How To Make The Most Of Last-Minute GMAT Prep

In late 2017 you started planning your MBA application meeting an admissions counselor to lay out a roadmap for the next year accounting for all of the things you’d need for a stellar application to one of the world’s top ranked MBA programs. Most importantly you started the ball rolling on arguably the most time and energy consuming part of your application: the GMAT.

To get a sense for the gap between current reality and future hopes you took an official GMAT practice test and with the results from that in hand contacted a GMAT specialist to make a plan for achieving your goals. Because all of this was eight months before even round 1 deadlines you had a plan that harmonized with the rest of the commitments in your already busy life. You organized the preparation outside of the busy season at work and even carved out vacation days to do extra studying. With near zero pressure, GMAT setbacks were as stress free as possible as you had plenty of runway to achieve an epic result.

The GMAT took much longer than expected. But even with the extra two months of studying you had a 700+ GMAT score in your pocket months ahead of round one deadlines with ample time to polish your application and do all of the meet and greet events that help you get a sense for your dream MBA programs and may give you a leg up in the admissions process. Your application sailed out and boomeranged back. You’re in: Congrats.

That’s not you is it? Ahead of round two deadlines we see a spike in emails from people seeking GMAT tutoring. The time remaining to get the score is low, expectations are high, and there’s migraine inducing pressure as applications also need careful attention. Oh, and, let’s not forget that demanding job: surprise, you‘re on a new project! This is exactly what you want to avoid. Gee, thanks for pointing that out. What now?

Well, there are some things that you can do to make last minute round 2 GMAT studying more effective. Here we go!

Lower expectations = Higher scores

At a 620 but want a 750? Could that happen? Sure. Will it happen? Probably not. You’re much better off setting realistic goals. If you truly want a 750 then do it right. Give yourself the time, space, and other resources necessary to have a decent shot at it. Pegging yourself to a 750 while not being remotely close to having the juice to hit that score is setting yourself up for disappointment and potentially even suppressing the score you could achieve. Thanks for crushing my dreams! What can I aim for? That’s going to depend on a bunch of factors. Here are some very rough suggestions: If you’re between 500 and 600 aim for no more than 100 points for every two months of studying. If you’re 450 or below you might be able to achieve more. If you’re 650 or above aim for 60 points per two month study period. Already at 700+? Improvement at the higher end of the scale is challenging and difficult to predict. These are very rough numbers. The potential increase also depends on how long you’ve been studying. What resources you’ve used. Your quant vs verbal split. How much you’ve already improved. To get a sense for the type of work needed for exceptional score increases have a look at Earning a Harvard GMAT score.

Give yourself as much time as possible

This is an obvious one but you’d be surprised at how many people have two months to deadlines but are only allowing one month for GMAT improvement. Time is one of the most important study resources. Important note: MBA programs have different requirements for score submission. From my research it appears that you can submit any unofficial test scores taken before the deadline. So don’t worry that your official score won’t get there for a couple of weeks. There are also some schools that will even accept unofficial scores within 10 days after the deadline.

Plan for two tests

You can choose what GMAT scores schools see. So if you don’t do well and you opt to cancel there’s no record of the score or that you took the test at all. If you’re planning on studying for 7 weeks take a test after the 4th week and the 7th week. This way there should a bit less pressure on the second test. It’s also possible that you’ll have a fantastic first test and: you’re done!

Don’t be afraid to go back to square one on quant

It’s very tempting to spend boatloads of time on trickier but less important quant concepts. So even after months of studying your GMAT quant fundamentals may still be shaky. A couple of weeks shoring up the basics could improve your situation significantly. Without those rock solid you’ll have a harder time focusing on what the test is actually about: critical thinking. Also realize that most people aren’t shooting for a perfect quant score. Likely you can hit around 70% (depending a bit on what questions you get wrong) and still snag a quant solid enough that when paired with an excellent verbal score nudges the composite score above 700. Achieving that “good enough” quant rests squarely on being stellar at the basics not a puzzle master.

Don’t forget verbal!

