Finding the time to adequately study for the GMAT is a difficult and daunting task. Even if you are the most dedicated MBA applicant, it is easy to fall victim to any number of GMAT study pitfalls:
- You are given a project at work that eats up the time you expected to spend on studying
- You overcommit to important social engagements–3 months of weddings or extended travel
- You think you can balance study with a 70+ hour workweek at a consulting firm or investment bank
- You underestimate the time required for other elements in your personal life: training for a marathon, moving, dating a new partner
In each of these scenarios, it’s just not possible to put in the consistent and focused prep required for a higher-order thinking exam such as the GMAT. To avoid these common pitfalls, you need to dedicate a short but intense study period and stick to it—no excuses or exceptions!
For most students, this timeframe is around 10 weeks, depending on your fluency with the underlying math and grammar content. In this article, we’ll discuss some best practices for making GMAT preparation less painful and more effective. For more information, check out this short video in which I discuss my experiences helping students create a winning GMAT study plan:
Golden Rules for Your GMAT Study Plan
Every student has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses for this exam, so there is no one-size-fits-all study plan that works for everyone. Some students need extra time to refresh and master certain math or grammar concepts, while others just need help applying that knowledge to this unique exam. Regardless, everyone should make sure to follow these important guidelines:
Rule #1: Start Early
If you are a college student about to graduate, complete your test preparation now, especially if you are going to work in a field that demands most of your time (investment banking, management consulting, etc.) As a college student, you are accustomed to long hours of focused studying, your fluency with the underlying GMAT content is usually better, and you have time to focus just on the exam. I have lost count of the number of 20-somethings who have said to me: “Chris, I wish I had taken this test three years ago right after college!”
If you are already working full-time, follow the guidelines discussed below, but still start your GMAT prep early, long before your application deadline. Remember that GMAT scores are valid for five years, so there is no good reason to prepare for this test last-minute.
Rule #2: Choose the Best Preparation Period
If you are working full-time, you need to plan your preparation window wisely (and 2 months before your application deadline is NEVER wise!). It is essential that you take advantage of “quiet” times in your professional career. If you are switching jobs or taking some extended time off, set aside an extra month to devote only to the GMAT and prepare then. Intensive preparation allows you to complete 10 weeks’ worth of “full-time employment” studying in 3-4 weeks.
Because the GMAT is such a sophisticated test, you will see patterns more clearly and improve more efficiently when you can live and breathe the exam. Similarly, if there is a slow time of year in your job or you can ask to avoid grueling projects for a few months, plan your GMAT prep then and strongly consider using a week of vacation time leading up to your exam date. Having 10 days to focus only on practice tests and timed sets with no distractions can really help boost your score.
Rule #3: Clear Your Schedule
For most of you, you will need to prepare for the exam over a 10-week period with normal work demands. During that time period, you must clear your social schedule and do your best to say “no!” to extra demands at work. While there will be a few unavoidable conflicts over those several months, they need to be minimized. This is the biggest problem I see with students: they do not properly carve out a 10-week period, so the exam ruins their life for a full year instead of a focused 10-week period. Starting and stopping your preparation over a 6-12 month (or more) period is so common with this exam – don’t let that happen to you!
Rule #4: Consult an Expert
While many people make the decision to self-study, it is usually a bad idea. Why? This exam requires a type of preparation that is quite different from other standardized tests and from the content tests you are accustomed to from high school and college. People waste so much time with inefficient prep, and most self-study students end up taking a course or getting one-on-one tutoring after 6 painful months of preparing on their own.
If you sign up for a reputable GMAT Prep course or hire a professional GMAT tutor, you can greatly benefit from an expert who understands what truly makes the test hard and how to overcome this type of difficulty. Starting your preparation with some form of professional help will make the process much more efficient and lead to substantially higher scores.
Preparing Your Ten-Week GMAT Study Plan
Once you have chosen a smart time period for your prep, you need to follow a well-structured GMAT curriculum that allows you to master particular content areas and strategies with groups of similar questions. After that “learning” phase, you then shift to timed sets and practice tests that allow you to hone pacing while answering random quant and verbal questions.
Overall, expect to spend 2-3 hours for three days a week during the workweek with a 4-hour block on the weekend during that 10-week period. The table below is based on a detailed and rigorous study plan that we follow with our curriculum that targets different content areas and GMAT sections in a balanced and organized way. You can use the below table to get a sense of what your ten-week GMAT study schedule could look like:
|1||Arithmetic and Critical Reasoning|
|2||Algebra and Reading Comprehension|
|3||Word Problems and Sentence Correction|
|4||Geometry, Statistics, and SC|
|5||Data Sufficiency and CR/RC Review|
|6||Timed Question Sets, Quant Diagnostic, and Practice Test|
|7||Timed Question Sets, Quant Diagnostic, and Practice Test|
|8||Review Weak Areas|
|9||Timed Question Sets, Quant Diagnostic, and Practice Test|
|10||Advanced Timed Question Sets, Practice Test, Official Test|
Chris Kane, Head of Test Prep for Menlo Coaching, has been tutoring students one-on-one for the GMAT and teaching group courses full-time since 2004. During this time, he has become a master diagnostician–able to pinpoint exactly what is holding students back and what study program will best improve their scores. Chris is deeply committed to creating the highest quality GMAT curriculum and using that in the most efficient way possible to help students score highly.