Almost all students undertaking a prep program for the GMAT, or for any other standardized test, understand the importance of the test itself. Far fewer, however, understand the importance, or the magnitude, of the mental adjustments required for success on the test.

The following attitude adjustments are discussed in detail by our instructors over the course of our nine-session program, but they bear repeating here as well.

In other words, studying for a test is not the same thing as taking that test.

On test day, your sole goal is to answer as many questions as possible correctly, within the desired time frame; this much is quite obvious. However, many GMAT students make the mistake of extending this same mentality to studying for the test, practicing primarily by solving problem after problem after problem and rarely, if ever, returning for a formal review.

In fact, optimal studying differs considerably from optimal test-taking. Here are only a few ways in which the contrast between the two is evident:
* The primary emphasis of studying - i.e., where most study time should be spent - should be on the weakest areas. By contrast, students taking the actual GMAT should not place undue emphasis on their weaker areas, but should instead exercise comparative advantage by dedicating additional time to stronger areas.
* On the actual test, there is of course no opportunity to go back and review problems; everything is the here and now. During study, however, the actual problems being solved are irrelevant. Since those problems are certain not to appear on the official test, the main purpose of studying is to find takeaways - i.e., general lessons that could conceivably apply to future problems dealing with similar topic material, albeit differently.
* Students studying GMAT problems should take note, at least in passing, of aspects external to the actual problem-solving process, such as difficulty levels. On test day, however, none of those external factors should ever enter the student's mind; the name of the game is to avoid multitasking altogether, concentrating on exactly one problem at a time.

In the ManhattanGMAT nine-session course, our instructors place considerable emphasis not only on what to study, but also on how to study it correctly.

Basketball star Michael Jordan once famously attributed his unmatched prowess to the hundreds, even thousands, of failures he had endured throughout his basketball career. For GMAT students, the same principle holds: you won't usually learn any new concepts or techniques without a healthy dose of failure along the way.

What does this mean?

It means that you must learn to have a positive attitude toward failure when practicing and studying GMAT problems. If you go into the Official Guide, work ten problems, and miss all ten, you should invest serious effort in changing your frustration into expectation: instead of becoming demoralized, you should view your setback as an opportunity to learn at least ten new takeaways. Remember that the only way you're going to learn anything new is by having those knowledge gaps pointed out to you, and that, more often than not, the way you'll have them pointed out to you is by missing problems.

Regarding failure as opportunity is the first step toward success. To help you, our instructors teach the nine-session course rigorously, but encouragingly. We want to see you succeed.

The stopwatch can be a cruel taskmaster, and there is considerable temptation to work problems without it. Never, even once, yield to this temptation.

You must always work all genuine practice problems - i.e., anything with five answer choices - under time constraints. If you allow yourself any untimed practice at all, other than on review drills (such as the ones in the strategy guides), you will be building bad habits that will be difficult, if not impossible, to break on the day of the test.

In the first session of our nine-session course, we show a slide featuring a two-dimensional coordinate system, on which one axis is labeled Speed and the other Accuracy. The point of this slide, which seems supremely obvious at first glance, is that you want to journey to the top right of the coordinate grid. In other words, you want to solve problems correctly and quickly.

This seemingly banal fact is, on reconsideration, profound. The real point of that slide is that time management and content mastery are orthogonal, and that both must be practiced relentlessly. Time management is every bit as important as content mastery, so neglecting either of the two will jeopardize your score. Most students prioritize content excessively, to the detriment of proper time management, and need a gentle reminder as to the optimal priorities.