A lot of GMAT anxiety comes from the quant section. However, the verbal can have an outsize influence on your GMAT composite score. Also, verbal can take longer to improve. Start GMAT verbal preparation early and hit it hard. Avoid the idea that you’ll brush up on it at the end. Ready for our verbal not-so-secret weapon? LSAT! We almost always use LSAT for GMAT Verbal improvement. LSAT questions are great for getting your verbal into the 40’s. I’d try to avoid LSAT in the week or two before your GMAT but besides that: dig in!

Use the best GMAT materials possible

Here are some endzone friendly resources that GMAT studiers often overlook:

The GMAT Official Practice Questions is an online question bank with 400+ official GMAT questions configurable into small quizzes or full tests with the option to select the level of difficulty. There’s no scoring or adaptive algorithm but these are great for getting into competition mode in the last 4 weeks of your preparation.

GMAT Focus provides 4 official GMAT computer adaptive quant quizzes that are very similar in style to a real GMAT and feature the official scoring algorithm. GMAT Focus is pricey but I’ve always found it spot on in content and in difficulty.

GMAT Quant Review Quizzes are what we use in GMAT tutoring during the last crucial weeks of GMAT preparation or for a re-take. These are specifically tailored to people seeking higher quant scores and are bite-size enough that you can tackle them on weeknights.

-Once again, LSAT questions provide stellar GMAT verbal practice. The LSAT 10 packs are the most cost effective way to buy LSAT questions.

Get organized

GMAT cramming doesn’t work (for most people). Plan your study sessions in advance. Set up a routine. Establish a rhythm and it’ll help you get momentum which in turn will make your studying easier and more effective. For GMAT tutoring students we tend to assign 2 hrs of HW per weeknight with Fridays off and then 4-6 hrs on each weekend day depending on whether there’s a practice test assigned (practice test days are longer). These hours include not just doing HW quizzes but also reviewing them and past HW as well. To get a sense for how you might organize your GMAT studying have a look at our GMAT Study Schedule.

Get some help as early in the process as possible

The more time you give tutoring to work the more value you’ll get out of it. That’s not saying more tutoring hours = higher score. But, the same number of hours spread over more time will have more impact. 12hrs is much more useful over eight weeks than four weeks. Why? You can review everything you need to know to achieve a 700+ GMAT score in a few weeks but it’s another thing entirely to apply that new knowledge in a test environment. Consider the difference between exercising 60 hours in a week versus one hour per day for 60 days. The former will probably just make you feel fatigued while the latter will actually make you much fitter.

The GRE isn’t an “easy button”

Yes, there are some solid reasons for taking the GRE for business school admission. That said, don’t look at the GRE as a shortcut. Most people would do well exhausting all 5 GMATs allowed in a year before considering the GRE.

It’s rare that GMAT studying is a breeze especially when you’re working full time. Add applications and submission deadline pressure and the process gets nightmarish. If you have to push GMAT studying to the limit then at least shoot for round 1 so you have some headroom. That said, if you find yourself running against the clock gunning for round two, it‘s not the end of the world. Many people do rise to the occasion and, at the last second, with their final atom of will power, achieve enough thrust to reach GMAT orbit.

And, keep in mind, if you don’t hook a monster score then it’s not the end of the world to postpone to next admissions season at which point you can be the person from the beginning of this post.. With the right amount of time and focus you’ll earn your massive GMAT score and construct your perfect application. An extra year is tiny in the grand scheme of things. Ten years from now sitting in your corner office overlooking the city with your “insert amazing school” degree on the wall that you waited an extra year to apply to business won’t mean much. Have a question or a different experience? Comment away. Good luck!

Andrew Geller of Atlantic GMAT

A full time GMAT tutor and test preparation expert, Andrew Geller leads Atlantic GMAT, a boutique private tutoring company that provides not only an innovative learning process and proprietary materials but extreme organization with every single day of your GMAT preparation planned from Day 1 to GMAT success. Andrew has earned a 780 on the test and a string of other 99th percentile GMAT scores. 


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