GMAT Test-Taking Strategies That Work by Yolanda O’Neal, M.B.A.


Winning requires a good strategy in chess, and the same is true in acing the GMAT. It’s not enough to excel at algebra or geometry or even writing essays. For high scores, mastery of the content is certainly required — but what separates the top performers from the mediocre ones is the applied strategies that make top scorers highly efficient.Stresses about a test

What are these strategies? They fall into two categories. One set of strategies involves how business school applicants plan for the GMAT. The second set involves how to take the test. Again, as in chess, the top performers know and use many strategies. Here, we share just a few of these strategies.

Test Prep Strategies

Get to know the exam. Preparing for the test by learning the types of questions, question formats, and the problem-solving process helps test takers answer questions faster and more confidently.

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test (CAT). Most test takers have not previously taken a CAT, so it’s important to learn to work effectively with both the computer screen and the erasable note boards.

Study effectively. When studying for the test, answer sample questions and do not move on to new questions until you can explain why the correct answer is right and an incorrect answer is wrong. This ensures that test takers understand the underlying concepts and can correctly answer essentially the same problem when it is stated differently on the actual test.

Test takers who want to score in the top percentile need to recognize and practice answering hard questions, because those answers are weighted more heavily than answers to questions of average difficulty. The majority of the questions in most GMAT preparation books are average-level questions. The most efficient way to practice and learn to answer the hard questions is by using test preparation materials that are customized to achieve the highest scores.

Organize your preparation schedule. Start by planning backwards from two test dates and allowing a minimum of three months of learning and practice. A good schedule would be to start studying for the GMAT in July. Next, take your first GMAT exam in late summer or early fall, because taking the test in September or October leaves time to retake it in November, if necessary, while still meeting the application deadlines. Applicants will get a head start on the admissions process by taking the GMAT during the summer. Having test scores available early allows applicants to apply to business schools earlier in the admissions cycle, when more spots are available and before the more competitive period begins. If timing is an issue, consider applying to business schools in the fall and early spring of the following year.

Plan a trip to the test site. Knowing the best route and mode of transportation to get to the site, knowing what traffic is like at that time of day, knowing how long it takes to get there – all these contribute to an applicant’s confidence.

Test-Taking Strategies

Answer as many questions as you can in each section, because the number of questions answered is incorporated into the calculation of scores. What’s unique about the new computer-adaptive test is that it measures the difficulty level of the questions that a test taker answers, and it adjusts the difficulty score based on the answer to each question answered. Therefore, test takers want to avoid getting a whole string of questions wrong because this will significantly and negatively affect the score.

Each question should be read carefully and thoroughly. Once a test taker answers a question and moves on to the question on the next screen, it’s not possible to return to the previous question.

Manage your time wisely. Because the quantitative section provides an average of two minutes per question and the verbal section 1.75 minutes a question, time management is crucial.

Another time saver is carefully using the erasable note boards. Because the test is on a computer screen, the testers will provide the note boards on which to work out calculations. Applicants should rewrite only what’s necessary, and avoid copying errors to minimize the need to recopy information from the screen.

Use the process of elimination when “guessing.” This is no time for test takers to try to save minutes by randomly guessing answers. If it’s necessary to guess, choose the best answer through a process of elimination.

Here’s how…If a question is too time-consuming or if the test taker does not know the answer, discard as many answers as possible and then select the best answer from the remaining answers. This is a four-step process:

  1. Eliminate answers that you know are wrong.
  2. Eliminate answers that look suspicious, e.g., answers that are completely different from the other choices.
  3. If you are working on a hard question, eliminate easy answers. Easy questions have easy answers. Hard questions do not. Pick one of the remainders.
  4. End the test the right way and at the right time.

When a test taker finishes the test, the computer will offer the option of canceling the test or accepting it. If the test taker cancels the test, neither she nor any school will see the score. If the test taker accepts the test, the computer will display the score and it will be available to all schools. Canceling will instantly cost a month in the application process.

These are just a few of the strategies that top performers use to ace the GMAT. Realize, however, that these are not shortcuts. It’s still necessary to study to adequately prepare for the test. When taking the GMAT, as when playing chess, there’s no substitute for thinking ahead.

To learn more about secrets behind the GMAT’s computer-adaptive format, key skills and content on which to focus, and successful strategies that “top” scorers use, visit


“GMAT” is a registered trademark of the Graduate Management Admission Council, which does not endorse, nor is it affiliated with Ace Tutoring Services. Yolanda O’Neal, M.B.A., President, Ace Tutoring Services, (773) 878-8892,

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