Out of the GMAT Fray: 8 Steps to a Winning GMAT Prep Plan

Nov 12, 2013
Tags: Admissions Requirements, GMAT, GMAT Prep, MBA, School Selection

Submitted by Nicole Lindsay, a career development expert who is working on her first book about women and business school. She is a former MBA admissions officer, MBA recruiter and non-profit executive. Connect with Nicole at @MBAMinority.

Everyone’s got a sure-fire way to ace the GMAT exam or so it seems if you read the thousands of websites, articles, and blogs related to GMAT preparation. Scan the first one or two articles and you’ll feel pretty confident in your ability to achieve a strong score, but by the twentieth article with the twentieth different approach, you may be overwhelmed. Use the checklist below to find your winning approach to the GMAT.

  1. Understand the GMAT fundamentals. Before you select your GMAT preparation approach, first learn everything you can about the exam. Understand the purpose of the test and topics that are tested. Research the test structure, such as computer adaptive testing and exam guidelines. Then figure out how others have prepared – not so you can exactly replicate them, but to identify available resources and common test pitfalls.
  2. Set your GMAT targets. Setting personal goals will motivate you and keep you focused throughout your preparation process. If you determine that achieving a certain GMAT score is your aim, you can then take a practice test to gauge whether your goal is realistic and what will be required to achieve it. You can also set time-based goals, such as taking the test by a specific date, or activity-based goals, such as completing a certain number of practice problems each week. Remember these goals are in place to keep you excited and on track.
  3. Imagine the perfect learning environment. As you think about studying for two to six months for the GMAT, determine what you need to be successful. Identify the characteristics of your ideal learning environment to guide you when you investigate various test prep options. Do you prefer a supportive and encouraging setting or is a more demanding one better for you? Other characteristics include, structured, flexible, competitive, collaborative, self-paced, directed, communal, and individual.
  4. Research test prep options. There are three primary methods for GMAT prep – studying on your own, taking a course, or employing a private tutor. Most candidates use more than one. For example, a candidate working with a tutor will still use self-study methods between sessions, while a candidate, primarily studying on her own, may use materials from a formal test prep course. As you learn more about each method of preparation, align that with the perfect learning environment that you identified in the last step. You might choose a GMAT prep course because you prefer structure and in-person sessions that feed your competitive spirit.
  5. Take stock of your resources. Preparing for the GMAT takes time and money – which are often two of the most limited resources. Think about the time you have to prepare for the GMAT, not just how many months you’ll study, but also consider the variability of your schedule. If you travel frequently an in-person, course held three nights per week may not be a fit. Also determine the money you can afford to spend on GMAT prep. You’ve already determined your ideal learning environment and test prep options, so now you can adjust those based on your financial and time constraints. You might prefer private tutoring, but you can’t afford a tutor for twelve weeks – alternatively, find a course with a very strong instructor who offers tutoring by the hour which you can access periodically.
  6. Evaluate your final options very closely. By this point you should be down to two to three GMAT prep options. Vet each one thoroughly. If you are considering tutoring or a course, evaluate the specific instructors for experience, empathy and energy – significant teaching experience, empathy to support you when you’re struggling with a concept and energy to keep you engaged after you’ve worked a full-day. Even where you are using the self-study method, you will use materials that you should investigate as closely as you would a course. Read reviews, particularly from previous test-takers who have a similar profile to yours.
  7. Develop your GMAT study plan. Regardless of the method you use to study for the GMAT, you must create your own study plan that incorporates your course or tutoring syllabus, and also specifically details when you will study, and complete sample questions and full-length practice tests. Your plan should build in accountability measures to keep you on track, such as leveraging a study partner and also set regular intervals to assess your GMAT progress and adjust your plan.
  8. Resolve to succeed on the GMAT.
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