1. If you’re considering business school, whether you’ve had lifelong ambitions to topple the business world, or you are simply looking to help yourself take the next step with an ongoing career, you will likely have to deal with the GMAT. The GMAT is the standardized test that is by far the most common entry exam required by graduate business schools from prospective applicants. It’s also the common enemy that unites almost everyone who’s ever thought about an MBA.

    If you’re considering business school, and haven’t formulated a plan for how to deal with the GMAT, you’ve come to the right place. Here we tell you everything you need to know about when and how to get ready for the test.

    FIRST QUESTION: WHEN IS YOUR APPLICATION DEADLINE?

    This has a lot to do with when you need to start worrying about the GMAT. See, the GMAT isn’t like the SAT or the ACT or most other standardized tests you’ve taken—it’s not administered on just one specific day. The GMAT is actually available to take almost every day of the year. So it’s totally up to you when you register for it.

    This is also a more complicated question because most MBA programs don’t just have one application deadline—they conduct their admissions in several rounds, usually three. The first round typically comes in September/October, the second in January, and the third in March/April.

     

    SO, WHICH ROUND OF APPLICATIONS IS BEST?

    This depends entirely on you, and on where each school you’re applying to falls in your rankings of desirability. Many students apply to their top-choice schools in the first round—only applying to their safety schools in rounds two and three. Other students are less strategic, and less picky—simply applying whenever they are able to prepare the strongest application.

    It does appear that there may be some competitive advantage to applying in the first round. This may, to some extent, be a consequence of the fact that more diligent students (thus stronger applicants) are usually the ones who apply earlier. It may also be that schools are more likely to admit students if they get the impression they are the students’ top choice of school. Early admissions (and giving schools the impression they are your top choice) may also carry the added likelihood of being offered some sort of scholarship—especially for second-tier schools.

     

    STILL, YOU WANT TO LEAVE SOME WIGGLE ROOM

    Consider that it takes 20 days after your exam to send your score to the schools you chose at registration. You will likely want to leave some time for things to possibly go wrong, or for you to send additional score reports for schools you didn’t choose initially. You will also want to leave time to do your best with the rest of your application materials, including any essays or personal statements.

    And finally, consider that you may want to take the test a second time if you don’t reach your target score the first time around. This is much more common than you would think—many students take the exam more than once.

    Overall, we recommend scheduling your GMAT exam for anywhere from 2 to 4 months before your first application deadlines, depending on whether you want to leave time to retake the.

     

    HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO PREPARE?

    The standard—and, broadly speaking, best—answer to this question is that you should devote at least three months of prep to studying. This is an appropriate amount of time to make significant progress, even for people whose progress is slow-going in the beginning. However, there are many factors that influence just how long each person’s individual GMAT prep will (or at least should) take.

     

    KNOW THYSELF, AND ADJUST ACCORDINGLY

    The three-month model is based on an average of about 8-12 hours spent studying per week. When you’re looking to plan your own time, balance studying enough so that you see progress (for example – 2-3 hours a week is probably not enough) with studying so much that you burn yourself out.  8-12 hours is, for most people, a good balance point – a medium intensity schedule which allows enough time for studying and also enough time for the rest of your life.

    Some people will need more time to prep simply because they need more time to improve their score before applying to school. Some people are born naturally gifted at standardized tests like the GMAT, and can ace it with little to no preparation. Other people might be truly ingenious in many ways, but struggle with the standardized test format. You probably already have a sense for how good you are at standardized tests, and how long you’ll need to prepare compared to the average person.

    But don’t just trust your best guess. Take a diagnostic test, or a full-length practice test, before you even start planning your prep. Figure out where you stand on Day Zero. Then find out how much farther you need to go in order to get where you want to be. Do your homework and figure out what the standard scores for accepted students are at your top choice schools. How far do you need to go to get there?

    Armed with this information—in addition to whatever the diagnostic test can tell you about your strengths and weaknesses—figure out how long it will take you to get to the score you need.

    Overall, that means that you will want to start prepping anywhere from 4 to 8 months before your application deadline. This is a range because the best answer is different for everyone. In figuring out just how long you should devote to your GMAT prep, you’ll also learn a lot more about how to get started.

     

    FIGURE OUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

    You probably already have a good sense of whether or not you’re a math or a verbal person. This is useful information. But you should learn more. A diagnostic or practice test will help you isolate your particular strengths and weaknesses according to the different question types and subject areas you’ll find on the GMAT. It will also give you a lot more information about just what the exam is like. Using this information, create a study plan for yourself. You should devote a large amount of time to targeting your weaknesses—but make sure you are also shoring up your strengths.

     

    USE THE BEST RESOURCES YOU CAN

    Practically no one really gets themselves to their target scores on their own. Which resources you draw on to get you there can make a big difference.

    First, you’ll have your choice from many different books—these all supply various kinds of practice materials as well as instructional materials. The best practice materials come from the Official Guide, which is published by the organization that creates the GMAT and is the only source of practice material that uses official GMAT questions. The Official Guide—like many of the prep books on the market–also comes with some useful diagnostic and study materials which will help you organize your study plan.

    If you can afford it, there are other ways to step up your prep game. Many people attend group GMAT classes because they find the human instruction to be especially helpful. Others who are better at one-on-one learning (and who have the extra money it requires) opt for private tutors.

    In the past, these were your best options for GMAT prep resources. But modern technology has really helped to democratize the market. Nowadays, online courses offer the best of both worlds – they cover all the basic material you need to know with an option for additional, on-demand, private classes.  At examPAL, we’ve also added AI into the mix – behind the scenes of our course software is an artificial intelligence which analyzes each student’s performance and continues by suggesting specific problems and solution approaches which will best help that student to succeed..

    The optimal route to business success is different for everyone. But for more people than ever, it requires them to slay the dragon of the GMAT. Information and strategizing are the best weapons in this realm—hopefully this blog post has helped you solidify your plans for how and when to start getting ready for the fight.

    mm
    Dave Green
    Senior tutor and professional test-prep writer. Interdisciplinary wizard, with Master’s degrees in economics, philosophy, and political science at HUJI.

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