When you’re tutoring, it’s important to keep track of what exactly you’ve taught your students, when you taught them, and their progress.
If you don’t keep track of this, then each session you’ll come in not knowing what to cover next. Your students will be unhappy with your lack of preparation, and you’ll be frantically trying to come up with lesson plans on the fly.
One option that some tutors come up with is to create a syllabus. Then they just work through the same lesson plans with each student, checking things off as they go.
While this works fine from a record-keeping perspective, you lose out on a lot of the benefit of tutoring. Tutoring, when it functions well, should be personalized. A one-size-fits-all syllabus is the opposite of personalized.
So, if you’re not just doing a syllabus, what can you do?
One thing to do is just to keep a spreadsheet with the questions (or topics) you’ve covered and the date that you did them. Highlight the date red, yellow, or green depending on how the student did on that topic or question on that particular date (bad, ok, or great). Don’t forget to circle back to old difficult questions!
Here’s what mine from back in the day looked like. 8/23 was the date it was covered, and the arrow in that box is a note I took. The gmatclub link goes to the question. I should have circled back to the question, but there wasn’t enough time with that student.
Now I do something different. I’ve recently created a tutoring app called 21st Night that logs all of this for you, so you can just focus on the tutoring. It’s free for tutors, if you want to check it out. Just contact me.
Making people learn is tough. I’ve taught classrooms ranging from 1 person to around 3000 (through an online course), and the gap between what I teach and what students learn has always been present.
This is true for all teachers, of course, but I think I’ve felt it more than most. As someone who’s self-employed and charges by the hour, when people stop learning, they often ask for a refund. That refund comes from my pocket. Their learning gap becomes my rent gap.
This means I’ve developed a number of strategies to keep students engaged and learning, and my pockets full. Of these, probably the most important has been my adaptation of mastery learning.
Mastery learning, popularized by Benjamin Bloom, is, at its core, both simple and a powerful alternative to the traditional classroom structure.
A traditional classroom structures relies on lecture first, then homework, then a test at the end. If a student doesn’t get the material, they’re expected to go to office hours, but it’s far more common for them to do poorly on the test. At that point, the student and teacher both tacitly agree that the student will likely never learn the material.
In a simplified mastery learning model, material is taught, then homework and tests are used as checks to see how well the material is learned. If the student doesn’t reach a specified standard, they spend more time on the material until they can reach the standard on another check (i.e. homework or practice test).
To put it in another way, in a traditional classroom model, every student spends the same amount of time on each subject, but their achievement varies. In a simplified mastery learning model, every student’s achievement reaches the same standard, but the amount of time they spend on a subject varies.
I’m a big fan of the simplified mastery learning model because it results in greater student achievement (literally, by definition). I also find it doesn’t impact how much material an individual student is able to get through, as most of the material I teach stacks on itself anyways. Students who didn’t understand the material at the beginning were never going to understand the material at the end, even if they did encounter it.
The big trouble, though, is that it’s inconvenient. The traditional classroom model is so popular because it fits so well with the pressures of a course with limited time and a syllabus to get through. A traditional mastery learning model seems like it could take an infinite amount of time, and it’s possible that you’ll never get to what you need.
In response to this, I adapted the mastery learning model, so that I could still get through the material I needed in the time that I had. Here’s what I did:
I started off all my students with a diagnostic test. No matter what your subject, some of your students will come with some background in it. It’s important to know how much, so that you can tailor your lectures accordingly and spend time wisely. It also gives students a heads up with regards to the material that they’ll need to know.
My lectures were short and to the point, taking up only half of class time. While I recognized that I needed to make sure my students were exposed to the proper frameworks and problem-solving strategies, I left the details of those frameworks up to their own learning. Details tend to be lost over the course of a lecture anyways, so it wasn’t particularly useful for me to try to drill them into the students’ heads.
The second half of class time was always devoted to assisted self-study. I gave my students a lot of high quality material to learn from (questions, answers, answer explanations, and practice tests) and showed them how to learn from it. In the second half of class, they’d work quietly through the material related to the lecture. If they had any trouble, I’d help them on their question.
I consistently checked in on their homework and their tests. Homework was given every class, while tests were given as needed. Both homework and tests were consistently encouraged, and I checked in to see how students were doing on both. Any problems specific to a student were addressed during self-study (e.g. not doing enough homework), while problems specific to the class were addressed during lecture.
I left myself a lot of leeway on the syllabus. Not every lesson stuck the first time. I wanted to revisit those. Occasionally, a lesson stuck really well, and I wanted to explore that topic deeper. Just as mastery learning encouraged the students to revisit topics again and again, I wanted to encourage myself to revisit topics as needed.
I required my students to reach a minimum level of knowledge, but didn’t insist on the same level of knowledge for all of them. If I had gone full Benjamin Bloom, I would have insisted all my students reach the same level of knowledge. This might have been possible on easier subjects, but it would have been time-prohibitive on the difficult subjects I taught. Instead, I was ok with certain students diving deeper than others, as long as everyone reached the same level.
This adapted mastery learning model worked way better for me than a traditional classroom model. In the traditional classroom model, I was always shocked at how little my students seemed to learn. I’d occasionally reach the end of a lecture, take a question from a student, and realize that they hadn’t even understood the first slide. The rest of the lecture must have been gibberish to them.
The mastery learning model worked much better. My students actually learned and internalized what I taught. If they had trouble on anything, I could adjust my teaching and help them adjust their learning. When I started the next lecture, I felt confident that I was “preaching to the choir”.
Throughout my experiments in mastery learning, the most important tool I used was 21st Night, an app I created. That’s what allowed me to assign my students questions, check their understanding of the questions, and encourage them to reach proficiency on those questions.
If you’re interested in trying out 21st Night for free with your classroom, contact me. I’m looking to get 21st Night into the hands of other teachers, and I’d love to hear from you.
Charles Sanders Peirce is one of my favorite unknown philosophers. Although problematic (i.e. virulently racist) and a bit difficult to read, he was brilliant, and wrote on a wide range of topics in an insightful way.
One of my favorite ideas of his (and likely one of his most accessible) was his idea of truth. I think about it quite a lot, especially when I read pointless Internet arguments.
