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Two minutes is not a huge amount of time. Yet if you want to finish the entire GMAT Quant section in 75 minutes, two minutes is about all you have to solve each problem. Don’t interpret that to mean you just have to go quickly or skip important steps like checking your work. Instead, seek out a more efficient process for dealing with GMAT problems.
Better yet, read along as I detail an efficient process for dealing with your two minutes. Read more
I ran across the GMAT problem below when I was reviewing a GMATPrep® test that I took a while back, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I needed to share it with you. There are some really intriguing aspects to this one. Read more
You know the first step of GMAT Sentence Correction is the first glance. (If you don’t, check out chapter 1 of our SC Strategy Guide.) So, dutifully, you start every SC problem with a quick look at the answers. There are some differences. Then you power through the reading and look for issues in the sentence as written.
This is a first glance flop. You do it, but it’s not helpful. Let’s add a bit more purpose to what can be the most important step of the sentence correction process. I’ll show you some answer choices to practice on in a moment, but let’s remind ourselves of some of the basics. Read more
When you first look at the resources available to get you through the GMAT, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Should you read through all the strategy guides? Complete every Official Guide problem you can find? Sign up for every workshop? Let’s breakdown your options and take this step by step. Read more
How many GMAT practice tests should you take while studying for the test? GMAT expert Jonathan Schneider weighs in. Read more
Can you learn everything you need to know in order to ace the GMAT on your own? Read more
Have you ever worked with someone who inevitably managed to come up with things to do that were a complete waste of time? Maybe it was an insecure boss who was never confident about what he was doing, so he went for the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to generating deliverables in the last few days before the deadline. Or maybe it was a fellow student on a group project, someone so diligent (cough, cough) that she wanted to turn in a 20-page report when the teacher suggested 10 pages (and actually specified a 12-page limit).
You know who I’m talking about, right? We’ve all run across these situations in our academic or working lives. You want to be polite…but you also want to get your work done and not waste time on activities that don’t really help you reach the overall goal.
The GMAT is trying to waste your time
Okay, the test writers are not literally sitting there cackling and saying, “How can we get them to waste their lives?!?” But the overall sentiment still holds because of the way that the GMAT is constructed. You already know the classic “If you get something right, they give you something harder” pattern, right?
Well, at some point, that “something harder” is going to be something that isn’t worth your time. You’re probably not going to get it right no matter what you do. Even if you do, you’re going to use up valuable time that you could be using on other problems.
Most important of all, you’re going to be using up your finite brain energy on something that probably isn’t going to pay off. How many times in your life have you crashed towards the end of a test or a long day at work because your brain just couldn’t keep going any longer? The GMAT is a “where you end is what you get” test: if you crash before the end of the section, your score will suffer greatly.
This is basically no different than that co-worker who’s trying to get you to build a marketing presentation when the client has specifically requested that you analyze the pros and cons of acquiring a competitor. Tomorrow at the client meeting, it won’t matter how good your intentions were. Your client is going to be mad that you wasted time on something that doesn’t actually help them.
You’ve been thinking for a while now about going back to business school. You’ll go sometime in the future…but you haven’t started to do much about it yet.
Well, break out your pencils* and get ready to take advantage of your new membership in the GMAT Exercise Club! We’re going to set up a custom program for you to get the score you need by summer’s end—and then you can decide whether to apply this fall or to wait a year or two.
*Okay, okay, you don’t use pencils for this test anymore, nor is there an actual GMAT Exercise Club, and I can’t really give each and every one of you a completely customized, individual study program. But I can tell you what to start doing today to get yourself ready to take the GMAT by the end of the summer, as long as you make the commitment to get your brain in gear, do a little bit every day, and conquer Mount Everest…er, the GMAT.
This article will assume that you plan to study on your own. If you are still deciding whether to study on your own, take a class, or work with a tutor, the following article discusses the pros and cons of each approach: How to Choose an Approach: Self-study, Class, or Tutor.
Here’s how to develop a study plan that’s appropriate for you.
Week 1: Take a CAT
Your first step is to take a practice CAT under official testing conditions (including all 4 sections: essay, IR, quant, verbal).
It’s best to use a test-prep company CAT for this, not GMATPrep (the official practice test from the makers of the GMAT), as the purpose for taking this practice CAT is to gain insight into your strengths and weaknesses. While GMATPrep is the closest thing to the real test, it provides no data with which to evaluate your performance. Save GMATPrep for later in your study.
Right now, you might be protesting: but I haven’t studied anything yet! That’s okay. In fact, that’s the point! You need to determine what you do already know or understand and what you don’t so that you can set up an effective study plan for yourself. Don’t stress about your first score—use it as a study tool.
It is smart, though, to make sure that you learn a little bit about one particular question type before you take that test. Unless you’ve studied for the GMAT before, you probably haven’t seen anything like Data Sufficiency, so review that question type before your first CAT.
If you take an MGMAT CAT, use this two-part article to analyze your results: Evaluating Your Practice Tests. (The link given here is to the first part of the article; you can find the link to the second part at the end of the first part.)
