Part 2: Studying for the GMAT shouldn’t be like “pulling teeth”

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of picking the right test prep strategy. Next…

STEP TWO: Pick the right tutor.

Think how upset you would be if, after a long, painful appointment, your dentist sheepishly confessed that she’d been … drilling into the wrong tooth. The result is wasted money and time, not to mention unnecessary pain. And, you’d still need to have it done all over again on the correct tooth. Now, because dentists are highly trained and licensed, this sort of thing happens very rarely. Unfortunately, it happens a lot in the Wild West world of GMAT tutoring.

In addition to finding someone with whom you’re personally compatible and who has a track record of success (with client testimonials and references to back it up), the secret to finding a great GMAT tutor is to discover someone who is first and foremost a great diagnostician. Because you have limited time and funds, you want to make sure that you are focusing, laser-like, on just the aspects of the GMAT that you need to improve upon.

The right tutor will make a determination of your issues and potential by the second or third session with you, not the first. Each practice test you take must be carefully reviewed and analyzed, so that your tutor’s “prescription” can be tailored specifically for your needs. Working with a skilled diagnostician means you’ll study smarter, not harder, and that you’ll need fewer consultations in the long run, thus saving you money.

While there are many different possible assessments, and in fact you’ll likely receive a combination of a few of them, there are three general buckets into which most diagnoses fall:

Content Knowledge – Some people were simply never exposed to certain types of math in high school or college, or if they were, it has long since slipped from their minds. For such individuals it’s a matter of bringing them up to speed through the use of various resources, from Khan Academy videos to SAT practice books, which are more straightforward than GMAT prep books.

Abstraction – These people are largely able to solve most kinds of math problems, provided they are put forth in a straightforward manner. “(22-16)/3” is easy and straightforward, whereas, “half a dozen students walked into the auditorium followed by a dozen and a half teachers wearing pink tunics; a third of the students joined one fourth of the teachers…” is not. Unfortunately, the GMAT loves the “pink tunic” type questions, and the more confusing layers the better.

Test Anxiety – Does your heart palpitate at the very thought of walking into the GMAT test room, knowing that whatever happens over the next 3.5 hours will determine the course of the rest of your life, whether you will ever be happy, if anyone will ever love you, whether you’ll run Apple someday or live a life of quiet desperation in a van down by the river? If so, you’re not alone. Irrational fear of testing is widespread and commonplace. (By the way, we offer a great solution for this particular challenge.)

Two Additional Thoughts

A Common Misconception
A lot of people have a misconception about what test tutoring is, possibly because there are more than a few unscrupulous tutors out there propagating this idea. If you encounter a tutor who, right off the bat, pressures you into studying with them all the time, this is like a dentist who proposes coming to your house daily to brush and floss with you – run for the nearest exit. These “professionals” are interested only in running up their billable hours. While there are certainly some cases in which more frequent tutoring sessions are genuinely warranted, these are exceptions to the rule.

The time you spend with your tutor should be devoted to receiving the expert’s diagnosis, reviewing your symptoms and discussing your course of treatment. By far, the bulk of the actual test preparation is done on your own time.

Allocate Your Resources Wisely
There may come a point in preparing for the GMAT when you’ll need to sit down and face some facts. While nearly everyone can improve his or her GMAT score with the help of a top-notch tutor, and some people can even improve their scores dramatically, not everyone is destined to kill it on the GMAT. Part of being a smart businessperson — and a wise MBA applicant — is knowing when you’ve invested enough. There comes a point when your resources are better allocated toward other parts of your application, such as the essays, resume, etc. An ethical, honest tutor will help you find this point and will tell you when further investment in his or her services is unlikely to produce higher returns for you.

At The MBA Exchange, we recently worked with a student who had been testing at 590 when he came to us. We tutored him over a period of several months and he was able to raise his score to a far more competitive 680. This score is well below the average for top-10 schools, yet for him it was a significant improvement. At that point, though, it was clear to us that he was unlikely to better this score, no matter what he or we did from that point on. Following our advice he decided to close the book on GMAT prep and focus on other aspects of his application instead. Fortunately, his resource re-allocation worked quite well, as he’s now traipsing the halls at Harvard Business School.

With the right prep strategy and the right tutor, you can improve your GMAT performance in less time, with less stress, and at a lower cost than you thought possible. Not convinced? Check us out and let’s see if we can help you start down the path to a better score and positive outcome for your MBA admissions campaign, or give us a shout directly.