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I'm happy for the value this has provided to so many for their GMAT strategy. I'm also glad for the many good contacts I've gained from this and the ideas they've given to me. THANKS. I will continue to update this page as you all send suggestions.

If these GMAT Tips help you, all I ask is that you remember me later and let's network. :-) My email address is at the bottom of this page.

I just released a free site for
MBA Essay editing and the entire MBA Application Process

Content Includes topics such as: GMAT, Essay writing process, Key Concepts and much more.


This is intended to help you with your GMAT improvement and general GMAT studying. I will start with general thoughts, list my general study plan, then give some of my performance statistics that may be helpful for comparison purposes. Please send any comments.

Important Note about Essays

While a 80%/80% GMAT is important, the essays are more important! While I'm thrilled with my last GMAT result, I'd take my old 650 with great application essays over a 750 with lousy application essays. Assuming a very good application aside from a sub-average GMAT score, great essays might carry your application. A poor set of essays will slam the door shut! The rest of your application won't matter. NAIL the essays, no matter what it takes.

To give anecdotal Evidence, one rejected applicant was not even invited for an interview. His rejection was not because of his 780 GMAT, 3.8 GPA from a "top program" nor the two years of great experience. hmmm. What could have been the problem? Essays!

General Thoughts

Those of you who are struggling with the GMAT, I'm one of you. I struggled hard for the GMAT; at times I became what I'd call panicky nervous, which made it a mental battle for which I was not prepared. If you did not reach your target score, I want to encourage you to try again, even if in some cases it means delaying school. For me, it was incredibly time consuming; I answered about 3500 questions to prepare for my latest attempt (266 hours of focused study). That did not include reading math and verbal tips that I already knew - it was all problem solving and analysis. I tracked my study time to keep myself honest about how much was actually study versus breaks, etc. I constantly practiced my pace and focus (keeping my mind from wandering - hey, that's hard for me :-)). Even on the first two attempts I practiced my pace and focus, but I did it with far more questions on my last attempt (and improved my focus). You CAN DO IT, EVEN if you are as nervous as I was.

Do not assume that you are good at math so don't need to study that section. Regrettably, I did that. I've always been good at figuring things out, but there's no time on the GMAT to do that. You must recognize the problem types very quickly so test time is all quick calculations. Also, don't assume that if you scored well in one section on a previous attempt (or in practice tests) that you don't need to study that section. I did that on my second take and bombed the verbal (took quant' from 73% to 87%, but verbal fell from 84% to 69%). You must sharpen your speed each time and on each section. Only when I studied hard for both sections did I do well. I hope you can do it on the first attempt.

Why So Many Problems When The Concepts Are Similar?

I recognized a pattern. While I was nervous simply setting foot in the test room, the real kicker was how my nervousness became a genuine impediment when I didn't recognize quickly how to solve a problem. I then realized that I had to recognize the concept of each problem very early, or the nervousness would make it difficult to reliably solve problems. In practice sessions, if I saw any question that I did not understand quickly enough, I marked it, moved on, then returned after the main problem solving period. I would not give up on it until I understood WHY it was right. (But be careful not to spend fruitless hours with something that you don't understand. In many cases, you should talk with someone who might help, and move on to more problems.) When I was in my last attempt which yielded a very good score, I was able to recognize problems very quickly almost every time. The lesson: DO TONS OF PROBLEMS until you tend to recognize what they want quickly.

One additional reason for so many questions was that I lacked the required tight focus throughout the test, especially with Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning problems. In order to practice that, I had to study for hours. It was tempting to let my eyes glaze over and my mind go to sleep. :-) But you cannot allow that. Practice catching your mind slowing down. You can't afford to re-read anything during the real test. ALWAYS keep your mind SHARP, especially in the Reading Comprehension sections. Tackle them aggressively, but don't try to read much faster than you normally do. Focus is the key. Read fairly quickly, but with TIGHT FOCUS, and understand the material. Try not to depend on looking back at the passage very often. It soaks your test time away.

My Study Tips

Whether this applies to you depends so much on your specific situation and how much time you have to study (and, of course, how good you are now). But I will speak in general terms and about myself.

If you are working, then you may have to study for two weeks, including weekends, before you can tell how many questions are reasonable to do within the remaining time you have. (If you do not have to work, you can likely tell in a few days of 6 solid study hours each.) You may not have time to answer over 3000 questions, but do as many as you can, and consider using the last week or so of your time for Official Guide questions (for pacing). More on that below.