Peirce’s idea of truth came from pragmatism, which he was the founder of, and pragmaticism, which he created after he got mad that people were misinterpreting pragmatism. His exact line of reasoning in creating pragmaticism was to make a clunkier word that would be less likely to attract misguided adherents. In this, he seemed to have been successful, as I’m not aware of any other pragmaticists.
In pragmatism (or pragmaticism), truth is defined thusly:
“Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”
This is about as easy as Peirce gets to read.
In other words, he defined what we think of something as what we think that thing can do. Or, as he explained later, we can also think of it as, “Given that this is true, what should I do about it?”
So, if we describe a diamond as hard, we mean it can scratch pretty much anything else. If we call someone mean, we wouldn’t want to go to them for comfort on a tough day.
If someone else describes a diamond as soft, but still acknowledge it can scratch pretty much anything else, then you’re agreeing with that person. In the same way, if they say, “Oh no, that guy’s actually pretty nice,” but still wouldn’t go to them for comfort on a tough day, they’re also agreeing with you.
Well, what does this have to do with Internet arguments? Internet arguments usually fail from the getgo, by this standard. If you call a certain policy racist, then you are arguing that you ought to treat that policy in the same way as another policy you’d call racist (like redlining). You also argue that it has identical effects to other racist policies.
But that’s not normally the case, is it? Words like racist, problematic, or socialist are thrown around with regards to their definition by any standard, but especially not by a pragmatic standard.
Take, for example, an excerpt from this Quality Contribution from r/themotte on Reddit. In it, two Redditors are arguing about whether we should still be celebrating strong female leads in Hollywood, decades after Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s breakout success.
From there, it rapidly progresses to whether strong female leads are even necessary, and ends up in an argument about whether the patriarchy exists:
Arguer 1: “If we imagine the patriarchy has ruled human culture for 4,000 years and oppressed women the entire time, then does it really seem that surprising that 20 years of stereotype smashing aren’t [sic] enough to fully heal things perfectly?“
Arguer 2: “In numerous important ways, women are objectively better off than men in every developed country for which I can find statistics. For many young women today, resentment of ‘the patriarchy’ is [sic] resentment of suffering they have never and will never experience.”
They both are trying to argue about the same thing, namely whether the patriarchy does or does not exist. Unfortunately, they aren’t actually arguing about the same thing, because they don’t actually have the same definition of the patriarchy.
Arguer 1, by a pragmatic definition of the patriarchy, argues the most relevant effects of the patriarchy to the argument are the existence of negative stereotypes of women in popular culture. Given that these stereotypes exist, the patriarchy exists, and we ought to actively create stereotypes that will promote a better image of women.
Arguer 2, by another pragmatic definition, says the most relevant effects of the patriarchy are the “statistics” of women (I assume he means income, life expectancy, education, etc.). Given that those are positive, the patriarchy does not exist, and we ought not to teach women about the patriarchy as something that still exists.
In other words, by the standards of Peirce, Arguer 1 and Arguer 2 aren’t even close to arguing about the same thing. Arguer 1’s patriarchy is a patriarchy of stereotypes. Arguer 2’s patriarchy is a patriarchy of statistics. They’re not the same patriarchy!
R/TheMotte is a subreddit devoted to debate. This argument was singled out as a quality debate on that subreddit. And yet it’s not even an argument. They simply aren’t talking about the same thing.
They even realize this later on in the argument, several posts down, as Arguer 2 brings up the Google definition of patriarchy as
a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property”.
Arguer 2 claims he agrees with this, but Arguer 1 does not. Of course, this isn’t actually accurate, as Arguer 2 doesn’t really agree with this either. His patriarchy affects statistics, not moral authority.
In a pragmatic (or pragmaticist) world, an argument would begin by defining terms by their effect, and by what we ought to do if that effect exists. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in, so our Internet arguments will continue to run around in circles.
I was thinking about that recently after an interesting conversation I had with a friend and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training partner. A 200 pound former Penn State wrestler and a Harvard Chemistry PhD to be, he is an absolute force to be reckoned with on the mats.
(Penn State, if you’re not aware, is considered the best wrestling program in the country, winning the D1 Championship 4 straight years in a row).
After yet another round of being beaten up (nicely) by this friend, we started talking about his experience as a Penn State wrestler. He said something interesting, “When I first came to Penn State, I had no idea how to wrestle, just like pretty much everyone who comes on. It took me some time to learn.”
It was a weird thing for him to say. Penn State does not accept just anyone onto the wrestling team. They regularly attract the number 1 college wrestling picks in the country, and my friend was, himself, an outstanding high school wrestler in a really competitive league.
And yet, he had learned so much at Penn State that he considered himself an absolute novice at the beginning. How was that possible?
Well, like any skill, there are levels to wrestling. When your coach is a legendary Olympian, the level of high school wrestling can seem like no wrestling at all. It feels like you can’t ramp up to the next level, you need to step up.
So, at Penn State, my friend took that step up in wrestling. He became such a better wrestler (and very competitive on the national level) that he felt like it was the first time he really wrestled. He became a next level wrestler.
This made me interested as to how the coach, Cael Sanderson, makes guys take that step up. What’s the key to creating next level wrestlers?
I did some research and talked to my friend, and here’s what I found. First, gather a bunch of really talented guys a room. Then, closely bond them together through games and a mutual attitude of humility. Make them do hours upon hours of drilling and wrestling-specific exercise (Cael is really big on having all exercise relate back to wrestling), although give them time to cool off and relax as well.
Last, use your encylopedic knowledge of wrestling as you work with each of them one-on-one, training them in exactly how they should wrestle.
It seemed straightforward enough. There was one really interesting part though: how they drill. Wrestling drills are, traditionally, just doing what the coach tells you to do, over and over again. And that’s an important part of learning basic wrestling skills.
But, what Cael realized is that once you have a basic but comprehensive wrestling vocabulary, you can change the way you drill. Wrestling is not a team sport, it’s an individual sport. You don’t have to do the same thing as your teammates, you just have to do what works.
If you have the vocabulary, it’s fine to only drill your favorite techniques, as long as they work and cover the relevant situation. So, instead of only drilling their coach’s favorite techniques, a lot of their drills are individualistic. Each wrestler drills their own favorite techniques over, and over, and over again against a partner.
