I’m surprised that so many students who want to go to graduate school don’t feel the need to take a test-prep course. Most of them are well worth the investment.
I can’t stand standardized tests. They test only one thing: test-taking ability. But they are here to stay, and students who want to earn their MBA , or other top professional program from a top school, should get really high scores. Especially in the quantitative portion of the GMAT.
Both the GMAT and the GRE, the former being the primary business school entry hurdle, are computer adaptive tests. That means that more correct responses will lead to harder questions. So those who suffer even the slightest anxiety about the test are faced with another layer of uncertainty. First, there’s the voice that says, “I am afraid I don’t know the material.” Then there’s the voice that says, “I don’t have enough time to answer” and now there’s the voice that says, “this question is easier than I had expected…so I must be doing badly!” It’s exhausting.
This is Your Brain on Anxiety
The brain doesn’t like these conversations. Neuroscientific research has taught us that such anxiety hijacks our ability to think. In very simple terms, limbic system, (the part of the brain that tells the body to breathe, pump blood, and run away from predators) disrupts the “working memory.”
A test prep course, or, if you prefer, a one-on-one tutor, can help you reduce that anxiety, and at a minimum, improve your ability to recall information.
Let’s look at the benefits one-by-one.
1. You will learn the material – the test looks for analytic ability, especially in the quantitative section. You need to brush up on your math. Certainly you can do it from books on your own, but the test is designed to trip you up. Call it mean-spirited. The knowledge itself is important, but you want somebody to walk you through the way to think about the problem.
2. You’ll improve your timing – It’s a timed test, so you need to be very efficient in your responses. You cannot skip a question and you cannot go back. At a minimum, a course or tutor can help you become familiar enough with the material so you can use your precious minutes figuring out the answer rather than figuring out the question.
3. Focus – Standardized tests are about the process of taking the test as much as they are about the material. A good course and a good teacher will teach you how to approach your studying and your test taking. You should take advantage of the prep coach or company’s resources to learn how to master the process.
4. Discipline – You cannot cram for a test like the GMAT. According to Doug Barg, a former master GMAT teacher at Kaplan and a very smart guy, you should study for at least three months, preferably six. Check out his classic blogpost here. If nothing else, a course will help you break up the studying so that you will not only learn, but retain more. A course will also encourage you to take more practice tests than you will on your own. It just works that way.
5. Confidence – A course will help you be more confident. It will help you practice, which should help you feel more confident. And the more genuinely confident you are, the better you’ll score.
It’s possible that you do not suffer from anxiety; not everyone is that high strung. In that case, a course can only help you improve even more dramatically by familiarizing yourself with material and test process. And you are being measured against all other test takers, many of whom will have taken a course. You are competing; why wouldn’t do whatever you can to get the edge?
A formal training program with a teacher or coach is worth the investment. There are lots of classes, online courses, tutors, coaches, and more. I know trainers at Manhattan GMAT, Kaplan, Veritas, Test Prep NY (good for test anxiety), Knewton, and new players like Magoosh (interesting! worth checking out) I also know some awesome individual tutors. I can get you discounts on some of them, introduce you to others, or just talk it through. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat.
Don't forget to check out the Betsy Massar's book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting Into a Top MBA Program, published by 85 Broads.
Contact Betsy Massar at Betsy@masteradmissions.com for a consultation on potential school choices. Betsy is one of the original 85 Broads. She graduated from Harvard Business School and worked at Goldman Sachs on 85 Broad Street in her first post-MBA job. She has since worked in London, Asia, and in Silicon Valley on the investment banking, institutional sales, and investment management marketing businesses. An award-winning business writer, Betsy can help you on business school applications, resume/cover letter writing, and test anxiety. Betsy is also a communications coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.