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Dealing with Defeat and Getting Back in the GMAT Game

So you studied your butt off, confidently made your way to the testing center, and stood toe-to-toe with the GMAT. Perhaps you felt that your answer selections were the great, or perhaps you recognized that you were losing your way. Either way, when the total score flashed on the screen at the end of the test, it wasn’t what you had hoped for. Your shoulders fell, and your confidence soon followed suit. You left the testing center in a disappointed haze, and now you find yourself wondering how you’ll ever be able muster the courage and energy needed to face the beast again. You feel tired, beaten, and demoralized. Thoughts of giving up and settling for your mediocre score (and all but killing your chances of attending your dream school) enter your head.  

It’s perfectly normal to feel this way. Everyone’s allowed some self-pity in this situation. So go ahead, feel sorry for yourself. Scream into a pillow, eat a gallon of ice cream, and lock yourself in the bedroom. Do whatever you need to do, but while you’re swimming in that sea of self pity, realize that at some point you’ll have to come up for air lest you drown in your own tears. Also realize that when you do decide to rise to the surface, the GMAT monster will still be there, staring you in the face.

At this point, you have two choices: sink even further into despair, or resolve to beat this test once and for all. If you’re still reading this, I’ll assume you’ve chosen the latter. So, here’s what you need to do:

Rest.

This is not a time for feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, pat yourself on the back for having had the courage to face the GMAT the first time as this is clearly an accomplishment in and of itself. The next step is to reward yourself with a break from all things GMAT. Give it a week, maybe more. When you do decide to return to a regular study routine, you’ll be refreshed and ready to prepare for round two. The GMAT may have beaten you once, but you’re not going to let that small detail keep you from achieving your dreams.

Reflect. 

Once your GMAT sabbatical is over, it’s time to plan your new attack strategy. The first step is to review the test . . . objectively. In the hours and days following the test, the wound may have been too fresh to do anything other than wallow in the misery of your perceived failure, but now it’s time to rip off the band-aid and carefully examine the injury to look for causes. Try to determine what went wrong without beating yourself up about it. If you can do this successfully, then you’ll be able to use the test-taking experience to your advantage. To determine the source of your downfall, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did you lose focus at some point during the test? Did your mind start wandering?
  • Did your nerves get to you? Were you so anxious that you were barely able to comprehend the questions? Were you fearful that you were messing up from the first question?
  • Did run out of time on a section?
  • Was there a particular section or type of question that stumped you?

If, by answering these questions, you can pinpoint the area/areas that cost you the most points, then you’re well on your way to improving your score the next time you take the GMAT.

Rework.

Now that you’ve identified your potential pitfalls, you can rework your test strategy. Remember that, if you resort to your old study patterns, your score is unlikely to improve. To boost your score, you need to focus efforts on your weak areas (e.g., concentration, time management, anxiety control, or specific skill sets). This, of course, doesn’t mean that you should ignore all other areas of study. You still need to ensure that you retain the skills that you learned the first time you prepared for the GMAT. So, your new (and improved) test prep strategy should be a combination of maintaining your current strengths and working on your targeted weaknesses.

Renew.

When it comes time to face the GMAT again, don’t engage in negative self-talk or assume that, since this test beat you once, it will beat you again. Instead, take some time to renew your confidence. Realize the considerable advantage you now have—that is, the official testing experience. Simply knowing beforehand exactly what the official test is like (rather than relying on information gleaned from workbooks and practice tests) is enough to give your score a healthy boost, not to mention all of the targeted studying you’ve done. If you can conquer the nerves and negativity, there’s a good chance that you’ll leave the testing center with the score you desire . . . and deserve.

So, if you’ve battled the beast once, and you’re feeling down, don’t despair; instead, think of the 4 Rs—Rest, Reflect, Rework, and Renew. Soon, you’ll be showing off your scores from round two, and your first confrontation with the GMAT will be a distant memory.