A few friends are beginning their preparations to take the GMAT, the required entrance exam for most business schools. The GMAT differs most standardized tests out there in a few important ways:
- It’s entirely computer-based
- There are no set dates: You can schedule a time to take the GMAT at any local test center at any time
- The test is adaptive, meaning there’s an algorithm that will give you increasingly harder questions if you answer them correctly, or easier ones if you make errors
As if that weren’t enough, many of my close friends are already very uncomfortable with standardized tests because they think they were always bad at math, because they’re already intimidated before the test even starts, or because they approach the test the wrong way, as something that truly tests their knowledge.
I always recommend the same thing to all of them: use the Princeton Review books. Their approach toward test-taking is irreverent but effective, almost like a game. And it works. For the GMAT, I highly recommend Princeton Review’s Cracking the GMAT. The 2007 edition was just published a couple of days ago.
It’s my experience that if you approach standardized tests instead as a puzzle — you know, figure out the system, so to speak — rather than as something that truly tests your abilities or knowledge (which it doesn’t), your scores will improve as will your attitude toward the tests.
I’ve used the Princeton Review to prep for standardized tests ever since high school, for the PSAT, SAT, and later on, the GRE, all to great success. Here are a few examples I can remember that make Princeton Review’s test-taking methodology different from those of other books:
- When answering questions from reading comprehension sections, bring in outside knowledge. ETS or ACT would never choose a correct answer that could be disproven in the real world. This is a great tip. For example, you’re a biology major and the reading comp is about frogs, you might know something about amphibian life that could rule out a few answers.
- Standardized test makers avoid absolutes like “never” or “always”, again, because these tend to be disprovable. Most things in life just don’t fall in to the “never” or “always” categories.
- Eliminate obviously wrong answers from the start, don’t go through them one-by-one. Suppose you get a math question about finding the missing angle in a triangle. If any of the answers puts the total above 180 degrees, you know they’re wrong. Ignore them completely.
- Try answering the questions backwards, not by reading the question and solving for the solution, but by plugging in answers from the multiple-choice list instead.
I think the reason Princeton Review works is that it ignores how ETS and ACT would like test-takers to approach their tests. Princeton Review also offers courses, but personally, I’ve always found the book to be sufficient (and cheaper). Kaplan is also pretty renowned, but I don’t have any experience with their methods.
When preparing for all standardized tests, my method has always been to get the free official booklet, buy the Princeton Review book for the corresponding test, read through it to get back into the right mentality, and take some practice tests from both the book and the official booklet. That’s it. As a bonus, my scores on Princeton Review’s practice tests have always been lower than what I came out with on the actual test, for whatever reason. For the GMAT, I averaged 650-690 in practice and walked away with a 750.
So if you’re uncomfortable with standardized tests, or just planning on taking on in the near future, check out the Princeton Review books and see if they don’t change your attitude and score for the better.