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Question: “Is it normal to score low on your first GMAT practice exam?”

Online GMAT Practice TestI recently received this concerned e-mail from a student:

“I took my first practice test yesterday and didn’t do so well. I got a 460! Is that normal to get so low on the first test? What I did notice is that the test went pretty fast so I ended up guessing on a lot of ¬†questions because I was worried about keeping up with the time. On the next practice test I am going to try taking a little more time to get the right answer and then, if I have questions left over at the end I will guess on the remaining questions as I run out of time. Is this a good strategy? Do you have any other suggestions?”

You may have some of the same questions/concerns yourself, so let me share a few thoughts with you.

In short, Yes, it is normal to score low on your first GMAT online practice test for several reasons:
  1. You haven’t yet studied all of the relevant GMAT content, question types, and strategies by the time you take your first practice test, so there are a lot of questions that you simply don’t know how to do. If you’re not enrolled in an online GMAT prep course, consider it; if you are, then rest assured that all of the necessary content will eventually be covered, so don’t lose too much sleep over not getting a great score your first time out.
  2. The speed of the test can throw you off. It’s one thing to work practice problems from a book or take a diagnostic test that isn’t computer-based, but it’s another thing entirely when the timer at the top of your screen is continually ticking away, and it seems to get faster and faster as you go. You’re probably a whole lot smarter than your initial practice test score reflects, and yet it’s important to understand that dominating the GMAT is as much about time management and effective test-taking strategies as it is about knowing a bunch of math and grammar rules. Click here to brush up on some effective GMAT time management techniques.
  3. The days of Scantron standardized tests are long gone, and you’re probably unfamiliar — or at least uncomfortable — with the computer-adaptive nature of the GMAT. My guess is that you probably ran out of time on a few of the sections your first time through. If you did, did you employ the correct strategies in terms of guessing in those “end-of-section” scenarios? If you didn’t run out of time…should you have? There are definitely some important GMAT strategies you should know related to the computer-adaptive GMAT scoring algorithm, and you may not have fully utilized them on your first online GMAT practice test.

Here’s my advice to help you improve on your next practice test.

As you continue to progress through your GMAT prep course (or if you’re studying on your own, as you work more practice problems from whatever textbook you’re using), you will naturally see your practice test scores improve. As my student suggested in his e-mail, it’s a good strategy to spend a little more time earlier in the test based on how the GMAT is scored. However, if you take too much time, you may find that you don’t just have to guess on a few questions at the end, but that you have a lot of questions left — like five or more. If that happens, it’ll be equally bad for your score.

(To learn more about GMAT Scoring, check out this article about How the GMAT is Scored).

Time_Management_GMATUltimately, your goal should be to become familiar enough with the time management aspects of the test that you’re running out of time just about as you’re running out of questions. If you end up having to guess on the last one or two, so be it. But You should try to answer every question if you can.

One thing that will help with time management is familiarity with all of the GMAT question types and most common question patterns. If you’re still early on in your GMAT prep, it’s probably still taking you a while on certain question types to recognize what type of question it is and how best to attack it. That’s precious time that in a few weeks, you won’t have to waste because you’ll have improved your “pattern recognition” and you’ll simply be more familiar with the test and question types overall.

Here’s one final resource for you that should help: Check out this article about How to Study for the GMAT. It’ll point you in the right direction.

Stick with it, work lots of practice problems, watch video GMAT tutorial lessons on question types that you’re having trouble with, stay on top of your practice tests, and I know you’ll see improvement on the next few that you take!