What To Do If You’re Not Improving (Or Not Sure)
The very short answer: Check whether you’ve practiced enough. If you haven’t, continue practicing. If you have, try working with a tutor.
Improvement on the GMAT is difficult to predict. The test is designed specifically to be something that you can’t improve upon; it challenges reasoning skills that you have developed over your entire lifetime, and there is virtually no information to “cram” for the exam. Furthermore, sometimes you may improve in the course of your GMAT practice without being able to feel it, and your improvement may not manifest until late in the game, such as on the day you sit for the test.
So, the first thing to do when you feel you’re not improving is to persevere. Don’t give up. It’s too early for that kind of thinking.
That said, there are definitely many cases of individuals who prepare extensively for the exam and who can’t manage to improve much from their initial practice exam. The very short answer is check whether you’ve practiced enough. If you haven’t, continue practicing. If you have practiced thoroughly, it’s time to try working with a tutor. Here’s the longer answer:
1. Reexamine Your Schedule
There are two parts to this step:
- First, you may not have practiced enough to expect improvement. If you have not put in approximately a month of practice of two hours a day – or two months of one-hour-a-day practice – you haven’t practiced enough to expect improvement. Given the points above (that improvement may came late and unexpectedly), you may succeed simply with more practice.
- Second, reconsider your deadlines. MBA applicants tend to start the application process too late and box themselves in. Generally, the GMAT takes at least a month and school essays take at least another month, but each of those steps can easily take longer. Maybe you should keep pushing hard on the GMAT, but with the intention to apply in the following year. This option tends to be unappealing to people who want to move on with their career. But you know what’s most appealing? Success. And if success means another year, consider another year.
2. Review More
Here’s a pattern of failure I’ve seen many times: a person starts to get a notion that he or she isn’t improving fast enough to achieve his or her GMAT goal. In response, this person practices questions faster and reviews them less, in an effort to get through as many questions as possible. Such a response is exactly the wrong tactic. If you fear improvement isn’t happening, you should review more, not less.
I could go into a long explanation of this fact, but the easiest way to prove it out is to try it. The more radically you try it, the more radically you will feel the results. If you’ve done 100 questions in this course, try reviewing these questions more thoroughly than you’d ever considered. Review them in both text and video format. Review them repeatedly, backwards and forwards. Even try memorizing the explanations and the questions themselves. The more comfort you establish with the questions you’ve done, the more comfort you’ll have going forward.
The final main “failure mode” of people who hit a wall on the GMAT is an unwillingness to experiment and adapt. A classic example is the use of the noteboard. Countless times, I have looked over someone’s shoulder in person or electronically at their noteboard work and urged that person to change the way they write scratch work, and the person has refused. We tend to have personal convictions, even a sense of identity, about the way we do simple things. You may think of yourself as a person who doesn’t need to write out basic computations, or as a person who doesn’t need to write notes neatly. These conceptions can be barriers to progress. Experimenting, observing, and adapting in your approach to the GMAT can have shocking benefits.
4. Work with a Tutor
Obviously, many people succeed on the GMAT without ever working with a tutor. But everyone could benefit from working with a tutor, even top scorers. A good tutor is not only an expert in remediation of basic knowledge areas, but also a coach – and pros, especially the best pros, tend to work with coaches.
The primary benefit of tutoring over other learning methods is that a coach can give you advice that 1) is based on your personal performance and which 2) can challenge or look beyond your self-diagnosis. To go back to the noteboard example from point #3: a tutor, unlike this website, can look and see what you’ve written to solve a question. And that individual can push you to try techniques slightly outside your comfort zone that have paid off for other GMAT takers.
In summary, I recommend trying a couple hours with a tutor to anyone taking the GMAT. But the situation is different if you’ve practiced a lot and you’re stuck; in that case, working with a coach is my primary recommendation. Over the years, it’s far and away the step that I’ve seen work most consistently.
If you get serious about this option, I may be able to recommend a tutor for you or tutor you myself.