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GMAT Preparation

GMAT preparation
The GMAT is not a test you can cram for. There is simply too much material to cover and too much practice required. Expect to spend over 100 hours on your GMAT preparations, over the course of one to three months.

Ideally you should prepare for the GMAT well in advance of business school application deadlines. Also choose a time period that is clear of major work or personal commitments. You need sufficient time each week to study without other stressors impacting your study time or concentration level. Furthermore, select a time period that will allow for continuous studying without an extended break, because students tend to start forgetting material and approaches in as little as one week without continuous reinforcement.

Develop a Study Plan

As you embark on your GMAT journey, the first step should be to establish a basic familiarity with the GMAT and its question types. The next step is to take a full-length GMAT Official practice test to determine your current scoring potential and to better identify your strengths and weaknesses. We suggest taking one of the two free Official GMAT tests early on to get accurate scoring data.

At this point, decide what preparation option will work best for you, given your development needs, schedule, and learning preferences. Also consider how far away you are from your target GMAT score. You should target a GMAT score above the average scores for the business schools to which you want to apply. Once you settle on a preparation option, select an offering of the highest quality that matches your learning style.

A Focused Study Plan

It is not efficient to study material randomly and practice haphazardly, so develop a focused study plan to help you progress systematically through your GMAT materials and practice content. Customize your study plan to your timeframe, skill levels, development needs, study preferences, and choice of preparation options. Outline what you will accomplish on a weekly basis in terms of concept review, practice problem sets, practice tests, and question review.

Your weekly objectives should be realistic and as specific and measurable as possible (e.g. “complete two math and two verbal 60-minute mixed practice problem sets”, not “do some practice questions”). To help keep you on track, have a friend, family member, or tutor hold you accountable to achieving your weekly study objectives. Your study plan should be dynamic, changing as you progress based on new data and information about your strengths, weaknesses, and development needs.

Self-Study and Practice Tests

Irrespective of which preparation method you choose, supplemental self-study will be required. Attending a course or meeting a tutor is insufficient without self-practice to cement the concepts taught and to apply the concepts to actual problems. In addition to whatever materials come with your preparation option, it is essential to practice with retired real GMAT questions using the GMAT Official Guides. Although you can concentrate your studies on areas where you need the most improvement, be sure to practice with both math and verbal questions every week. Without continuous exposure and practice, it is hard to retain all the knowledge that you need to excel on each section of the GMAT.

GMAT Practice Tests

We also recommend that students take a minimum of three and no more than six GMAT practice tests before your first GMAT attempt. In our opinion, third party practice tests are a poor representation of the actual GMAT. It is critical to use the free Official GMAT practice tests, purchasing up to four additional Official GMAT exams as needed. Official tests use retired real GMAT questions and the same technology as the real GMAT -- identical directions, program controls, adaptive algorithm, and scoring mechanism. In doing so, you should become intimately familiar with the program controls, test directions, and question formats. As a result, you should not have to spend any of your time or focus on these on test day.

Take a practice test every one to two weeks, after gaining sufficient GMAT concept knowledge and assuming that you have sufficiently progressed in your studies since your last test. While you hope to see continuous improvement as you take more practice tests, your scores may vary, sometimes significantly. There are several reasons why this can happen, as detailed on our GMAT FAQ page. Our effective study habits page goes into more detail about how to approach your practice tests and problem sets.

Before Your Exam

You should be fully prepared for the GMAT a few days in advance of your exam date. The two days before your test should consist only of light review and practice. Avoid intense studying these days so that your mind can recover and to prevent burn-out on test day.

Sleep is Essential

In the two weeks leading up to test day, get lots of sleep so that your body is well-rested. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night. To get extra sleep, it is much better to sleep early and wake up at your normal time than to sleep in during the morning (as this can leave you feeling groggy).

Adjust your schedule to what you will face on test day. For example, if you typically wake up at 6 a.m. to exercise, continue doing so for at least two weeks in advance and on test day itself. Furthermore, do not introduce any changes to your routine in the days leading up to your exam date. For example, if you are not a coffee drinker, don’t drink a cup of coffee the morning of your test for the caffeine jolt. Also save your celebrations until after the test; a hangover won’t help on test day.

Prepare for Test Day

On the day before your exam, get everything that you need ready so that you are not left scrambling. Start the day of your test with a high-protein breakfast (e.g. a Sausage McMuffin with Egg from McDonald’s, but no hash browns). If your test is in the afternoon, have a healthy, high-protein lunch (e.g. a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread) as well.

Plan to arrive at the test center at least 45 minutes before your appointment time, since you are supposed to allow 30 minutes for check-in procedures and you should allow extra margin for traffic and other delays. To minimize an unpleasant surprise, you may want to travel to the test center a few days in advance, using the same route at the same time that you will on test day. The less stress you have on test day, the more relaxed and confident you will feel.