Guest post from Josh Jones of Test Prep Unlimited, a private GMAT tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area. His students have reported score increases as high as seven points per tutoring hour. How to …
Guest post from Josh Jones of Test Prep Unlimited, a private GMAT tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area. His students have reported score increases as high as seven points per tutoring hour.
How to and how much you should study depends on your starting/target scores and the amount of time you have, but this guide should give you a good sense of how to structure your study. It’s best to use multiple GMAT resources, but be deliberate about how you use them to maximize your efficiency. If after reading this you still have questions, you can ask me at the Facebook Page for Test Prep Unlimited.
Your first step is to learn how to speed-read. Your words per minute should be at least 400 (with >95% comprehension). Faster is better; 500+ would be great. Here’s a test for you: What speed do you read?
Next, download the free, official GMATPrep® Software from the makers of the test. Read a little bit about the format and structure of the test, do 1 easy, 1 medium, and 1 hard question of each type (but save the rest of the questions and exams for later!), then take a full-length diagnostic exam under semi-realistic testing conditions (no outside reference or calculator, no pausing the exam to think about questions, etc).
On timing: You’ll want to spend about two minutes per Quant question (perhaps more for Data Sufficiency and less for Problem Solving) and 2.5 minutes per Integrated Reasoning question. For Verbal, 75-90 seconds for each Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning, 2-3 minutes for each Reading Comprehension Passage, plus 90 seconds each for the three or four questions that follow. The Verbal numbers will vary slightly depending on your strengths and weaknesses, but you have about 1 minute 49 seconds per Verbal question.
If your starting score is under 550, you will want an entire foundational overview. I would recommend using Manhattan’s Foundations of GMAT books. Attempt some of the drills at the end of the section, and if they take you more than 15 seconds each, read the section beforehand and try again. Then you can move onto comprehensive strategy guides.
If you’re between 550-650, you will still want that foundational overview, but you can do it more quickly. Then you can move onto comprehensive strategy guides.
If you’re between 650-700, you can skip the foundational overview and work on the comprehensive strategy guides.
If you’re already above 700, just focus on the 700-800 level questions, and on the specific subjects you need help with. Kaplan has a GMAT800 book, MGMAT has an Advanced Quant book, Veritas has a Data Sufficiency book, an Advanced Verbal book, etc.
Books and Resources: The two most popular sets of comprehensive strategy guides are MGMAT and Veritas Prep. I personally prefer Veritas’s books; They have a better understanding of the test and their questions are closer to real GMAT questions. MGMAT’s guides are farther from the GMAT. They are a good first step, and are useful if you don’t need to gain more than 100 points, but they are far from ideal. They’re just marketed better, so they are more widely known. As for online resources, there is also GMATPill, Magoosh, and Economist GMAT Tutor.
You cannot neglect studying Verbal! This is true even if you are a native English speaker (or even an English major!). The reasons are a) The Verbal skills cultivated in college are not exactly what the GMAT measures, and b) Many international applicants with superior Quant but weaker Verbal skills take the GMAT and skew the results so that the tail is much longer above V45 than for Q45.
So if you have a solid Verbal score, you can still break 700, even with a less-than-stellar Quant score. For example, with a 40 in Quant, you could still break 700 with a 45 in Verbal. (In practice this is extremely difficult to attain, even for most native English speakers.) But it’s better and safer to have a more balanced score.
If your Verbal score is below 40 and you have the time to do so, start your Verbal prep by using ACT and SAT verbal prep materials (take all of their practice tests). Yes those are for high-schoolers applying to college, but what is more important here, your MBA or your ego?
If you want to be a Verbal superstar, which is required to be above 750, do the Verbal sections from past LSAT‘s, as they are harder than the GMAT’s Verbal. These are good for Reading Comprehension and especially Critical Reasoning, but not Sentence Correction. Don’t do the LSAT Analytical Reasoning (as there is no parallel in GMAT), just the Reading and Logical Reasoning (which is similar to GMAT to Critical Reasoning).
For every 50 hours of study that you do, take another practice test under exam conditions and review the solutions. GMATPrep has four, and you’ve used one already, so if you plan on taking several practice tests, use others first then come back to the GMATPrep exams at the end.
Don’t burn through your practice tests without significant study in between, unless you’re already at the 750+ range, because you’re just using up your practice tests without gaining much in between.
If you can afford it and would benefit from doing so, hire a private tutor to structure, motivate, and expedite your study (this will cost between $1,000-10,000 dollars). Be aware though: Tutoring companies take a large percentage of the tutor pay—70% or more—so if you can find an independent tutor with excellent credentials, teaching experience, and reviews, that’s a much more cost-effective route. Students in remote areas, countries outside the U.S., or with severe budget constraints, may benefit from online adaptive learning software such as Economist GMAT Tutor ($500-1,000).
You can also take a class, but if you’re disciplined about your GMAT studies, you won’t get much more out of it than you would by following the program I’ve outlined, especially if you’re ahead or behind the curve for the class, as you will not move at your optimal pace. Actually the primary potential benefit of a class in this case is the potential for community you can form with your peers, but you will have to take that initiative and there is no guarantee you’ll get what you’re looking for.
Finish your study with GMAC materials, first with The Official Guide for GMAT Review 2015 and the supplemental Quant and Verbal guides, then with GMATPrep. Always try to do the question first without looking at the solution, but don’t spend more than 5 minutes trying to solve a question if you’re stumped. Try to keep in mind actual test pacing, but spend as much time on each question as is necessary for you to complete it and understand the solutions provided (which are often not the best or fastest way to do the problems, by the way). In other words, first focus on getting questions right, then focus on getting them right quickly.
Take another practice exam (see the timing suggestions at the beginning of this post), go over the answers, then do *ALL* of the GMATPrep questions in exam mode. Then take another practice exam, look at the solutions, and repeat as necessary until you feel satisfied with your results.
Since OG and GMATPrep are real GMAT questions from the makers of the test, you will develop appropriate habits for test day as opposed to using test prep company materials which are imitations of, rather than substitutes for, real questions. So if you’re going to use multiple materials, DO NOT START YOUR STUDIES WITH GMAC MATERIALS!!! Once those questions are gone, they’re gone, and if you’re unsatisfied with your score, you’ll have to wait until either you forget these materials, or they release an entirely new set of questions (which will take years, since the updated questions are not for the entire set).
Come test time, relax the day before the test (don’t cram!) and make sure you eat a healthy meal and sleep well. Know your biological clock and pick a 4 hour block for the test when you will be most alert and energetic, one that doesn’t require you to skip a meal. Bring healthy snacks, and stay hydrated, focused, and positive. Good luck on your studies and on your dreams!