Studying for and Struggling with the GMAT: The Most Common Issues

With regard to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. Manhattan Prep’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.

Have you been studying for the GMAT for a while now but find yourself struggling to lift your score? Perhaps you have some problems of which you are unaware, or you are studying in an inefficient or ineffective way.

This article includes links to a number of additional articles. If you see something that applies to your situation, follow the link!

First, read this short article: In It to Win It.

Time Management

Almost everyone has timing problems; many people think they do not, but they are wrong. If you have been studying for a while but your score does not seem to be changing much, then one of the culprits is probably timing. Another common sign: your practice test scores fluctuate up and down.

Next, analyze your most recent practice test to see whether you have any timing problems and, if so, what they are.


You may also, of course, have content problems—maybe modifiers are driving you crazy, or combinatorics.

Not all content areas have equal value. Some areas are more commonly tested than others, and those areas are obviously worth more of your time and attention. For example, modifiers are very commonly tested, but combinatorics questions are infrequent. If you are struggling with this topic, good news! Forget about it.

How do you know which areas are more or less commonly tested? This changes over time, so ask your instructor or post the question on some GMAT forums.

The test review we discussed in the time management section will also tell you your content strengths and weaknesses. Your next task is to figure out how to study in a more effective way.

How to Study

Many people do huge quantities of problems, but we are not going to memorize all these problems. If that is what you have been doing and you are struggling or taking forever, stop now!

What we want to do instead is use the current practice problems to help us learn how to think our way through future new problems. When doing GMAT-format problems, be aware that roughly 80% of your learning comes after you have finished doing the problem. Your goal here is not to do a million questions but to do a much more modest number of questions and really analyze them to death. Here is how to review GMAT practice problems.

Super-High Score Goal

What if you are going for a super-high score (730+) and find that you are stagnating? Maybe you have hit 700 but cannot get past that mark. First, do you really need such a high score? Not many schools will reject a 700-scorer for that reason.

If you are determined to push into the stratosphere, learn the differences between a 700-scorer and a 760-scorer. A super-high scorer has certain skills and habits, and you will need to learn how to develop them. Also, recognize that you might need outside help from a class or tutor to make this leap.

My Score Dropped!

Have you experienced a big score drop (more than 70 points) on a recent practice test or an official exam? I know you are disappointed, but you are not alone. Your task now is to figure out what went wrong, so that you can take steps to get back to the pre-drop level.

Something Else?

Finally, if you just cannot figure out what is holding you back, then you likely need the advice of an expert. You can get free advice on various forums (including the Manhattan Prep forums!). You could also take a class or work with a tutor—this will cost money, of course, but if you have really been banging your head against the wall for a long time, then you might decide the investment is worth it.

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