I favor Kaplan questions for the initial phase of studying (books and CD based tests) because they are harder than others (more complicated and more subtle) and they give you all the good concepts. Warning: do not become discouraged by Kaplan tests. I consistently scored significantly lower on Kaplan tests than on any others (one score was a 480 I believe). Compare Kaplan test scores only to other Kaplan test scores. Then, when you have studied a lot (maybe 2/3 of your total time) switch to Official Guide materials. Ignore the official math and verbal instructions and reviews; those of Kaplan are much better.

For the essay portion, I do have a basic outline that I use for most any of those types of essays (and in many other types of business writing). This is a common format and is also recommended in Kaplan's instructions.

Section Description
Paragraph 1 State my position clearly and up front. Tell 2-3 key points as to why that's my position.
Paragraph 2-4 Briefly expand on each argument point (one per paragraph)
Conclusion Paragraph Briefly state my position again, with a summary 2-3 reasons. Include a very brief argument against any obvious counterpoints (inoculation). Then a closing sentence.

I just practiced those periodically, but I did not focus on those as much as the other sections. For some people, this section will be far more important, because it will be a chance to demonstrate your grasp of English and your overall verbal abilities. The lower your verbal score is, the more important this will be. Your business school essays can demonstrate your verbal skills to, but a strong argument in favor of this essay section is that it is more guaranteed that you did this independently, so they will likely examin this more if needed.


1. Get Kaplan's main book GMAT (they've recently added the word "Premier" to the book title). The questions are online (as opposed to on a CD as they were before). NOTE: once you create your online account, there is a limited time of access - 6 months as of 2010) so don't activate until you are ready to study. If you need brush up (and most of us do, to remember things like "0**0 is undefined," "0 is even" and "2 is the lowest prime") study the basic GMAT information in that book well, but try to do it quickly so you can focus almost all of your time on doing thousands of problems. I'd not take all the practice tests right away, but rather take one after this book, take the others at other intervals throughout your studying, but BEFORE you start OG questions. That's because the pacing is very different in Kaplan and I want you to, in the end, learn the pacing of OG questions, keeping in mind that you will get tougher groups on the real test if you are scoring well.

Note: When you use paper material (study books, etc.) always work similarly to how you would work with a screen. What I mean is, don't write in the book. Use scratch paper to solve all problems. (I even recorded answers on scratch paper so I could rework the problems later without seeing my old answers.) It keeps you accustom to doing your calculations away from the book. If you can buy an erasable tablet such as the ones on the real test, I'd do that.

2. I used a friend's copy of Kaplan's two workbooks (GRE & GMAT Math Workbook and GMAT Verbal Workbook). Even though you may run across a duplicate question, I found that the duplicates were not a drawback (except at times when I could instantly recall a RC answer). They sometimes change the answers too, so at times you must be very cautious. You could consider buying these in order to answer more tough problems.

Note: if English is not your native language, then I'd focus hard on the verbal section so you stand out among your peers. Kaplan's answers are usually right. I've only caught about three that were wrong (and they verified that via email) so in general, trust their answers, and try to understand WHY you got it wrong so you can recognize it faster the next time.

Note: You will encounter answer explanations that are sometimes incomplete or even at times misleading. So, if you can find a good source of someone who's really picky with their Grammar, use him/her to learn WHY a problem is correct. If I'm not too busy, I will answer questions to the best of my ability.

3. For more questions, consider using Barron's study guide. Their questions were good (if you are familiar with their new software, please email me.) I highly recommend Kaplan's online GMAT Quiz Bank with 1000 questions and explanations. It is awesome. I've heard that the new Princeton questions are much better, so they may also be an option (please email if you have experience with the new materials.). I heard of a series of Princeton Review "Really Hard Math" problems and they're supposed to be great. Check those out (there are roughly 120 of those questions).

Note: For those weak in quant', you can study the questions multiple times. Even if you know the answer, you can benefit greatly by repeating the calculations. For those weak in verbal, doing the problems twice seems less beneficial than doing so for quant', so I would find other material (Barron's, Princeton, etc.)..

4. I bought Kaplan's GMAT 800 book. There may be duplicate questions (there were duplicates to the Quiz Bank), but the approach they used, the more detailed explanations, and the more subtle hints they gave were well worth wading through duplicates. If you hurry, you could complete this in a long weekend. This book gives some very good hints that are not in other materials, and the problems are very tough and very good.

5. The last week or so of your time should involve a lot of Official Guide questions. The pacing is VERY important and if you do questions that are too easy or too hard, you may not pace yourself correctly in the real test. I want you to finish on time. Any extra time you can glean from areas in which you are strong, should be reallocated to problems that are tougher for you. Ideally, you'll finish exactly when the time runs out. Yes, it's far better to finish early than late. But don't fool yourself into thinking that finishing five minutes early is good. The ideal is to spread that time out on problems that are tough for you.

