When it comes to GMAT preparation, one of the most common questions students ask me is: how much time do I need to get the score I want? Like all great questions, there is unfortunately no simple answer! GMAT preparation is not a “one size fits all” kind of deal, as you probably realize if you’ve started your prep already. But don’t worry: plenty of people prepare and achieve their GMAT goals, and you can too. In this article, I’ll break down the most important factors to consider when planning your path to your target score.
What is your target score?
When I ask this question, many students say “As high as possible!” or “Anything above 700!” While these answers work conversationally, they’re not great pragmatically. Yes, everyone wants as high a score as possible. And if you had unlimited time and resources, it would be a much more feasible proposition. However! Not all of us have unlimited time and resources, so pragmatics rule the day. First: find out the score required for your program(s) of choice. Check out the program website, talk to representatives from the school, ask people you know who have attended the program. Get a concrete number to aim for so that you can start taking steps towards getting that score.
What is your baseline score?
One of the things most students have in common is an apprehensive feeling about taking practice tests. This makes sense, because most students are also apprehensive about taking the actual test. The best thing you can do for yourself and your GMAT preparation is to get rid of that feeling as much as possible, especially about practice tests. Practice tests are your new best friends! Every single time you take one, you’re gathering data about how close you are to your goal. This data will help you prioritize what you’re studying and begin to master all of the areas of the test, even the ones that don’t feel like your wheelhouse. So with this in mind, take your very first practice test and find out what your baseline score is! Many students worry about this baseline, and want to try to “pre-prepare” in order to boost it. Trust me when I say: there’s no need. The first practice test will just be telling you where you already have some strengths, and where you need to build up your skills. This will help you make a roadmap for your preparation (and maybe give you some clues about your timeline).
Make your roadmap!
Depending on the data from your first practice test and how far apart your baseline score and target score are, you’re now ready to sketch out your GMAT preparation roadmap. Here are the areas to consider for each of the sections (AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal):
- Content: What percentage of the content felt comfortable and what percentage felt like a reach? Start making a list of topics that you want to study more closely.
- Timing: Did any section feel totally do-able? Did any section bottom out for timing? Oddly enough, the timing answer isn’t just “Go as fast as you can!” – it helps to be able to identify which questions to invest time in, and which ones to walk away from. My students who have scored the highest on the GMAT are the ones who know exactly what their strengths are and exactly which problems to invest time in based on those strengths. The better you know your own skills, the better off your score will be.
- Anxiety: Were there any sections that made you anxious to the point that it impacted your performance? Was there any overall anxiety that you couldn’t shake? Make a plan for how to work around the anxiety as best you can.
- Fatigue: At what point in the test did you start to feel worn out? How can you train for the endurance aspect of the test? Decide what order of sections would work best for you.
- Time Commitments: How much time do you have to devote to studying each week? Do you have full time work, family, other life commitments that will impact your study time? The more realistic you are with your schedule, the less disappointment you’ll face when juggling your preparation and everything else in your life.
The Threshold Effect
One way to think about GMAT preparation is to think about “getting into the mindset of the test.” In other words, try to train yourself to think like the GMAT. What I’ve noticed in my experience working with students worldwide is that at some point, after doing enough practice questions, it all just starts to click. When it clicks, you’ve crossed the threshold and you’re in the mindset of the test. Unfortunately, this threshold is different for each test taker. But fortunately, the threshold exists for everyone! For some, it might take 25 questions. For others it might take 125 questions. The trick is to gain as much data from each question you try (and often you can learn the most from the wrong answers!), and then carry that into the next question you do. In other words: don’t do questions just to do them. Commit to learning something from each mistake, and you’ll cross your threshold that much sooner.
The Importance of Practice Tests
Continue to take official practice tests (or practice tests from reputable sources) throughout your preparation. Each one will give you an indication of how close you’re getting to your target score. Remember, it’s not always a linear path upward in your scores. Sometimes scores fluctuate, and this is a normal part of preparation. Try not to let small back-slides discourage you, and keep going with your practice questions!
Here are some places for free practice tests:
- Official GMAT Prep from the makers of the GMAT
- Veritas Prep offers 1 free test, and a bundle of 7 for a relatively low price
- Kaplan offers 1 free test
- Princeton Review offers 1 free test
Don't be afraid to ask for help!
There are tons of resources available, and many people going through the same struggles in their preparation. Look for others to help you with accountability and commiseration, and if you need expert help, shop around to find a good fit for your style. Some students benefit from a group class learning environment, while others do better one-on-one. Decide what will work for you, and seek it out. You've got this!
JEM's Favorite Resources
- MBA.com - the website for GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council, makers of the test) which includes 2 free practice tests, plus free practice questions, plus all the details about the GMAT
- gmatclub.com - comprehensive discussion boards and answers to any GMAT question you come across
- khanacademy.org - tons of free content in subject areas, including tutorials, practice questions, and quizzes