Taking the GMAT? Here are some tips from a GMAT instructor

Nervous about taking the at-home GMAT? A GMAT instructor shares some tips.

By Yasmin Ahmad Kamil 

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Are you planning to take the GMAT? Chances are, you’ve read up enough to know the basics of what the test entails. But beyond the surface, what does it take to succeed? What score should you strive for?

If you’re ready to take the plunge, roll up your sleeves in preparation for several weeks of hardwork.

Manhattan Prep content and curriculum lead Stacey Koprince – who has been teaching the GMAT, GRE and LSAT for over 15 years – offers some advice. Some of her former students have gone on to study at renowned institutions as Columbia, Stanford, Wharton and Harvard Business School.


GMAT test-taking strategies 

If you’re not sure where to start with your GMAT preparation, Koprince, who was speaking to U2B via a Zoom interview from Montreal, Canada, advises students to look up the average GMAT scores of their prospective graduate school before proceeding with some light study to familiarise themselves with the different types of questions on the exam, and then taking a practice test.

This will help students identify their starting point and gauge how much work they need to put in to achieve a score that would help them enrol in their preferred business school.

It may also be useful for students to obtain two sets of materials in preparation for the exam – one that will teach you how to get better and another that will allow you to practice these new skills that you’re learning.

“The best practice materials are the official guide materials from the test-makers – they’re the real questions,” she said. 

Stacey Koprince has been teaching the GMAT for over 15 years. Source: Manhattan Prep

As test-makers don’t typically provide explanations – or, where they do give explanations, they’re not always easy to study from – she said test prep companies can offer students some relief in this aspect.

Many test prep companies also offer free materials, which students should take advantage of. Alternatively, they can explore available books on GMAT to facilitate their studies. Students can also be strategic in their approach to studying by reflecting on how they study best – be it on their own, with their friends or if they prefer to enrol in a class. 

“Most of the people that we tend to see are studying anywhere from two to six months, with around four months being the average. Our standard classes run nine weeks, and we usually tell people to plan to spend at least three weeks after the class is over to review everything before taking the real exam,” she explained.


Koprince notes, however, that many of their students are those who are striving for higher scores and for higher score increases, and may not represent the entire population. 

The hours you should be putting in to study for GMAT largely depends on the kind of score increase you’re looking to achieve. Students gunning for a 700 or above score but currently stand around 500 or 550 will indubitably have to put in much more time compared to a student who already has a benchmark score of 650.

Studying for the GMAT is akin to taking a university-level course – students might spend several hours per week in the classroom, but will likely need to spend some 10 to 15 hours per week outside the class in preparation for an exam.

What’s it like taking the at-home GMAT?

Practice makes perfect. Source: JULIETTE JOCARD/AFP

GMAC – the owner and administrator of the GMAT – introduced the at-home GMAT on April 20 amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. They also announced that test takers with a disability can now request extra time to take the GMAT online exam.

“The GMAT Online exam extended time disability accommodations include: 50% or 100% extended time and a 10-minute break,” said GMAC.

The test sparked controversy as test-takers are not allowed to use a pen and physical paper or a physical whiteboard during the test. Instead, they must use an online whiteboard feature. Following the uproar, GMAC has since introduced a practice whiteboard for students.

In addition to this, candidates also the option of using a physical whiteboard, online whiteboard, or both supporting their unique test day preferences, as per their announcement on June 4. “Candidates who tested without access to the physical whiteboard will be permitted to test again, should they choose to do so,” it said.

But Koprince, who had taken the at-home test prior to GMAC launching its practice whiteboard, had spent six hours practicing using Manhattan Prep’s replicated version of the whiteboard tool, which was launched a few days before she took at-home GMAT.

Her three tips for test-takers who are planning to take the at-home GMAT include:

1. Practice using the online whiteboard tool

Koprince opined that if she hadn’t taken the time to practice the online whiteboard tool, her score would have been disastrous.

“I’ve done five or six hours of practice before I went in, but I’ve taken this exam many times and I’ve been teaching it for a long time. So other people will probably almost certainly need more time than I did.”

2. Stretch when you can

Despite being a seasoned GMAT test-taker and teacher, Koprince admitted to feeling nervous prior to the test. There’s no break between the quantitative and verbal sections of the test; instead, there’s a short break after the verbal section, followed by the Integrated Reasoning section.

Koprince said spending over an hour hunched over her screen, not moving, while being tensed and stressed about the test led to tightness in her neck and shoulders, and a headache. 

“I realised it was because everything is on the screen, including the whiteboard, and I was never looking away from the screen,” she said, adding that she’s now advising her students to look up and down every 15 minutes or each time they check their timer to avoid a tension build-up.  

3. Keep an open mind and just practice!

Humans can learn and adapt to anything, notes Koprince. So while the at-home format varies from that at a testing centre, ensure you take some time practicing the at-home format and mimicking the real test conditions. 

“It’s about knowing what you need to do and giving yourself adequate time to practice,” she said.