They drill their techniques with no resistance, some resistance, and total resistance. They get so many reps in that it becomes second nature. Eventually, having drilled these techniques so many times, they are instantly prepared for literally any counter strategy someone will throw at you and have an answer.
And that seems to be the secret of creating the best D1 program in the country: clever drilling, close team bonding, an amazing coach, and incredibly talented recruits.
Now, considering that most readers of this are not planning on going into college wrestling, what are the general lessons of learning from this?
Close, one-on-one interaction and collaboration with other talented people is incredibly helpful for improving skills (witness the way people describe Bell Labs)
A closely-bonded team that emphasizes humility is motivational
Drill repeatedly what you want to improve in a variety of situations (easy, medium, and hard situations)
An individual can focus on only learning their favorite strategies, as long as those strategies are comprehensive
The last lesson, and one that is sort of meta, is that learning strategies, like any strategy, works best with “export discipline”. You need to constantly test your strategy against outside programs.
In college wrestling, this was already built in when Cael Sanderson came along. By nature of the sport, you’re constantly testing your athletes against other athletes in regimented, one-on-one competitions.
Furthermore, it’s an easy place to implement new strategies if old ones aren’t working: an individual coach can come in, make sweeping changes, and start seeing pretty immediate results by the results of the competition. It’s also a very manageable size to test a strategy, as wrestling programs are small enough that a coach like Cael can work with each athlete individually to improve their learning.
I can only wish that it was possible to create the same export discipline in colleges, graduate programs, or the like. If they were forced to constantly test themselves publicly against other programs, then perhaps we’d see the same sort of innovative strategy implementation in them as well.
I work with a lot of LSAT clients who have struggled for a long time on the LSAT. In fact, that’s my main type of client: I’m rarely someone’s first port of call on their LSAT journey.
Often, their scores have increased a bit over a long period of time (like a 145 to a 159 over 6 months), but they’ve hit a hump they just can’t seem to get beyond. So they say, “Help me, Trevor Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
(They don’t actually say that.)
And I do help them! I pretty consistently get my students scoring 170+ by the end of a couple months working together.
I fix their approach to learning the LSAT.
You see, people misunderstand how to learn on the LSAT. They see a great resource like 7Sage, and say, “Ah-hah! Let me just watch those videos, memorize them, and I will become an LSAT master.”
Or, if they’re a bit more clever, they say, “I will work my way through the entirety of the LSAT Trainer. I will do every problem in every chapter, and I will become an LSAT master.”
Former way doesn’t work at all. Latter way sort of works. The best way to learn on the LSAT, though, is to follow a feedback loop: try out a new problem, fail, learn a new strategy, do old problem, try new similar problem. See diagram below for a visual representation.
Watching and memorizing 7Sage videos skips almost every part of this process: You’re not identifying similar problems or trying new problems. You are sort of learning new strategies, but not in response to the problems.
No wonder it doesn’t work!
And doing every problem in the LSAT Trainer isn’t much better. You are trying new problems and learning new strategies, but you’re never going back and identifying your original issues or trying out the strategies on old problems. There’s no feedback, in other words.
So, what is the better and faster way to learn on the LSAT?
Try a problem. If you get it wrong, go to step 2.
When you get the problem wrong, learn the correct way to do it and write it down yourself. This should be a specific strategy with a motivation: I needed to set up this diagram because it was this type of game, which I could tell from these cues.
Memorize the correct process, and redo the problem on a blank sheet of paper (no notes).
Find a similar problem, and try out this new strategy. If the strategy doesn’t work, go to step 2, and see why (i.e. why the problem was not actually similar enough).
Return to the problem in a day to make sure you still remember it (and return to periodically afterwards with spaced repetition).
This is the process I follow with all of my students. I even created an app to make it easier, especially step 5. Steps 2 and 4 are what you need good resources for, like a tutor or a book.
It is often a rough adjustment to their learning process. Writing out a full explanation with motivation feels like a waste of time when they want to just move onto the next question. Returning back seems dumb: won’t you just remember the answer?
But this is exactly how you learn quickly! By including motivation, you not only learn the tools to solve problems, but when to use them! And by returning back, you solidify your recall of the strategy, making you solve problems faster and more smoothly.
If you start implementing this process, you will find that your LSAT learning rate skyrockets. Trust me.
Attention Redditors, my students, blog readers, and everyone else: just because you finished a practice test does not mean you’re done with it!
You are done with a practice test when you can not only do, but explain, every single question on that practice test. You can explain, at the drop of a hat, why the right answers are right and the wrong answers are wrong.
This should be true even if I wake you in the dead of night and ask you. While you are still blinking the sleep out of your eyes, you should be able to tell me the exact process to get the right answer and avoid all traps.
If you are not at that point with every single question on the practice test, you are not done with that practice test.
The same goes for questions, chapters, books, and flashcards. If you need help getting to that point on any question, try using an error log.
About a year and a half ago, I had a GRE tutoring client who had a reasonably important political job. She was in her mid 30s, sharp (and sometimes cutting), and had appeared in the news quite a few times.
She was also absolutely terrible at math. I mean really, really terrible. She didn’t know how to do anything past 6th grade math, and she was pretty terrified of that.
This was a problem, as the GRE goes way past that. Even to get a mediocre score, like she wanted, she would need to learn a lot more math. And I’d have to be the one to teach her.
So, picture me, in my office, sitting side-by-side with an accomplished woman who I just met. She’s smart, but she’s bad at math. She knows she’s bad at math. She hates math, and has hated it since high school. It’s my job to teach her. How do I do that?
Teaching an adult who never learned math is different than teaching a kid. When teaching kids, the hardest parts are that everything is unfamiliar to them, and that they often lack a lot of the common sense to make seemingly obvious connections. These are compounded by the kids’ lack of motivation, so teaching is a lot of motivation and cajoling.
When I teach adults like this woman, however, they are generally familiar with the material, they have common sense and life experience, and they are very motivated to learn by the prospect of not getting the degree that they want. So, the question is then: why are they bad at math?
