As with any standardized test, there are some key, simple shortcuts that you can implement right away to improve your overall performance on the GMAT. While there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned studying, you can try out the quick and easy strategies below to maximize your performance right away.
With these GMAT tips and tricks—plus the boatloads of test prep you’re surely doing—you’ll be prepared to face any challenge that comes your way on test day.
GMAT Tricks: What Can They Help You With?
The makers of the GMAT will tell you that there are no such things as “tips” or “tricks” for doing well on their test. Unfortunately, there is some truth to this: while GMAT tricks can help you a little bit, the only real way to ace the GMAT is to invest lots of time in preparation. Yep, that means study, study, study.
More specifically, the real trick to doing well on the GMAT is to become an expert in the fundamental areas that are tested on each section: reading, deconstructing an argument, and the GMAT-specific grammar rules for Verbal and AWA; arithmetic, geometry, and algebra for Quant; and all the above plus basic graphs and data presentation for IR. You should especially focus on memorizing all of the key math and grammar properties, and then taking enough practice tests and questions that you develop a fluency with them. By the time you take the GMAT for real, it should be second nature to spot what each question is testing you on and then to implement the relevant rule or property accordingly.
That said, each of the tips below has its usefulness. They can help you feel confident, study more efficiently, and show up to test day ready to thrive. Most importantly, many of these GMAT tricks and shortcuts are particularly helpful for guessing strategically on questions you’re stuck on—so when all else fails, you can feel like you have a solid plan and a fighting chance to get the right answer.
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We’ve divided all the GMAT tips and tricks into three categories: overall GMAT tips (for all sections), tips that are particular to a section or question type, and tips for streamlining the day of the test.
General GMAT Tips and Tricks
Below are some overall GMAT tricks and shortcuts that apply across all the sections.
Practice on a Computer
The GMAT is over three hours long and is taken entirely on a computer. So on top of the mental fatigue, you’re also facing eyestrain, neck pain, and upper back soreness! Make sure you’re prepared by doing as much prep as possible on the computer.
A great place to start is the free GMATPrep software. The software is official, costs nothing, and features two real full-length GMAT practice tests. If you haven’t already, download the GMATPrep software and take one of these two tests. Jot some notes down afterward—not just about how it went, but how you felt throughout the process. Could you have sat up a bit straighter? Did you need to blink and look away several times? The more you practice on a computer, the better you’ll be able to assess your stamina.
Use Online GMAT Forums to Break Down Questions and Answers
If you can’t find the answer explanation for a problem that challenged you, you should google it. If you guessed, or even if you solved the problem correctly but the process took you longer than one and a half minutes, you should still google it.
If you couldn’t figure it out efficiently (or at all), chances are that someone else couldn’t either, and they’ve posed the question to the broader community of GMAT preppers online. In fact, almost every single question in any official GMAT software or books has an answer explanation for free online. GMAT Club, Manhattan Prep’s GMAT Forum, and Beat the GMAT are all great forums to use for answer explanations; just be sure that the person posting the answer is a reliable enough source (like a verified GMAT instructor or an expert who’s been “upvoted” many times).
On the off chance that you can’t find the question and answer explanation, then sign up for one of the above forums and post the question yourself!
Use Process of Elimination
It is far easier to eliminate wrong answers than it is to pick the right one. So, when you’re unsure about answer choices on a given question, try to eliminate all the wrong ones first. Make a case for why each one is wrong (even if you don’t believe it’s wrong, go ahead and argue to yourself that it is anyway). The choice that is the hardest to disprove will likely be the right answer.
Move On After 2.5 Minutes Max
Particularly on Quant, some of the more challenging questions do require a full two minutes and change to execute. But many of them can be answered more quickly than that by implementing an applicable math shortcut or property. So if, on timed practice tests or the real thing, you find yourself taking forever on a question that seems to involve a crazy amount of steps, you’re probably forgetting the rule that you need to solve it efficiently. And doing it out “the long way” is a trap, because it leaves you with a lot less time and mental energy for the rest of the questions.
Remember, your GMAT score goes down much more if you don’t finish a section than if you guess incorrectly on a handful of questions.
So rather than investing three or more minutes on any one question, use process of elimination to make a strategic guess. And no matter what, move on after two to two and a half minutes. If you’re working on a practice test, be sure to go back and review the answer explanation for that question when you’re done. Was there a property or shortcut that you were supposed to use to solve the problem more efficiently? If you really were supposed to multiply all eleven of those numbers together on your scratchboard, then I’ll eat my shorts!
The Major GMAT Tricks and Shortcuts for Each Section
There are also several key GMAT Tips and Tricks for each section.
GMAT Tricks and Tips: Verbal Section
Below are some GMAT tips and tricks for the different kinds of questions you’ll see on the Verbal section. These are just the key tips; for a longer, complementary list, head to our guide to tips and tricks for the Verbal section (coming soon).
