How to prepare for the GMAT?

GMAT study plan | How long to prepare for the GMAT?

Before diving deep into the different steps and phases of the GMAT preparation, let us set a target GMAT score in place. For instance, if your target GMAT score is 550 points, your preparation strategy and GMAT study plan will be quite different from those whose target GMAT score is 750. In this page, the GMAT Prep Strategy outlined is for a target score of 710 in the GMAT. 710 in the GMAT is a 90th percentile.

Step 1: Know where you stand. Take a GMAT Diagnostic Test

The first thing that many people do is to buy GMAT books, enrol for a GMAT classroom program or for a GMAT online course. But before you do so, invest 2 hours and 15 minutes in taking a GMAT diagnostic test. At this stage of your GMAT preparation, it is sufficient if you attempted the GMAT quant and GMAT verbal sections when taking the GMAT diagnostic test. Though the GMAT AWA and the GMAT IR sections and the scores you get in those sections are very important, how well you fare in those two sections as you start your GMAT preparation is of little consequence. Let us nail the elephants in the room - the GMAT Quant and the GMAT Verbal sections first.

What should you hope to achieve by taking the GMAT Diagnostic Test?

  1. To know the test pattern and testing style
    It is imperative that you do an in-depth analysis of the test after completing the diagnostic. The analysis should include knowing the number of questions that appeared from arithmetic, algebra, and geometry in the quant section of the test; and the number of problem solving questions and the number of data sufficiency questions that you attempted. The same goes for the GMAT verbal section as well. How many sentence correction / critical reasoning / reading comprehension questions did you get? Also, pay attention to other important aspects including the fact that you were not allowed to review or change the answer to a question after you moved away from the question.

  2. To know relative strengths and weak areas
    If you are an engineer, you will, in all likelihood, have thought that your quant skills are better than your language skills. The diagnostic test result might either corroborate your assumption or throw in a surprise. If you did the test in the stipulated testing environment, trust the result of the diagnostic test even if it runs counter to what you thought.

    It is not just about knowing that you fared better in quant or verbal, but also about whether geometry or arithmetic is your strength within quant. The same goes for gauging your verbal section performance. You will be able to get an objective estimation of where your strengths lie and what areas require attention to get you to your desired GMAT score. While evaluating your performance, focus on the percentile number of the diagnostic test score and not the scaled score.

How to take the GMAT Diagnostic Test? Where can you find an Online GMAT Diagnostic Test?

Take the diagnostic test in one sitting of 2 hours and 15 minutes. The duration of the quant section is 62 minutes and that of the verbal section is 65 minutes. Allow yourself a break of 8 minutes between the two sections. Attempting 5 questions, pausing the test to take a break and coming back later to attempt another 3 questions is not going to help you. Simulate an environment that will closely mimic the real GMAT exam. Turn off notifications on the computer in which you are taking the test. Switch off your mobile phones and take the test preferably in a closed room without any external interference. If you are likely to simulate such an environment only between Midnight and 3 AM, please take the test then. Why all this fuss? It is extremely important that your score reflect your strengths and the areas that require focus so that you are able to come up with the right study plan. Not to forget - Keep a dozen scratch papers and a few pencils on hand to help you do calculations.

The official GMAT website has two free full length online GMAT practice tests. Take one test by registering on the official GMAT website.

Step 2: Locate your ideal GMAT Prep Course

While the Internet and YouTube have loads of free resources available for your GMAT preparation, you will be wiser to choose to prepare by enrolling for a structured GMAT prep course. Notwithstanding the fact that Wizako has a vested interest in making such a recommendation, here are a few compelling reasons to go the paid route.

  1. Minimize Search Cost
    The cost of finding good and relevant content, and collating and bringing structure to available resource is quite high. Any good GMAT prep course will have done that job for you. You only have to focus on learning, practicing, and fine tuning your strategy.
  2. Having a Mentor is priceless
    Relying on free online forums to get your doubts clarified or to tide over difficult phases in your GMAT prep - especially when you hit prep blues - is counter productive. Any good GMAT course - offline classes or online courses - will be with you through your preparation timeline.
  3. It doesn't cost a bomb
    We are not talking thousands of dollars to prepare for the GMAT. You will be able to find good offline GMAT coaching classes upward of USD 300 and very good GMAT online courses for as little as USD 30. There is no reason to risk preparing with free content at this price point.

How to locate a GMAT course that will meet your needs?

If you live in a big city, you will have the option of enrolling for offline GMAT classes. Else, your only option will be to locate a private tutor or sign up for an online GMAT course.

