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How Long Should You Study For The GMAT?

Getting your best score on the GMAT Focus Edition takes time, but how much time?

Thu Sep 17 2020

How much time should you allow to prepare for the GMAT Focus Edition?

In our BusinessBecause MBA Application Guide 2023-4, we list the latest MBA application deadlines for the world’s top business schools and provide you with a step-by-step guide to plan out your MBA application, including your GMAT prep.

Few people take the GMAT Focus Edition under ideal circumstances. Most test-takers are juggling work demands and other responsibilities, and the time it takes to study for the GMAT will be different depending on your circumstances. 

It will also depend on your starting point, and whether you have a solid foundation in English and math. 

Think of the GMAT Focus Edition in terms of your best score—the maximum score that you can achieve. The concept of your best score may make more sense than a target score (often set arbitrarily).

Getting your best score on the GMAT Focus Edition takes time. There are people who take the test in a rush and do well—although they may not necessarily be achieving their best score. There are also those who lose momentum over an overly long period of time.

How long should you prep for the GMAT Focus Edition?

As a rule of thumb, three to six months is about the right amount of time to keep up the intensity it takes to prepare for the GMAT. Dragging out your preparation won’t necessarily improve your score. There are often diminishing returns after a certain point in the process.

Unlike other tests, the GMAT Focus Edition tests your abilities rather than your knowledge. You can think of preparing for the GMAT like training for a marathon. You are building up your ability over time to do your best on the day. A large part of the GMAT skillset is gained through practice. Lots and lots of practice. 

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the organization behind the GMAT exam, top scorers report studying over 90 hours for the test. These top scorers are test-takers who score in at least the 89th percentile. That's 700 or above in the pre-2024 edition of the test, or 645 and above under the GMAT Focus Edition scoring system, effective from February 1st, 2024. To find out more about the comparison between pre-2024 scores and the GMAT Focus Edition, consult GMAC's concordance table.

GMAC is careful to note, however, that there is no cause-and-effect process at work. Spending more hours studying does not guarantee a high score, but it is helpful to keep over a hundred hours of preparation as a ballpark figure for your practice.

Your natural abilities (which we are not always good at accessing accurately) may play some role in your score. Regardless of your natural abilities, however, you will not achieve your best score without proper preparation. 

* The school provides a median GMAT score
** Based on 2022 data
These score ranges are based on relative competitiveness, not a conversion of scores, therefore a score range is shown instead of a single figure in most cases. See the GMAC concordance table
 for more details.

How can you prep effectively?

Building GMAT knowledge is a bit like building muscles at the gym. You need to keep it up and do a bit every day. 

Try not to lose momentum and stop and start your studies. You also need to keep up your practice across all the topics tested so you don’t lose your gains. You’ll see that if you neglect a certain section for a while to focus on other parts of the test, your ability there will drop. 

Regardless of your timeline, it’s helpful to think of your preparation as three stages. In the first stage, you’ll be getting to grips with concepts and strategies. In the second phase, you will introduce the timing element. In the third, you’ll be practicing mock tests (and your timing strategy) to build up the mental stamina required for the actual test. 

What about the GMAT Online Exam?

The GMAT Online Exam is the same version of the exam you’ll encounter in a test center, including the optional 10-minute break you can take between any two sections.

Make sure you practice taking the test under the same conditions you will be taking it on test day. Building up stamina against mental fatigue (and being able to put strategies in place for yourself around this) is vitally important. 

Note: The GMAT Online Exam now allows a physical whiteboard option.

If you are taking the online GMAT Focus Edition, be sure to practice with both the online and physical whiteboard before test day. Whether you are taking the exam at home or a test center, you need to make sure you know what to expect. 

It’s worth remembering your GMAT score is valid for 5 years. As far as possible, you want to carve out some time to take the GMAT Focus Edition that does not overlap with your application preparation (like writing your essays) or things like starting a new job. 

Your GMAT score is not the be-all and end-all of your application, but it is important. Make sure you put in the time to get the best score you are capable of.

READ our MBA Application Guide 2023-4