Studying for the GMAT is a long and winding journey with many ups and downs, so it is absolutely essential to have a solid GMAT study plan in place to keep you from getting lost along the way. The fact is, the more comprehensive, well-thought-out, and realistic your GMAT study plan is, the more likely you are to reach your score goal — and stay on deadline.
In this article, I’ll give you a crash course on how to make a GMAT study plan, going step by step through all of the components that make up each of the two major phases of GMAT preparation in any thorough and effective GMAT study plan: the learning phase and the practice-test phase.
First, let’s discuss exactly what those two phases are and why it’s important that you complete them in order.
Your GMAT Study Plan: A Tale of Two Phases
Any truly comprehensive GMAT study plan should include two distinct phases. The first of those phases is the learning phase, in which you master GMAT content and develop your GMAT knowledge and skills. The second phase is the practice-test phase, in which you perfect all of your new knowledge and skills under realistic testing conditions.
One of the most common errors I see when test-takers are trying to prepare for the GMAT is that they mix these two phases together, or jump into the second phase before the first, or skip the first phase altogether. Unfortunately, 99.9 times out of 100, those test-takers end up having to go back to the drawing board after earning disappointing GMAT scores on test day.
Unless you are already within a few points of your Quant section and Verbal section score goals when you take an initial practice test to get a baseline score, it’s really important that you don’t rely on quizzes and practice tests to guide your GMAT studies. If you do, you’re likely to be left with numerous gaps in your knowledge, so you’ll essentially be rolling the dice on what your score will be on test day.
Remember, on any given GMAT exam, you’re going to see only 31 Quant questions, 36 Verbal questions, and 12 Integrated Reasoning questions. However, there are hundreds of different concepts that could be tested in those GMAT sections. So, if you think you’ll be able to “catch” them all by just doing practice questions — even a large number of questions — chances are, you need to cast a wider net.
Think of GMAT practice as a way to refine your skills, not develop them from scratch. Practice questions don’t teach you the GMAT! They simply allow you to learn to apply the GMAT knowledge you’ve gained through dedicated study.
If you want to make sure that you are thoroughly prepared to knock the GMAT out of the park on test day, you’ll need a GMAT study plan in which you learn GMAT content first, and then refine your skills with ample practice. So, let’s talk about how to structure your learning in the first phase of your GMAT prep.
Using a Topic-by-Topic Framework
You’ve researched your target schools and figured out your score goal. You’ve taken your first full-length, official GMAT practice test under realistic testing conditions in order to determine how far you are from your goal. (If you haven’t completed these steps, check out this article on how to start studying for the GMAT.) You’re ready to start your GMAT prep!
For some test-takers, this is where the headache really begins. As I already mentioned, the range of Quant and Verbal concepts that GMAT questions cover is massive, and there is no way to know exactly which concepts will be tested on any one GMAT exam. So, simply diving into learning random GMAT concepts, with no order or logical progression to what you’re studying, is not a productive or efficient study method.
Take Sentence Correction in GMAT Verbal, for example. There are dozens of concepts to learn for Sentence Correction. The thing is, if you start trying to learn this or that SC topic in whatever random order, you’re going to end up wasting time and feeling frustrated because you haven’t built up the proper knowledge base to move successfully from one topic to the next. It doesn’t make sense, for example, to try to learn about modifiers before you’ve mastered sentence structure.
Similarly, if you pile topics on top of each other, trying to learn, say, how to answer Weaken the Argument questions and Inference questions in Critical Reasoning at the same time, you’re likely to experience a lack of progress on both question types.
The best way to ensure that you learn each GMAT topic thoroughly and don’t waste time trying to master advanced topics before you’ve solidified your foundational knowledge is by taking a linear, topic-by-topic approach to your GMAT prep.
In other words, the framework of your GMAT study plan should be to learn one topic at a time, and then do numerous practice questions on just that topic. Using this approach, start with basic concepts and work your way up to more advanced ones.
For example, the TTP GMAT Study Plan starts students off with a chapter on essential GMAT quant skills such as multiplying and dividing fractions, simplifying calculations, reciprocals, and other foundational concepts. Each of those essential concepts is thoroughly explained in an individual lesson that then features a handful of questions on just that concept, so students can solidify each concept as they go.
Only after students finish all of the lessons in the essential skills chapter do they take a series of chapter tests featuring a mixture of realistic practice questions covering all of the lessons from that chapter and separated by difficulty level. Thus, they can complete all of the easy-level chapter tests first, then medium-level, and finally hard-level tests.
Along the way, TTP’s built-in error tracker logs their incorrect answers, so that they can return to the appropriate lesson to refresh their understanding of the concepts they missed before they move up to tests of greater difficulty. And only after they’ve reached their desired accuracy level on the tests associated with that chapter would they move on to the next chapter — in the case of the TTP Course, Linear and Quadratic Equations.
So, by the time TTP students get to GMAT topics such as Coordinate Geometry or Functions and Sequences, they are already well-schooled in all of the other concepts they may need to tackle questions on those topics. And the same goes for GMAT Verbal.
Although this may seem like a painstaking process, the truth is, using a comprehensive and methodical topic-by-topic structure for your GMAT study plan will actually save you time in the long run. Because there is so much content to master for the GMAT, in order to give yourself the best possible shot at earning a high score on the GMAT, you have to be ready for anything and everything that could be thrown your way on test day.
With a linear, detailed study plan that goes topic by topic, concept by concept, you’ll always know exactly what you’ve already studied and exactly what is left to study. Furthermore, if you learn each topic before you attempt to answer many practice questions on it, your GMAT practice becomes a tool for not only honing your skills but also confirming that you’ve actually learned all of the concepts you studied.
Trust me, trying to find and fix your precise GMAT knowledge gaps can become like a game of whack-a-mole if you don’t have a highly structured and organized study plan to follow. If you learn GMAT concepts in bite-sized chunks and have a logical progression to your learning, you absorb the information more readily. And if you follow up your learning with ample practice on each topic individually, targeting your strengths and weaknesses becomes a much more manageable task.
Plus, if your foundational knowledge is already fairly strong, you’re likely to move through more basic topics relatively quickly. Just don’t make the mistake of completely skipping over “easier” topics (for example, subject-verb agreement in SC). The GMAT can come up with some pretty tricky ways to employ basic concepts. So, even if you need only a quick review of some of the more basic topics, that review could still be quite valuable come test day.
Now that you have a basic framework for your GMAT study plan, let’s talk about some of the study strategies you should employ as you learn each new GMAT topic. Click here for full article.
Scott Woodbury-Stewart is the founder & CEO of Target Test Prep. A passionate teacher who is deeply invested in the success of his students, Scott began his career teaching physics, chemistry, math, and biology. Since then, he has spent more than a decade helping students gain entry into the world’s top business schools, logging 10,000+ hours of GMAT, EA, and GRE instruction. Contact us at email@example.com.
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