Noodle Pro Tom Miller has been tutoring the GMAT since 1995, and is one of the first professional instructors to teach the GMAT online. As a tutor, he has written test materials, created curricula, and trained teachers to maximize success on a variety of standardized tests. A former international attorney, Tom also taught Business, Business Law, and English as a Second Language in northern Europe and in the Middle East. Suffice it to say: he knows business school, and he knows what it takes to earn a high GMAT score.
Here are Thomas’ 100 Tips for a successful GMAT.
General Information and Tips
1. The GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT), meaning that the first 10 – 12 questions of a section determine the difficulty level of the ones coming up. So a good performance on the first 10 – 12 gets you to higher value questions more quickly: a decided advantage!
2. Unlike most exams with which you are familiar, you may not skip questions or come back to them; you must answer them in the order in which they appear.
3. When you take practice exams (or work practice sets), create circumstances as similar to those of the exam as you are able. Work in 30 or 75 minute sections, and ignore all distractions. Time yourself when you practice; you’ll find you get faster not by trying to beat the clock, but by becoming increasingly familiar with the questions and how to approach them.
4. Though it is a CAT, don’t worry about how you are doing based on how difficult each question feels to you. Because GMAC distributes experimental (unscored) questions throughout the CAT, in a sequence unrelated to the adaptive algorithm, you might encounter an absurdly easy question that makes you think you’re bombing, or an all-but-impossible one early on to make you feel intimidated. Therefore …
5. Never worry about whether a question is (or is not) experimental. About 25% of them are, but because you must answer the questions in the order in which they appear, and because you can’t be sure which questions are scored and which ones aren’t, you should just do your best on all of them.
6. Your time position matters; you should be keeping pace throughout. Your final score and the elapsed time have a direct relationship.
7. Keep your hand moving – if you get to the point where you are frozen, it’s time to pick some answer and move on, confident that more workable questions are coming soon.
8. When considering potential tutors and instructors, listen carefully; if possible, have a look at their writing. If they make grammatical errors, they are not the people with whom you want to study.
9. This is not a gold mine – look for the dirt, (incorrect answers), not the gold (correct answers). Question writers do not compose correct answers that leap off of the page or screen screaming, “Pick me, pick me, pick me!“
10. Slow down to save time – you only have to do it once if you make no errors the first time through. If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, where will you find the time to fix it and get the points?
Tips for Mastering Math
11. Regardless of the apparent complexity of a question, never be intimidated. If a question were really over your head, you would not see it — the CAT algorithm wouldn’t give it to you. So while you may not have seen this math concept for a while, remember there is nothing here that you didn’t see in high school and college preparatory math classes.
12. Do not try to solve for X. You don’t care what X is, and neither does GMAC. You only care about whether you would have enough information to solve for it; any time there is more than one possible value for X, the data are not sufficient.
13. Avoid the use of the words “yes” or “no.” Avoid using the words “yes” or “no” when evaluating the statements. Rather, use “Sufficient” of “Not Sufficient”. Remember; you are evaluating the statements, not the question itself. Regardless of whether the question is answered with “yes / no” or a value of x, your mission is to evaluate the statements as “sufficient” or “not sufficient” to answer that question.
14. Be sure that you understand what each of the answers means.
15. Consider each of the statements in a vacuum:
- If the first statement is not sufficient, neither A nor D can be correct.
- Similarly, if the first statement is in fact sufficient, neither B, C, nor E can be correct.
- If both statements are too easy to be true, it’s too easy to be true: don’t pick C.
- If you don’t understand fully what is going on, don’t pick E as a default; just because the data are confusing doesn’t mean they’re insufficient.
- Neither should you choose C based solely on the question’s incomprehensibility. It may need all of the help it can get in order to be deciphered, but that does not mean that C is the correct answer.
16. Be careful to ensure that you have completed all of the steps to a question. Most of the questions require several calculations to answer, not just one. Very few may be answered by simply eyeballing the question and thinking about it for a moment. Remember, the questions — and therefore, the answers — are challenging enough to determine where you will go to business school.
17. Understanding prime factors and how they work together will give you a leg up on understanding a large part of the math behind problem solving questions.
18. If the answer looks too easy or too good to be true, it probably is. Pick something else!
19. Be sure to look at the answer choices before you decide what to do (and/or before you start doing something). Common sense will go a long way in helping you to determine whether an answer is reasonable.
20. Know your basics. Know how to do long division and multiplication by hand. Know how to add, multiply, and divide fractions. Make sure you’ve got the multiplication tables through 12 memorized. He who knows a number’s multiples and factors wields great power.