Sentence Correction Tip 1: When in Doubt, Go Short
In addition to the rules of grammar, you also have to keep an eye out for concision and clarity on sentence correction questions. Often—but not always—the most concise answer will be the correct one. When in doubt, scan the shortest of the answer choices for errors, and then pick it if you can’t find any.
Reading Comprehension Tip: Read the Passage First
When you come across a passage-based question, read the passage first, not the question. This is often the better strategy for two reasons. First, you can only see one question at a time, but there will be three or four questions for each passage. So if you read the passage trying to “hone in” on the answer to the first question, you might subconsciously disregard aspects of the passage that are important for the subsequent questions.
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Second, even questions that seem to be about a small detail or sub-topic will require a holistic understanding of the passage to answer correctly. You actually have a better chance of identifying the right answer in the majority of questions if you aren’t biased toward one detail or sub-topic, but are reading for the main idea instead.
Critical Reasoning Tip: Read the Question Stem First
Conversely, for critical reasoning questions, it’s a great idea to read the question stem before reading the argument. This way, you can determine what type of question you need to answer, and read the argument looking for what you need. For example, if it’s a “weaken the argument” question, you’ll be looking to identify the conclusion of the argument, keeping an eye out for any flaws. But if it’s an “inference” question, you won’t be looking for flaws, as inferences are an extension of the argument (not statements that weaken it).
GMAT Tricks and Tips: Quant Section
Below are the major GMAT tips and tricks for the Quant section. For more tips beyond the big ones, head to our guide to GMAT tips and tricks for the Quant section, which complements this list (coming soon).
Use a Scratch Pad
You’re given a laminated scratch pad with five yellow grid double-sided pages and a non-permanent wet erase marker to take notes on during the real GMAT. The pages are about the size of those on a legal pad, and it looks like a cross between a dry erase board and a flip pad or sketchbook. The surface of the GMAT scratch pad is plastic, which will feel different from writing with pen or pencil on paper. The thin wet erase marker takes some getting used to as well.
In your test prep, you should practice with a scratch pad to get used to the feel and the space confinements. Manhattan Prep has created a GMAT test simulation booklet and marker that are almost identical to the ones you’ll receive at the GMAT. You can purchase it here. Alternatively, to create a DIY version, just purchase a yellow grid legal pad and a slender Sharpie-sized marker. It won’t be exactly the same, but you’ll get the feel for the size and shape of both.
Check out our guide to tips and tricks for the GMAT scratch pad for more on how to use these unusual tools most effectively in your note-taking.
Plug in Numbers
As stated above, many GMAT Quant questions don’t require you to solve all of the many equations embedded within them. Sometimes picking a simple number and substituting it for the unknown variable works even better—and makes the problem simpler and easier—than actually solving the complex algebraic equation.
If you’re given one or more conditions for a number (that it has to be prime, for example), make sure that the number you pick meets all of the conditions. But be careful to avoid making assumptions beyond these conditions. For example, if your question states that a, b, and c are consecutive numbers, you can’t then assume that a<b<c or that a>b>c. All you know is that they are consecutive—you don’t know the exact order in which they each occur.
Moreover, you don’t want to pick a number that represents a possible exception to the general rules of a condition. For example, 2 is the only even prime number and can lead to some confounding results when worked with in an equation, so you may not want to choose it as your “plug-able” number in a prime numbers question.
The last rule of thumb is to plug in numbers that are easy to work with. Don’t use a crazy number like 163—the whole point is to make the problem easier! As long as they meet all the rules of the conditions given (and don’t have their own confounding special properties), simple numbers like 3, 4, 5, etc. should be fine.
This trick helps a lot for data sufficiency questions, in which you’re explicitly given conditions to test. But you can often “test out” the answer choices for a problem solving question with this method as well: just plug the choices in, do the equation(s) with them, and cross off the choices that don’t work. Usually there’s a faster way to get to the right answer, but this method can be a lifesaver when you really just don’t know how else to solve a given question. I like to start with the number in the middle, so that even if it doesn’t balance the equation, I can determine whether the number that will work will be higher or lower (and rule out the values above or below it accordingly).
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Data Sufficiency Tip: Work Methodically Through the Choices
With their unchanging list of answer options, data sufficiency questions lend themselves perfectly to a special kind of process of elimination: You should always work through the answer choices in the same order.
We’ve pasted the choices below for your review. Note that they won’t come with A-E lettering on the real test (we’ve put that in to make referring to them easier); instead, they’ll each have a bubble to the left that you’ll click on to indicate the answer.
A. Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked.
B. Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient to answer the question asked.
C. BOTH statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question asked, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question asked.
D. EACH statement ALONE is sufficient to answer the question asked.
E. Statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question asked, and additional data specific to the problem are needed.
