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Not sure where to start? Here’s how to handle the first two weeks of your GMAT journey.
Day 1: Learn the format.
If you’re just getting started now, take a day to learn the problem types on the GMAT. There are descriptions of all of the problem types in the Official Guide to the GMAT. There’s also a summary page here.
Then, read this article to learn which skills the GMAT tests and which skills don’t really matter.
Day 2: Take a practice test.
Here’s a link to a free practice GMAT. Set aside three hours and take the Quant and Verbal sections only. The point isn’t to get a great score! The point is to learn, through hands-on experience, what the test looks and feels like.
Day 3: Choose your study style.
At this point, you could sign up for a GMAT course. One huge advantage to the course is structure: you won’t have to make as many tough decisions about what to study and when to study it. If you take a course, you’ll be able to skip a lot of the planning described in this article. But if you go for self-study instead, you’ll want to have these resources:
- The Official Guide to the GMAT (latest edition)
- The Manhattan Prep Strategy Guides
- If you scored under the 40th percentile on Quant: Foundations of GMAT Math
- If you scored under the 40th percentile on Verbal: Foundations of GMAT Verbal
- GMAT Interact (interactive video lessons)
- GMATPrep (official GMAT software)
Day 4: Start an error log and a study calendar.
Here’s how to create an error log. For your study calendar, plan out one week at a time, and be realistic. Build in plenty of time to review. A reasonable target for official problems is about 10-12 problems in an hour. You’ll spend 15-25 minutes doing the problem set, then take a quick break, then spend the rest of the hour reviewing.
What you put on your study calendar will depend on your priorities. In the next article in this series, I’ll share a couple of sample study sessions for your first two weeks. You can use any or all of them, in any order (as long as you regularly return to previous topics to review!). They’ll cover a few of the highest-value topics on the GMAT at a basic level, and will prepare you for your second practice test.
For now, I’ll leave you with one example study session: how can you effectively spend an hour or two with the Foundations of Math book?
Sample Session 1: Building the Foundations
Maybe your practice test showed you that you’ve forgotten a lot of the math basics. Here’s how to use the Foundations of GMAT Math book during a study session.
There are two elements to the book: chapters and end-of-chapter drills. Suppose that you’re feeling confident about Arithmetic and awful about Fractions. Start your study session by flipping to the Arithmetic end-of-chapter drills and completing the odd-numbered problems. Take a quick break. Then, without looking at the right answers, double-check your work, trying to catch any errors on your own. If you end up getting almost all of the problems right, feel free to skip reading the chapter and move on.
In subjects you’re less confident about, or if you tried the end-of-chapter drills and they didn’t go well, read the Foundations of Math chapter with a stack of flashcards next to you. For every rule described in the chapter, write down the rule and one or two examples on the back of a flashcard. On the front of the flashcard, describe when you’d use the rule. For instance, here’s a flashcard you might create as you read the chapter on Fractions:
When you finish the chapter, go through your flashcards twice. Clarify anything that you’re not sure about. Then, put your flashcards next to you and switch to a clean sheet of scratch paper. Work through the odd-numbered problems at the end of the chapter carefully. (Don’t do all of them—you’ll learn why later.)
Every time you get a problem wrong, or you aren’t sure how to approach a problem, check your flashcards. If you already made a flashcard for that type of problem, you now know that it’ll be an important one for you to review: set it aside in a separate pile for “hard-to-remember rules.” If you didn’t have a flashcard that related to the problem you missed, make one now.
Finish your Foundations of Math study session by doing some quick arithmetic drills. I like to use the Arithmetic Game—record your scores and see if you can improve each time. Or, try writing down the numbers from 1 to 100 and breaking each one down into its prime factors, or do a quick drill set or two from Khan Academy.
Followup: Shoring Up Your Foundations
Don’t ever just study something once. If you put a Foundations of Math session on your calendar, add a quick followup session a couple of days later. Use it to look through your flashcards and do a few more of the end-of-chapter drill problems. (That’s why you only did the odd-numbered problems at first!) After a week or two, schedule some time to review all of your flashcards. Your brain thrives on spaced repetition—coming back to an old topic after giving yourself a chance to partially forget it.
In the next article in this series, I’ll share a few more sample study sessions for your first two weeks to three weeks of GMAT studies. Then, we’ll cover what happens during, and after, your second practice test. For now, if you’re just getting started, take some time to structure your studies! You’ll thank yourself for it later on, when you have a strong foundation and good study habits. 📝
Want more guidance from our GMAT gurus? You can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GMAT courses absolutely free! We’re not kidding. Check out our upcoming courses here.
Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170/170 on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.