21. Because you have no calculator, it is usually easier to work with fractions than it is to work with decimals. Know how to add, multiply, and divide fractions.
22. When working with fractions, you may not cancel across an addition or subtraction sign. Be sure you know this, as you will be given many opportunities to make this mistake.
23. Know that the order of operations is PE(MD)(AS): these stand for parentheses, exponents, multiplication and division, and addition and subtraction.
24. If you have an opportunity to factor an expression, do so. Very large numbers and variables raised to larger powers that are being added together or subtracted one from another are good examples of this: (x³ – x²) = x²(x – 1)
25. If you have an opportunity to distribute, do so. x²(x – 1) = (x³ – x²)
26. Under no circumstances can you combine exponential expressions unless and until they have the same base.
27. xº = 1, unless x = 0. 0º is undefined.
28. Understand the importance of 0. 0 is even. 0 is neither positive nor negative. 0 is an integer. 0! = 1.
29. Know and recognize the expression for the sum of two variables squared: (x + y)² = x² + 2xy + y² ; and for the difference between two variables squared: (x – y)² = x² – 2xy + y² ; be able to recognize both sides of the following equation: (x + y) (x –y) = x² – y²
30. Know the mean, median, and mode. The mean is the average value of the members of a set. The median is the middle value when the members of the set are arranged consecutively (if the set contains an even number of members, the median is not a member of the set, but rather the mean of the middle two members). The mode is the value that shows up most frequently in a set. There may be more than one mode.
31. All problems about averages (means) include three pieces of data: the number of values involved, the total of those values, and the average itself. In order for the question to have a correct answer, (and they all do), the problem must give you either two of those three data, or enough information to calculate or derive two of the three.
32. Rates are no different from the above; the problem must give you two out of three of distance, rate, and elapsed time, or they must give you enough information to derive two of those three.
33. Be able to recognize questions about prime numbers, which are numbers with only two factors. Common primes you’ll use are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17. Neither zero nor one is prime. 2 is the smallest prime, and it is the only even prime.
34. Know the rules of even divisibility for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9. Remember, no calculators on the math section!
35. √x √y = √(xy) and √(x/ y) = √x/ √y
36. Write out all of your math work. You are less likely to make an error, and, if you do, you only need to go back as far as where the error occurred — as opposed to starting the whole thing again from scratch.
37. Remember to switch the sign in an inequality if you multiply or divide by a negative number. For example, > or > becomes < or < (-x < 7 becomes x > -7).
38. Questions containing the phrases, “must be” or “could be” will require more than one calculation to eliminate all of the incorrect answers.
39. Know your basic geometry. The sum of the angles in a triangle is 180°. A straight line is a 180° angle. There are 360° in circle. The area of a circle is πr². The circumference of a circle is 2πr.
40. When it comes to geometry questions, as is the case with average and rate questions, realize that the question must give you enough information to solve the problem. Therefore, the wise exam taker establishes what he or she wants to know and what information has been given, realizing that the given information must be enough to derive that which is required to solve the problem.
41. Remember that looking at the answer choices before beginning to grind numbers is often advantageous. Many of the answer choices are simply outlandish; areas will always be greater than zero; the sum of the angles in the triangle will always equal 180°; the sum of the angles in a quadrilateral will always equal 360°, etc. Any answers that are clearly from outer space should be immediately marked incorrect.
42. Any diagram marked as, “not drawn to scale,” is most assuredly not drawn to scale. In fact, it is drawn to mislead the less than attentive exam taker. Be aware of this fact, and re-draw the figure according to the measurements described in the problem.
43. When asked for the area of a shaded section, or, similarly, for the area of a part of a larger figure, calculate the area of the larger figure and subtract what you don’t need.
44. When you see two parallel lines intersected by a transversal, do not worry about the names of the angles – alternate exterior, etc. Just know the following:
- All of the smaller angles are congruent.
- All of the larger angles are congruent.
- the measure of one large angle plus the measure of one small angle equals 180°
45. The largest side of the triangle is opposite its largest angle, and the smallest side of the triangle is opposite its smallest angle. The third side of a triangle may be no larger than the sum of the other two sides, and no smaller than the difference of the other two sides.
46. The GMAT loves right triangles. Be aware that the most common integer value Pythagorean triples are:
- 3: 4 : 5
- 6 : 8 : 10
- 5 : 12 : 13
- 7 : 24 : 25
- … and multiples of the above
47. Probability is always best expressed as a fraction:
- The probability of an event occurring = (# of successful outcomes / # of possible outcomes).
