We’ve curated the following list of tips that you can apply to your study schedule to help you enhance your test performance. Each guideline was earned through trial and error, and has the support of our entire expert team
- Start Studying Yesterday (or Right Now!)
Studying for the GMAT is a marathon, not a sprint. There are some people who can cram for it and score high, but the odds are that you aren’t going to be one of them. Most people need at least 4 months to feel completely comfortable on test day. For Round 1 applications, that might mean starting your test prep in May!
Starting as soon as possible gives you plenty of time to fix problems as they come up. Maybe you study for a few weeks by yourself with a prep book and realize that you learn much more effectively from a teacher in a classroom. Maybe you figure out that you are struggling more than you anticipated with quantitative skills. Starting early gives you plenty of time to hire a tutor. Finally, you might feel completely prepared for test day and at the peak of your preparation you take your GMAT and miss your target score. That’s okay! You started prepping early for a reason. You now have plenty of time to study more and re-take the test.
Sometimes the worst-case scenario can happen and family issues, work projects, relationship problems, or a million other ways that “life happens” might completely de-rail your studying. Since you anticipated something eventually getting in the way of your test prep and started studying well in advance of applications, you still have plenty of time before you need to submit your scores. Whatever your situation, giving yourself breathing room with the GMAT studying will reduce your stress and likely increase your final score.
- Decide your target score (and Section Scores too!)
You have to know where you want to go before you can figure out how to get there, right?
Most schools publish their GMAT score ranges, averages, or medians from their most recent classes on their website. This piece of information during your application process. Knowing these numbers can help you set a score goal, chart out your study plan, measure your progress, and let you know when you are ready to take the GMAT.
For example, if your target school’s GMAT range is 550-710, but the average score is 670, then you should probably be aiming for at least 670 to feel comfortable with your application, but if you are an outstanding applicant you could still get accepted with less than that. You also know that if you end up scoring a 710 you are in a great position for getting accepted to your dream school.
Additionally, it’s critical you pay attention to your target school’s section scores (if they are published). Many schools want you to demonstrate a minimum level of proficiency in the Quant section if you are coming from a non-business or analytical background. Foreign students hoping to study in the United States may also need to demonstrate a sufficient Verbal score to prove their English proficiency.
- Take a Practice Exam ASAP
The sooner you can take a practice exam the more focused your studying will be. Taking a practice exam will give you excellent insight into your strengths and weaknesses. It might reveal that you are a verbal wizard, but could use additional quantitative help or it might let you know you have time management issues if run out of time during the exam. It also is an important way to benchmark your proficiency against your target score range. Finally, it helps you quickly and easily familiarize yourself with the GMAT format and the feel of the test, which is critical for feeling comfortable (resulting in maximum scores) on test day. Fortunately, The official GMAT website has two free practice exams that you can use to gauge your proficiency level. After you have taken those two, there are plenty of other options for additional exam practice.
- Create a Personalized GMAT Study Plan
Once you have a good sense of where you need to go (your target score) and where you are currently at (your practice exam score), you can then design your perfect GMAT Study Plan. Doing this well will lay the foundation for your eventual GMAT success and is critical to using your time effectively in the coming months. An example 4-month GMAT Study Plan might broadly look like this:
- March Goals:
- Take Practice Exam
- Thoroughly Understand GMAT Exam Format, Sections, and Scoring
- Review GMAT Quant Concepts
- April Goals:
- Review GMAT Verbal Concepts
- Take additional Practice Exam
- May Goals:
- Nightly Timed Practice for Verbal
- Nightly Timed Practice for Quant
- Take additional Practice Exam
- June Goals:
- Nightly Timed GMAT Weaknesses Practice
- Take final Practice Exam
- Take actual GMAT Exam
Figuring out what will work best for you and your schedule ahead of time will ensure that you are using your time to the best of your ability and help avoid any last minute cramming to get your target score. If you are still struggling to figure out the best plan for your GMAT journey, check out our post about designing the perfect GMAT Study Plan.
