to practise. That helped with getting used to the pace and allowed me to manage the time needed for the exam.

SN: Practice, practice and practice! I used the “trial and error” approach: at the beginning I tried to answer all the questions, even if I didn’t know how to solve them, completely ignoring time constraints. Once I was done, I looked at the solutions, studied the methods to solve them and paid special attention to hints or shortcut solutions provided by the study guides.

After a week, I tried solving the same problems again under a time constraint and compared scores to see whether there was any improvement.

Which component of the GMAT was the most challenging for you? What did you do to overcome it?

EK: To be honest, all of it was challenging! I had not solved questions like these for a long time and had to learn from scratch. In addition to that, I had to adopt strategies on how to be fast. The Manhattan books really helped in providing different strategies for each type of question.

Wenyu Yang (WY): I was most nervous about the math portion - it had been so long since I had to do any math outside of Excel! I tackled the math guidebooks first and tried to take as many practice tests and go through as many practice questions as I could.

SN: For me, the most challenging section was the “sentence correction”. For that, I read the theory in the official GMAT book and then started practising. In the beginning, my score was really bad, but I progressively improved. The more you practise, the more you will get used to the type of questions and start reasoning in the proper way.

Any secret you can share that helped you achieve a high GMAT score?

SN: I booked my exam in advance. Having a milestone fixed really pushed me to put in all my efforts and to do my best, even when I was tired and unmotivated. Since I was working at that time, I didn’t have much free time. For the two weekends before the exam, I didn’t make any appointments and repeated all the exercises at least twice.

So, book your date for the exam early so that you have a deadline to work towards. Otherwise, you are at risk to postpone it and might even end up missing application deadlines.

EK: Manhattan GMAT books! These books and mock exams are awesome. The Manhattan questions seem more difficult than the real GMAT. When I was practising, I was actually getting quite low scores, while the official exam went very well.

WY: I am not sure if I have any secrets to share, but I do think my strong verbal score significantly helped raise my total score. On another note, I did most of my studying at the gym either on the treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike. I get antsy if I don’t exercise, so I made a rule that I could only work out if I was also studying at the same time. I then got into the habit of going to the gym every day with my books in hand and came to dread studying slightly less.

How did you feel before and after your GMAT exam?

EK: I was “positively anxious" about taking it and was hoping to do well enough so that I wouldn’t have to repeat the exam and move on with my application. After getting my results, I was quite surprised and couldn’t quite believe my score at first. Then, I was very happy and relieved that I would not have to spend the last days of my vacation with more studying.

WY: I felt underprepared going into the exam, and was seriously questioning my choice of scheduling the exam at a whim before I felt ready. When I got the score, I initially thought I was reading it wrong, and later felt an overwhelming relief that I was done with the GMAT forever.

SN: Anxious before and super relaxed after!

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