1. Assessment: Take the practice test
All the steps after this rely on you knowing your level and needs. So before anything, take a practice test! This helps you overcome your initial fears and mental barriers so you can start the process with a real handle on what the GMAT is. Your scores will help you determine which areas you need to focus on so you don’t waste time over-studying for sections that you are already strong in.
You can download free software to take practice tests from MBA.com. There are also many private prep companies that have created free tests including Manhattan Prep and Veritas Prep. Read the reviews on these third party tests as they are not all created equal.
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2. Game Plan: Make a strategy
Now that you know your strengths and weakness, you can create your strategy. You will be juggling variables like time, money, language barrier, and geographical constraints. When you mix all these factors, every individual will have to make their own choices about how to strategize.
- First off, you have to decide what score range you want to achieve in order to be competitive at the schools you want to go to.
- Second, you’ll need to determine a time frame. Conventional wisdom says that most people need at least 4 months to make a real impact on their score. Given your practice test scores, the deadlines of your schools, and your daily work schedule, you’ll be able to determine how long you have to study.
- Thirdly, you need to set a budget. In an ideal world you’ll have plenty of time and money to take GMAT preparatory courses, but in reality you may need to make choices. The test itself is expensive to take and you must consider the cost of getting to a testing center (it is not offered in every country and every city, so be aware of where you will need to go to take the test). You also have to decide if you will invest in books, classes, and other learning materials. There are free resources available online, but many students use paid resources to be competitive. Since admission and scholarships are often decided with a heavy weight on GMAT scores, there are students that pour thousands into this process.
- Fourth, you must determine what your personal approach to the test will be. Many schools ask for a balanced score between the verbal and math section. However, at the end of the day you may have limited time and resources to dedicate to the GMAT and you may want to make trade-offs in your strategy.
3. Pick your materials and block out your calendar
Picking your study materials very much depends on your budget, time constraints, learning needs, and geographic location. Take some time read to read reviews of different courses, both off and online. I personally did my research on forums like Beat The GMAT and GMAT Club. In my entire study process I used three companies, Veritas Prep (online tutorials), Manhattan Prep (books), and GMAT Pill (crash course to boost my score). I found that they all had similar content but varying strengths and weaknesses. It’s important that you read user reviews to determine what materials and formats are best suited to your needs.
Setting a schedule is key to systematically tackling the GMAT. Within your timeframe you can determine how much time each month, week, and day you can dedicate to studying. Having hours blocked out on specific days can help you to get into a routine. If there is one thing that generally doesn’t work, it’s cramming for this test. So block out your calendar and stick to your schedule. Setting goals within this schedule can help make the task seem more achievable. For example you can say, in one month I want to finish reading my “algebra” and “geometry” prep books and complete all the exercises for those sections.
4. Be Flexible and Consistently Revaluate
Consistently take practice tests so you can gauge your improvements and identify areas that need more attention. There will be ups and downs! Your score might not increase linearly. You may bomb some practice test and excel other times, in no given order. Give yourself a break and remember it’s all part of the process.
If you are like most people, things probably won’t go as planned. So in your strategy give yourself some time for wiggle-room. Remember, the GMAT is only part of the application so don’t forget to give the other parts of the admission process enough attention as well!