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How to not stress out about the GMAT

July 24, 2012 - Professional Development

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I took the first step toward an MBA: I completed the GMAT exam.

A PlusA little IT Millennial trivia tidbit: I was home schooled, and besides for taking an ISTEP exam or two in elementary school, I’ve been able to dodge and weave through every other standardized test out there, including the SAT. (That kind of dodging takes serious skill! And by the way, I’ve done just fine.) But there was no avoiding the GMAT at this juncture, unless I was willing to wait a few more years to waive this one too, based on management experience. I instead decided to take the leap.

I was determined to not stress out about the exam. Though I wouldn’t consider it a completely stress-free experience, I was actually able to go through this multiple-month process without too much angst. So I thought I’d share my methodology with you (as simplistic as it may sound) in case you’re considering the same.

1. Take a diagnostic exam early

I needed to know where to start, from a studying perspective (note: start early, months and months in advance). But the only way to know where to start was to first know my weakness(es), and the only way to discover my weaknesses was to take a diagnostic exam. I borrowed a great book from the library called The Official Guide for GMAT Review, which includes a paper-based diagnostic test at the beginning of the book. After completing the test, the book will guide you on how your answers scored, and where you may need to focus when studying (Quantitative, Verbal, etc).

2. Get specific study guide(s)

So, in my case, I rocked the Verbal section of the diagnostic exam, but… well… did the opposite of rock the Quantitative section. (Math and I don’t get along very well.) While The Official Guide for GMAT Review is an okay general study guide, I found it just didn’t dive deep enough into any one particular area to truly improve my performance in my area of weakness. So I purchased an excellent workbook that focused specifically on that section: Barron’s GMAT Math Workbook. Best purchase under $10 that I’ve ever made. It provided detailed reviews and practice problems not only of the various math rules and formulas I needed, but also included details on the different question types (like Data Sufficiency). I’d recommend this workbook to anyone, and I’m sure there are similar workbooks for the Verbal section as well.

3. Take practice exams for timing

watch the timeIf you’re already using detailed study guides and workbooks, it may feel redundant to use the free GMATPrep software you get when you register for the exam. However, I highly recommend taking the practice exams in the software, if for nothing else to practice timing. The workbooks are great for learning the material, but they don’t help much when it comes to pacing yourself during the real-deal exam. Take the timed exams in the GMATPrep software to make sure you’re pacing yourself adequately. It’s incredibly important to not allow yourself to run out of time in any given section of the GMAT, as you aren’t penalized for answering a question incorrectly as much as you’re penalized for leaving some completely blank. (Remember: You can’t skip any questions in the GMAT.)

4. Get plenty of sleep the night before

At this point, you’ve worked hard. Skip the late night cramming the night before the exam. Eat a dinner that will leave you waking up feeling good the next day, and go to bed with plenty of time to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re anything like me, you just can’t focus and concentrate nearly as well when you’re tired. Give your months of studying the credit it deserves and take the exam well rested. You’ll be glad you did.


Even with the kind of mindset described above, it’s impossible not to stress the week before, with all the last minute studying that inevitably will occur. But all-in-all, taking a methodical, planned approach to preparing for the GMAT kept the process surprisingly low-stress, and made for an overall positive experience.

Have you already taken the GMAT? Do you have any prep tips that stood out for you?

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