The first issue is always anxiety. When that woman said she hated math, what she really felt was a deep and profound sense of anxiety over it. She is smart and motivated, and accomplished many of her professional goals.
Now she’s forced to confront something she can’t do that 14 year olds do without breaking a sweat. Imagine how that feels. Bad, right? It feels like someone rubbing your nose in failure.
As a tutor, therefore, my student’s anxiety is always the first thing I have to deal with. This is not easy for me. I would mostly describe myself as a nerd, with the bluntness that entails. Gentle motivation has been a skill I have had to learn with a lot of hard work.
As a result, I’ve developed stock phrases, like: “each problem you get wrong now is a problem you get right on the test” or “studying for a test is just like practicing for a marathon; it’s about putting the miles on the pavement.” I even just tell them, “The GRE sucks, but it only has to be a big part of your life for a short time.”
Beyond my students’ anxiety, though, there still lies the central question of why, exactly, they never learned math. They are almost always familiar with the material. They likely took the SAT or ACT and were tested on the material. They might have even taken a prep course to refresh themselves.
This is sufficient for many people to develop a passing understanding of math. But it’s not sufficient for these people. What are they missing?
Well, over the course of working with quite a few of these sorts of students, I’ve learned what it usually comes down to: they are really, really bad at recognizing similar math problems via induction.No matter what subtopic in math we are in, they have a ton of trouble adapting solutions from one problem to the next.
When students (or anyone) does a math problem, the first step is to recognize its similarity to problems they’ve done before. Then they recall the general sort of solution before solving the problem.
After all, none of us are inventing solutions out of whole cloth, unless we’re 9 year old Carl Friedrich Gauss. We’re all just doing variations on what we already know.
(Self plug: this essay is on the website of an app, 21st Night, that is literally designed to make it easier to recognize similarities and recall solutions to problems. Ahem.)
But, these students think they have to be Carl Friedrich Gauss every time. And if they can’t invent the solution, then they give up. They see their fellow students doing problems with ease, and assume there is simply a “math gene” that they’re lacking.
And, if they lack the math gene, why bother trying to learn math? It’ll never work.
This was what it was like with my student. She had somehow “learned” at an early age that math is either about inventing, or following a set of arcane steps, like a magic ritual. Lacking the capability for invention, she had only followed arcane steps for her entire math career.
It’s exhausting and difficult to memorize without a framework. Imagine trying to memorize the spelling of every word without ever recognizing the connection between phonetics and orthographics (how it sounds and how it’s spelled). Spelling would be, well, an arcane mystery (pun fully intended). Every word would take so much out of you, and you’d avoid spelling whenever possible.
That was her and math. She had memorized her way through high school math and the SAT. She had a miserable time of it, and avoided math because it was exhausting and reminded her of failure. Now she was working a full-time job and needed to take the GRE, and she simply didn’t have the brain space for it.
Whew! Not fun, right? So what can I do?
Well, after clearing her anxiety (or trying to over a long and drawn-out process), I needed to teach her that math was about recognizing patterns. She needed to see that problems were in fact similar to each other, and that the solutions to problems were consistent with one another (i.e. we weren’t inventing new rules every single math problem).
Put that way, it sounds easy. In actuality, this is a painstaking process for all involved. I needed her to unlearn that math was all about memorization, learn that math is about understanding and similarities, and then actually learn the strategies and techniques she needed to do.
With her, as with most of my students, this is generally best done empirically. I can tell my students this, and they will nod and agree. And then they will continue with the same assumptions they’ve had for 20-something years.
So, instead, I tell them that we are going to need to do and analyze a lot of problems together. It will be many hours, and I need their patience. That’s all I say.
To actually teach them the right way to think about these problems, I ask them two questions after each question we do together, whether they get the question right or wrong:
How did we know to apply that method to that problem? What prompted it? [This teaches them to recognize similarity to other problems that use that method]
Why did you choose this approach? In other words, what did we want in the end? [This forces them to recognize the purpose of the steps, and understand the logical consistency.]
Answers to these questions go in the explanation in the error log (the app I mentioned), as well as a step-by-step explanation of how they solved the question. Then the app makes sure they recall everything by a spaced repetition system.
I do that over a period of hours. Then I have them do that at home for even more hours. Between me and their homework, I usually have them spend 100+ hours doing and analyzing GRE math problems with those questions and my app.
And 100+ hours, hundreds of math problems, and thousands of words exchanged later, these unteachable adults are finally mediocre at math.
This post written by Kiran Nasim, with editing by Trevor Klee.
Table of Contents
How to improve GMAT score from 550 to 700
Improve your GMAT foundation
When you score in 500s, the good news is that you have a lot of margin for improvement. The bad news is that you’re probably severely lacking in foundation.
To get that foundation, you should consider using the Manhattan GMAT guides. Once you have that foundation, you’ll need to use official questions to practice those strategies. Just knowing content doesn’t mean much if you can’t apply it.
In order to remember what you’ve reviewed, you should use an error log like 21st Night. This will help you be able to apply those strategies on test day.
Take practice tests
In between now and your test day, you’ll need to take a lot of practice tests. You shouldn’t just plow through them though. You need to review the tests after you take them.
Analyze your mistakes, and make sure you understand why you got the questions wrong that you did. 21st Night can help with that, if you take the time to categorize the questions that you got wrong.
Another helpful part of taking practice tests is that you’ll be able to see if your score is increasing. If it’s not, that’s probably a sign that you need to switch up your studying tactics.
Learn from those who’ve already taken the test
Search GMATClub for advice and learn from the knowledge and expertise of others. Group study is a great way to stay motivated, you may learn different methods to solve a problem and get to pick up shortcuts and more effective techniques. Even if you know more than the other posters, you get to practice your concepts by explaining to others.
We understand continuous study can be boring and we believe 1 hour of focus study is better than 4 hours of mindless reading. Set immediate goals for each day and do work every day. You need to be able to work consistently and through hard problems.
Find a workout routine or nightly relaxation routine so you don’t get overwhelmed by your studying. You can also see if the streak system in 21st Night helps you keep studying consistently.
530 to 700 success story
determination improved his score by 270 points to achieve 700. He
suggests the importance of identifying your weaknesses and focusing
on improvement, thus he identified that even after three attempts he
was weak in the verbal section so he focused more on his weaknesses.