- Stick to your Plan
The best plan in the world will never help you crush the GMAT if you fail to stick it through to the end. Naturally, there are unavoidable things in life that come up and make perfectly following your schedule impossible. When these things happen, that’s fine. You just need to be aware of them, react as they come up, and make up your lost studying time when it is more convenient for you. It is absolutely critical though that you hit every step of your plan in some way. You would not have made your plan the way you did if every step was not important to your final GMAT success! Trust yourself and that you made good decisions before life got hectic. You will become much more proficient at your GMAT skills if you follow a good plan all the way to test day.
- Track your Errors with an Error Log
Error logs are the best way to understand where your GMAT weaknesses are. During your studying, every single time you mess a problem up for any reason you need to record the actual problem, what type of problem it is (statistics, critical reasoning, quant, verbal, etc), when you were studying, and why you think you messed up. After a few weeks or months of studying, clear patterns can emerge from this information. You might realize that you keep messing up Verbal Sentence Correction problems or you might notice that every night after dinner you miss more questions than normal (meaning you probably should not eat before your real GMAT exam).
These Error log patterns are key to you squeezing the highest possible score out of your exam as possible. They might not be the most helpful tool when you initially start your preparation because everything may seem difficult at first, but towards the middle and end of your prep they will help you inform your study plan, adjust to focus on consistent weaknesses, and let you know which concepts you need to revisit. These steps are critical to maximizing your GMAT performance on test day.
- Focus on your Weaknesses
This is why you are keeping an Error Log! If you know you are struggling with a tricky Quant concept (Geometry anyone?) or can never seem to understand the difference between the answers on Sentence Correction problems, then you should focus on those issues. Find more problem sets or get a GMAT Prep Book specifically for that type of question. These can give you extra practice, explain things in a different way, or give clarity with more detail about the topics with which you are struggling.
Remember though not to only focus on your weaknesses at the expense of everything else. When you get extremely laser-focused on your weaknesses you can overcome roadblocks to your target score very effectively, but sometimes as you focus on one small part of the test you neglect the other skills you need to do well on the GMAT. Remember to still regularly practice all the other problem types as you keep going along so you stay sharp for test day
- Be Consistent
The best thing you can do to prepare for the GMAT is to commit to a consistent study schedule. A little bit every day is best, but if you can only commit a few times or once a week then that is great as well. You need consistency to really cement all the concepts, problem solving strategies, and efficient test taking skills you are working on into your brain. Irregular studying or last-minute cramming will usually (but not always) lead you to scores lower than you are targeting because you likely cannot make up all of the lost time you would have had if you studied regularly.
Irregular studying also makes it much more difficult to track your errors, find your weaknesses, and improve them because you cannot get together enough data to really analyze your proficiency. Last minute cramming does not giving you the time you need to really review concepts you are struggling with because of the short amount of time you have to cover everything you need to know for the actual GMAT.
- Check your Progress Regularly
Now that you have your target score goal, your GMAT study plan, and you have been studying for a while, remember to check your progress regularly. It is very important to assess your progress by regularly taking quizzes or practice exams. This will help let you know what study techniques have been effective for your learning, if your focus on weaknesses has actually improved them, and it will also help build your test taking stamina which is critical for making it through all the parts of the GMAT.
Checking your progress can also help with the timing of your actual test. Maybe you were extra careful in your planning and gave yourself six months of time to prepare then when you took a few practice exams in the third month, you realized you were scoring well above your target range. That means you are ready to take the test and you can finish your GMAT journey in half the time! You would never have been able to know this without regularly checking your progress.
- Don’t over-do it!
There is consistent studying and then there is crazy studying. Every person is different, but you need to figure out what amount of studying is enough to keep your skills improving, but not too much to make you miserable. Study burnout is a real problem that occurs when you are too exhausted to really learn something new, but you keep hitting the books anyway. When you reach the point when one more practice problem is not helping you learn, you have gone way too far. You have to be careful with how you approach your learning because burning out on studying in Month One of your Four Month Study Plan means you will never effectively reach your test score goals. Figuring out what that means for you is personal, but it is critical to the longevity of your study plan.
Also remember to unwind after you finish studying with something that relaxes you. Drink a cup of tea, watch your favorite show, exercise, or take a nap. Whatever you do, just make sure to try to clear your head so you can focus on the rest of your life too. The GMAT is important, but it is not everything, so do not sacrifice your self-care just for one single test.