I was born and raised in the US, and I enjoy writing. The verbal wasn't tough for me. The quant was even though I have an accounting background and worked in finance for a bit. I started studying in January-February of 2016 using Magoosh/Manhattan. I went through all the verbal and quant lessons and took a practice test through Manhattan and scored a 390. I was crushed. I went on a 2 week trip and came back ready to go into full gear in April.
I studied with a friend every day after work from 6:30 pm - 10:30 pm with a ~30 min dinner break (sometimes longer). On the weekends, I'd study 10 am to 7 pm on Saturday and noon to 7 pm on Sunday. I would give myself one night a week to go out with friends - generally Saturday. I believe if you study after work every day and on the weekends, you can take the test in 3 months and score above a 700. Here's the plan I followed:
I went through all of the lessons in Target Test Prep. They are SO thorough. I loved them because they went through all the different type of questions - literally most of what you could think of is covered. Each lesson comes with a notes sheet so you download and print them and then you write your notes in this. It's such an easy way to stay organized. This software is a few hundred dollars, but I HIGHLY recommend it. A one week trial costs $1.
I really liked the notes sheet because it helped me stay SO organized and it was easy to reference it when I missed problems.
Quant Practice Problems
Target Test Prep has multiple "easy" "medium" and "hard" quizzes for each session. I started doing a few of the easy and all of the medium and hard. That was a bad idea. It sounds dumb, but DO NOT skip on doing the easy ones. You need to know how to answer the easy questions to get to the hard ones. They seem to easy, but you really should take the time to do them. This practice was invaluable.
Flash Cards & Review
I made flashcards on each topic under Target Test Prep and I reviewed them at least twice a week. It would take me 1-2 hours to go through them all because if I didn't fully remember how to do a problem like that I'd go into the lessons and review that. I think the review helped a LOT. The week of my exam, I reviewed these every day.
I reviewed the Manhattan verbal books once and watched all of the Magoosh verbal lessons. I wrote notes during the process. After reviewing this once, I started practice. This was the key for me!
I made a goal to do 20 sentence completion problems every day from Magoosh until I finished them all. This only takes 30 minutes (+15 minutes to review) and it gets you in the habit of seeing common mistakes quickly. The key here is to review the explanation for the answers you got right and wrong, and I'd keep a running list of the rules I didn't know or couldn't remember. I'd review this once a week.
I'd suggest buying the Manhattan ones and the GMAC ones. Do one every two weeks. I say every two weeks because you need time between each test to do targeted practice on the topics you're weak on and actually focus on improve. I'd also spend ~4 hours after each practice test reviewing my test and really understanding what I got wrong. DEFINITELY buy the GMAC ones. I didn't do that until the week before and really regret that decision. This is because the Manhattan tests are TOO HARD. When I took my first GMAC practice test a week before my real example, I was so confused because it felt too easy. It was so strange. I'd suggest that the month before your actual GMAT you ONLY take GMAC practice tests.
2 weeks before your exam
I didn't do this until 3 days before my exam, but I would have scored higher if I did it earlier - do all the problems in the GMAC book. By this time, you need to be focusing on mixed practice, rather than targeted practice on one lesson. Also, nothing gets closer to the test then the GMAC questions. I wish I did the GMAC questions in the GMAC book earlier. Target Test Prep study plan told me to do this but I didn't listen until the week of. I guess it worked out though!
When doing the practice tests, figure out at one point you're just going to skip and move on. This was the hardest part for me, but at some point, you just need to guess and keep going. Manhattan has a way to organize your testing pad - that helped me a lot.
Day before my exam
Everyone says not to study the day before your exam or the day of. I agree, but I studied anyways. I think retrospectively - not a good idea, because I was exhausted as I was taking the test, but I felt so behind and I really needed to review the material - so I can't offer any tips here except don't do what I did which was study so much that I barely slept the night before because I couldn't stop thinking about the test.
- Get Target Test Prep for quant!!!
Get Magoosh for verbal practice and do verbal practice everyday (or at least weekday).
Targeted math practice is important at the beginning.
Spend a few hours every week just reviewing all your quant flashcards and verbal notes.
Do mixed practice from the GMAC leading up to the test - I KNOW I would have scored better if I did this.
Have a timing strategy going into the exam - know what you'll skip.