Want to master GMAT and GRE? Change the way you think about failure

Over the last 6 years of teaching GMAT and GRE verbal reasoning, I have come to appreciate and understand some of the main roadblocks that people come up against when trying to succeed at and do well on standardised tests like GMAT and GRE. The tests can be hard and the practice required is gruelling, especially if you consider most the people taking it are full-time working professionals with demanding jobs.

While some people naturally find these types of tests easy, many do not. I strongly believe that the way more people can succeed at GMAT is to change the way they think about failure. Getting in the right mind set is key in order to overcome the hurdle to and MBA or Master’s program. Here are some important tips for keeping a positive, progressive mind-set that sees making mistakes an opportunity to learn.

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  • You’re going to get things wrong: Just face it, you’re going to make mistakes when doing these tests. They are designed to have varying levels of difficulty and inevitably you will make mistakes, sometimes even with the simplest of questions. Getting questions wrong doesn’t mean you’re stupid or not capable. Even after years working with the test, I still make simple mistakes now and again. The key thing is to just accept it happens and make sure I approach the next question in a positive frame of mind. Therefore, don’t let mistakes get you down.
  • Each wrong answer is an opportunity to learn: I do a lot of one-on-one coaching and I often note how little people learn from their mistakes. When you get a question wrong, it is important you reflect on why and then learn from that. Don’t ever kid yourself that you understand something you don’t.

Let’s imagine you did a run of 10 questions and got 5 right and 5 wrong. First ensure you know why you got the correct ones correct, then make sure you study hard and learn where you made mistakes in the ones you got wrong. Avoid saying “yeah yeah, I get it now”, unless you truly do. A good way to prove you have understood is to explain accurately to someone else the reasoning and have them confirm it for you.

  • Know what your good at and focus on your weaknesses: When you do practice runs of questions and whole practice tests, you need to remember you are doing a kind of “diagnosis”. In other words, you are looking for your current level and for what you understand and don’t understand. Always ensure you study in detail your results and look for trends in your right and wrong answers. For example, in Sentence Correction you may identify a weakness in ‘Agreement’ questions. If you notice this, add agreement rules and questions to your study plans. Look for answers to why you are getting them wrong; are you missing the required rules in your knowledge or are you misapplying the rules? Knowing this will help you formulate relevant and more effective study plans that fill in gaps or help you apply knowledge accurately.
  • Practice in real conditions: Last but not least, practice in real conditions. That means turn off your phone, find a quiet space and spend time actively learning. Don’t just keep practicing questions and then practicing more. Make sure you are also looking at your weaknesses and developing strategies to improve in those areas. Distractions will always take your eye of the ball and practicing to focus is great way to prepare for the real thing.

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