GMAT Study Guide Techniques | How to Study GMAT

OK, so you’ve registered for the GMAT and got a hold of the Official Guide to the GMAT.

You’re gonna “do” a bunch of practice questions and then you’ll be prepared for the GMAT. Right?


Sure, it’s a good idea to “do” GMAT questions, but I would say 95% of people don’t have the right MINDSET when it comes to “doing” questions.

Obviously, I should have some reason for making a claim like that. I mean, who the heck am I to say that most people don’t “do” questions the right way? That implies that I “do” questions the right way.

Well, let me answer that for you.

First, let me say that I am NOT naturally “smart.” Unlike some people who naturally “get it”–I usually have to work at it.

Second, even though I’m not naturally smart, I’ve developed a mental strategy that helps me get to where I need to be.

You see, I used to be a nationally ranked cellist and pianist (I admit I was overshadowed by my arch-nemesis, Yo-Yo Ma–pictured here at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony–so I never quite made it on the international scene..haha ).

Going through the painstaking process of learning and memorizing hours of musical literature and performing them under pressure taught me a few things that are surprisingly relevant to GMAT studying.

You: “What??!! Learning cello is related to GMAT studying??

Me: Uh-huh…”

Think about it. “Doing” GMAT questions is like “practicing” new music. At first it’s completely new to you. But you have to process the new material in your head until you totally understand it. You can explain it. You can recite it. You understand it.

So how do you get from A to B?

So how do you get from “this is completely new to me” to “I know this” ????

“DO” GMAT Questions Like a Musician

Well, in learning new music you don’t memorize the whole thing at first glance! You first take a small chunk, like the one below:

But of course you need to subdivide this chunk. So focus on the first measure first:

Focus on the left side.

Figure it out note by note.
Identify where the beats are.
Identify the sentence structure and any commas you might see at first glance.
And find the correct way to play this and arrive at the correct answer.
When you’re ready, play this first measure all the way through without stopping and mark your correct answer. Then move on.

Focus on the right side.

Now that you’ve got the first question or measure down, now you focus on the second measure. Do the same thing.
Find the pitfalls, avoid them, arrive at the correct answer.
Sure you might get “stuck” here and there, but when you’re ready–start from the beginning of the question and go all the way through and mark your correct answer.

OK, now that you’ve got questions #1 and #2 correct separately, let’s see if you can go through both of them all the way through without stopping or hesitating.
You want to make sure you can think through both questions confidently without any hiccups.
Sometimes, being exposed to #2, will alter how you might do #1. So you want to test yourself to see if you can go through both #1 and #2 without hesitation–AS IF it were a performance–AS IF it were the real GMAT.

You see, this is how I would learn to master a musical piece. Break it into chunks. Subdivide the chunks and focus over and over. Then move to the next one and focus over and over. Then combine the two sub-chunks, practice and practice—until I master that subchunk.

The same is true for “doing” GMAT questions.

First you go through a question. Check the answer. What the heck did you do wrong? How could you have answered that question correctly. Did you do a stupid mistake? Did you not see a comma or an obvious sentence structure that you should have seen? Read the explanation.

OK, move on to the next question. Do the same thing. Look at the explanation. Maybe you got it right, maybe there was a quicker, more efficient way of arriving at the correct answer. Why did you miss that more efficient way? How could you have thought about it better so you would arrive at the correct answer faster?

Keep doing this until by the end of the day you do maybe like 30 questions. Now by the time you do 30 questions, you probably forgot what the questions or answers were for question #1.

So start all over. See if you can plow through questions #1 – #30 without stopping and getting ALL of them right. After all, you SAW the answer explanations. So if you really “understood” the answer explanations, then you should have no problem going through the questions.

This is the approach you should be using when you “do” GMAT questions. Once you redo all 30 questions straight through. Now do another 30 questions. Then combine all 60 questions and see if you can run through all of them straight through without mistakes.

If you subdivide, think through groups of questions, and then REDO all those questions in different orders AS IF you were sitting for the real exam and you are aware of time pressure, I guarantee your studying will be that much more effective than what you are currently doing now.

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