GMATClub for guidance from the
How to improve
your GMAT score past 700
you gave the test and didn’t get your target of 700, you have the
advantage of experience now and you know your flaws. Earning a 700+
won’t be easy but it will be worthwhile.
Create a study plan
Make a study plan accordingly; don’t dive in without your end goal in mind. You’re going to need to figure out when you’re going to put in the hours, what strategies you’ll need to learn, and how you’re going to review.
Perfect your foundation
You need a solid foundation before you can tackle any type of question. Make sure you know the concepts and make sure you know when and how to apply them.
A lot of students forget to study when they’re supposed to apply various techniques. You need to know what are the “triggers” for using certain equations, or else those equations are pretty much useless.
Manage your time
So, the best way to get faster at an exam is to become “fluent” in the questions. By that, I mean you need to be able to do the questions forwards, backwards, and in your sleep. Then you can speed up. 21st Night will help with that.
You also need to know when to skip questions. You don’t need to do every question. If you spend too much time on a difficult question in the beginning, you won’t have enough time to do the five easy questions at the end.
Keep in mind that your goal is to understand the material well. Don’t just mindlessly do questions, but actually understand the questions.
You need to study consistently. Aim for at least an hour a day, and more on weekends. If you use a service like 21st Night, we’ll show you your streak of uninterrupted days to encourage you to keep studying. You can also try enlisting a study buddy (or accountability buddy) for help.
your error patterns
The best questions to do are the ones that you find difficult. Those are the ones that will teach you the most. You need to find a way of targeting exactly the questions that you find difficult in order to make sure you learn from them.
One possibility is to create a spreadsheet with your questions. That’s a method that I used for a while.
You can also use 21st Night, an error log app. It’s based around spaced repetition, so the questions you find most difficult are repeated for you most often.
Success story in scoring above 700
tells his story of scoring 730 in 8 days and recommends using Khan
Academy. Khan Academy shows someone else going through the
problems and is really advantageous when you are burned out of doing
the calculation by yourself and your mind needs a break. Moreover, he
suggests sticking to the official guide and using e-book formats to
study so that you can get used to the test-room environment.
How to improve
GMAT verbal score
Many students, especially native speakers, underestimate the value of verbal practice. You should understand that verbal section tests a particular set of skills that needs to be learned and practiced.
In other words, you can get pretty far on verbal just by being a native speaker. But, you’ll never get a great verbal score unless you study verbal extensively, the same way that you would quant.
suggests in his guide; “mastering
GMAT verbal section”, to spend an equal amount of time on both
quant and verbal if your goal is to score 700+. He recommends
alternating between quant and verbal, this will prevent you from
exhausting yourself over-studying one topic.
How to improve Reading Comprehension
the technique of reading and digesting. Regularly read comprehensions
to analyze and summarize faster and learn skimming method. Spend some
time organizing and analyzing the data before attempting the
questions. Write short notes next to paragraphs to quickly refer
How to improve Sentence Correction
up your grammar. Make sure you learn basic grammar rules and can
pinpoint the violations of these rules such as misplaced or dangling
modifiers, subject-verb agreement, and pronoun usage. Practice these
rules in your daily life, for example, instead of saying “I don’t
know if it will rain” say, “I don’t know whether it will rain”.
to dissect answers and eliminating choices will eventually leave you
with the correct choice.
Holmes once said: “Once you’ve eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
How to improve Critical Reasoning
In order to improve critical reasoning, you have to improve your understanding of the stimulus. Make sure you can pick out the conclusion and understand the reasoning that leads to it.
Don’t get fooled by your eyes and pick answers that seem overly bold, these are often overstatements designed to tempt you. Laksh suggests going over these with a friend to get a different point of view and test your own logic against theirs.
How to improve
GMAT quant score
needs clear and strong fundamentals. You need to brush up your
concepts of algebra, learn to do unit calculations and have
the top of your fingers. Laksh has provided some Random
notes on the Math Topics,
make sure you go
through all of these:
and Multiples: memorize divisibility rule, Ex: A number is divisible
by 9 if the sum of the digits is divisible by 9
the square of 1 through 20
Drawing a picture of the problem helps
Sets: quickly draw and label a Venn diagram
Geometry: Draw and count spaces carefully
Spend extra time on data sufficiency problems to make sure that you’re setting up the problem properly. The setup is key in data sufficiency, even more so than with problem solving. One way to address this is substituting appropriate values for the variables and testing their sufficiency
Focus on the current step instead of thinking in the future. Allowing your brain to be fully immersed in the current step of the problem will result in more accurate answers. You need to practice calculations by hand and have your pen, eye, and mind in sync. Usually, students are doing one step and thinking about the next step to work faster, but this will only result in inaccurate calculations.
Use an error log
that one of the most powerful ways to grow is to learn from your
mistakes. Analyze your mistakes through 21st
Night: are you missing concepts or techniques, or just making silly
mistakes? Careless mistakes can destroy your GMAT score, therefore,
double check if you’re answering the right question after you
finish solving a problem.
How to improve
your GMAT score in a week
Have a clear learning objective in mind. Quickly go through fundamentals of math and verbal and note your weaknesses. You don’t have time to learn new concepts but you can strengthen old ones by studying mistakes using an error log, like 21st Night. Make a study plan and 21st Night will make sure that you follow it as you can’t afford distractions in this timeframe.
Check the timing for every problem you are solving. If you can’t solve a problem in targeted time, skip it rather than wasting time. Have shortcuts in hand to be quick and fluent. If you use 21st Night, its mastery system can create fluency by providing skills to identify similarities between what you practiced and what you are attempting in the exam.
Another important thing is to create a test-center environment to familiarize yourself with the physical and mental circumstances of the test day as much as you can. Don’t take breaks and always stick to the time limits of the actual exam.
Your time is valuable so you should spend it on the material that will reward you in the greatest run. Laksh tells his strategy of scoring 700+ in a week by using these e-books so that you get in the habit of using a computer to be prepared for the test day. It’s important to note that, if you do only have 7 days to prepare, you should use only the Official Guide for GMAT Review (OG) as you don’t have time to consult other sources.
