How Long Should You Study for the GMAT? - A simple guide

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How Long Should You Study for the GMAT? - A simple guide

Whether it’s your first exam or third, a bit of anxiety usually accompanies officially registering for the GMAT.

No longer is taking the exam just an idea or something you need to do in the future; it’s a set date on the calendar, and the clock is ticking.  You may wonder if you allowed enough time to study, especially if you’re trying to receive your official scores before an application deadline.

The GMAT is not a test that you can cram for, and a well executed study plan will go a long way in determining how well you do on exam day.  So how much time is enough to thoroughly prepare for the exam?

How to determine the right amount of GMAT prep

The answer will vary from person to person based on the three factors: your goal score, your current score or mastery of GMAT concepts, and how much study time your schedule allows for.  Use the guiding questions discussed below to help determine the amount of time you’ll need to prepare for the exam.

What’s your GMAT goal score?

It’s difficult to plan a trip if you don’t know where you’re going.  Similarly, it’s hard, if not impossible, to know how much and how long you’ll need to study for the GMAT if you don’t have a target score.  Claiming you want to score “high” or test somewhere in the 700 range lacks specificity.

A useful goal needs to be highly detailed and result oriented.  In the case of a goal GMAT score then, it should tell you exactly how well you need to do, and most importantly, it should be tied to the average test scores of students admitted to the schools you plan to apply to. After all, you’re not taking the GMAT for its own sake; you’re taking it to get in to business school, so base your goal score off of actual admission data and not just wishful thinking.

Goal scores will differ from person to person, and there are a range of factors that go into determining your goal score that this post cannot cover in-depth.  However, if you’re applying to one of the top-ranked business schools, then your goal score should be high, likely above the 85th percentile.  Also, if you have a weaknesses in one or more of the other components of your application — a thin resume or a low college GPA for example — then you may want to set a higher goal score to compensate.

What’s your current GMAT score or score range?

Once you know your goal, consider your current GMAT ability level.  If you’ve already taken the GMAT or at least have taken a practice test, this step will be easy.  The results of a recent GMAT exam shows you exactly where you stand in terms of a current score and how much improvement you need to make in order to reach your goal.

While not as accurate as the actual exam, a GMAT practice test can still provide valuable feedback on your current mastery of the test material.  If you’re just beginning your test prep, it’s a good idea to take an initial practice test in order to establish an idea of your current ability.  Both the actual exam and a practice exam can point out your particular strengths and weakness, which when combined with your goal score, act as a roadmap for your study plan.

How much time per week can you devote to studying for the GMAT?

Once you’ve established where you want to go and where you are now, the question becomes how to get there.  To change your current GMAT score into your goal score, you need to study consistently, which requires discipline and time.  How much time depends on two things:

  1. the size of the difference between your goal score and current score and
  2. how much time you can reasonably devote to GMAT prep given your schedule.

In regards to the first component, it should be obvious that the larger the gap between your goal score and current score, the more time you’ll need to prepare.  Depending on your schedule and determination, a lot of studying can be accomplished if you can devote a large amount of time for prep in your schedule.

For example, a recent grad who is unemployed or working part time can likely study four or more hours a day and cover a lot of material in a short amount of time.  However, for someone working full-time or balancing multiple responsibilities, dedicating four hours on a weekday may be unfeasible.  Obviously, the less time you have to study per week, the more weeks you’ll need to study to reach your goal score.

There are many GMAT success stories where testers have improved their score dramatically, sometimes by 100 points or more, in a relatively short period of time.  In the majority of these stories, these testers were able to dedicate large chunks of time each week to their GMAT prep.  While these stories are laudable and inspiring, it’s important to note that quantity should not be prized over quality when it comes to studying.  If an intense study schedule drains your focus, it’s best to divide studying into smaller chunks over a longer period if possible.

Unfortunately, there are no secret tricks to get out of studying.  If you want to increase your score, you’ll have to put in the time.  Use these three essential questions to help you determine how much time that may be.

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