Although the concepts covered in the GMAT are quite simple, do not be fooled. The test is designed to assess your ability to identify patterns and problem-solve in subtle, sophisticated ways—all under the pressure of the clock. No matter how smart you are, the unique ways in which the GMAT tests analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills require serious preparation. With this in mind, developing an intentional study plan plays a crucial role in the process of attaining a competitive score. Rather than blindly opening a textbook or half-heartedly starting a prep class, you would be well advised to first think critically about your particular goals and how best to attain them. To inform your study plan, we’ve summarized 5 key steps to keep in mind.
1. Compare Your Raw Score to Your Target Score
Before you even begin taking steps to improve your test-taking ability, it’s important to understand how your raw score stacks up to your target score. Just as a soccer player adjusts the angle and power of a kick depending on their relative position to the goal, so too must a test-taker define the duration and intensity of their study plan relative to the target score. This is to say that without an understanding of where you’re aiming, a clear plan of action is much more elusive. Comparing your raw score to your target score is also important in the sense that it will enable you to identify your strengths and weaknesses early on. A soccer player with a strong defense and a weak offense would be imprudent to spend equal amounts of time improving each. Similarly, a student who excels in the verbal, writing, and reading portions of the GMAT but struggles when it comes to its analytical and quantitative components would be wise to adjust their study plan to prioritize the development of their weaknesses.
2. Choose the Prep Method that Best Caters to Your Individual Needs
After you’ve determined the distance you need to cover as well as the particular areas that need the most improvement to get you there, you’ll be ready to choose an appropriate prep method. Whether it be through a simple textbook, a self-paced app, an in-person or online course, or a private tutor, make sure that your method of choice reflects your particular needs. Students who are able to stay motivated without the accountability and structure that most prep courses and tutors provide are more likely to thrive through self-study methods supplemented by prep books and online applications (like Magoosh or Khan Academy). On the other hand, those who absorb information best with the guidance only a teacher can provide, especially if they have a lot of improvements to make, would be wise to take a prep course or work with a private tutor. Regardless of which study method you choose, always make sure that you are continuously maintaining and adjusting a personal curriculum to reflect your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Define your Study Timeline
It is often assumed that the more time you give yourself to prepare, the better. While this is generally true, needlessly stretching out the duration of your study plan is not necessarily the most effective way to manage your time. Studying with laser-focused attention over a shorter, more clearly defined period of time is much more efficient than distractedly reviewing material throughout a longer and vaguer period. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that you should only give yourself a few weeks to study. Generally speaking, devoting 10-15 hours a week for about 10 weeks will do the trick. It is also important to be strategic about when you carve out your study timeline. Devoting 10 weeks of disciplined study time will be much more challenging during a time of your life in which you’re working a 9 to 5 job. For this reason, try to carve out a study timeline during a transitional phase of your life. Whether it be during the window between graduating from college and finding a new job, changing from one job to another, or any other extended time off you may be able to take, seize the opportunity to really double down on your GMAT prep.
4. Adhere to Deliberate Practice Principles
Whether you’re studying for the GMAT or rehearsing lines for the school play, deliberate practice principles are a reliable way to ensure that you get the most out of your time. The primary principles of deliberate practice read as follows:
● Remove all distractions for 30-minute intervals.
● Tackle problems slowly and strategically, making sure you understand each step in the process.
● Practice solving problems that build on what you already know while still challenging you in new ways. Balance the familiar with the unfamiliar.
● Seek immediate feedback on missed problems, whether it be from a private tutor or through a self-guided review. Make sure you understand the root of your mistakes before moving on.
5. Take Timed Practice Tests Regularly
You would be well advised to take timed a practice test at least once every 3 weeks. Maintaining this habit is of critical importance for a variety of reasons. First, it will enable you to measure your progress and continually adjust your study plan to reflect your needs as accurately as possible. Second, it will allow you to practice performing under time pressure. Finally, it will afford you the opportunity to review missed problems and develop an understanding of your mistakes. Each of these three benefits is indispensable to a successful study plan.