What should I do to fully prepare myself for the GMAT? Any tips that will give me an edge?
How to prepare for GMAT.If you want to get into a top B school, a good GMAT score can go a long way to improve your chances.PrologueThis article is meant for those who are at the early stages of their GMAT. Once you have decided that you want to prepare for the GMAT, this article is one of the first things you should read.Information laid here will help beginners answer the following questions-What books to study for the GMAT?Do I join a coaching institute, study online or prepare on my own?Should I quit my job to prepare for GMAT?How long does it take to prepare for GMAT?What should be the strategy to prepare for GMAT?What are the simplest beginner tips to prepare for GMAT?Chapter 1- What books to study for the GMAT?Firstly, remember the biggest advantage that the GMAT has over most other exams is that the GMAT can be taken any time of the year.(Yes, you ‘take‣ a test and not ‘give‣ a test as many of my Indian readers like to say. No, I am not being a smart-ass here. Small things like these will be helpful in you sentence correction and you will thank me later.)If you have to refer just one book then without any hesitation, go for this-The GMAT official guide, better known as the GMAT OG.Well, actually there are three GMAT official books- Official Guide, Official Quant, Official Verbal. Go for all three. There is no better source than this for GMAT preparation. No, I do NOT get any commission from the GMAT official guide; it really is the best book since it is prepared by the makers of the GMAT test.Then if you want you can pick up a Kaplan 800 or Manhattan or any ONE online resource that you like.So in short- GMAT OG + One More Resource. That is all the material you need.Honestly, more material than this is not really required for an average applicant. They say we live in the age of information, but I believe we live in the age of information overload. With so many books, forums, online resources, it can be hard for a candidate. Feel free to research as many sources as you’d like, but pick only one and then stick to it. No going back and forth to increase the confusion. Choose the one resource that resonates with your style the most.For a simple answer, just stick to the GMAT OG.Chapter 2- Do I join a coaching institute, study online or prepare on my own?Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not as straightforward as the answer to the previous question.Many applicants prepare on their own, without joining a coaching institute. A majority of the candidates are working while preparing for the GMAT and may not have the time to join an institute. Moreover, the GMAT is an exam where most people can get results by studying independently.I am not against coaching institutes, but before you join one, check the following-What is included‣ will they be covering just the basics and GMAT OG.Style of teaching‣ Is it a big class size or small? Do they give individual attention to the candidates? What are the credentials of the teachers? Does the style resonate with you?Distance‣ If the institute is situated far from your residence or work, you will have to spend a lot of time traveling. Balancing this added time along with work might become challenging, so take that into consideration.Budget‣ Goes without saying, doesn’t it?Alternatives‣ You could get similar results by studying with some close friends/colleagues or by purchasing some mock tests and course online from the likes of GMATclub and avoid the confusion altogether.Here’s a Bonus question.A lot of candidates write to me asking whether they should quit their job to study for the GMAT.The answer for this is the simplest of all.NO.Never quit your job to prepare for the GMAT. I will not explain this further. Just No!Chapter 3- How long does it take to study for the GMAT?A GMAT is more like a game (yeah, strange analogy :-D).But look closely and you realize that it works on certain defined rules. There is a limited type of questions in each section. And with regular practice it becomes easy to eliminate the very obvious incorrect choices, especially in verbal.Therefore, I propose a simple strategy. 12 Weeks. 12 Tests.Usually it takes 3 months (12 weeks) for an average applicant to prepare for the GMAT. This assumes 2 hours per day of quality preparation, and slightly more over the weekends.Now depending on what sort of time and quality you can put in this time can go up or down. There are people who have got great scores with just a month’s preparation and many take more than six months too. But the thumb rule is three months.Your preparation will revolved around mock tests as that the exam is what you are ultimately preparing for. The frequency of tests can be lower in the beginning and should increase over the last few weeks.For instance, in the beginning take 1 test every 2 weeks. And towards the end, take 2 tests every week. Keep in mind that the GMAT is more a test of stamina than of knowledge. If most average applicants were given just one tough GMAT question with over one hour to solve it, most would end up solving it successfully. The problem arises when one has to solve seventy odd questions, across four sections in over three hours. Maintaining concentration levels for that long and moving from question to question within minutes is what breaks most applicants.Between two tests eliminate your problems. In the early stages, these problems will be big, but with time they will start becoming smaller.One big mistake most test takers make is that they will spend 3 hours taking a mock test and then just analyse the score reports.To avoid this mistake, follow the rule of 3 hours for the test, 3 hours after the test. Spend three hours after the test analysing each question, irrespective of whether you got it right or wrong. Check the right answers to make sure you got them correct because of logic and not by fluke. Assess the incorrect answers and make detailed notes of why you got those wrong. Now between this test and the next, practice the sections you were weakest in, focusing on and eliminating the biggest mistakes only. The same mistake should not be repeated in the next mock exam.This way you will spend 14 days between tests initially by reducing the biggest mistakes you make. Between every test, aim to take your score up by 20 points overall.How long does it take to prepare for GMAT? 12 Weeks. 