How to improve
your GMAT score in 2 weeks
a mock test and note your error log to be used in 21st
Night for the revision stage. You can only afford targeted study at
this time so for the first-week focus on quantitative practice. Go
quickly through the topics you think you are strong at and focus on
few topics tend to be seen in the practice tests and official tests
more often than the others. Jinaru
suggests in his 2-week study plan, to go through the first three
chapters of the
the Word Translations Guide respectively, and chapters 1,2 and 5 of
You should do targeted verbal practice in this week. Solve a few problems and check your English comprehension level, you may not need to spend too much time on the verbal section if you are a native speaker but you do need to revise grammar rules. We do recommend not under-estimating the verbal section by assuming English fluency is enough; check your skills and plan accordingly.
Review what you have studied. 21st Night is helpful for this. Lastly, relax to be prepared for the test day.
How to improve
your GMAT score in a month
more you do quality study and effective practice, more all the
chances of improvement. Laura
presented a breakdown of how long test-takers study, on average for
GMAT from a survey conducted in 2014 by the Graduate
Management Admissions Council (GMAC).
below are the estimates of how long to study corresponding to how
many points you need to improve:
– 50 point improvement: 50 hours
– 100 point improvement: 100 hours
– 150 point improvement: 150 hours
your concepts: utilize the time you have. Take a mock test and
pinpoint your weaknesses
on new topics and concepts but also review the old ones. 21st
Night will keep you on track in this aspect by repeating the
questions you marked difficult more often and the one you find easy
less so that you will be accustomed to both types.
suggests spending 2 hours on algebra, geometry, word problems and
number properties each. Pick three top topics for GMAT from each of
these and build your knowledge, exercise and point your weaknesses.
Analyze your weak points and spend more time on correcting the
mistakes by measuring your proficiency level using 21st
recommends in her 50-hour study plan, spending 2 hours each on the
verbal section, sentence correction, and comprehension.
Check your progress by taking a practice test in one sitting. Review
your difficulties using 21st
will make sure that you don’t get stuck reviewing topics that won’t
have a big impact on your score.
don’t overwhelm yourself right before the test. Eat a healthy meal,
go through your normal night routine and get a good night sleep. You
have done a lot of studies this last month; last-minute cramping
won’t do any good, you need to have a clear and calm mind for the
next day test
The current average combined GMAT score is a 561.27; Despite the above, it is necessary to emphasize that this is not a good enough score to get you into a good MBA program.
To get an idea of what sort of score you’d need to get into the best programs in the world, look at the image below. Here are the 10 best programs in the world: you’d need around a 720 to have a shot at them (2):
go to a program just because it has a low GMAT score (or doesn’t
require a score at all).
MBA is not like an MD: you can’t get a good job just because you
have an MBA. If you have an MBA from a bad school, it’s worthless.
MBA from a top school, however, can almost guarantee you a
prestigious, well-paying job.
that MBAs from top schools cost about the same as MBAs from bad
schools, there’s no reason for anyone to consider going to a poorly
I retake the GMAT?
should retake the GMAT if you feel like you can score better. So,
unless the score you got is at the absolute peak of your abilities,
restudy and retake it.
Don’t just retake the GMAT without any preparation though. You can only take the GMAT up to 5 times in a calendar year and up to 8 times in a lifetime and you must also wait at least 16 days before retaking it.
committees look favorably upon people who retake the GMAT and score
better the second time. Pretty much everyone retakes the GMAT, so
don’t worry about looking dumb if you do retake it. However, you
should make an effort to actually score better. If you study the same
way the second time, you should expect the same results.
the admissions committee will actually tell you directly: “retake
the GMAT, score better, and we’ll let you in”. If they tell you
that, you should really, really retake it. They’re not just messing
general advice is if you score above 720, don’t bother retaking it.
If you score above 700, you should think carefully before retaking
it. If you score below 700, you should retake it unless you have a
good reason not to. If you score below 650, either retake it or don’t
apply to business school.
61% of applicants do improve their score by retaking the GMAT, and 55% of them score 60 points higher by retaking it. In other words, you can probably improve too.
terms of how you’d improve, here’s my advice: if you’re 700+,
you need to get all of the medium and hard questions right all of the
time, and some of the very hard questions. Do questions and practice
tests and review them through 21st
Night and you’ll be good.
you’re 650+, you probably need to learn a couple minor techniques
to improve. Maybe your sentence correction strategy isn’t as good
as it could be, or you struggle with boldfaced CR. Or, maybe there
are minor techniques in quant that you’re still not totally
you’re below 650 (and especially below 600), you need to learn some
major, fundamental GMAT
concepts to improve. What I’ve found is that people who are around
the 620 range tend to be
naturally good at tests, but are still missing fundamentals.
Meanwhile, people who are around the 550 range tend to be bad at
tests and missing fundamentals.
you’re in the low 500s or 400s, you probably need to learn some
fundamental math and grammar concepts. It’s not worth it to focus
just on GMAT stuff for now: just go through Khan Academy and pickup
see an option on your computer screen right after you take it.
free and takes a second.
you want to cancel it after you’ve taken the test, you can do it
through the GMAC website.
you’re wishy-washy, you can reestablish your score on the GMAC
website for another fee. Never let it be said that the GMAC doesn’t
know how to charge fees.
should you cancel your score?
I only recommend you cancel it if your score is absolutely not what
you want. If you’re positive you will never, ever, use your score,
then cancel it.
there’s even a slim chance that you’ll use that score, don’t
cancel it. Just have it on the books. It’ll put less pressure on
you to do better on your retake.
though, you need to make sure that you study better the second time
around. I promise you that, if you do the same thing for the retake,
you will get the same result.
