7 Steps to Building Confidence for GMAT Test Day

As a Kaplan coach and teacher, I spend part of every day ensuring that my students build confidence and stay determined. It’s very easy to concentrate on rekindling long-forgotten math skills or memorizing patterns commonly found in Reading Comp passages, but if you spend all of your energy on these content-based skills, you may omit strengthening your performance on the emotional aspects of prepping for the GMAT.

Building confidence against the difficulty of the GMAT

As a computer-adaptive test (CAT), the GMAT rewards correct answers with harder questions. Harder questions take more time and mental energy to process. They can be intimidating. Likewise, incorrect answers are followed by lower-difficulty questions. These can also be stress-inducing: “These questions are too easy! I must be doing terribly!”
Before I talk about ways to master the emotional side of the test, I must address two reasons the perceived difficulty level should not impact your confidence on Test Day:

  • The first is that something you know how to do is likely to feel easier than it may actually be. For example, symbolism questions almost always involve low-difficulty math. But because they are intimidating to most students, they usually are rated as high-difficulty questions. If you see “a#b = 2(a + b)” and are asked for the value of 3#4, that will feel easy despite actually being high difficulty.
  • The second reason is that GMAT CATs include unscored experimental questions at every difficulty level. So you may get a string of questions correct, then see a low-difficulty “easy” question because it is being tested. Your performance has no bearing on the difficulty level of an experimental question. DO NOT let your confidence be shaken because a question seems easy!

In addition to trying not to evaluate your performance during the test and not beating yourself up over how you think you are doing, here are some other steps you should take to start building confidence and determination while you prep:

  • 1. Complete full practice tests

    Take full-length practice CATs to build your endurance. This means the entire practice test; don’t skip AWA or IR. Practice the entire test as frequently as once a week for maximum benefit. #determination

  • 2. Test, review, repeat

    Review every practice CAT or practice set soon after you complete it. Look at all questions, not just the ones you answered incorrectly. For the ones you got right, see whether there is a more efficient way to work the question. Kaplan practice questions all have detailed explanations, and my students have discovered faster ways to work questions by reviewing the ones they got right.
    A day later, rework any questions that still seem shaky for you. Make notes of question types and content areas you seem to be unsure of and work them into your future practice plans. #confidence #determination

  • 3. Go back to basics

    Start with the foundational material and work your way up. If you have trouble remembering multiplication tables, download an app. You first learned this before or in the fourth grade, so let Dora help you remember the steps! An app designed for kids might make it more fun and easier to remember, two things essential to building confidence for Test Day. #confidence

  • 4. Discipline yourself

    Make a practice plan and stick to it. Think of it as a diet, or a workout regimen, or a savings plan. Make it reasonable so you can make it work. #determination

  • 5. Celebrate small victories

    Imagine a question pops up and you immediately recognize it as something you’ve done before. Pat yourself on the back! I can guarantee that someone, somewhere pulled up that same question and panicked. Amassing a stockpile of knowledge puts you ahead of your competition, and that’s worth celebrating.

  • 6. Know your goal

    Remember that on Test Day, your goal is not to answer 100% of the questions correctly. The test is designed to not allow that to happen; your score “stasis” is when you answer every other question (higher difficulty) incorrectly and the remaining (lower difficulty) correctly. If you are practicing with CATs or adaptive practice sets, celebrate 70% to 80% correct.

  • 7. Believe in yourself

    I’ve mentioned making note of questions or concepts that give you trouble, but you should also take time every now and then to make a list of things you have mastered. If you used to think you would panic if you saw X on Test Day but now you are cool with it, that’s a huge accomplishment.
    Believe that you can do it, and you can do it. Have confidence that you will do the best you can, and you will. And show determination while following the plan to Test Day, and you will land the score you deserve!

Start building confidence by tackling real GMAT problems. Sign up for a free online practice test and review today.

Jennifer Mathews Land has taught for Kaplan since 2009. She prepares students to take the GMAT, GRE, ACT, and SAT and was named Kaplan’s Alabama-Mississippi Teacher of the Year in 2010. Prior to joining Kaplan, she worked as a grad assistant in a university archives, a copy editor for medical web sites, and a dancing dinosaur at children’s parties. Jennifer holds a PhD and a master’s in library and information studies (MLIS) from the University of Alabama, and an AB in English from Wellesley College. When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys watching Alabama football and herding cats.