How to Study for the GMAT: An Expert’s Guide


Here’s How To Study For The GMAT The Easy Way

If you’re interested in getting into graduate school, then you should learn how to study for the GMAT. The GMAT is a timed standardized exam required by many graduate schools for admissions. If the university you’re interested in applying to requires the GMAT, learning more about the test and how to study for the GMAT are important steps in the preparation and application process.

GMAT Overview

The GMAT is given at test centers throughout the United States and in other areas of the world. It includes four sections:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment (30 minutes)
  2. Integrated Reasoning (30 minutes)
  3. Quantitative (75 minutes)
  4. Verbal (75 minutes)

In the Analytical Writing Assessment, you’ll be given passages to read and critique. You’ll be asked to critique the reasoning behind the arguments and to write a short paper.

The Integrated Reasoning section tests your ability to evaluate information. You’ll be given different types of information to evaluate, such as graphs, charts, written material and so on. The idea is to judge how well you can sift through different forms of information and use the information presented to you.

The Quantitative section measures how well you can analyze data and draw conclusions. You will need to know some mathematics for this section such as basic algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, but if you’ve completed high school you should have the basic skills to answer the questions

The Verbal section is the last section of the GMAT and includes questions on your reading comprehension skills as well as your ability to draw conclusions. You’ll also face some grammar questions, asking you to correct passages and put them into standard written English.

You can learn more about the test in our GMAT Test Overview.

Should You Take a Prep Class?

Most people study on their own for the GMAT, but there are classes you can take if you’re really not sure where to begin. Classes are offered online or at test prep centers nationwide.

Avoid centers that focus on teaching you test-taking tricks or shortcuts. While such information may be helpful, it cannot replace your overall ability. And if nervousness is your greatest weakness, the more sample tests you take, the better, and these are available online for no or little cost.

Preparing for the GMAT

Preparing for the GMAT is a little different than preparing for the ACT or the SAT. When you took the ACT or the SAT, chances are good that you were already actively learning the materials tested. The mathematics formulas, for examples, were fresh in your mind. If it’s been a while since you sat in a high school classroom, you may need to allow yourself extra time to prep for the GMAT.

The GMAT website itself presents graphs showing that the more time you spend preparing for the test, the better the chances of a good score. Students who spent 121 hours studying scored in the 700 or higher range, a near perfect total score that would almost guarantee admission into the graduate school of your choice.

It’s not just cramming for the test that counts. A thoughtful, measured approach to studying for the GMAT is best. The following step by step guide can walk you through the preparation process in the weeks leading up to the GMAT. Be sure to give yourself at least eight weeks to study for the GMAT, more if you lead a busy life filled with work, school and family commitments.

Step 1: Identify your strengths and weaknesses.

In order to plan a program of study, you must first understand your strengths and weaknesses. The best way to evaluate the areas in which you need to concentrate your study time is by taking a sample GMAT test. After taking the test, note any areas you struggled with and areas that you felt were easy. Plan to spend more time on the harder areas so that you can overcome your weaknesses and use your areas of greatest strength to your advantage.

Step 2: Focus on your areas of weakness.

Whether it’s math, English or writing, you’ve pinpointed your area of weakness. Now it’s time to turn it into a strength. Obtain GMAT prep resources and basic college texts or websites, if necessary, to refresh your memory on basic concepts in math or grammar. Plan to spend two to four weeks, at least one hour a day, studying the section that gives you the most trouble.

Step 3: Refresh strengths and continue studying.

For the next several weeks, continue working on areas of weakness while brushing up on areas of strength. Take a full-length practice exam again and see if you’ve been able to improve your scores. It’s a good idea as you get closer to the test date to take at least a full length practice exam once a week so that you become comfortable and familiar with the test format and the timing in each section.

Step 4: Familiarize yourself with the test instructions.

One way to save time on test day and to feel confident when you walk into the testing center is to familiarize yourself with the instructions for each test section well before you take the test. Understand the time limits, the types of questions, and what may be expected on each section.

Step 5: Review consistent errors.

As you continue taking full-length practice exams, a pattern may emerge of the types of questions that you may consistently get wrong. The last week before the exam, try to understand the pattern behind your errors and focus on studying the techniques needed to get these questions right.

On the night before the test day, put away your books and relax. Cramming won’t help and it may just make you so tired you can’t think on the morning of the test. Make sure you set your alarm and have the directions and confirmation of your test center registration ready for the next day.

General Tips for How to Study for the GMAT

In addition to the suggested study schedule, try the following tips to help you:

  • Take notes as you study. Writing down the information helps it stick in your long-term memory.
  • After each practice test, make notes on the questions you got wrong. This will help you identify areas where you may need some extra practice.
  • Take frequent timed tests. The timing often puts added pressure on people who aren’t used to taking standardized, timed tests. Practicing against the clock can help you pace yourself.
  • Answer all the questions on the GMAT. It’s better to guess incorrectly than to skip questions.

Should You Retake the GMAT?

If, despite your best efforts, your scores for the GMAT aren’t what you’d hoped for, you can retake it. Schools want to see students in the 80th percentile or higher, which translates to a 700 score or higher. Most students who score in the 600 or higher range are just fine and don’t need to retake the test. If you do decide to retake the test, be sure to learn from your mistakes and work hard on the areas where you lost points.

GMAT Practice Resources

There are many GMAT practice resources available to you to help you study for the GMAT. These include:

  • TestPrepPlace: We provide sample GMAT test questions here.
  • The official GMAT website: The site contains plenty of information, resources and sample tests to help you become familiar with the testing format and questions. It’s also the place to go to register for the test and send your scores.
  • The Princeton Review: Offers free GMAT tests and class information.
  • Babson: The school offers practice mini tests to help potential students.

The GMAT is an important test, but it’s not the only measure by which graduate schools choose their incoming class. The overall application, including undergraduate transcript, recommendation letters, essays, portfolios and other information all work together to help the admissions officer gain a complete picture of who you are and whether or not the school is right for you. Once you’ve completed your GMAT, and have scores you’re happy with, focus on making the rest of your application just as strong as your GMAT scores so that you’ll get accepted into the institution of your choice.