Week 1: Choose Your Materials or Program
Next, you need a study plan. To start, figure out what materials you’ll use to study. At the least, you will need two things:
Last time, we talked about how to decide whether to study on your own, take a class, or work with a tutor. If you choose either of the latter two options, then you’ll want to make sure that you’re picking the best program and instructor for you—GMAT prep is too expensive to suffer through a bad program.
How to choose a particular class (including instructor!)
Most companies offer some kind of free event designed to allow you to check out their program before you commit. Take advantage of anything free to help you make your decision.
First, do your homework before you show up for that free event. Take a practice test and try to diagnose your own strengths and weaknesses. Most companies offer a free practice test. (Don’t use up one of your two free GMATPrep tests—the official practice test made by the test makers. Save those for later in your study.)
Research some business school programs and determine what you think your goal score needs to be. Talk to friends who took a course or worked with a tutor and ask whether they would recommend that course or tutor and why. (The “and why” is critically important—it may be that your friend liked a particular class for some reason that doesn’t matter at all to you!) Develop a list of questions that you would like to ask of any teacher an program you consider.
Next, develop a “short list” of companies or even specific teachers and then take advantage of whatever free offerings you can. Many companies will host free information sessions. Some (such as Manhattan GMAT) will allow students to attend one class of a course for free. Ideally, you want to see your instructor in action, so look for any free live or taped event that features the instructor in the class that you’d potentially attend.
One caveat: if the class sells out, you won’t be able to get a seat. Before the first class, call up the company to ask how many seats are still left; if it’s close to selling out, they’ll tell you! Alternatively, get ahead of the game by observing potential instructors a couple of months before you want to start. Then, you can sign up for a later course with the same instructor at your leisure.
Arrive for class early and, if the teacher is free, chat a bit to get a feel for his or her personality and approachability. (Don’t be offended if she or he needs to get ready for class and asks you to wait until after class to talk.) Feel free to ask about his or her credentials, teaching style, and so forth. Give the teacher a short summary of your situation (current scoring level, goal, any deadlines) and see what the teacher has to say.
Then take some notes. Was the instructor approachable? Did you feel comfortable asking questions and was the instructor happy to answer your questions? Did the instructor answer thoughtfully and even ask you some additional questions in order to clarify your situation? Did the instructor’s teaching style work for you? Do you feel you could learn well from this person for the duration of the course? Would you look forward to this teacher’s class?
Whether you’ve been studying for a while or are just getting started, let’s use the New Year as an opportunity to establish or renew your commitment to getting your desired GMAT score.
In the first half of this 2-part series (read Part 2 here), we’ll talk about how to get started—or re-started—on your GMAT prep. In the second half, we’ll talk about how to learn.
Wherever you are in your study, you need a plan, and the first important thing to learn is that no plan is static. No plan exists that says, “Here’s what you’ll do from Day 1 right up until Test Day.” (No good plan, at least!)
Most people can start off in very similar ways, but at some point down the road, you’re going to have to customize based on your own needs. We’ll talk more about that in the second installment of this series.
Start keeping a GMAT Journal. Get a notebook, open up a file on your computer, or start a blog (though I’d recommend making it a private blog, with an audience of just you). Write something in your GMAT Journal every day.* Don’t write everything, but do write:
(1) what you did that day*
(2) the two or three most important things you learned (such as “how do I know when to cut myself off on a quant problem?”)
(3) one or two things you want to review at a later date (such as “review modifier rules in 2 weeks.”)
* Note that, on some days, you’ll write “Relaxed / took my Earned GMAT Break.” Don’t burn yourself out!
1: Set Your Goal
(note: this section is NOT just for new students—keep reading even if you’ve been studying for a while or already know your goal score!)
You need to know your current score and the score level that will make you competitive at the schools to which you plan to apply. These two numbers will give you an idea of how much improvement you will need and may affect your prep plans, including the length of time you plan to spend and whether you work on your own.
If you haven’t already (within the past 4-ish weeks), take a practice CAT in conditions that simulate the actual exam as much as possible. Do the essay and IR sections. The mental effort it takes to do these sections can affect your performance on quant and verbal, so don’t skip them because you don’t care about the IR and essay scores. Take two 8-minute breaks, one after IR and one after the quantitative section. Don’t answer the phone, don’t eat or drink except during the breaks, and so on—basically make it as close to the real test as you can.
Many prep companies offer practice exams, so you have plenty of choices, but you do need to make sure that the exam does several things. First, the quant and verbal sections should be adaptive, just like the real test. Second, the test should record the time you spend on each individual question—timing is a major factor on the GMAT. Third, it should offer score reports that give you tons of data on your strengths and weaknesses.
GMATPrep® exams (from the makers of the real test) are great in general but do not give you the 2nd and 3rd items on this list, so don’t use a GMATPrep CAT for this exercise. Save GMATPrep for closer to the time you plan to take the real test.
Next, go to the websites of the schools to which you want to apply (or may want to apply) and find the GMAT statistics for the most recent admitted students.
Record your practice score and the school statistics in your journal. As a general rule, your GMAT score is a “plus” for you if you are at or above the median for a given school, so ideally your goal score should be at or above the median for your schools.
