GMAT Preparation: How To Study On Your Own And When To Ask For Help

GMAT preparation is analogous to weight training.  It doesn’t matter how many reps you perform: if you don’t utilize the right form with the right tools, you won’t see the results you’re hoping for.  Likewise, you can grind through hundreds and hundreds of GMAT practice problems, but if you’re not learning from them effectively, you may see little or no score improvement.  The quality of your studying is just as or more important than the quantity of materials you work through. 

Selecting Top-Notch GMAT Prep Materials 

There is a staggering array of GMAT prep materials to choose from: books, online programs, in-person classes, self-paced video lessons, question banks… the list goes on!  These materials vary widely in terms of quality, content, teaching style, level of difficulty, and focus. Most students, in theory, understand the importance of practicing problems that target their unique areas of weakness. For example, if a student feels weak in Probability and Combinatorics problems, he or she may seek out additional problems in those areas. But solving extra problems of a specific topic is just the tip of the iceberg in successfully targeting weaknesses.   

All of the following should be considered when working to strengthen your areas of weakness:  

  • Content weaknesses
  • Strategy weaknesses
  • Timing (do you rush and make mistakes, or spend too much time on problems?)
  • Data Sufficiency weaknesses (do you perform unnecessary additional steps, or do you not do    enough work to arrive at the correct answer?)

Another crucial yet often overlooked factor to consider is choosing materials at the correct level of difficulty for your knowledge and skill level.  Practicing with materials that are too easy doesn’t provide the optimal amount of challenge, and is not likely to push your level of understanding forward.  Practicing with materials that are too difficult will likely lead to poor retention of concepts (if you saw similar problems in the future, there is a strong likelihood that you would not be able to solve them correctly).  The name of the game is finding materials that fit you well.  

To find top-notch materials on your own, you must sift through multitudes of options and separate the wheat from the chaff. An experienced GMAT tutor can save you time by pointing you to the right materials from the start and may be able to offer a more objective assessment of what your areas of weakness are.   

How to Study for the GMAT

Once you have your materials, you need to make a plan for using them. Important in this plan are effective note-taking, memorization strategies, and when and how to use Repetition and Rehearsal to cement knowledge.   

Another crucial piece of the framework is identifying and learning from mistakes.  When self-studying, many students repeatedly make mistakes without recognizing that they are falling prey to the same types of errors over and over again.  You must learn to identify and classify your mistakes and set a plan of action to correct them.  Lastly, you must actually monitor your progress to ensure that you are improving in the key areas you identified.  

6 Warning Signs that You Need a GMAT Tutor

  • Dwindling motivation: It’s harder to adhere to a regular/intensive study schedule than you anticipated 
  • Without structure and accountability, you find yourself studying less than you had expected you would 
  • You solve Official Guide problems but struggle to understand the dense “Answer Explanations” provided in the back of the book 
  • Though you’re very familiar with the material covered on the GMAT, you still experience anxiety during practice tests 
  • After multiple practice tests, you continue to manage time poorly on the exam, perhaps having to skip several questions at the end of the test 
  • And finally: You find yourself stuck at a score plateau. Despite solving hundreds of practice problems and investing innumerable hours into studying, you can’t seem to move the needle ahead with your scores 

If any of this sounds like you, know that you’re not alone in your struggles with the self-study process. While some students are able to successfully self-study, it’s not the ideal or most efficient approach for everyone. A GMAT tutor can provide you with the know-how to make the most of the study process, and catapult your learning to the next level, by providing you with a system and framework for optimizing your study process.  


An MBA graduate from INSEAD, Priya also undertook the exchange program with Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Chicago. She has 10+ years of experience across Singapore and India working on roles in financial markets sales and strategy with Standard Chartered Bank and DBS bank. Most recently Priya has also been involved in developing product strategy for a growth stage FinTech start-up in India. In addition she has led initiatives to coach young graduates for careers in banking. Earlier she worked in the APAC office in supply chain function for a global Oil and Gas major. She has a minor degree in Communications alongside her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering as a Singapore Airlines scholar from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

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