If you choose the offline classroom route, there is one thing that you should do before signing up with a program. Attend a demo class, one each for the GMAT quant and the GMAT verbal sections - preferably as part of an ongoing class / batch to gauge whether the teaching methodology resonates with your learning style. "One size fits all" is not true when it comes to learning

If you choose a GMAT online preparation course, almost all courses will have a part of the course available for you to try before you sign up for the course. Please do proper "due diligence" with the trial content. It is not just the money you will invest in the program, but also the time that you will be spending once you sign up for the program. So, choose the one that is ideal for your needs

Offline or Online GMAT Prep | Which is better?

There is no correct answer to this question. Each has its own advantages and limitations.

The biggest advantage of an offline classroom program is the discipline that it brings to your GMAT preparation. The biggest positive takeaway - pressure to complete homework, to pre-read for the next class, to excel in class tests will motivate you to stay on top of your preparation. You also get the advantage of being able to interact in person with your tutors / mentors. Availability of a classroom program at a location convenient to you and having class timings that meet your schedule are limitations of an offline classroom program.

Online GMAT preparation programs address not only the key limitations of availability of a course near you and finding a schedule that would work for you, but it also helps you set the pace of your learning. You could motor through topics that you are good at without having to accommodate the slower pace of a class. On the other hand, you could slow down and re-run topics at a comfortable pace without the class leaving you behind. What's more, online courses also bring the anonymity of learning - you need not be deterred by what your batch mates might think when you ask some seemingly elementary doubts.

Some test preparation companies including Wizako provide their classroom students with complimentary access to their online courses. You get the best of both worlds.

Step 3: Get the mix right

What should be an ideal score split between the GMAT quant and the GMAT verbal sections to get a 710 in the GMAT? A balanced score is what any business school will look for. Having said that, here are a few combinations that will result in a 710. All these numbers pertain to GMAT Test Year 2019.

  1. Quant 51 (96%ile) | Verbal 34 (71%ile)
  2. Quant 50 (85%ile) | Verbal 35 or 36 (76%ile or 80%ile) {Well balanced score}
  3. Quant 49 (74%ile) | Verbal 37 (82%ile)

Your diagnostic test score should give you a good idea about which of the 3 score splits you should target. If your strengths lie in the quant section, you should focus on securing a 51 in the quant section and pitch for a score upward of 34 in the verbal section. Conversely, if your strengths lie in the verbal section, you should focus on nailing 37 in the verbal section and get a score upward of 49 in the quant section. Knowing which prep strategy to employ is vital to reach your target GMAT score.

Step 4: One section at a time

When preparing for the GMAT, complete one section at a time. Let's say you start with the quant section. It is certainly possible to complete quant before starting verbal when you opt for an online GMAT prep course. However, if you opt for an offline GMAT classroom program, you will find that the schedule will cover both quant and verbal in tandem. Even in that case, do only what is necessary to stay in tune with the program for the verbal section while going all out to complete the quant section. The impact that focusing on one section at a time has on your ability to accelerate your preparation will become palpable after 2 to 3 weeks of staying committed to that section.

Once you have covered all topics and done enough practice questions in one section to feel confident of reaching your target score in that section, move to the next one.

How do you measure preparedness?

It is not the number of hours you invested. Neither is it the number of questions you solved. What really counts is the accuracy and your ability to complete questions from a topic within the allotted time. Having an 80+ percent accuracy in a topic is a good yardstick to measure your preparedness in the topic. All of us need not be equally good at all topics. While Student A may have to solve 300 questions in number properties to gain confidence, Student B may have to solve only 150 to reach there. And it might be the other way around in geometry. It is important to do as many questions as is required to get to the desired level of preparedness. It is equally important to switch topics when you realize you have attained the level of prowess required, without spending too much time in any one topic after reaching your potential.

How long does it take to prepare for GMAT?

How long to prepare for the GMAT? An average GMAT test taker will require about 300 to 350 hours of preparation to get a score upward of 710 in the GMAT. If you invest 2 hours a day for 5 days a week and about 10 hours during the weekends, we are talking about 20 hours of GMAT prep every week. At that rate, we are talking about 15 to 20 weeks to be exam ready. If one were to answer the question "how long to prepare for the GMAT" in number of months, we are talking about 3 to 4 months.

The GMAT quant and the GMAT verbal sections, will require about 100 to 125 hours each. An investment of 10 to 15 hours for the GMAT AWA and another 20 to 25 hours for the GMAT IR should complete your preparation.

