So you have decided that business school is for you, now it is time to learn how to prepare for the GMAT exam. The GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) is administered by the GMAC or Graduate Management Admission Council. It is a requirement for entrance into most graduate business schools in the United States and Canada. The exam itself does not contain material that is specifically business related, however, it does provide questions that test “mental intelligence” surrounding business related topics such as math, comprehension and writing. It is a CAT, or computer adaptive test which is taken online and adapts to each individual’s answer patterns. Therefore, there is a lot to consider from a planning and strategy prespective when planning how to prepare for the GMAT examination. Let’s get started!
So What Does the Test Cover: The GMAT exam covers three sections of learning assessment: Writing, Verbal and Quantitative. The Writing section consists of two 30 minute essays, one of which will be an issue related essay and the other argument based. The Verbal section consists of a 75 minute exam which included approximately 14 reading comprehension questions, based on 3 or 4 passages, 10 critical reasoning questions and 17 sentence correction questions. The Quantitative section includes around 13 data sufficiency questions, and 34 problem solving problems of varying difficult and task. Similar to the verbal side, the quantitative section also lasts for 75 minutes.
The Best Study Guides: Now that you have a quick idea of what the test covers, you will need to get your hands on some study materials. Hands down the best study guide on the planet for the GMAT exam is the “O.G.” no, not original gangster, this is the The Official Guide for GMAT Review. The O.G. is the GMAT bible and is created using retired questions from past exams. Talk about getting familiar with the material that will be on the test. It would serve you well to focus your efforts on the last 100 or so questions in the data sufficiency and problem solving sections. Why you ask? I found these to be the most representative of what I saw on test day. Focus your efforts here on the medium to hard sections as these were most closely related to actual test questions that I saw. You will also want to get yourself signed up on MBA.com. Here you will find a bunch of free review resources as well as a test simulation CD that gives you an exact replica practice test to take. Kaplan and Princeton Review (right) make great study guides for GMAT prep as well, and they are a good supplement to augment your question bank in the Official Guide.
The Study Plan Itself: The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with the test itself. You wouldn’t walk into a new job without familiarizing yourself with their business, right? This test is no different. You want to understand the basic structure, the types of questions that will be asked and how much time you will have to get through them. This is where the Kaplan and Princeton Review guides really shine. The Official Guide does a great job of providing practice questions, but falls down somewhat in the test theory department. What I would recommend that you do is to read through the Kaplan and/or Princeton Review books cover to cover about 5-6 months out from your test date. This will give you some peace of mind surrounding the content topics and will subconsciously get your mind churning on the topics. The next step is to segment the problem types for both verbal and quantitative sections and build out a plan to attack them singularly. Studying for “the math section” or “the verbal section” will get you nowhere compared to a laser focused study approach that breaks the content down into manageable chunks. At 4 months out you should be focusing on one question type per week for at least an hour or two per day. You should build yourself an excel sheet with a tracking log of questions that you are consistently getting right and wrong. This will allow you to further focus your study strategy as the test date approaches only to topics where you need more work.
Flash Cards: Get yourself a bunch of flash cards. These will help you to get some quick studying in on the run, as well as provide you with a quick and dirty list of important test topics. Anything that I felt was important I would throw onto a quick flashcard. It is amazing how much information can be dumped onto these little things and then quickly read through at any time. Not to mention, I found that writing things down and then reading my own writing helped me to memorize information better than reading text on a page. There is something more memorable about reading the handwritten word, at least for me.
Practice Tests: At about two months out you will want to start hitting the practice test circuit hard. This is extremely important, as you will need to build up your test taking stamina for test day. It is not natural to sit in front of a computer screen for 4 hours and take a test. Most people have an attention span that can handle about an hour of testing before losing focus. You need to take this and triple it in order to succeed on the GMAT examination. This is no different than training for a marathon. Mental stamina and physical stamina are really no different. They both require training. You would run like a mad person leading up to a 26 mile marathon, so you need to get your brain’s ability to focus stretched out by taking test after test after test on the computer. This is by far the most important recommendation that I can bestow upon you. If you do nothing else that I have recommended, DO THIS! It will make a tremendous difference in your ability to succeed on test day.
Have you taken the GMAT? Have some tips for our readers? Leave a comment below!