It’s summer again and many students have recently begun or are just beginning to study for the GMAT. This article contains advice about how to set up your study plan and how to study, as well as links to resources you may want to use. (I’ll only be using ManhattanGMAT articles for this list, though I’m sure there’s lots of other great stuff out there! )
This article will assume that you plan to study on your own. If you are still deciding whether to study on your own, take a class, or work with a tutor, the following article discusses the pros and cons of each approach: How to Choose an Approach: Self-study, Class, or Tutor.
Setting Up a Plan
First, it’s critical to develop a study plan that’s appropriate for you, and that study plan will need to be revised periodically as your skills change (because you are getting better over time, hopefully!). I generally recommend that my students begin with a practice CAT taken under official testing conditions (including essays). It’s best to use a test-prep company CAT for this, not GMATPrep, as the purpose for taking this practice CAT is to gain insight into your strengths and weaknesses. While GMATPrep is the closest thing to the real test, it provides no data with which to evaluate your performance. Make sure that whatever test you take is, in fact, a CAT – an adaptive test. Don’t take a paper test or a computer-based, non-adaptive test.
[Note: it’s okay if you haven’t studied at all or have no idea how the CAT works. In fact, that’s the point! You need to determine what you do already know or understand and what you don’t so that you can set up an effective study plan for yourself. Don’t stress about your first score – the more “green” you are when you take the test, the lower your score will be, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t raise your score a good deal – with appropriate time and effort, of course.]
If you take an MGMAT CAT, use this two-part article to analyze your results: Evaluating Your Practice Tests. (The link given here is to the first part of the article; you can find the link to the second part at the end of the first part.) Concurrently, use the following article to learn how to develop a study plan in general: Developing a GMAT Study Plan.
Next, it’s important to make sure that you understand how the GMAT works. How is the test scored? Which behaviors or actions does the test “reward” and which does it “punish”? (For example, the test seriously punishes those who run out of time before answering all of the questions.) What do I need to do differently compared to how I took standard, old paper-based tests? If you don’t understand how best to take the test, then your score won’t be as high as it could be.
If you sign up for the free MGMAT practice CAT, you’ll also be given the free e-book The GMAT Uncovered, which explains how the test works, what it tests, and generally what you need to do in order to study for it. (It also contains some information about the admissions process.) This e-book is also available on Kindle for $0.99 (they won’t let us give it away for free, unfortunately!). It’s best to read this book at the beginning of your study.
Here are some other articles that will give you insight into how the test works:
You will likely need to return to the above resources multiple times as you continue to improve your skills. As you get better, re-read the articles; you will be able to extract and use more information as a result of your increased skills. Keep them handy.
Studying Content and Technique
Now that you’re ready to start studying, we have to discuss the next critical component: HOW best to study. It’s really important to ensure that you are studying in a way that allows you to get better at the GMAT – and simply studying a great quantity of stuff doesn’t necessarily accomplish that goal.
You will, of course, need to learn the actual material that’s tested on the exam: math, grammar, ways of thinking through critical reasoning or reading comprehension situations, how to do data sufficiency, and so on. There are tons of great books out there that can teach you this stuff, so you just need to find whatever you think are the best books for you.
The below articles introduce you to the process of working through various types of problems, but they are not sufficient for studying content and technique. You will need to identify (and probably purchase) additional resources that can teach you what you need to know.
- How to Read a Reading Comprehension Passage
- How to Find “The Point” in a Reading Comprehension Passage
- How to Read a Sentence Correction Problem
- How to Read a Critical Reasoning Argument
- Rephrasing Data Sufficiency Questions
Learning From Your Work
The materials you buy – the ones that teach you content and technique – can only do some of the work for you. You also need to make the effort to learn from your own work.
At some point, you’re going to start trying some practice problems – possibly problems given in your practice books or the Official Guide books, or problems given on CATs that you’ve taken. How do you actually study these problems? Start here: How To Analyze a Practice Problem. This article describes what to do after you did the problem. First, you do it; then, you study it. The latter activity is where most of your learning will occur.
For each of the below articles, I took one practice problem and analyzed it in the way described in the main article, above.
- How to Analyze a GMATPrep Sentence Correction Question
- How to Analyze a GMATPrep Critical Reasoning Question
- How to Analyze a Reading Comp Inference Question
- How to Analyze a GMATPrep Problem Solving Question
- How to Analyze a GMATPrep Data Sufficiency Question
As you do practice problems, you are going to make mistakes, of course. It is critically important to learn from your mistakes. This article can help: How to Learn From Your Errors.
Finally, the BTG Forums are a great place to learn, discuss problems with your fellow students and experts, and get better at the GMAT. The article How Best to Learn From the Forums discusses how.
Other Areas of Concern
If you are concerned about the essay portion of the test, take a look at this article: Ace The Essays? No Thanks! Here, we discuss what you do and don’t need to worry about as you get ready to write the GMAT essays.
If studying for the test is stressing you out, or if you know you have a history of experiencing nerves or stress during a high-pressure testing situation, it’s important to find a way to reduce your stress levels. The two articles below suggest stress-reduction methods; test various methods while studying or taking practice tests in order to determine what works best for you. (Note: if you are experiencing serious signs of stress, such as a racing heart or difficulty breathing, you may want to contact your physician.)
Finally, if you take a test and your score drops by a lot (more than 80 points or so), don’t panic (yet!). Read this: My Score Dropped! Figuring Out What Went Wrong. This article will help you figure out why your score dropped, and this is critically important because you need to figure out why in order to set up a plan to prevent it from happening again.
Okay, that should be enough to give everybody a jump-start, regardless of where you are in the process. Were there any articles you really liked that didn’t make it onto the above list? Post the link in the comments below and tell us why you think the article is valuable.