How far are you from your goal? The further you are or the higher your goal score is, the longer you will likely need to prep for the exam. Most people prep for between 2.5 and 4 months (though obviously the length of time can vary). It’s reasonable, though, to aim for a minimum of 2 months unless you don’t need very much improvement at all.
2: Diagnose Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Next, use your test results to figure out your strengths and weaknesses in terms of both content and timing. You can use this article to help analyze a ManhattanGMAT CAT. Take notes on paper, then summarize your analysis in your journal. (Note: analysis is not the same thing as data. The data tells you what happened. Your analysis tells you why you think it happened and what you plan to do about it in future. Start by summarizing the data, but don’t forget to take the next step and analyze.)
Also, what is your optimal learning style? Think back to undergrad. Did you do best when you had a small classroom of comrades with whom you shared the adventures of learning? Or did you excel when you worked on your own, or possibly met individually with your professor or TA? At work today, does it energize you to work with a group or do you focus better via one-on-one interactions? Do you prefer to do most of your work on your own or with others?
The answers to those questions will help you determine whether to study on your own, find other students with whom to study, take an organized class, or find a private tutor. There’s no one right way—there’s only the best way for you.
3: Plan Your Schedule
Now that you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can use that info to help determine a rough timeframe. The ideal is to work without an external deadline (e.g., a school application deadline). You set a general timeframe / deadline for yourself and get started, but you’re able to take more time if needed, since you don’t absolutely have to take the test by a certain date.
If you are working against a deadline, though, then you have to plan more carefully. Be aware that you may also have to decide, at some point, to lower your goal score in order to take the test by a certain date.
Most people initially underestimate the amount of time they’ll need to study. Plus, we’re talking about a time period of 2 months or longer; it’s very unlikely that you can pick an exact date (or even an exact week) so far ahead of time. If you have the luxury of time, set yourself a general timeframe, but start to think about specific test dates only when your practice CAT scores start to get into the range you want.
Here’s how to set your overall timeframe.
1. Primary Study Period.
You’ll set a rough amount of time that you’re likely going to need for primary studying (that is, the time you take to master the material, not including a comprehensive final review). Be aware that this rough timeframe is likely to change as you see how fast you make progress.
For most people, primary study will take 8 to 16 weeks, though it may be a bit shorter if you’ve taken the test before and you’re not aiming for a significant (> 50 points) improvement. If, on the other hand, you’re starting from scratch and you want an extra-high improvement (>150 points), or you have a crazy schedule and can’t study very much /often, you may need more than 16 weeks. Also, if you take a class, your primary study will be at least the length of the class plus some additional time.
2. Review Period.
You will also need to set aside time for review after you finish your primary study and before you take the test. Most people spend 2 to 6 weeks on a comprehensive review after they finish their primary study. If you’re going to do this in 2 weeks, you’ll need to be able to spend at minimum 10 hours per week. Pick a rough target based on what you know of your schedule for now but, again, be aware that this could change in future.
You also need to factor in two other things that will affect your study timeframe:
You may not get the test score that you want—occasionally, people even get sick right in the testing room. It’s smart to leave time to take the test a second time, if necessary. You are only allowed to take the GMAT once in a 31-day period (and 5 times a year), so plan this “buffer” time into your prep schedule.
You may also want to include a couple of extra weeks of study time as an additional buffer, just in case. Work gets busy, people get sick, we procrastinate… things happen.
4. Hard Deadlines.
You will, of course, have to meet the application deadlines of your selected schools. If you can plan ahead, it’s preferable to get the test out of the way well before you have to start filling out the applications themselves. (Keep in mind that your GMAT score is valid for 5 years, so you can get started very early!)
4: Gather Your Resources
There are tons of resources available to help you get ready for the GMAT. If you take a course or work with some structured program, the materials should already be determined for you. Otherwise, you’ll have to figure out what works best for you.
In general, there are three major categories of necessary resources:
1. Test content and methodology.
These materials will teach you the what and the how: what’s on the test and how to take the test. These materials will come from a test prep company (this is what test prep companies do!). You may decide to choose different materials from different companies, but I do recommend sticking with “sets” of materials whenever possible. For example, if you’re going to use the algebra study materials from one company, it’s best to use that company’s quant materials in general. Likewise on verbal.
2. Practice questions.
As you’re studying the material tested on the exam and how to handle the different types of GMAT questions, you’ll also need to test yourself on GMAT-format problems. The best practice questions are the officially released past test questions from GMAC (the makers of the GMAT). The latest three books are The Official Guide 13th Edition, the Verbal Review 2nd Edition and the Quantitative Review 2nd Edition. The most recent online release is GMAT Prep 2.0 (including 2 free practice tests and some additional paid resources) and there’s also GMAT Focus (for quant only).
3. Practice tests.
You’ll want a mix of practice tests: GMATPrep (from the real makers of the test) and some tests from a test prep company. The GMATPrep test is the closest to the real thing, but doesn’t offer explanations or analysis of your results. A test prep company’s CAT will give you explanations and analysis.
What’s next? Join us Friday for the second half of the series to learn how to learn!
Read Part 2 of this series, New Year’s Resolution: Get Your Score! (Part 2).