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The Best Way to Structure Your Study for the GMAT

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January 9, 2021

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Josh Jones

Josh has written a blog post titled “The Best Way to Prepare for the GMAT” which you may find helpful, but for a quicker read, check this out first:

1. Save GMAC practice questions and exams until you’ve exhausted all other materials. These materials (GMATPrep and the Official Guides) from the makers of the exam are your most valuable resource for practicing questions closest to what will be on the actual exam.  You do not want to have seen these questions already when you practice, and you do not want to be used to imitations of GMAT questions when you take the real exam.  NonGMAC materials are best for content mastery in the early stages of your preparation, not later.  It’s not the end of the world if you’ve already used all of these materials–It’s just not ideal.

2. Avoid repeatedly doing random practice problems without significant study in between if you’re under 600, more than 40 points from your target, or trying to break 700.  We see many students try to just solve hundreds of problems in the hopes of gaining 100 or even 150 points, and while it is necessary to solve many problems, a more efficient use of your time is to build a strong conceptual foundation first by learning the general principles, before trying to solve so many problems. Otherwise, all the ideas you will learn from solving problems will just be scattered fragments of ideas your brain will scramble to attempt to assemble into a coherent whole.  It’s much faster to see the coherent whole first than to try to build it from all the bits and pieces. The wheel has already been invented!

3. Avoid repeatedly taking practice tests without significant study in between, even if they are nonGMAC, as that time is better invested studying how to get questions right in the first place, before getting them right quickly.  It does not make sense to time yourself as you are learning new material or concepts, since it could take you 10+ minutes to learn how to do a new problem type, but once you master it with us, less than 2 minutes.

4. If you don’t know your starting score yet, register your MBA.com profile (takes 48 hours for first-time users) and download the free GMATPrep software and Exam Pack 1 from MBA.com. (Note that if you’ve already downloaded GMATPrep in the past, you will need to install the latest version of your operating system as well as GMATPrep, otherwise the program will crash in the middle of your exam and you will lose your data.)

​After reading the rest of this section (Section 4) take Exam 4, save screenshots of all the summary data as pdfs, and send them to me.  I recommend downloading Exam Pack 1 both because it offers more detailed score reporting than the free GMATPrep Exams, and because exams 1 and 2 are best saved for the very end of your study, since they have a larger question pool.

Click the Prepare button and read about the exam format and question types. Then click the Practice button and do one Reading Comprehension passage and one easy, medium, and difficult practice question of each of the remaining categories (Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, Problem Solving, Data Sufficiency, Integrated Reasoning) in Exam Mode (timed). Don’t do more questions than this just yet!  After a full night’s rest and healthy meal, allot a solid 4-hour block for takinga full-length practice test, free of distractions and with no prior preparation or aids (calculator, etc). Then refer back to step 1!

Important notes!

  • If you skip the AWA and IR sections and only do Quant/Verbal, or if you take the test over multiple sittings (i.e. not within a single 4-hour block), your practice score will overestimate your real score by 30-70 points, depending on your stamina. In the real test center the timing is as follows: AWA (30min), 1 minute break, Integrated Reasoning (30min), 8 minute break, Quant (75min), 8 minute break, Verbal (75 min). 
  • You also get to use earplugs, so if you’re distracted by noise (and there will be a fair amount of commotion in the test center) I recommend using them when you take the practice exam.  
  • Your 800 score is determined by your raw score on the 51-point scale, not your percentiles. So pay less attention to %ile and more to raw score.

5. If you haven’t already done so, register for a GMAT test date so you have a concrete deadline to motivate and structure your study.
(In case of emergency, you can always reschedule a week in advance for $50.)

6. Send your complete score breakdown (raw scores out of 51 points, not percentiles) and we will help you develop your study plan!
    In addition to knowing where you are and what you have to improve, now you know the amount of energy and focus necessary to perform well on the exam. Your mind is in high-speed mode for almost 4 hours straight.  It’s going to take some serious effort to get in the habit of performing at your peak capacity for that length of time.  I recommend working with me in at least 2 hour blocks, both to prepare for that level of intensity and to maximize what you get out of the lessons. 

7. In the meanwhile, exercise, diet, and sleep!
    We all know we’re supposed to take care of our bodies, but if our bodies aren’t in top shape, neither will our GMAT scores be.  Our productivity culture looks down upon sleep, but if you’re tired, it means you’re not sleeping enough. Period.  In fact, this is so important that I’ve written an article on Quora about it.
When you take the GMAT, you essentially have to sustain your top focus nonstop for almost 4 hours. Your mental stamina is tightly correlated with your physical stamina.  As a general guideline, if it takes you longer than 8 minutes to run a mile, and if you can’t jog 3 miles in under 30 minutes, you might burn out before you finish the exam, and thus not get your top score.
    Focus on extended cardio/endurance, stuff that makes you sweat and breathe. You should be a little tired after your workouts, not from a long day or lack of sleep, but actually tired just from the exercise itself, and need to take a few minutes to recover.  Keep pushing yourself in your workouts so that you’re always improving, too.  Ideally you would exercise every day, but at least every other day will still make a big difference. Avoid the fatty, fried, oily, sugary (and even too spicy) foods, and lean toward plants, more on the raw or steamed/baked side. The leaner your body, the leaner your brain, and the more efficient it will be for the exam.

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