This is a guest post by Toby Blackwell, professional GMAT tutor for Varsity Tutors.
When you start to prep for the GMAT, you begin to realize that it's been at least 15 years since you've seen some of the math concepts tested - if you recognize them at all. To ease your stress and help you refresh your prior knowledge and skills, its best to strategically plan your test prep timeline, and take each area one step at time:
6-8 months before the test: Lay the groundwork
First and foremost, you need to take a good, honest look at your skills in math. Before you begin any GMAT-specific test prep work, you may find that a few weeks reviewing elementary school math will serve as a strong foundation. Go back and review the concepts related to remainders, prime numbers, factors and other vestiges of childhood. Either on your own or with a tutor, take some time to relive those math classes of yesteryear and get to the point where you can follow along with GMAT test prep materials.
3-4 months before: Make a plan
Determining which test prep materials are best suited to you depends on your learning style. If you work best with others, you should look into a study group where you can study with peers. The independent learner might be inclined to pick up the official GMAT guide and/or some other published book and pursue a self-study plan. And of course, private tutoring is available if you would prefer personalized support over a big-name class or a self-paced course of study. You'll want to have this decision made at least three months before you plan to take the test.
1-3 months before: Learn your stuff
You should allow two months to learn the GMAT. You will not only be reviewing (and in some cases, re-learning) all of the math, but also honing your essay writing skills, brushing off long-dormant reading comprehension abilities, and discovering new ways that the GMAT will test you on argument formulation, data sufficiency and grammar usage. Take this time to absorb everything: solve GMAT practice problems and drill the concepts where you are weakest, while also reconnecting with skills that you do well. Commit to doing some GMAT-related practice consistently, almost every day, until you've gone through all the material and have entered the home stretch.
1 month before: Do your run-through’s
Ideally, in the last few weeks of whichever test prep plan you choose, you will have transitioned from learning and relearning material, focusing on your weaknesses, and drilling certain types of questions, to using those concepts to inform the direction and focus of the rest of your study. The closer you get to the day of the test, the less your study becomes about learning and working on your weaknesses, and the more it becomes about reinforcing your strengths by using key strategies and improving timing as well as overall test-taking issues. You should take weekly, full-length tests under actual test day conditions as close to the actual test as you can:
· Take the tests on a computer.
· Don't do them at home.
· Stick to the required timing.
· Use your calculator sparingly.
· Do all of the sections, including Integrated Reasoning and the Essay.
· Don’t take calls while taking the test.
· Make each diagnostic as real as can be.
1 week before: Get in the right mind set
The last week is all about physically preparing yourself for the test. The best way to do this is to get plenty of rest and proper nutrition. You shouldn't be doing too much homework, unless it's something you feel like you are on the verge of understanding and a few more questions will help solidify it.
Besides that, if you don't know it by now, you probably aren't going to within this next week – and that's okay. Use the final week to review past tests and problems, looking for encouraging signs of improvement, but also realistically recognizing areas that you still aren't so good at. Use this week to review, not to drill or learn new things.
The timing of this list will, of course, vary based on individual levels of preparedness and your skill level with math. Honest self-analysis will help refine this timeline for any student. When test day finally arrives, all of your preparation, hard work and determination will come through to ensure you conquer the exam. Good luck!
Toby Blackwell is a professional GMAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. He graduated with honors and received his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. He scored a 770 on the GMAT.