Why Paying for a Course (or a Tutor) Isn’t Going to Automatically Get you a 700+

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Sometimes I notice that I get a little push-back when I speak negatively about signing up for certain GMAT courses, buying books, or doing a million practice questions.

And in a sense, it’s understandable.
We want that magical one-size-fits-all GMAT plan that will tell us exactly what to do that we can get a perfect Quant and a perfect Verbal score.

And, don’t get me wrong, courses can be very good. Some GMAT study books are awesome. I constantly recommend videos and books and articles that I find helpful. It’s amazing what’s out there (often for free!) that can help students on their GMAT journey.

And darn it, sometimes, the only way to cement your knowledge of CR Assumption is just to DO a whole bunch of CR Assumption!

BUT I want to discuss an important (and oft overlooked) aspect of GMAT studying that I really don’t see discussed enough: the art of reviewing your own progress. šŸ‘ˆ

I have tutored the GMAT for over a decade (I know, it’s a little scary how time flies!), and one thing I have noticed in that time is that students who improve the fastest are not the ones who do the most questions.

So let’s examine a few important ideas and facts that I think can really help anyone working towards their GMAT score reach their maximum potential:

  • Students who improve the fastest are the ones who have the best system in place for reviewing questions. When an automated course “reviews” your questions — all it does is tell you what questions you got right and what questions you got wrong. It doesn’t tell you WHY. And, it doesn’t even require you to put in the elbow grease to find out WHY. And that “why,” my friends, is EVERYTHING!

  • When you don’t know what to do next, look at your most recent CAT/s. Think of yourself like a doctor and your “student-self” is the patient. What is going on with the patient’s GMAT? Is it a lack of content knowledge, or is it more about poor strategy? Perhaps bad pacing management is playing a part?

  • You need to zoom in before you can zoom out. Let’s say you’ve done a couple practice exams, but haven’t really Error Logged them, but you’re scoring much higher in Quant than you are in Verbal. Don’t think, “Hmmm, well I’m not doin well in Verbal, so I’m going to sign up for e-GMAT’s Verbal course and I’m going to buy the OG Verbal review and do it cover-to-cover.” Those aren’t bad resources, but WHY are you making a major study plan decision like that before you’ve really analyzed what’s up on a micro-level? Maybe you don’t need a full course, because the vast majority of your incorrect Verbal are in a specific area. Perhaps you think you’re super awful at RC, but when you go back through your three most recent CATs, you notice that it’s really just the RC Inference questions that you’re missing. Probably don’t need an entire RC book to get better at that one question-type! And you know what, maybe you DO need that course after all! But make a decision based on all the information, not out of confusion and panic.

  • The most common email I get is, “I’ve done 4,456,343 practice questions, and my score isn’t going up.” I’m serious. Okay, I may be exaggerating the number a tad. šŸ˜‰ But I think the reason for this stagnation is that students just don’t know their weaknesses well enough. They just keep running on that hampster wheel.

  • The point of regular practice tests is to help you stop and take stock. It doesn’t matter that you scored a 450 on your last practice test. It doesn’t matter that you scored a 750 on your last practice test. The work is the same. A “score” that is churned out for you is not the true value of a CAT. Sure, it FEELS good to see improvement, but you need to go into the practice tests like a cold clinician (I know, easier said than done!).

I suggest that EVERYONE who is serious about improvement creates an Error Log spreadsheet to review every single incorrect Quant and Verbal question from the moment you start studying for the exam to the moment you finish you last practice question the night before your test (side note–please don’t do too much the night before your test!).
Will this be tedious? Yes.

Will this mean you will do fewer practice question? Definitely!

Is that a good thing? Abso-freaking-lutely!

And if you feel like you just can’t do it for every single practice problem, then you should AT LEAST be doing this for every single Official question you get incorrect, whether it’s from one of the Official Guides or from the GMATPrep practice tests.

In fact, I bet if you did this for every single practice question in the official guides, grouping all the similar questions together (doing all the CR Weaken first for example, then all the CR Evaluate, etc.), then carefully reviewing them once, twice, perhaps even three times, that might just be all the studying 80% of GMAT test-takers need.
Finally, remember that a GMAT course or a tutor is a gym membership.
It’s not liposuction.
But even outside the gym, you need to be thinking about HOW to use that gym, and deciding if you’re really making the kind of gains you want from the way you’re using that gym.
What a great opportunity right now during all this quarantine-time to take stock and make sure that the way you’re studying for the GMAT is the smartest, most efficient way of studying.
And if anyone would like an Error Log template for free, you can email me at gmatrockstar[at]gmail.com. No strings attached. You won’t be asked to sign up for tutoring with me, or put on a mailing list (I don’t even have a mailing list šŸ¤£).

Here’s to getting your scores locked down in 2020 as efficiently as possible! šŸ™Œ

Tl;dr: Too often, students just throw money at courses and books hoping they will “do the trick” without doing the necessary self-analysis. DO THE SELF-ANALYSIS WITH AN ERROR LOG.