First: test statement 1. If it isn’t sufficient to find one and only one answer, then eliminate (A) and (D). If it is sufficient, eliminate (B), (C), and (E). Next, test statement 2. If it isn’t sufficient and statement 1 also wasn’t sufficient, then either (E) or (C) is the answer. If it is sufficient and statement 1 wasn’t sufficient, then (B) is the answer.
You should only put the statements together if, after testing each statement for sufficiency by itself and going through the process of elimination above, both statements are insufficient. At this point, there are only two options: either they’re sufficient when taken together, or they’re not. If putting them together gets to only one answer, then (C) is the answer. If not, then (E) is the answer.
Problem Solving Tip: Look at All the Answer Choices Before Solving
This is generally a better strategy than solving the problem right away and then looking for a choice that matches your solution, as the choices themselves can provide clues to how to solve the problem—especially if there’s a property or shortcut that can help you do so.
For example, if a question appears to ask you to multiply many large numbers together but the answer choices are all in exponent form and are all an order of magnitude away, then you might be able to just estimate and find the closest answer. As always, the GMAT almost never requires you to do extremely laborious equations out by hand—they want to see that you can get to the right answer efficiently (as an excellent businessperson would)!
GMAT Tricks and Tips: Integrated Reasoning Section
Below are some of the key GMAT tips and tricks for the challenging Integrated Reasoning section. For more, check out our guide to the GMAT Integrated Reasoning section.
Brush up on Graphs and Data Presentation
While the IR section relies largely on the same math, verbal, and critical reasoning skills that you need for the other sections of the GMAT, there is one unique skill set that you will need in addition: the ability to interpret various graphics, like bar graphs, scatter plots, and line graphs.
Before you take the test, you should get comfortable interpreting data from a variety of graphs, charts, and simple spreadsheets so that you can readily understand each graphic that comes your way. There’s a lot of work in the GMAT IR section in only 30 minutes, so you don’t want to waste time trying to figure out how to read a certain type of graph.
Don’t Try to Use Every Piece of Information
Some of the information given in an IR question setup will be unnecessary. Your task is not to interpret every piece of information, but rather to sift apart what’s important and what isn’t. Looking over the data first may help you get your bearings, but then you should read the question. Think carefully about what it’s asking and what you need to know—and don’t need to know—to answer it.
Then, you can look directly for relevant information and pick it out from the table, chart, graph, or passage before you.
Read All the Labels, Including Units!
It may seem time-consuming at first, but you should make sure you read all the little pieces of writing on or near the data, including titles of charts/graphs, the labels for the x and y-axes, column names, and even footnotes, if any. While you won’t need every piece of information, you will need a thorough comprehension of the data in order to answer corrections correctly.
Along these lines, you should definitely take note of the unit of measurement: some answer options will require converting units (from meters to centimeters, for example), and you don’t want to fall into such an easily avoidable trap!
GMAT Tricks and Tips: Analytical Writing Assessment
Below are the key GMAT tricks and shortcuts for the Analytical Writing Assessment.
Design a Template
The AWA doesn’t require more than a fairly formulaic essay to get a perfect score. A template can help you pre-plan out your essay as much as possible in advance, so that all you have to do on test day is fill in the specific variables unique to your prompt. Check out our in-depth guide to the GMAT AWA Template for more on what the AWA template is and how to create one for yourself.
Spend the First Five Minutes Planning Your Essay
Even if you’re armed with a stellar template, you should still always spend about five minutes planning and outlining your essay before diving into the writing. This includes identifying the flaws that you’re going to discuss and the order you’re going to discuss them in, so you can avoid having to rewrite or reorganize your essay halfway through.
GMAT Tips and Tricks for Test Day
Even if you’re fully prepared for the content, there are other variables that can affect your performance. The tricks and tips below will ensure that nothing trips you up on test day.
Pack Ahead of Time
Imagine that you’ve studied your heart out, gotten a great night of sleep, and then you get to the test center…and you’ve forgotten a photo ID!
That’s why you should pack for the GMAT the night before. Our post on what you should bring (and not bring) to test day includes a printable packing list, so you don’t even have to think about it (you can save that precious “thinking” energy for the actual test)!
Plan to Arrive 15-20 Minutes Early
The last thing you want to do is to bring your anxiety level up by risking running late. Plan to arrive at the test center at least 15 minutes before you take the test. My rule of thumb for arriving early to any location is to use the map app on my phone to plot out when I should leave my apartment to arrive on time—and then subtract 20 minutes from that departure time.
Use Your Breaks Fully
As stated above, the GMAT is over three hours long. That’s a long time to sit in one place! Even if you don’t feel like it at the time, you should absolutely take advantage of both of the breaks given to you. Get up, go to the bathroom, stretch, and drink water and eat some nutritious snacks from your locker during each of the eight-minute breaks. Your body and brain need this rejuvenating activity to reduce anxiety and increase focus for the sections to come.
Are you just starting on your GMAT study journey? It might help to look over our post on how to start preparing for the GMAT for tips on how to plan out your test prep.