You scheduled your exam four months ago. You wanted enough time to study diligently, score above the median at your target schools, and tackle your application before the deadline. But somehow, life and work got in the way. Maybe wedding season had you traveling across the country every weekend. Maybe you had a difficult project that forced you to spend evenings and weekends at the office. Whatever the reason, you’re now in a bind – the exam is just a month away and you’re not even sure what is going to be tested. What do you do?
Let me be clear that in an ideal world, you would reschedule your test and ensure you have at least three months to prepare. But let’s say that isn’t an option – you don’t want to apply during the next round, and you can’t wait another year. Here’s your plan:
What you’ll need
- 1-2 hours each weekday, and 5 hours each weekend day devoted to GMAT studying
- The Official Guide (13th edition, including Math/Verbal supplements)
- Access to ManhattanGMAT’s six adaptive tests
- The 2 GMATPrep practice exams, downloadable from mba.com
- Index cards to make flashcards
- Optional/as needed: Subject-specific strategy guides from ManhattanGMAT, and a style guide such as Bryan Garner’s The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style
What you’ll do
On your first day, take a full-length test from mba.com. Make sure you complete each section, including analytical writing, without pausing and take breaks of up to 8 minutes in between sections. Do not stress if your score is sub-par; it is difficult to score in the upper echelons of test takers without any prior study. It is possible to improve your score by more than 100 points in just a few weeks. After a quick break, review the test thoroughly, going question by question and identifying specific areas of weakness. Make flashcards for questions you got wrong or weren’t sure about, and identify the question type (e.g., Geometry, Assumptions, Parallelism).
For the remainder of your first week of study, focus on your weakest area out of the following: Problem Solving, Data Sufficiency, Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction, and Reading Comprehension. First, ensure you understand the basic format of the question type and what is being asked of you. Complete as many relevant questions as possible from the Official Guide books and/or subject-specific guides. Note that questions are often listed in order of difficulty; if you are already scoring in the 40s in Math, you may want to solely focus on medium and hard questions. If you have the time, take one section of a practice test (e.g., Math or Verbal), ideally the section you feel the weakest in.
If your weakest area is in the Math section, make flashcards with basic number properties, formulas, and definitions on them and memorize them. Memorize the decimal equivalents to common fractions (e.g., 1/8 = 0.125), the squares up to 400, and divisibility rules. You graduated from high school, so you’ve learned this before, and it will come back to you quickly.
If your weakest area is sentence correction, read through a style guide and/or book on this topic. This section is all about memorizing grammar rules: subject/verb agreement, pronouns, idioms, etc. It can be tackled using brute force.
Data sufficiency, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension are a little harder to study for by memorization alone, but as you do more and more problems, patterns will emerge. Prep books identify these patterns and can teach you techniques to tackle each one of them.
In weeks 2 and 3, take two full-length practice tests and review your mistakes once again. Focus on the remaining question types in order of weakness, ideally two each week. As you tackle questions, time yourself – on average, you should not be spending more than two minutes on any problem. Create new flashcards for problems you missed, and review old flashcards. Set a realistic target score for yourself based on how you’ve progressed thus far.
Wind down your studying during week 4. Take the second test from mba.com, and review all of your notes and flashcards. You should have already deep dived into your weakest areas, so you shouldn’t focus on the subject-specific study guides and learn new concepts. Focus on the most difficult problems from the Official Guide that are within your reach – don’t spend time going through easy problems that you know you can answer correctly.
The night before your test, do something relaxing and fun that will keep your mind off of the GMAT and your looming applications. Try not to study. Go to bed early, and get plenty of sleep.
On Game Day, make sure you eat enough before your exam. If you must, review your flashcards. It’s helpful to read a newspaper or book a few hours before your test to get your mind focused.
While thirty days is not typically enough time to study for the GMAT, it can be done with focus and discipline. Prioritization is key, since you won’t be able to tackle everything thoroughly. Relax, and stay positive! Worst comes to worst, you can retake the test and apply in the next round.
Sunil Parekh is a professional GMAT tutor for Varsity Tutors. He graduated from Stanford University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomechanical Engineering and scored a 770 on the GMAT.