One Monday morning you catch yourself dreaming about a change and decide its time for an MBA. Looming in front of you is the mountain called GMAT. The last time you touched books was when the Backstreet Boys were the hottest thing around and the only comprehension exercise you have attempted in recent times is decoding the 9 o’clock debate on Times Now (Fox News if you are reading this in USA). Where should you begin?
To ease this daunting journey, Oneyearmba.co.in lays down a step by step approach to cracking the GMAT.
Step 1 – Familiarize yourself with the GMAT
Visit http://www.mba.com for basic information on the GMAT test. This is a website run by Graduate Management Admission Council – the guys who administer the GMAT. So its a great place to start.
There are two excellent free practice tests available here which come closest to the test you will face on G-day (in case you are wondering what that is we recommend starting with Verbal). These tests contain actual GMAT questions from past tests.
Caution – Use these two tests carefully! Read Step 2 to understand why we recommend this.
Step 2 – Check your base score without preparation
Use one of the tests downloaded from mba.com to get a benchmark on your score in a ‘raw state’, i.e without starting preparation. This will give you an excellent baseline number on your current state of familiarity with concepts tested in the GMAT.
Save the other test for the period after your preparation. The tests can accurately predict your performance on G-day with a small deviation and so make for a great way to check your state of preparedness before the exam.
In case you want to save both tests for later you can certainly do that. In that case you can use one of the free tests from Princeton, Kaplan, Manhattan etc. Be aware though that many of these tests don’t replicate the difficulty of the GMAT accurately – some are too tough and some too easy.
Step 3: Identify a GMAT score to target
Find out the GMAT score you need. Just to give you an idea – you need on an average 700 for the top 10-15 schools in US and Europe, India, Australia. But you could manage just as well with a 650-680 for business schools lower down the ranking.
Also affecting this decision is your background. Business schools look at your application in entirety so your GMAT is never a sole deciding factor on whether you get accepted by the business school. If you have stellar work experience or an unconventional background such as, for instance, as a practicing doctor or actor, you will get the benefit of this thanks to the diversity you bring to the classroom. Factor this in. It pays to target the class average for the business school you are applying to but it also pays to have a realistic target to stay motivated.
Step 4 – Identify your strengths and weakness
You will get two main scores on the GMAT tests – a Quantitative section score and a Verbal section score. Which section is your nemesis? Depending on this invest your time going ahead.
There will also be certain questions within each section that are more challenging for you. Focus on them. These could be sentence correction in Verbal or Probability in math – whatever it is, this is what you should invest your energy on as GMAT is an adaptive test and it will throw more of the same type of questions that you answer wrong!
At the same time don’t stop practicing questions and sections you are strong in. The idea is to maintain areas of strength while investing time on areas you are weak on.
Step 5: Decide if you need coaching or will go it alone
This completely depends on your current state of preparation and confidence with the basics of the GMAT as well as your ability to maintain a good pace studying alone.
Joining a prep-course helps pace yourself as you will often have other commitments and may feel that you are studying a lot when you are actually not. Observing other students in class crack questions while you fumble can be incredibly invigorating and can drive you to work harder.
Step 6 – Study Plan – how much is too much?
Your study mates are throwing impressive sounding names at you which sound like Universities themselves – someone is cracking Princeton verbal while another has already finished with Manhattan.
GMAC’s The Official Guide to GMAT is a great book which should form the base of your study plan. Focus on this and try and complete all 400+questions in the book at least twice. These are again actual past questions from the GMAT and come closest to the questions you will face on the exam.
For Verbal you may need supplement with some specialist books such as those on sentence correction by Manhattan prep. For math, you may again want to look for specialist books on certain problems.
The point is – don’t overdo it. Many students go bonkers on setting up a library of test prep material and end up either never using it, or confusing themselves thoroughly.
Some books we recommend:
GMAT Official Guide 13th Edition Bundle – A fabulous place to start your prep. This set of three books contains actual GMAT questions that appeared on the GMAT exam but have now been retired. The books therefore provides a good overview of the kind of questions to expect on the exams. The bundle includes the main Official Guide and two additional books: the Verbal Review & the Quantitative Review which give you more questions for practice from each section. In case you don’t need the additional questions, you would get by just fine getting only the Official Guide which is available separately: GMAT 13th Edition Review: The only Study Guide by the Creators of the Test: The Official Guide
Manhattan GMAT Complete Strategy Guide Set, 5th Edition (Manhattan GMAT Strategy Guides) – look at this set of books for detailed theory on individual topics tested on the exam. While the Official Guide excels in providing questions to practice with, the Manhattan series provides detailed theory on how to crack questions asked in the verbal and quantitative sections. The level of detail is phenomenal and the approach simple. In case you are not opting for coaching, the Manhattan set makes for a great self-study tool. In case you opt for coaching, these books provide a great fall-back option, to understand at your pace, topics that you find hard or difficult to grasp in the coaching class which can often be fast paced.
Step 7 – Decide on the duration of your preparation
This depends again on your base score and the time you are able to invest daily to bring the score closer to your target. GMAT preparation time for most students ranges between 2 to 5 months depending on whether they are taking a break from work and studying 5 hours a day or are studying alongside work and investing 2 hours a day.
Oneyearmba.co.in tip – Feel free to take more time. It’s all about feeling confident on test day. However don’t overdo this either. It’s hard to remain motivated beyond six months of preparation.
Tip 2 – Many harbor a myth regarding the difficulty of the GMAT exam and think that since they have prepared for an alternate exam such as GRE or CAT, GMAT will be a cakewalk. Not so. Many aspirants report that while they cracked CAT with a 98-99 percentile they struggled to crack the GMAT with their score hovering around the 80 percentile mark. Respect GMAT and it shall return the favor.
Step 8 – Test strategies
Besides the topics of study you will also need to spend some time strategizing on how to take the test itself.
Time is extremely limited in the test for instance so you should demarcate time according to sections. So say you decide that the verbal section should take one hour for you (completely depends on your pace) – then stick to this limit in your practice tests. This doesn’t mean you start worrying about timing when you are just getting familiar with the concepts – give yourself all the time in the world to crack a question at that stage. However, once you are start on practice test a little further down the line, stick to your time limit.
Oneyearmba.co.in tip – Break down the time limit you have set for yourself into smaller time limits. So say you set yourself a target of 75 minutes to complete the 37 questions in the quantitative section – that means you have 2 minutes (75/37) to solve each question. Tracking your progress on a per question basis will become a waste of time – so set yourself a time limit for blocks of questions.
So say one strategy could be-
1. I will finish the first 15 Quantitative questions in – 35 minutes (2 min/ question with some grace time for nerves/ reducing mistakes)
2. Now that I am settled into the test I will pick up the pace – I will finish the next 15 quantitative questions in 25 minutes.
3. I will wrap up the tail end of 7 questions in 15 minutes.
This will help give you a time marker to check on whether you are on schedule to completing the test or are falling behind.
Step 9 – Book the GMAT date in advance
While the GMAT test is conducted around the year there will be periods just before the Round 1 and Round 2 application dates during which the number of test takers will spike and getting a test date may become difficult. Try and book a few months in advance to avoid panic.
Step 10 – Sleep before you take the test
Don’t take the test after a whole night of study. Also memorize the key formulas well in advance – many students have a handy formula sheet during preparation and come G-day struggle to remember formulas. Try and memorize the formulas early on in your preparation. This might be irritating in the beginning but it will help you immensely later.
All the best!