Diagnostic was a 650 but next practice test was a 550. Time to panic?
Not yet. There may be a simple reason why your practice test dropped by 100 points relative to your baseline. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Were you more fatigued, stressed, or distracted?
The mental game can influence your score. A lot. We see this all the time with GMAT tutoring students. They are firing on all cylinders in sessions and on homework but then practice test and: disaster.
I have an inbox full of post practice test panic emails.
This is especially common on the first practice test after having learned a bunch of new content.
Usually there is a mammoth amount of anticipation. You’ve got all these great to new tools and now it’s time to show the GMAT who’s boss!
And then the score pops up. Your 640 is now a 540.
Nothing is wrong (most likely)
It’s just nerves. And those should settle after you get a few tests under your belt.
Don’t expect to excel on your first practice test. It’s practice after-all.
And you need to get used to working in the higher pressure environment of longer computer-adaptive sections.
You’ve probably been working primarily on targeted sets in somewhat of a vacuum.
You now need to accustom yourself to a highly mixed pool of questions.
Did you make a bunch of lucky guesses on your diagnostic and not get so lucky on the recent practice test?
It’s possible that you were just very lucky on your diagnostic.
Maybe you had a slew of guesses that just went your way. Maybe the questions you happened to get right were worth more (according to the GMAT algorithm).
And it’s possible that things went the other way on your first practice test.
Combine the great bounce and the diagnostic with the black cat crossing your path on the first practice test and it’s not hard to imagine a 100 points drop.
Did you try and fail to apply some new techniques that you learned?
There’s a difference between learning something and being able to apply it on the timed, high pressure test.
That’s one the things that we tend to mention if a prospective client wants to try for a more concentrated preparation.
That, yes, we can meet everyday and probably chat through the curriculum in two weeks BUT it’s just about impossible that all of that information is going to be useful in that short amount of time.
Even with the best GMAT tutor, curriculum, and HW materials there is a delay between learning something and being able to use it wisely on a practice test.
So, maybe you learned a host of great GMAT strategies but failed to make them work productively on your practice test. And, not only were the strategies not helping they actually got you completely confused and lost.
Does that mean that GMAT strategies are counterproductive?
Just because something doesn’t work the first time you try it doesn’t mean that it won’t be helpful in the future once you master it.
There are a bunch of things in the tutoring program that are simple to explain and understand on a superficial level but take time to become powerful weapons in your GMAT arsenal.
Of course, there are strategies/methods/formulas (standard deviation for instance) that aren’t helpful.
If you are self-studying be picky with the strategies you adopt.
Better to keep it simple.
Make sure that whatever you are learning really resonates with you. And aim for strategies that focus on broader principles that can be applied to groups of questions rather than super specific niche formulas.
Are you using Official GMAT practice tests or third party?
All the above (and below) is based on the premise that you are taking only Official GMAT practice tests.
If we’re talking third party tests then all bets are off. In certain niche situations on quant these tests can be useful but in general: stick to official GMAT.
Third party tests can vary from being slightly off to way off in content and the scoring is unreliable.
Was the timing off?
A perfectly good GMAT can be ruined by a few timing mistakes.
That doesn’t mean that if you get behind on time on test day that you are doomed. You can still excel even if you don’t fill in the last couple of questions.
You will not fail if you leave items blank. Is it better to fill in everything?
In most cases, yes. Do put in a guess for every questions.
But back to timing.
Did you have to fill in guesses for a significant number of questions?
Even if they weren’t complete guesses, were you rushed on a significant number of questions?
Did you make many careless mistakes (potentially due to nerves or timing)?
How was the review? Were there a bunch of careless errors? Did you misread a bunch of things on verbal?
In a great majority of cases with our tutoring students, the panic of the score drop melts away (mostly) after a thorough review of the practice test in question.
Because the mistakes aren’t a mystery. Most of the incorrect answers are obvious.
There’s usually very little that we actually need to address in session because so much of the problem comes down to careless mistakes and misreading.
Of course, those two things may require some kind of intervention.
Maybe there’s a workflow issue.
But, again, for the most part there are simple reasons for the score drop that don’t point to a failing and flailing GMAT preparation.
Crappy first practice test conclusion
On the way to a fantastic GMAT score disappointing practice test scores are super common and most common on a first practice test after having done a bunch of studying.
There are probably some easy to discover issues that led to the score and most of those problems probably don’t indicate that you’ve been wasting your time studying.
Do an honest and thorough autopsy, learn from the mistakes, and keep at it!
I hope that this article helps you through this. Feel free to comment with any questions. Good luck with the rest of the process!