When you leave the testing center, you’ll probably be ready to forget the GMAT! However, some of the lessons you learn while studying shouldn’t be left behind. They’ll help you even more during the rest of your MBA journey than they did on test day.
When you begin studying for the GMAT, you’ll want to celebrate every correct answer, and beat yourself up over every mistake. You might skip straight to the answers at the back of the book every time you finish a problem, hoping to end the suspense quickly.
However, the GMAT doesn’t reward that mindset. The GMAT, if you allow it, will teach you to view your failures and successes as data and as opportunities. Any GMAT practice question, whether you answer it correctly or not, teaches you something about your own state of knowledge. A missed question is also an opportunity to think through a difficult puzzle on your own and exercise your reasoning skills. A correctly-answered question is an opportunity to be even better and faster next time. A habit of looking at your mistakes and successes as a scientist does — with calm acknowledgement, and an eye to using them later — will help you long after test day.
The GMAT may be the closest thing to an ‘intelligence’ test that you’ve ever experienced. Nonetheless, you can improve your GMAT score via thoughtful practice. Studying for the GMAT means appreciating the fact that you can actually become smarter, every day of your life. If reasoning ability, intelligence, aptitude — whatever you want to call it — were fixed at birth, then nobody would bother studying for the GMAT!
The GMAT process also teaches you how to be smarter. If you’ve already started studying, reflect on some approaches to the GMAT that worked well for you, and others that haven’t. Maybe you’ve discovered that you learn more from diving right into a hard problem than from reading the textbook ahead of time. Maybe the opposite is true. Combine these little realizations with an acknowledgment that you can actually become a better thinker via practice and reflection. Then, apply that mindset to domains that really matter to you: think ‘improving your performance in business school’, not ‘calculating weighted averages’!
Finally, the GMAT is a cleverly designed test. One of the most surprising advantages of a computer-adaptive test is that, unlike taking a college or high-school exam, taking the GMAT helps you transition from a student mindset to an executive mindset.
The first time most of my students take the GMAT, they go in hoping to get as many questions right as they possibly can. The GMAT will quickly teach you how ineffective that mindset is. If you start a section by trying to answer all of the questions correctly, you’ll actually be able to do that for quite a while! However, you’ll eventually end up with 15 Quant questions left to answer, and only 20 minutes left to answer them in. Your score will quickly drop below where you started – a question that would’ve been easy for you to solve in two minutes at the beginning of the section, is now impossible to do in the one minute you have.
The GMAT is an object lesson in how to think like a businessperson, not like a student. That’s the same mindset you’ll hone in business school! With an executive mindset, you’ll recognize early in the test that you have to prioritize some problems over others. You can’t just let the test tell you to attempt every problem. Instead, you need to decide on your own, with the limited information you have, where to commit your energy and resources. Business programs don’t want students who blindly do the tasks (or GMAT problems) they’ve been given. They want students who can learn to take control, and wisely assess where to spend their limited resources. The GMAT is fantastic practice for doing exactly that.
It’s easy to think of the GMAT as a test of useless, trivial information. To be honest, you’ll learn a lot of facts for the GMAT that you can safely forget the minute you finish! Odds are, nobody will ever ask you to calculate the internal angles of a pentagon again. However, taking the GMAT isn’t a waste of your time. If you remain open to changing your mindset and learning about yourself, the GMAT experience will make you more capable in business school and in your career.