Doing well on the iBT

Kyoto: View from Kurama Temple

Many of you are struggling to achieve your target iBT scores. Others may be just beginning your test preparation. I post here 3 crucial strategic mistakes to avoid in your iBT and general test preparation for leading graduate schools.

1) Relying exclusively on iBT textbooks and classroom instruction

The iBT was designed to test skills required in interactive English usage in the real world, most particularly in a classroom learning environment. Whereas classroom instruction in ‘iBT English’ is worthwhile, such preparation is insufficient to build the kind of practical English proficiency that is tested on the iBT. You have to get out into the real world of English as often as possible, in reading, writing, and speaking. You cannot maximize your score potential by limiting your studies to iBT textbooks or short-fuse classroom instruction in typical test patterns and structures. You must supplement that study before and after your classes in real-world English usage. Befriend native English speakers. Join a Toastmasters International branch in your community. Do whatever you can to practice English in the real world.

2) Not developing integrated study of iBT and GMAT (or GRE)

Don’t make the mistake of spending all of your time studying for the iBT until you reach your test score target, and then begin to study GMAT (or GRE). Sadly, too many applicants take this approach. iBT test proficiency is acquired steadily over a period of time. Many applicants are still working on their iBT scores right up to the date of their application sto schools. If they begin GMAT (or GRE) preparation only after they have hit their IBT target, they run out of time.

Rather, consider test preparation as integrated study exercise. Sure, you may focus on iBT mostly at the beginning of your preparation, but also include study that is integral to both tests right from the beginning. What is common to both the iBT and GMAT is reading and writing. Read on the computer every day, and write in English as often as you can. When you begin to build momentum on iBT, and your test results show ‘traction’, begin to rebalance the amount of time spent on iBT preparation and on GMAT preparation, so that GMAT study becomes more, iBT study less.

Also, don’t put off studying Math until late in the game. It takes time and repetition to become ‘lighting fast’ utilizing all those math formulas you knew so well preparing for entrance exams but haven’t used since you went to work. Weave study of Math into your program early on.

3) Not taking enough test simulations prior to an actual test

You may be studying the Official Guide to GMAT Review or individual test sections of the GMAT. Great. It is a source of authentic material for mastering test patterns. But relying on these materials alone will not maximize your potential to score high on an actual test. The Official Guide is not a test, just material excerpted from tests. And studying individual sections over and over is not a full actual test either, just part of an actual GMAT test. After a while you know the answers, and are lulled into a false sense of security believing that your proficiency has improved more than the reality. So that when you take the actual test and find that you bombed, you are shocked.

To prepare fully for the GMAT, you must ‘test drive’ your knowledge of the GMAT test patterns in authentic full-test simulations. You must feel the time pressure of a full-test to fine-tune your strategic application and build your concentration power. Practice makes perfect but perfect practice is not relying on part of a test, it is taking a full-test simulation. Imagine that you aimed to learn to ski. You could read as many books as have been published on skiing, but until you got out on a pair of skis on the ski slopes and tried out the theory you had learned in a partial test section you would know whether you had actually learned to ski.

All the best,


©2010 Warren J. Devalier