Heading back to school is not an easy task. It does not matter how impressive your GPA or letters of recommendation may be--all paths lead through the testing center. This fall, I became reacquainted with standardized testing while preparing to submit my applications for Masters in Finance programs. Below are a few tips and methods that helped me hit my target score.
- Plan - Rome wasn't built in a day... and neither are solid testing skills. In order to truly master the nuances of the test, you will have to dedicate a good chunk of time to studying and preparation. Once you know the earliest dates by which you will need your score, find a month long (or longer) period where you are able to study for the test.
- Commit - Ordering the practice booklet from is the easy part, actually beginning to study is where things get challenging. To create some economic incentives for yourself, sign up for the test date and pay your fees ahead of time. A hard deadline will force you to reach for your review book instead that second beer, something you will be grateful for come test day.
- Review - Both the GRE and GMAT cover rudimentary topics such as analytical writing, reasoning, problem solving and basic mathematics. It is safe to say that if you are reading this post you have done more complicated math, written on more complex topics and read more challenging material than you will ever see on the test. Despite that fact, it is crucial to revisit the basics before you begin your studying. Both private test companies and the test makers themselves publish free PDF's that cover the foundational concepts you will need to ace the test. These review sheets are an invaluable tool for refreshing basic concepts as well as familiarizing yourself with the test itself.
- Benchmark - Diagnostic tests are a crucial tool that will help you focus your studying and maximize your results. Included in most test prep books (and easy enough to find for free online) these tests will provide topic by topic insight into what exactly you need to work on to get that perfect score.
- Practice - Grab a test book. For taking the GRE, Manhattan Test Prep's 5lb Book of practice problems was an invaluable resource. After taking a diagnostic, the voluminous text allowed me to work on areas in which I was lacking without ever having to repeat questions. For the GMAT, I have found the GMAT Verbal Review and GMAT Quantitative Review books to be a great help.
- Test yourself - Take a good number of full-length tests before test day. Practice tests are not only the best way to ballpark your results, but will also help you iron out any last minute problems. In addition to free online tests offered by the company that develops the test, test prep companies will also allow you to take a limited number of free practice tests online. That being said, nothing will truly prepare you for the test experience itself like recreating the realities of the testing center. Head to the library with just your laptop, a pencil, and a piece of paper and take the test like it is intended (they won't let you bring that chai latte and a fancy calculator in the room with you on test day).
- Celebrate - Congratulations, you are now ready to apply to graduate school! Go grab a few beers and celebrate; or maybe just head home, after all that studying your Netflix account probably misses you.