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Studying for the GMAT? 7 Tips on How to Get Started

For many, the GMAT study experience will take several months. These months take the form of figuring out what is on the test, doing many practice problems, perhaps taking a review class, taking practice tests and then mentally preparing for the tests in the final few weeks. This article suggests some pre-test routines and gives an idea of what people should be expecting and doing in the months leading up to their test.

1. Take a Diagnostic 

Overall, it is smart to begin initial preparation a few months before your test. This should include diligence of what the GMAT is all about, what it tests exactly, what kinds of questions (read how do I crack data sufficiency), how many questions, and what the different sections include (there are millions of resources out there; books, online resources, guides, etc). Essentially you should know what you are getting into. Try Grockit’s 30-minute GMAT Diagnostic to get a sense of where you stand.  Assuming you are working during this process, this might take a few weekends to get up to speed.

2. Create a Study Schedule

Now that you know exactly what the GMAT is, the next step is to figure out how you are going to study and for how long. Some people might want to consider taking a class because they don’t have the time to self-study or need the direction. Others might want to buy preparation materials (such as the Official Guide for GMAT Review books and Kaplan books, to name a few) and get started that way. Regardless, you will probably want at least 2 months for this practice phase and you will want a schedule. A class will probably meet once or twice a week for several hours and if you don’t take a class, you should think about creating a schedule (Perhaps Tuesday and Thursday evenings for 3 hours each, and then 6 hours on the weekend, something like that).

3. Stick with It

Discipline yourself! Some people might take longer than others for this practice stage, but you will eventually figure out when you are ready to start taking practice exams. Also, don’t study in environments that don’t simulate a real test. Don’t listen to music, don’t watch tv, don’t drink wine, etc. Study as if you were taking the test, go somewhere quiet where you can concentrate. When I was preparing for the GMAT I would go to a coffee shop and do countless questions (Yes, I know, a coffee shop is not much of a test taking environment, but was better than dealing with my roommates).

4. Focus on Problem Areas

The next step should be to take a few practice tests to see what scores you are achieving and this will also tell you what areas you should focus on in the final home stretch. If you are missing triangle and circle problems, you should focus on them and master them. Don’t like data sufficiency (DS)? Then spend a few weeks to tackle these types of problems. Practice tests opportunities abound. When you sign up for the GMAT, they give you access to a few tests. Look online and ask your friends, you will come across a lot.

5. Relax and Be Confident

About a month before your test date you should be feeling confident and relaxed. You should know that you have taken the necessary steps to prepare for the GMAT and should have practiced literally 1000s of problems. You should know where you stand and what areas you might want to focus on in your last few weeks. In this final run, relax and be confident. Eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and perhaps get on a workout regimen to burn off some of that extra stress that preparation can cause. The right combination of diet, sleep and exercise will work wonders on your body in these last few months. It will provide you with increased brainpower and will be a great mental stimulus to give you a boost on test day. You will be feeling good about yourself in the weeks leading up to the test, and confidence is key!!

6. Don’t Cram

Finally, on the day before your test, relax and don’t do much of anything. Do not cram, do not think about the test, just do something relaxing and know that your months of preparation will serve you well. Get plenty of sleep, at least 8 hours – your mind will not function well if you are tired and/or if you have your mind on something else. Go to bed with the peace of mind that you will do fantastic the next day.

7. Follow Your Regular Routine

The day of your test, don’t do anything out of the ordinary. If you routinely drink coffee in the morning, like five cups, then have five cups of coffee. If you don’t normally, then don’t have one, as you could freak out or have a case of the jitters (literally). I like to have a big breakfast, as food is proven to give you a mental boost, but if you are not much of an eater in the AM (assuming you have a morning test) then maybe stick to what you are accustomed to. Bottom line, don’t do anything that your body or mind is not used to, as it may throw you off.

A pre-test routine and a schedule are imperative for a successful result on test day. Get excited for the test and for your preparation and it will no doubt pay great dividends on your day.