How much time should you allow to prepare for the GMAT?
In our BusinessBecause MBA Application Guide 2020-21, 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 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 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 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?
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 is testing 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, those who score over 700 report studying over 90 hours for the test.
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.
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?
Remember that while the GMAT Online Exam excludes the AWA essay, it does not include breaks between the quantitative and verbal 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, be sure to practice with both the online and physical whiteboard before test day. Whether you are taking the exam at home or at 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 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.