Stop Using Your Test Prep Book as a Doorstop

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So, that test prep book has been sitting on your shelf for months and your test is a few weeks (or less) away. What do you do? Well, you should have been studying everyday for a month. But you didn’t. Don’t worry, we understand. CM is here to save you with some tips, but get started right away.

Figure out what test you are even taking, because there are a lot. GMAT, MCAT, LSAT, GRE… DOGCAT, etc: these are hard tests.

Here is some specific advice particular to each test, so scroll down and figure out which one applies to you. (You’re on your own for the DOGCAT.)


Matt Wernick, who works as a prep teacher for Kaplan Test Prep in San Diego, says:

“The time limits are your worst enemy on the GMAT. There are questions that are designed to take time, too much time, so that you can’t possibly finish. Skip these questions. Even if you know how to work the entire problem out, you can make up many more points by answering more questions. For the LSAT, your influence is weighed heavier on having a planned out essay. No one thinks of doing this. Use the examples in the book. It’s incredible how much faster you can write a good essay going in with a plan.”

3 Essentials for the using your prep book to ace the LSAT/GMAT:

1. Take a practice quiz before anything. See your worst area (often math) and start there.

2. Learn the “Joe Bloggs” approach to answering questions when you have no idea what they are even asking.

3. Plan your essay, before the test. Even if you don’t have time to memorize a hundred new vocab words, you can use your book’s example on how to plan a “general” essay that will save you time and give you GOOD material to start with on the exam.


3 Essentials for using your prep book to ace the GRE:

1. The math section is only on basic algebra, geometry and data analysis. That means, there are only a few basic formulas (that you probably forgot) that you need to memorize. You can probably memorize these in a few days, but they will be immensely more helpful than doing 100 practice problems that may or may not utilize them.

2. The GRE was revised in August 2011 and is now (intelligently) called “GRE Revised General Test.” So if your book is old, throw it away. Okay don’t, but pay attention to this: no question has any more weight to it than another (aka it’s okay to skip a question that seems too hard or time consuming).

3. Reading comprehension is sometimes hard and time-consuming, but it’s a huge part of the test. Use the framework for approaching these that are in your book, but apply them to everything else you read (newspapers, blogs, etc). The framework applies to these too and it’s good, time-efficient practice.


Yikes! You’re actually going to apply to Med School. Good for you. Most of your competitors wimped out in Orgo and you stuck to it. Now, just one final test before your white coat…

3 Essentials for using your prep book to ace the MCAT:

1. Some MCAT test prep books are known for having easier practice tests than others. So if you feel like a star after acing yours, think again. Try one online and see if (and where) your score varies. Attack there.

2. Understanding concepts in physiology is more important than memorizing physiological systems. Instead of reading every page, skip to the end of each chapter and note the concepts that you know nothing about. Then get to know them.

3. Little emphasis is given on the writing section (surprise! Doctors have terrible handwriting). However, some older test prep books give equal attention to the writing section. Glance over it, but spend the majority of your time on everything else.

Yes, your test is hard. There might actually be more than 3 essentials. Check out how-to websites for more studying and preparation tips.

OKAY. It doesn’t matter if the test is three months, three weeks, or three days away, you can start studying effectively…now. (If your test is three hours away, why are you reading this article? Go get some ice cream and at least go into the test in a good mood). And remember what Matt said about time limits: all this preparation is no good if you get too focused on the test and forget about pacing yourself. From the bottom of our hearts, good luck and see you on the other side.

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