- The probability that an event does not occur is (1 – the probability of occurrence).
- The probability that, “at least” x occurrences of an event will happen is (1 – the probability that the event does not occur).
48. Permutations are different than combinations, in that order matters. The lock on your bicycle is misnamed: it is a “permutation lock,” not a “combination lock,” because the order of the numbers matters. Permutations often ask for arrangements. Combinations often ask for groups. There are always more permutations than there are combinations, because a different order is a new permutation; it is not a new combination.
49. Therefore … the way to keep the formulas straight is to remember that the formula for combinations has a larger denominator, because there are fewer combinations than there are permutations.
50. If you are doing a lot of algebra on a combination or permutation question, you’ve missed something. They tend to run pretty quickly once you set them up.
51. f(x) is f(x), regardless of how the exam expresses it. If the exam states that Фx = 3x for all x > 0 and x/3 for all x < 0, and you know that x = 7, then Фx = 21. Period. End. Full stop. Remember… The GMAT rewards an ability to follow directions. Do exactly what they ask you to do exactly when they ask you to do it. Save the bright and creative ideas for business school; they’ll be rewarded there, but they’ll be penalized on GMAT function questions.
Tips for Mastering Verbal
52. Most students find sentence completion to have the best ROI. Learning a few rules will yield many points!
53. Unless you are exceptionally literate, never—under any circumstances—rely on what sounds right to you, or what you may have seen or heard in mainstream publications. The brutal fact is that most people whom you hear speak and whose writing you read would score very poorly on the verbal component of the GMAT.
54. Be alert that answer choice A, (no change), is right 20% of the time, or, one time out of five. Do not be afraid to choose A when you find nothing wrong with the sentence as written.
55. If no obvious grammatical error leaps out at you, look at the answer choices. See what is changing between them; this will give you a clear idea of what the question is testing.
56. Always pay attention to verbs before anything else. The verbs help you to identify the sentence’s component parts, and they are the tea leaves: they tell you where the sentence is going.
57. The GMAT predominantly tests six particular themes in sentence corrections. They are: subject verb agreement, misplaced modifiers, parallel construction, parallel comparisons, consistent tense usage, and pronoun agreement. If you can spot and correct all of these, you should be in very good shape!
58. The name of any city, state, or country, including the United States and the Netherlands, despite all indications of being plural, is, by convention, singular. Among nouns that one might think would be plural, but in fact aren’t, are:
59. Note the differences between countable and non-countable nouns:
- You will have a few/ few/ fewer countable nouns, a particular number of countable nouns, and many countable nouns. Countable nouns include chairs, as opposed to music.
- You will have a little/ little/ less of an uncountable noun, an amount or quantity of an uncountable noun, and much of an uncountable noun. Uncountable nouns include music, as opposed to chairs.
60. Use “were” and “would” in the subjunctive – never use “was.” “If I were you, I would use ‘were’ rather than ‘was’.”
61. Each pronoun refers to one and only one subject or object. Be alert; that one subject or object may be a compound, such as “John and Mary,” or “the dish and the spoon.”
62. Use “as” in comparisons of verbs; use “like” in comparisons of nouns.
63. The instructions state specifically to answer the questions based on what is “in the passage.” It is a closed universe: rely only on the information in the passage (until you get into business school).
64. There is no order of difficulty in the Reading Comprehension section. No single passage or question is considered to be more or less difficult than another.
65. Answer these questions for yourself first, to answer the ones the exam asks you:
- What is the passage about?
- What is this paragraph about?
66. The first sentence of each paragraph will tell you what that paragraph is about.
67. While the passages are not particularly interesting, they are certainly well constructed. You can learn a lot about the overall theme of the passage from the first two sentences of the first paragraph, and the last two sentences of the last paragraph.
68. Be able to differentiate between general questions and specific questions. General questions have general answers; specific questions have specific answers — and specific locations in the passage in which to find these answers.
69. Any time the reading comprehension section uses the word, “inference,” what they are really asking is, “what do you absolutely know to be true based on the passage?”
70. Questions in the Reading Comprehension section are subject to a greater degree of interpretation than are the questions in the math section. Correct answers often contain hedging language, language with which it is difficult to argue. Such language includes the words:
In the same vein, more extreme language is very easy to dispute, and is therefore less likely to be included in a correct answer. Examples include:
71. The world of the GMAT is a very respectful and friendly place. No one is likely to show extreme emotion or disrespect for anyone else – particularly not in a correct answer.