GMAT score do I need for business school?
varies a ton from school to school. Some schools don’t even require
the GMAT. Some schools require the bare minimum.
in order to get into a school that’s actually worth the tuition,
you need a 650+. MBAs are expensive. If you can’t get a good job
after getting an MBA, don’t go.
you’re wondering what score you need for the specific school you’re
interested in, assume you need at least their average score.
not entirely true, of course. About half of their students get below
their average score, according to the bell curve. Those students make
up for their application with a great work history or interesting
narrative. If you have either of those, you can get by with a worse
did I do poorly on my real GMAT?
should know, first of all, that you didn’t do poorly because you’re
dumb or destined to do poorly.
well on the GMAT requires you to know the material and be able to
apply it under a lot of pressure. You did poorly because you either
didn’t know the material, or because you were unable to apply it
a detailed look at why people do poorly on their GMAT:
never learned the content
never learned how to apply the content (i.e. they didn’t do enough
thought they learned how to apply the content, but had a method that
doesn’t work under pressure (i.e. they didn’t do enough timed
had a method that worked under pressure, but they didn’t test it
under pressure (i.e. they didn’t take enough practice tests)
didn’t bother to gear their studying towards their mistakes, and
just kept on with a study plan that was irrelevant to what they
actually needed to focus on
geared their studying towards their mistakes, but forgot the lessons
they learned because they failed to review
panicked on the test
order to avoid this, you need to study better.
more questions, review more questions, gear your studying towards
your mistakes, and test yourself on practice test.
can I study correctly for my
question! That’s exactly the sort of question you need to ask in
order to actually do better on the test. Doing the same thing as last
time is a recipe for disaster. Here’s
a quick list:
Use GMATClub as a resource (but not as a bible). They have a lot of good explanations (and some bad ones). They also borrow a lot of material from other sources, so you don’t actually have to buy any of it.
Do more questions over more hours. Seriously. You should be aiming for 100 hours of self-study before you take the test. Mastering every question in the Official Guide to the GMAT is not unreasonable.
Get a good strategy guide (Manhattan Prep is a popular choice here). Don’t read it through cover-to-cover, unless you are totally lost on a subject. Instead, use it as a reference to give you strategies to solve questions in the Official Guide.
Use 21st Night to keep your studying organized and make sure that you remember what you learn.
Study every single day. If you try to only work on the weekends, you’ll spend most of your time trying to remember what you studied last time. 21st Night will help you be consistent, but you have to be the one to put your butt in the chair.
should be your studying loop each day:
Check to see if you have any questions to do in 21st
Night. If you don’t, go to step 2.
Do a new, difficult question. Get it wrong.
Look it up in GMATClub and learn how to do it correctly. If you don’t
understand the explanation, or you don’t get how you were supposed
to know to do that, look up that topic in Manhattan Prep’s guide.
Put the question into 21st
Night. In the explanation, explain the question to yourself (don’t
just copy-paste without understanding).
5. Go back to step 2.
Why should I use 21st Night to help me study for the GMAT?
There are a couple problems people tend to run into with the GMAT.
1. The GMAT is a deep exam. It tests logic, grammar, reading comprehension, and math to an extent that no other exam does. It is difficult to get the skills needed to address the topics in the depth required.
2. The GMAT is a broad exam. You need to remember parallelism, standard deviations, and contrapositives and have them at the tips of your fingers.
3. The GMAT is a heavily time-pressured exam. You need to be able to do all the problems within a very short time span, with little time for planning or remembering.
4. Because of the above, the GMAT is unpleasant to study for, especially if you’re working full-time.
21st Night addresses each of these problems. If you use it correctly, you will find that your scores increase more in a month than they have in all your time of studying before.
It’s important to do your research depending on what kind of program and institute you’re aiming for. Top schools will, unsurprisingly, be more demanding.
Keep in mind that GRE score statistics will always require a little bit of interpretation from your end.
Average GRE scores, for instance, differ from GRE cutoff scores – just because you meet an average score doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get accepted. Cutoff scores, on the other hand, represent the minimum score you’ll need in order for an admissions team to even consider you.
It’s equally important to look at which population a GRE statistic applies to. For instance, does the number relate to all applicants, or admitted students only?
Not all schools will provide clear-cut guidance about how they approach GRE scores, so sometimes all you can do is deduce what would be a good score.
You can do this by carefully looking at their average GRE score for their admitted students.
My score isn’t enough for my target school. Should I retake the GRE?
In an ideal world, admissions teams should judge you holistically and not reduce your application to a single score.
And this is indeed what they will tell you– but do they really practice what they preach?
It’s not impossible to enter a program where you don’t have a high score or don’t meet the minimum GRE requirement, but the reality is that it can be very challenging.
Unless you can pen a life-changing personal statement, have the absolute best recommendations, and/or showcase a considerable amount of high-quality work experience or extracurriculars, you’re better off simply retaking the GRE.
If you’re worried about the admissions team penalizing you for doing this, don’t be. It’s an accepted way of trying to get into a target program, and universities understand that it’s sometimes necessary.
There are limits to how often you can retake the GRE, though. There should be a 21-day gap between tests, and, within a year, you can sit for the GRE only five times.
This means that any re-attempt should be your best possible one. After all, you want to make sure that all the time, money, and energy you spend were not in vain!
Should I keep or cancel my GRE score?
At the end of every GRE test, ETS presents you with this question: do you want to keep or cancel your score?
It’s a deceptively simple question. And if you felt you just didn’t do a good job, cancelling can feel tempting.
Don’t make the impulsive decision to cancel your score based on the surge of anxiety and exhaustion you’re probably feeling right after completing the GRE.
It’s risky, and here’s why: unless you went into the exam with zero prep and a no-can-do attitude, you should already have a good chance of getting an acceptable score.
Do you really want to put your efforts down the drain? We hope not!
ETS cunningly does not allow you to see your score before cancelling it. And if you felt you didn’t do well on the quantitative section but aced the others, you still can’t selectively cancel scores for each section.
So unless you felt you did catastrophically, exceptionally bad on the test, or you’re psychic and you know your performance was unsalvageable, keep your score!
What GRE score do I need for graduate school?
The best (and easiest) way to answer this question is to visit the admissions webpage for your desired program(s).
Often times, there will be an indicator regarding what would be an acceptable GRE score – whether that is in the form of a cut-off, average, or even median scores from past students or applicants.
Merge this information together to understand your minimum required GRE score for admission, and set your own personal score goal for each of the verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing sections.
It’s a good idea to set your target a little higher than it needs to be. This way, you’ll be working smart – and providing yourself with a safety net for the actual test.
Keep in mind that admissions departments look at GRE percentiles too – in fact, some would say they’re much more important than your raw score.