12 Tests.Chapter 4- The GMAT preparation calendar and planFor people who like to keep things simple, below is a sample calendar that you can follow as is.Day 1Take a GMAT Mock test without any preparation. Review all answers and assess your starting score. You should aim to take your score up by approximately 150 points in the next 12 weeks. Identify your weakest areas (Quant. Verbal. Both?). This will help you identify where you should begin. You can begin by taking a Free GMAT mock test here.Week 1 to 2In the next fourteen days, start studying the basic concepts with a key focus on your weakest section. Become familiar with the kinds of questions available. Remember, that there are just 5-6 broad categories of questions in the GMAT. By the end of week 2 you should be able to identify what type of question you are solving.Day 15Mock Test 2. Spend 3-4 hours after the test to assess all correct and incorrect answers. Again, focus only on the biggest mistakes in the next 2 weeks.Week 3 to 4Increase the level of questions that you solve with a focus on the mistakes identified in mock test 2. By now you should also be timing each question. Any question that is taking more than five minutes is an issue and should be dealt with. In week 1 to 2 you analysed what section you are weak in. During week 3 to 4 you will identify what ‘type‣ of questions trouble you the most and practice these the most to reduce your errors.Day 30Mock Test 3. Spend 3-4 hours after the test to assess all correct and incorrect answers. Again, focus only on the biggest mistakes in the next 2 weeks. Your focus must have shifted from sectional improvement to question type improvement. With every test, we are getting granular in our approach.Week 5 to 6Now you know what type of questions you are weak at. Most mock tests can be adaptive and will not give you the toughest set of questions if you are scoring low. To combat that, you will now start practicing 700+ level questions. The mistakes identified in the last test will start becoming smaller and you should be analysing each question that you solve on 3 levels- why you got it correct/incorrect (logical), how long it took (time) and how confident do you seem when faced with this type of question (confidence). Measuring a response on these levels will help you understand how much work is required in a question and how to set a milestone in the actual test. For example, many students get nervous when faced with a Reading Comprehension question just because it requires a lot of reading. If such questions take more time, you know that you will have to budget more time during the actual test. Therefore, allot a specific maximum time for a ‘type‣ of question. If you are taking more than the allotted time for such a question, that means you need to move on or else it will impact the overall time of the test and negatively impact other answers. Simple law of diminishing returns.Day 45Mock Test 4. Rinse and repeat.Week 7 to 8This is where you start moving within hitting distance of your target GMAT score. This is where you evaluate your progress on two levels- knowledge vs stamina. Are you being able to solve most questions, irrespective of the time? If no, then your problem is more knowledge based. The simple (not easy) solution to it is more practice and brushing up of concepts. But if you are being able to solve most questions, but not in enough time, the problem is stamina. The only way to solve this is to develop a strong reading habit between the tests and also develop a smart skill of ‘elimination’. At times in the GMAT what works is not selecting the correct answer, but eliminating the incorrect ones. This can be a great trick to use in Sentence Correction (SC), Data Sufficiency (DS) or Problem Solving (PS). In SC many options sound out rightly incorrect if you say them aloud. In DS or PS, at times substituting simple numbers in place of variables can help you eliminate some options as well. But this trick works only once you have mastered basic concepts well, that is why I have mentioned it in week 7. If you try this in week 1, most likely it won’t work. But with stronger concepts, identifying incorrect options becomes easier at times. Therefore, read all the options.Day 60Mock Test 5. With 2 months of preparation, this is an important milestone. This is the test where you will be much closer towards your actual target score. Till now the improvements in score would have been drastic. From here the scores would not jump by big margins and the mistakes would be smaller, hence more difficult to eliminate. The fifth test is also where you reduce the frequency between mock tests and identify areas of concern other than just theoretical concept. Analyse yourself more closely on time, type of question as well as your performance on the test towards the end. Are you getting most questions incorrect at the end because you are running out of time? Are you being able to maintain your concentration towards the end of the exam? It is the small things which will begin to matter now.Week 91 mock tests in this week. Focus should shift from building concepts to finishing the test well ahead of time. If you have followed the above calendar diligently you should be done with the conceptual stage by now. These two tests will predict your actual score very closely. Between the two tests, practice 700+ level of