Get The Official Guide to GMAT Review. There are 1500 questions in the book. If you can, do all 1500 in the workbook and TIME YOURSELF. I did these in groups containing roughly 20 from each section (some come in sets so you can't always get exactly 20). I used a sheet of paper to track where I was in each section and where the related answers were. It was easy and beneficial because it kept me studying ALL TYPES of problems and not focusing on the more fun math problems. Try to keep the average time well below 2 minutes per question, especially for Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. They took the most time for me. Notice what is a good pace for you and compare how many you get right for the time you had. I found that when my average was about 10 seconds higher, my scores went up enough to be worth the extra time.

Note on Pacing with Official Guide Questions

The Official Guide question phase is important. These problems use the same concepts as Kaplan, but they are generally a bit less complicated and therefore, you can do them a bit faster. Learn to reallocate that extra time for problems on which you need to double check, or problems that are tougher for you. That one tip helped me greatly. If you jumped directly from Kaplan questions to the real test, you'd likely finish early with a decent score, but I'd rather you finish exactly on time with a slightly higher score because you allocated the extra time on problems that were harder for you, and you got them right.

Keep in mind that the Official Guide, of course, is not adaptive. The effect of this will be that, if you are scoring high on the real GMAT, you will get more of the harder problems. The OG problems that are hard, are similar to the hard ones on the real GMAT, but you will get more of them on the real GMAT if you are scoring around 700 or more. If you are scoring lower, then this may not be true. That was my experience, and was the experience of some others.

Miscellaneous Notes

Time Out

Don't study for the last hour or two of your day if you can help it. I found that studying until bedtime was counter productive because I went to bed a bit stressed and sometimes dreamed about it. Get your mind off studying for a while before you sleep (read, watch TV or talk to your significant other, or another friend). If those two hours are the ONLY time you have, then at least try to get your mind off it for a little while before you sleep. If you can, I recommend studying early in the morning after a cup of coffee.


This is purely based on my experience. I find that daily exercise helps me think better. I run four miles each morning, but had to build up to that distance. If you have not exercised to this point, then I'd start with walking for 30 minutes (consult your doctor... blah, blah, blah) and build up to your target goal. If you become sore, skip one day and see how you feel. On the morning of the test, I did very light exercise (for me, that meant running for one mile - for some others, they might do my daily routine. hahahaha).


While this is a personal decision, I benefited from consuming some caffeine. I find that a little caffeine helps me think better. Too much makes the situation worse. I drank about one cup of coffee each morning. Two cups might have been fine for me, but any more caused me to think less clearly. About one hour before my test, I had slightly more caffeine than I usually have (almost two cups), but didn't drink much else so I would not have to use the bathroom during my test. If you don't like caffeine drinks but want caffeine, try a caffeine pill (e.g. Viverin) or Excedrine. Each Excedrine pill has about 65 mg of caffeine (compared to that of coffee at ~120, Coke at ~55, and Viverin at ~200 per pill).

Cheat Sheet

Keep a piece of paper handy and write any unknown formulas... referring to it as needed. I referred to it even in practice tests, because I knew I would have it memorized later (and would know it during the real test). Soon, I knew them and discarded the cheat sheet.

The Best Place to Gain Speed

Of course, you must be fast on the GMAT, but a key for me was to gain speed in problem recognition and knowing the solution path very early. In my last test, very little time was spent trying to understand what they wanted. That ability came from answering the high number of problems. Neither my calculations nor my reading were hyper quick; they were only quick. My mantra became: Calm, Quick, and Careful

Timing Yourself

I used a stop watch. The most important time is the total and average (per question). Even a wall clock will work with some simple math. I was lucky in that I have a stopwatch (for running) with laps and a function that shows the average time per lap, or in this case, the average time per question. It's a Timex Mega Lap and I found it on eBay. But just use a wall-clock if such a watch is not available.

I frequently solved problems in groups (see results below). My attempt was to mimic the actual test as much as I could with non-adaptive material.  So I took the set of questions, timed each question, learned when to make an educated guess and move to the next question (often making a brief note - maybe just a checkmark - indicating that I should revisit this one).  When finished with the block of questions, I went back and checked any for which I was unsure, regardless of whether I got them right. 