Percentile rankings can look confusing but it really doesn’t need to be. All it tells you is how well you did relative to other test-takers.
Scoring around the 75th percentile on all three sections is typically a good target, because it tells the admissions team you outperformed 75% of the test-takers. The more competitive a program is, the higher the percentile rank you should aim to beat.
Your target scores should take into account the type of program as well. Remember, the whole point of standardized testing is to evaluate a candidate’s potential to succeed in a particular program.
It makes sense, then, that a grad program that weighs heavily on math skills will evaluate your quantitative reasoning score more carefully compared to other sections. A humanities program where you’ll need to write a lot to succeed, on the other hand, won’t mind if your quantitative score is relatively low.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should throw GRE math out of the window, but what it does tell you is where your study efforts should be directed in order to get the best possible outcome.
Why didn’t I perform well on my actual GRE test?
We know how frustrating it can be to put in hundreds of hours into GRE prep only to end up with a lackluster score. If this is you, don’t fret.
The game’s not over yet! There are three big reasons why you got a bad GRE score, and all three are fully solvable.
First, examine what kind of study methods or techniques you were using. Inadequate or ineffective study methods is probably the number one reason you scored worse than you expected.
If you approached your studying in a haphazard way, spent hours staring at a textbook instead of actively processing key concepts, and tried to cram without thinking about how you’re going to retain it all in three months’ time for the actual test, your study strategy unfortunately worked against you.
A spaced repetition learning technique is absolutely vital to help you remember everything you learn for the GRE. The GRE is a test where you have to remember a ton of complex and varied information items – so, simply put: the better your memory, the better your score will be.
If you don’t know what spaced repetition is, it’s when you introduce time intervals in between studying and revisiting a particular concept or topic.
So instead of cramming in lots of information at once and praying your brain remembers it, you space it out, revisiting it every couple of days at first, for example, and then less frequently as time goes on.
By doing this, you’re overriding your brain’s natural process of forgetting and encouraging the formation of long-term memory connections, making the concept stick in your mind.
Second, think about whether you attempted to simulate or match your study conditions to the actual exam.
For example: did you take the time to familiarize yourself with the test format and exam tools, such as the on-screen calculator? Did you have a go at solving timed practice problems? Did you have a go at doing full four-hour practice tests closer to the exam date?
Discrepancies between test and study conditions is a big reason why many test-takers fail the GRE. Acing a reading comprehension question when you have all the time in the world to read, analyze, and choose your answer doesn’t mean much if you can’t do the same thing in about a minute’s time when your heart is racing and you’re battling against the clock during the actual test.
Your test-taking ability is a huge factor affecting your GRE score. To succeed, you will have to incorporate all of its test elements into your study plan.
Lastly, a low GRE score could be the result of simply not paying enough attention to your weaker areas and learning from your mistakes.
Not doing so means that you essentially wasted time going through material you were already good at, rather than lasering in on those that would have made a higher impact on your score.
Think of it like this: studying without any knowledge about what your difficult areas are and what kind of errors you make is a bit like running in a race blind. You have no idea where you’re going and where your studying will take you. And you’ll never reach the finish line – at least not in time.
Practice tests can provide you with crucial insight into what kind of error patterns you display.
This in turn should inform what topics you focus on, based on questions such as: what are the topic areas you make errors on? How frequently? What kind of errors are they?
Doing this kind of error analysis will catapult your study success. You can do one manually via Excel or Google Sheets, but this will of course take time. Another option is to use an app or program that does this automatically for you, like 21st Night.
I’m retaking the GRE. How can I improve my study technique to boost my score?
Retaking is a simple fact of GRE life. What’s not so simple is actually making sure you improve your GRE score the second time around!
A big part of this, as we mentioned before, is making sure your studying and test prep revolves around a smart and efficient strategy.
The first thing you need to do is put together a GRE retake study plan. Think about the three factors behind a low GRE score we spoke about – how could you incorporate them to make sure your studying is optimized?
If your study sessions include active recall and other memory-promoting aids such as spaced repetition, practice tests designed to simulate the actual GRE test (be sure to check out the free practice tests by ETS), and are informed by personal error analysis, you’re miles ahead of the average test-taker.
To further boost your chances of success, choose – and use – your GRE resources wisely. There are so many GRE-related books, blogs, tutoring services, online sites, apps, and videos out there that it’s easy to fall into the trap of quantity over quality.
Apart from whatever textbook(s) you use as your study foundation, choose one good online resource as your personal self-study companion.
Ideally, this online resource should be versatile enough to support you with a range of question content, including vocabulary items, quantitative problems, and reading comprehension questions.
It should also promote learning retention via spaced repetition, and personalize the content you learn so you can quickly practice what you need to boost your score.
In short, whatever you choose as your GRE study companion should become a powerhouse for your studying: making it easier, smoother, faster, and more effective.
If you want a resource that can do all these things and more, you might want to consider the 21st Night app.
It uses a powerful spaced repetition and error analysis algorithm, meaning you’ll spend more time revisiting the concepts that are likely to be the stumbling blocks to your GRE score.
The result? Difficult topics you’ve learned two months ago stays as fresh in your mind as it would’ve been if you’d learned it today. It’s a pain-free solution to the information overload problem so many GRE candidates face.
21st Night also allows you to personalize your questions quickly and easily. Why is this important? So many apps out there, while useful in the sense they can promote learning, are ultimately ineffective study companions.
Pre-set flashcards (especially the free ones), for instance, can be super inefficient because you’re just wasting time doing questions you already know.
With 21st Night, you don’t need to spend hours trying to manually input or create personalized flashcards. Have an existing word list from Quizlet or Anki? Simply import it. Have a question on your textbook that you can’t bother typing up? No problem – just take a picture using the 21st Night app.
As soon as you encounter a difficult problem or concept, capture it, load it into the app, and practice consistently. You don’t need to worry about analyzing your errors or spacing your learning – the app will take care of that for you.
The GRE is a challenging exam – no doubt about it. But it’s not an insurmountable mountain.
If you want to succeed, make sure your study strategy and resources are working for you rather than against you. Don’t run the race blind. Study smart, not hard. Your GRE score will thank you!