11 Common Misconceptions about the GMAT

At TestCrackers, we've helped hundreds of students in the San Francisco Bay Area to achieve their goals on the GMAT.  Below are 11 things we consistently hear from students that range from misleading to flat-out wrong.

1) I need to do well on the first 10 questions.

FALSE. Although a much older version of the GMAT scoring algorithm weighed the first 10 questions far more heavily than later questions, this is definitively no longer the case. The best scores come from spreading errors evenly throughout the exam.

2) I need to be able to solve tough quant problems in 2 minutes.

FALSE. We will discuss pacing more in other places, but there are many situations in which it is worth spending up to 3 minutes on a quant problem, and others in which you receive no benefit in your final score from answering a problem correctly.

3) I don’t need to study much for quant because I understand the problems but just tend to make careless mistakes.

FALSE. Being able to solve tricky problems under time pressure without making errors can require significant study and strategy, and the scoring algorithm does not differentiate between a careless and clueless wrong answer.

4) I don’t need to worry about the topic I’m better in/ I need to “balance” my quant and verbal scores.

FALSE. Often the best way to achieve the your maximum overall score (200-800) is to focus on going from a good or decent score in a stronger category to an ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC score. This is particularly true for verbal, in which very high scores are exceptionally rare; for the vast majority of students, improving verbal is the key to breaking 700.

5) I should be able to achieve my goal score within 2 months.

FALSE. Although some people certainly do well in less, the common story posted on message boards on line (“I opened this book for 7.5 minutes and then tried this one weird technique and then scored a 790 and it could have been an 800 except that the mouse wasn’t working and I couldn’t click submit for one of my answers”) is, quite frankly, a crock of shit written by annoying people who want to impress you. Most students spend 3-6 months of hard studying to achieve their scores, and although you might be on the short end, you are likely to see continued improvement throughout that period. If you follow an abbreviated timeline, you may be settling for something below your maximum potential score. For many people that can be good enough, but don’t be discouraged because your study experience doesn’t reflect the made up things that you read on internet forums.

6) I am going to take this practice test untimed or pause in the middle and it will show me something useful.

FALSE. It is never worthwhile to take practice exams untimed. Pacing strategy is a HUGE part of this exam, and practice exams are useful largely because of their ability to help you learn it. There are many better sources of questions if you’re looking for untimed practice. Furthermore, there is a very finite set of accurate practice exams available, and it would be a real shame to waste one untimed.

7) I have to answer every question, no matter how difficult.

FALSE. It is very important to learn to recognize which questions you should skip (guess) and which are worth completing. Many test takers lose valuable time answering difficult questions early in the exam that, even if they are correct, do not wind up helping your overall score. Again, more on pacing and skipping later.

8) I’m a (statistician/ engineer / math nerd / etc) so the quant section should be relatively easy for me.

FALSE. The GMAT quant section tests high school math and covers topics with which you may be very comfortable if you work in one of those (or other quant heavy) roles. Still, mastery of those topics is only the beginning, as the exam also tests logic, speed, and ability to see short-cuts and work without a calculator. Learning strategies and techniques required to tackle difficult problems within the time constraints can be difficult and time consuming, even for people with very strong math backgrounds.

9) To prepare for the verbal section, it is helpful to read The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and other business news.

MOSTLY FALSE. Reading dense, technical articles is a good addition to targeted study as preparation for the verbal section of the GMAT. It is essential, however, that these articles cover areas outside of your comfort zone. Questions try to challenge you by referencing topics you’re unlikely to be familiar with, and you need to build the skill of tackling those. Sure, if you’re not comfortable reading The Economist, it could help you out. But among business school applicants, it is often far more important to build the skill of tackling subjects unrelated to business - hard science topics such as astronomy, chemistry, biology, and sub-atomic particles; social science topics such as history, historiography, and psychology/experiments; and humanities topics such as art theory and literary criticism. Whichever topics seem completely uninteresting or downright frightening to you are the topics that you’d benefit most from reading.

10) The right answer on a sentence correction problem will express the author's intended meaning logically, clearly, and concisely.

FALSE. Wouldn’t that be nice, though? Although these factors do matter, there is a hierarchy of issues with Sentence Correction, and the right answer may violate some of them. It also may be ugly or wordy if the alternatives all contain “grammatical errors.” Learning to recognize sentences with grammar errors that will never be in a correct answer (and can confidently be eliminated immediately) as opposed to those that are simply not preferred (useful for breaking ties but could still be in a correct answer) is a key component of Sentence Correction.

11) I need to take the GMAT to go to business school.

FALSE. With work, it is possible to make enormous improvements in your GMAT score. But that doesn't mean that taking the GMAT is the right choice for everyone. Nearly all schools (including the top ranked programs) will accept the GRE as well, and for many students choosing to study for the GRE represents a smart, strategic choice that can increase your likelihood of admission. A lot of factors go into this decision, and we're happy to talk it over with you if you're not sure what will make the most sense for you.


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