72. Similarly, the most pessimistic emotion you are likely to find is advocacy of a view opposed to one articulated earlier. Open combat and overt opposition do not exist in the realm of this exam.
73. In order to analyze an argument’s construction, and, therefore, to determine which answer choices do and do not make sense, you must know the component parts of an argument. Understand the conclusion, the premises, and the assumptions. The conclusion is the reason the argument exists in the first place; it is the point the proponent of the argument wants to make.The premises are the evidence upon which the conclusion is based. The assumptions are the unstated facts which one must assume to be true in order for the argument to make sense.
74. Begin every critical reasoning question by reading the question first, before reading the argument. You must know where you are going if you are to know if and when you have arrived.
75. Read the arguments in the critical reasoning section word-for-word and very carefully; this is not an iTunes end user agreement. It is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition, which, if you analyze properly, will get you into business school.
76. Contrary to what you have learned in so many other forums, making an argument to include a possible answer that is somewhere on the fringes is not to be rewarded. Look to eliminate things that don’t work, rather than to include things which might.
77. Recognize a statistical assumption, and be sure that the sample does in fact represent the population. Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister of England in the late 1800s, was reputed to have said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
78. Recognize a causal assumption. One of the most popular is to rely upon the assumption that there is nothing else on the planet which might have caused a particular result.
79. Correlation ≠ causation. Really.
80. Recognize analogous assumptions; as is the case in Sentence Corrections, you must compare apples to apples, and oranges to oranges. Many arguments attempt to compare two items that are not, logically speaking, comparable.
81. Assumptions are never stated in the argument. If a question asks you to identify an assumption, refer to points number 77, 78, and 80, and ask, “on which assumption does this argument rely?” Under no circumstances should you choose language from the passage.
82. Be advised of the interpretive nature of arguments, similar to the nature of Reading Comprehension. As four of the answers must be wrong, the wise exam taker eliminates the four most wrong answer choices and is satisfied to pick the least unappealing remaining choice.
83. Be wary before choosing an answer that sounds, “businessy.” They often sound that way to attract attention they don’t really merit.
Tips for Mastering Integrated Reasoning
84. The integrated reasoning section is not computer adaptive. Therefore, work the easiest part of each question first.
85. Integrated reasoning is something of a hybrid category: it combines the skills demanded by both the verbal and the quantitative sections. Those who do well in integrated reasoning tend to read carefully and move methodically. Those who do particularly well tend to read carefully and move methodically at a good pace.
86. Don’t get stubborn; with only 30 minutes, you need to keep moving. But don’t sacrifice your focus; think “brisk pace” rather than “mad dash.”
87. Know the types of questions in advance. Questions address Table Analysis, (spreadsheets), Graphic Interpretation, (graphs and charts), Two Part Analysis, (two related questions), and Multi-Source Reasoning, (the information required for correct answers comes from multiple sources).
88. Be comfortable with percentages and medians. Pay particular attention to labels that tell you what the data represent.
89. Know that you may only sort by one column at a time; this is the GMAT, not Microsoft Excel.
90. Start by opening the drop down boxes; these are the answers, and again, it is easier to know when you have arrived if you know where you are headed.
91. Pay attention to the units. The devil is often found in the details.
92. These look a lot like Problem Solving questions in the Quantitative section, and should be addressed in a similar fashion—except for those that look a lot like Critical Reasoning questions; those should be addressed as are Critical Reasoning Questions.
93. Review the information on each tab; you must know what you are looking at. From this review, you can go straight to the information you need.
94. Time spent getting to know the lay of the land is time well spent. Reading the tabs and understanding what each one is about as well as the relationship(s) between the tabs’ data before addressing the questions will help you to hone in on what each of the questions is really after.
Tips for Test Day
95. Schedule the exam far enough in advance that you have adequate time to prepare. Practicing to stay sharp is good; cramming to get sharp is not.
96. If it is at all possible, visit the exam site before your test date. You’ll know exactly where to go, how long it takes to get there, where to park, etc.
97. Eat something before the exam; research has shown that taking a test on an empty stomach is not a good idea. Make sure your snack is something that is not particularly high in sugar; nuts, trail mix, etc., are far preferable to something like a Snickers bar.
98. Have a snack and a bottle of water for breaks.
99. Dress in layers. The heating or air conditioning of a commercial testing center is not always reliable. Test takers score higher when they are more comfortable.
100. Once you have answered a question, obliterate it from your mind. Two questions about which you can do nothing are the one you’ve just completed, and the one that is coming up next. Just like the Dalai Lama, you must live in the moment.
Good luck and Good Hunting!