Written by Andrew Verner, Assistant Dean, Graduate Programs, Charles H. Lundquist College of Business, University of Oregon
When it comes to GMAT-related questions, this is probably the second-most common one, right after “How high a score do I need to be admitted?” The question appears to assume a positive correlation between the time invested in preparing for the GMAT and the outcome—e.g., the GMAT score. Oh, that things were so easy.
If the GMAT were simply a test of knowledge, it might be reasonable to conclude that the more information you can cram between your ears—a function of time—the better the results. While that might work for a spelling bee or “Jeopardy,” it’s unlikely to do so for the GMAT.
Instead, the GMAT aims to measure cognitive ability and critical thinking, including analytical, as well as verbal and quantitative, reasoning skills. The extent to which these are inherent or can be learned is still a matter of some controversy. Such uncertainty notwithstanding, a billion-dollar test-preparation industry has sprung up on the premise that test takers can improve their skills and thus their prospects of success.
In my own admissions experience, I have been unable to discern any definitive trends: GMAT test takers do well or poorly with or without lengthy preparation. And some manage to improve their scores dramatically without formal study, while others cannot budge their results despite spending considerable time and money on test-prep courses.
That’s not to say, however, that preparation time and manner make no difference. Clearly, anyone contemplating taking the GMAT should become familiar with the test format and the types of questions posed. By working through some of the many study guides offered by GMAC (on mba.com) and other publishers, you will get a better sense of what to expect on the actual test; the more comfortable you feel with the format, the less test anxiety should interfere with the outcome. How long that might take is very much an individual matter. A review of basic rules of grammar and syntax, as well as algebraic and geometric formulas, can’t hurt, but only if you learned them previously. Neither the study guides nor a test-prep course will remedy serious deficiencies in these areas; only concentrated study of each of these subjects and extended practice might do that.
In short, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much time to allot for GMAT preparation. As economists, of whom I am not one, are fond of answering: “It depends.”
Editor's note: In 2010, we asked almost 8,000 GMAT test takers about their test-prep and their scores. Check out what they said on the Official GMAT Blog.