The GMAT was designed to measure students’ analytical and problem solving skills and other abilities that are considered critical in business and management. If you familiarize yourself with the types of questions on the test and practicing them, you can achieve a good score if you plan in advance and are determined to work hard.
GMAT Study Plan
Your GMAT study plan should include taking enough time to prepare for the test. Business schools weigh the GMAT heavily in the admissions process. Studying in advance allows students to learn the format of the test and become adept at the different types of questions in each section. The exam takes 3 hours and 3o minutes, so you should practice taking several sections at once so you are used to focusing for that long on the day of the exam.
It pays to practice under the same conditions you will experience on test day. This means taking several full-length practice exams exactly as you would the day of the exam. You should time yourself to simulate the pressure you will experience on the test. If you typically study alone in a quiet place, consider taking a full practice test in a public area, such as a student center or coffee shop, to acclimate yourself to having people and mild noise around while you are trying to focus on test questions.
We have compiled a list of the best GMAT prep courses, most of which provide full-length practice tests with timers and analytic software to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to explore different test prep options, including in-person and live online courses, on-demand video lectures, private tutoring, practice questions, drills and strategies for each section.
How Long Should I Study for the GMAT?
The amount of time you will need to study to achieve a good score on the GMAT will vary depending on your abilities and your experience and comfort level with taking standardized tests. A student with a knack for taking standardized tests and good math skills probably won’t have to study as many hours as someone who is less confident in his or her mathematical abilities and dislikes standardized tests.
Non-native speakers of English will probably have to spend more time learning and practicing for the Verbal sections of the exam than those whose first language is English. Even if you are good at math and English grammar, it pays to study. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), just over half of all GMAT test takers in a 2013 prospective student survey studied at least 51 hours before they took the exam. The survey found that, on average, those who spend more time studying for the GMAT tend to perform better on the exam (See the Stats Here).
In order to perform well on the GMAT, you should set up a systematic study plan to address all sections of the exam instead of randomly studying practice questions here and there whenever you have a few minutes. There are free and low-cost study materials available online and in print, and you can design your own syllabus.
In addition, most commercial test prep companies offer a carefully-designed interactive syllabus that takes the guesswork out of what you should study, when you should study, and for how long. Many prep courses offer analytic feedback based on your input to determine which areas you should spend the most time on.
Only you can determine the best GMAT schedule for your lifestyle and needs. Make sure to plan ahead for how many weeks or months you will study for the test so that it will fit into your schedule along with your other obligations, such as school and work.
In addition to quantity, the quality of your study hours matters. Studying consistently for a set time each day over several weeks or months with a careful plan and quality materials will likely yield better results than trying to cram in a lot of study hours at the last minute without a plan.
When to Take the GMAT
You will need to take the GMAT early enough to meet the admissions deadlines. Make sure to check with each MBA program to which you will apply so that your exam results will be submitted on time to meet that school’s specific application deadlines. You will receive an unofficial score report in the testing center as soon as you finish the GMAT, but official reports are submitted to schools up to 20 days after your test date.
It is always a good idea to take the GMAT several months earlier than the application deadlines in case you want to take the test again to improve your score. Factor in additional study time and/or time to complete a prep course to maximize an increase in your score.
When and How do I Register for the GMAT?
The GMAT is offered year-round in most locations around the world on every weekday throughout the year, except Sundays and holidays. You can go to the GMAC website (www.mba.com) to locate a test center near you and search for available test dates and times. You can register by phone, mail or by fax.
Although you do not have to keep track of specific dates and times when it comes to registering and scheduling an appointment to take the GMAT, don’t wait too long because test centers and appointment times can fill up quickly and you might not be able to get a date or time that is convenient for you. For additional information, please see our GMAT Information article.
GMAT Prep Course
Taking a GMAT prep course is an excellent idea if you need a program to keep you motivated and on track while you study for this challenging exam. Prep courses organize GMAT study material and practice questions in a systematic way so that you can learn the material in a way that makes sense based on your current strengths and weaknesses. Quality materials that are similar to those on the actual exam and experienced tutors can make all the difference in your GMAT score.
GMAT Practice Questions & GMAT Sample Tests
The best prep courses include hundreds or even thousands of GMAT sample questions and sample tests for you to gauge your ability and track your progress over time. Many test prep companies also offer a selection of GMAT questions and a GMAT sample test for free on their websites. Often, GMAT prep courses include a GMAT mock test that simulates the actual exam and provides test-takers with specific analytic feedback on areas of weakness to indicate which areas would benefit most from additional practice.
Students who have already taken the GMAT once or are struggling with GMAT study material and are concerned about their score should consider hiring a GMAT tutor for guidance and instruction that is tailored to their specific needs. Taking advantage of personal GMAT coaching by expert instructors (typically, instructors employed by the best test prep companies have scored in the 98th or 99th percentile of the GMAT themselves) is an excellent way to improve your score in a targeted way.
The best way to get a great GMAT score is to practice as many authentic GMAT questions you can under simulated test conditions. You can consult GMAC’s The Official Guide for GMAT Review (available at the GMAC website’s online store and from other online booksellers) for a comprehensive overview of the exam and practice materials.
If you are considering a test prep course, you should make sure that the course you choose offers specific tips, strategies, and opportunities to practice the kinds of questions you will see on the test. For example, if you are trying to improve your score in the Verbal section of the GMAT, you should make sure the course offers GMAT sentence correction tips, GMAT critical reasoning tips, and GMAT reading comprehension tips, because those are the three types of questions that appear in that section of the exam.
For the Quant section of the exam, make sure you have the opportunity to learn specific strategies and GMAT problem solving tips, GMAT data sufficiency tips, and GMAT integrated reasoning tips. Many courses break each section of the exam down into individual question types and offer specific video lessons or live online lectures on those types of questions, followed by practice with such questions and detailed explanations on how to solve them.
GMAT essay tips are also valuable for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) portion of the exam. Some prep courses provide essay-grading software or personalized feedback from GMAT instructors to help students craft essays that will earn them a top writing score.
Many GMAT exam information and prep sites offer features such as the GMAT Question of the Day or a GMAT Forum for additional practice and go over questions, seek advice from other students or expert instructors, and provide more general information about getting an MBA and applying to business school.
In summary, there is no shortage of available study materials to help you get a great score on the GMAT. Whether you choose to study on your own with free or low-cost materials, or decide to enroll in a commercial test prep course, there are many ways to achieve a high score on the GMAT to improve your chances of getting into a top MBA program.