the type of questions you are still weakest on.Week 102 mock tests this week. If you are satisfied with your progress, this is the week you should be booking the date of your actual test as well. Once you have booked the date and time, the countdown begins.Week 112 mock tests this week. Do not take the same mock test twice; it will give you inflated results. The GMAT website (MBA.com) has six mock tests available- two are free and four are paid. In addition to these, you should plan to buy six more mock tests. Towards the end, you should be taking the mock tests available on the GMAT website as they are the closest thing to the actual GMAT and will give you a much accurate estimate of your score.Week 122 to 3 mock tests this week. I know this might be hard, but take time off from work if possible for the last week. It may mean a break of five days from work (who counts weekends?J). Since you booked the GMAT appointment two weeks back you know the actual time of your test. For the last 3 days follow the same routine you would on the actual test day. Wake up at the same time, eat the same light meal (something that keeps you energetic but not drowsy), shut yourself in a room and take a mock test at the same time as the actual test. It is simple muscle memory. This will tune your body clock and set you in a rhythm where you feel the most energetic when required. It is the small things that matter. The day before the GMAT, take a break from books and chill. Remember that the GMAT is not the most important aspect of your MBA admissions, let alone life. The actual work begins after the GMAT.Want to feel inspired? Read the story of How I scored a 750 on the GMAT while working.Chapter 5- GMAT preparation tips & tricksTip #1The StaminaTaking the GMAT is like running a marathon.The temperament required is by far the biggest bane in the life of a GMAT taker. It takes special effort to build the stamina to sit at a stretch for close to 4 hours in an exam setting. A lot of GMAT takers run out of steam by the end. So practice at least 12 tests as explained in Chapter 3.There is a lot already written around the GMAT on the internet. I will give you a quick summary for each section. Consider this as a crash course.Tip # 2Approaching the testChoose Consistency over intensity. Multiple short two hours daily sessions are better than few four hour sessions cramming only on the weekends.Create a calendar and a learning diary. An exponential GMAT prep timetable. 12 weeks 12 tests.Plan your time effectively during mock tests. Keep a watch handy. Set time milestones during the GMAT mock tests.Taking the GMAT is like running a marathon. One has to control the mind and the body. Your focus should be on building the stamina and temperament to face a three hour exam. Practice GMAT prep tests as many times as you can.Identify your weaknesses after every test and eliminate them. Break down questions, both correct and incorrect. Four hours for the exam. Four hours after the exam to review answers.Tip # 3The Verbal SectionSentence Correction- When in Doubt Go shortReading Comprehension- Get into the habit of reading. This will help you read RC passages quickly.Critical Reasoning- Read the question stem firstTip # 4The Quant SectionPractice with a small scratch pad to get used to the feel and space confinementsFor certain questions you should plug in numbers to get the answer. Plug in numbers that are easy to work with.Data sufficiency- Work methodically through the choices, try to fit in values to save previous time.Problem Solving tips- Look at the answer choices before solving, this can save you time.Tip # 5Integrated reasoningBrush up on graphs and data representation and do not try to use every piece of information.Read all the labels including the measurement units.Tip # 6AWARehearse and design a template.Spend the first five minutes planning your essay.Keep a few minutes at the end for proof reading and minor changes.Chapter 6- Pointers for the D-Day.Remember that the small things matter in a big way.Follow the same routine and meals in the days before your actual test.Pack ahead of time.Arrive 15-30 minutes early at the test centre.Use your breaks to recharge your mind and body.Don’t stress out.Above all, remember that the GMAT is important but not everything.Epilogue- What after the GMAT?GMAT is the first battle. The entire war lies ahead of you.Now you need to take three important steps.Step 1Shortlist B SchoolsI highly recommend that you finalize at least five B-schools you wish to apply to before your GMAT. On the day of the GMAT you will have the option of sending scores to five schools. This is included in the cost of the GMAT. MBA applications can burn a hole in the pocket. Finalizing schools by week 10 will help you save some time and precious money. If you need help on what schools you should apply to, you can get in touch with us here.Step 2Plan Your B School Application TimelineWhich year do you wish to apply in? A good written application can take 2-4 months including essays and letters of recommendation. You may read more about Planning Your MBA Application Calendar here. Prepare to be done with your GMAT at least 3 months before the application deadlines of your target schools.Step 3Work on Your ProfileGMAT is just one element of your application. Top B-Schools will look at your profile holistically and evaluate your candidature based on these 6 factors. So make sure you stay strong on all of the admission factors mentioned here.Many beginners will not be able to grasp the entirety of this article in just one reading. Read this several times and things will start making much more sense as you progress with your GMAT preparation.Keep a printout of the calendar ready with you to track your progress. For the adventurous ones, feel free to tweak the calendar as per your style or even change it to a daily calendar from its present weekly form.