Most Important

Again, main tactic... problem after problem.... as many as you can do. Time your studies and be very protective of your study time. Do not include meal times or breaks longer than a bathroom break in your time. Keep yourself TIGHTLY focused on problem after problem for hours, even when you really want to do other things. Yea, it was hard and I sometimes failed. But if I just started my clock and read the first problem, I could usually keep myself going.

Second important tactic, Spend the last week or so of your time on proper pacing (for which I used OG problems). Begin to FEEL how much time you can spend on a tougher problem. Keep in mind that if you are scoring well on the real test, you will get the more difficult questions. You must know when to quit, guess and move on.

Third deadly important tactic, constantly practice FOCUS and do not allow your mind to wander. Whisper quietly if you must (I had to), to keep your focus and avoid the need to rereading sections. This was absolutely my biggest key in Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. (Kaplan's strategies on Critical Reasoning were also key - study them well. Kaplan's strategies on Reading Comprehension were not as helpful to me. For example, the written map was a waste of time for me.)

My Reactions to Some Study Materials (your results may vary)

In Short

Best: Kaplan (tough problems), Official Guide - similar to the real GMAT and it's the best for pacing except that it's not adaptive, Barron's (don't know the new software, but the questions are good), the new Princeton (I hear they've improved greatly).

Worst (note, this was from old materials): ARCO - Master the GMAT CAT, REI, OLD Princeton (2001 - way too easy)

More Information

I tried some questions from Princeton (about 500 questions) but used the older (2001) material and was not happy. From what I hear, they are much better now - use only their newer material. I found worse results with ARCO - Master the GMAT CAT taking their diagnostic test. Problem 1: They seem EASIER than the actual GMAT questions. Problem 2: In my opinion, they were sometimes misleading if not wrong (I agreed with Kaplan's answers in almost every case, even though they were much harder). Kaplan questions were generally great, although more difficult than those in the OG . Barron's questions (old version - 11th edition) were very good although the older software (from 12th edition) was not good at all. Their newer software might be better, but the questions are worth the purchase of the book if you need more questions.. (I studied a few problems from REI and, while this was a very brief assessment, I found two problems that I'm sure were mistakes in their sentence correction, and the difficulty level MAY have been lower than that of the OG - but again, this was a very quick assessment.)


I hope you do well.

I attended Duke University's Fuqua School of Business from 2004 - 2006 and it is one awesome program.

The below may be of little interest, but for those who want to know, it's here. (I would have liked seeing this when I was studying.)

Some Performance Statistics

These are from my practice sessions with "The Official Guide..." only days before my latest test. I did about 20 from each section:
20 from Problem Solving (PS)
20 from Data Sufficiency (DS)
~18 from Reading Comprehension (RC) (they are grouped in chunks of 6-8 questions)
~20 from Critical Reasoning (CR) (at times two were grouped together)
20 from Sentence Correction (SC)

Some may find this to be a useful gauge. (Keep in mind that this was AFTER answering about 3000 other questions). The below is in the following format:

Number of Problems / Number WRONG / Average Time per question

Problem Solving
20 3 1:40
20 3 1:20
20 1 1:34
20 0 2:13 (fewer wrong, but higher time)
21 0 1:22
(OK, I'm just improving)

Data Sufficiency
20 0 0:56
20 4 0:51
20 0 1:11
20 0 1:22 (in general, this extra time was a good tradeoff)

19 1 1:17

Reading Comprehension
18 3 1:46
18 3 2:14
18 5 1:59
18 0 1:38
22 1 1:25

(Maybe this improvement is because of practicing focus, even when reading for fun. If you could see my performance on the first 500 questions of study - Kaplan - then you'd see GREAT improvement, and that was LARGELY because of my improved focus. I believe my first Kaplan test was a dismal 490.)

Critical Reasoning
20 2 1:27
20 1 1:34
20 3 1:57
21 2 1:53
19 0 1:57

Sentence Correction
20 3 1:37
20 5 1:24
20 2 1:25
20 3 1:20
20 1 1:18

My Score History

Date Overall Quant Verbal AWA Preparation
Oct/07/2003 750-99% 49-90% 44-98% 5.0-78% 3500 problems split between Quant' and Verbal. Heavily practiced FOCUS while reading
Mar/07/2003 660-87% 48-87% 33-69% 5.5-90% Slanted toward quant' because of my last score
Nov/22/2000 650-85% 42-71% 38-84% 4.5-62% Slanted toward verbal because I'm a computer science guy and thought math would be easier

See my new (and free) web site for the entire MBA Application Process includes the MBA decision, selection criteria and essays

My email address is at the bottom of my "about" page. I removed it from this page for speed.


© copyright 1999 - 2006 Mark W. Rice


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