By allowing yourself 3 months to prepare for the GMAT, you have an excellent opportunity to put in the time necessary to get your best possible score. Your biggest challenge may be maintaining your motivation and momentum over this period. Think now about possible disruptions to your study schedule, such as busy periods at work or school or family commitments, and plan accordingly.
With 3 months to prepare, you can think about dividing your study time into two parts. During the first two months, focus on mastering the strategic approaches to each type of question on the GMAT, as well as the grammar and math content knowledge you’ll need to get questions correct. During the last month, build up to maximum performance on Test Day: focus on answering questions more quickly by doing timed practice and challenge yourself with tougher questions.
Before you can know exactly what to spend the most time studying, you need to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Then, you can target your weaknesses while also building on your strengths.
Step 1: Take a GMAT Diagnostic Test
Take a full-length, realistic practice test to find out what your Quantitative, Verbal, and Integrated Reasoning scores are now. Ideally, the test results will include not just your scores but also information about what types of questions you did well on and which ones gave you trouble. This information will help you design your study plan.
Another benefit of taking a practice test is that you will become familiar with the test’s format and timing. Then as you study, you will know exactly how you’ll use what you’re learning to ace test questions. This is highly motivating!
You will also be able to review the test, and reading the explanations of every question will reinforce what you did right and help you understand your mistakes. Research shows that being tested on material not only measures your performance but actually helps you learn.
Take the practice test under conditions as similar as possible to those you will experience on Test Day, without distractions or interruptions. Schedule 4 hours to take the test if you write the essay and 3.5 hours if you choose to skip the essay. Also plan to invest at least 1.5 hours in reviewing the test later the same day or in the next day or two.
- The GMAT testmaker, the Graduate Management Admission Council® (GMAC®), offers two free practice tests with its GMATPrep™® software.
- Kaplan Test Prep offers free proctored practice tests online. Kaplan’s Smart Reports provide you with detailed breakdowns of your strengths and opportunities for improvement, as well as comprehensive answer explanations.
Step 2: Set Your Study Schedule
When Test Day is 3 months away, there is a danger of procrastinating. After all, you probably have a lot of things that need to get done today, so it can be hard to carve out the time and energy to study for the GMAT. However, the days and weeks will slip by faster than seems possible, and before you know it, the test will be a week away—and then tomorrow! Don’t let Test Day take you by surprise.
Studying most days of the week will improve your score more than studying one or two days a week. Because you will be studying for 3 months, you want to set a reasonable pace and not burn yourself out. Many students find that studying for 4 days a week in three 30-minute segments, for an hour and a half each day, helps them make significant progress. In addition, if math content or grammar is an area you have targeted for improvement, plan to carry a quick reference of some kind, such as flashcards or a phone app, and work on commonly tested formulas and rules throughout the day.
Block out time to take six more full-length practice tests. Take a practice test after 1 month of studying, another one at the 6-week point, and then one a week for the 4 weeks leading up to the GMAT. You will take your last practice test 1 week before Test Day. Take practice tests to measure your progress, become more familiar with the test’s timing and format, and build your mental endurance. After each test, invest at least 1.5 hours in reviewing the answer explanations.
Schedule your study time and practice tests on your calendar and then keep those appointments with yourself. The same way you show up for class or work on time, you are going to “show up” for GMAT studying on time.
Step 3: Develop Your Study Plan
How should you study? An effective approach is to first use a resource such as a GMAT book or class to learn some strategies or content and then follow up by practicing what you just learned with test-like questions. Applying what you learn right away to the types of questions you’ll see on Test Day will help you solidify your knowledge so it sticks with you. Kaplan’s GMAT Premier book includes a 200-question Quiz Bank, and the full Quiz Bank contains over 1,000 test-like questions for GMAT practice. You can use it to target specific content areas and question types at the right difficulty level for you.
What should you study? That depends on the results of your practice test! Focus mostly on material that is (a) difficult for you and (b) most often tested. On the Quantitative section, for example, many arithmetic, algebra, and geometry questions require you to work with proportions. If you are uncomfortable working with ratios and percentages, you will have trouble throughout the section. Combinations and permutations questions may be tough for you, too, but combinatorics does not appear on the test nearly as often as proportions, so you should focus on the content with the higher payoff.
During the last week before your test, emphasize your strengths. For example, if you get most Sentence Correction questions correct, then practice those questions several times this week to boost your confidence and ensure that you can count on this skill.
Here are two sample study plans:
|Goals||Plans to earn an MBA while working full-time as a product manager and wants to attend the best-ranked program in his city. His target score is a 600.||Will take leave from her engineering job to earn an MBA from a school with a top national ranking. Her target score is a 720.|
|Week 1||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Class 1 day × 3.0 hr (3 hours), Study 2 days × 1.5 hr/day (3 hours)|
|Week 2||Study 4 days × 1.5 hr/day (6.0 hours)||Class 1 day × 3.0 hr (3 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)|
|Week 3||Study 4 days × 1.5 hr/day (6.0 hours)||Class 1 day × 3.0 hr (3.0 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)|
|Week 4||In-laws visit from out of town! (0.0 hours studying)||Class 2 days × 3.5 hr (7.0 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (3.0 hours)|
|Week 5||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Class 1 day × 2.5 hr (2.5 hours), Study 2 days × 1.5 hr (3.0 hours)|
|Week 6||Study 4 days × 1.5 hr/day (6.0 hours)||Class 1 day × 2.5 hr (2.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)|
|Week 7||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Class 1 day × 2.5 hr (2.5 hours), Study 2 days × 1.5 hr/day (3.0 hours)|
|Week 8||Study 4 days × 1.5 hr/day (6.0 hours)||Class 2 days × 2.5 hr (5.0 hours), Study 2 days × 1.5 hr/day (3.0 hours)|
|Week 9||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Very busy at work! (0.0 hours studying)|
|Week 10||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)|
|Week 11||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)|
|Week 12||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5 hours)||Practice test + review (6.5 hours), Study 3 days × 1.5 hr/day (4.5)|
|Day Before the Test||Nothing!||Nothing!|
|Total Prep Hours||101.0||116.0|
Feel nervous? Just remind yourself that thanks to all the hard work you’ve put in, you are ready for the GMAT.