How much time should you spend studying for the GMAT exam?

May 19, 2010
Tags: GMAT Prep, Official GMAT, Prepare for the GMAT, Study Tips for the GMAT

Sorry, there’s no simple answer to that question. However, we can tell you how much time other people spend in their preparation. Using data collected from nearly 8,000 GMAT test takers, we can see that 44% of the test takers spend at least 51 hours preparing, 65% start preparing at least 4 weeks in advance, and those who do better on the GMAT tend to spend more time preparing.


Number of Hours of Preparation 


Don’t let the charts fool you. Causality isn’t implied—studying 106 hours does not guarantee that you will score in the 600 range. (Remember, too, that this is all self-reported data—each test taker is different and may be estimating his or her actual study time.) 

Without a true experiment, we can’t tell you the optimal number of hours and weeks you need to study. A true experiment would require many test takers to commit to a certain specific amounts of study time and then take the GMAT—by controlling the variables, we could get closer to finding the amount of study time that causes a higher GMAT score. 

Think about that experiment—would you participate if you were selected as part of the “no study” group? Would you risk your future and take the GMAT exam without preparation? My guess is you wouldn’t…which is reasonable. 

So let’s use this data in an advisory capacity. It’s up to you to determine how much you should prepare, but I would suggest that you do prepare for the exam so the results can reflect your ability and not your knowledge of the test. Here are my suggestions:

  • Familiarize yourself with the exam. What types of questions will be asked and what are the formats of the questions? Read about the test structure here . The GMAT has questions that other exams do not. For Data Sufficiency questions, for example, you only need to determine if there is enough information to answer the question. If you’re not familiar with this question type, you might spend time unnecessarily trying to solve the problems.
  • Take a practice exam. A free exam is available here. Or try GMAT Focus, which can provide feedback about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Focus extra practice time on your areas of weakness. Are you a whiz at mathematical reasoning? You may not need as much time preparing for the quantitative section as you would for the reading and writing sections. On the other hand, maybe you are or were an English major with a focus on creative writing. In this case, you may want to spend more time on the quantitative section in your preparation.
  • After spending time practicing the exam, test yourself again. How well did you do? Do you need more time? Did you improve in your weaker areas and maintain your strengths?
  • Repeat as necessary.
Remember the GMAT measures your reasoning skills—it is not a test of reading or mathematical achievement. Once you are comfortable with the test and the types of questions that will be asked and you have invested some time preparing for the exam, you can relax, sit for the test, and let your abilities shine. 

Gregg Schoenfeld, Associate Director, Research