Setting your GMAT prep routine

The key to a successful GMAT prep is setting your daily and weekend preparation routine. It is one thing to say "I will study 2 hours today for the GMAT" and another to say "I will study from 6 AM to 7 AM and from 10 PM to 11 PM for the GMAT". 2 hours a day is a very nebulous routine to set. Quite often you will find yourself not meeting your target time because we all tend to push the 2 hours to the end of day and then find that it never surfaced. You know your daily work routine and demands on your time from your personal life. Find a 2-hour slot or two 1-hour slots that you can take away from your daily life on most days and build a habit to study at those specified times. After a week or two, the habit will ensure that you clock the required hours. The same goes for your weekend prep routine.

Many of us, especially those who have done our undergraduate study in the Indian education system, would have prepared for our semester exams only during the last 10 days of the semester (and there are some among us who may not have studied till the day before the exam). That routine will not make the cut in an exam such as the GMAT. Having consistency in your preparation is very important.

Step 4: The last leg | Take GMAT Mock Tests

Your GMAT prep schedule should necessarily include 5 to 8 GMAT mock tests. Take your first GMAT mock test after you have completed your preparation for the first of the two sections. For illustrative purposes, let us assume you have completed your quant preparation. You should be able to assess the following after taking the first mock GMAT:

  1. How well have you done in the quant section after 4 to 5 weeks of focused preparation? Compare it with your diagnostic test score in the quant section to assess progress made in the last 4 to 5 weeks.
  2. Identify topic and concept areas and types of questions that needs focus to reach your target score in the GMAT quant section.
  3. Assess whether your performance in the verbal section in the diagnostic test and the first mock GMAT are along similar lines or whether you find significant divergence between the two tests.
  4. Use the score in the diagnostic test and the first mock GMAT to draw a preparation plan for the GMAT verbal section.

Take your second GMAT mock test after completing your preparation for the GMAT verbal section. Assess the second mock GMAT test the same way you assessed the first mock GMAT test.

If required give yourself a one-week window to revise the quant and verbal section and iron out rough edges in your preparation before venturing to take another 5 to 6 mock tests. If you plan to take 5 to 6 more GMAT mock tests, start the process (T - 3) weeks from the date of your exam. Ideally, you should take two GMAT mock tests each week and use the time between two mock tests to fill gaps in your preparation.

How to analyse GMAT Mock Exams?

If there is one thing more important than taking Mock GMAT tests, it is analysing the tests properly. How do you analyze your Mock GMAT Tests?

  1. In at least a few questions, when you take your mock tests, you will find yourself narrowing your choices to two out of the five and will have difficulty choosing one of the two. If you find yourself in such a situation in a question, make a note of your first and second best options in your scratch paper and mark the first one in the mock test. When you analyse your tests, if you had got the question right, you can find out why the second best is not the correct answer and build your knowledge repository so that when faced with a similar question in future, you will get it right without a dilemma. If you answered the question wrong, check whether your second best was the correct answer and learn why it is the correct answer. Else, you may have to rework your understanding of the question.
  2. While it is common practice that we analyze questions that we answered incorrectly and see what can be learnt, you will learn at least as much by analyzing questions that you got right. Check whether you got them right for the right reason. Or was it a draw of luck that you got that question right. If it is the latter, learn how to solve such questions.
  3. Maintain a spreadsheet with error logs from all your past mock GMAT tests. We tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Revisiting the error log the evening before your next mock test will help increase your awareness about such mistakes and will lead to avoiding such mistakes.
  4. When you log in your mistakes, marking a mistake as "silly mistake" is of no use. When you classify a mistake as "silly mistake", there is no scope to avoid it. However, if you logged it as "I read the question incorrectly", or "When the question asked for the speed, I computed the distance", or "I made a mistake in adding the numbers", you will be able to avoid such mistakes in the future.
  5. You may find yourself not agreeing with the correct answer and might tend to dismiss the correct answer. If your mock GMAT test is from a good source (official mba.com mock GMAT tests are one of the most representative ones), resist the temptation to dismiss the test setter. Instead, invest time to identify the reason behind the correct answer. We are in it for scoring high in the GMAT - not to win an argument.
  6. Your last two or three mock tests will be good indicators of how well you are likely to score in the real GMAT exam. Your score will be plus or minus 30 points from the mock test average scores. So, do not expect miracles to happen on the test day. If your average score in the last 2 or 3 mock GMAT tests is 650, expecting to score 750 in the real exam will be a stretch. Use your mock tests to help you decide whether to proceed with your test schedule.
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