Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) wrote, “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” Of course, our fast-moving world doesn’t like to hear about things that take time, things that can’t be fast-forwarded with electronically interconnected efficiency, and patience sometimes runs particularly thin where ambitions run high. Hence, the paradox of preparing for the GMAT.
You see, learning is also a “slow ripening fruit.” It’s true that shallow memorization can be quick, and for some purposes, that’s enough, but the GMAT is far too rigorous and exhaustive to expect to achieve excellence with efficiency.
For example, some folks studying for the GMAT try to memorize a list of math formulas. It’s true that knowing the formulas is better than not knowing them, but GMAT absolutely excels at writing out-of-the-box math questions that cannot be solved by the simple application of a formula.
The GMAT demands that you think and understand. How does one prepare for this? Certainly, a good start would be having the most current 2014 GMAT books and resources. A mad dash through these resources, though, would not be the best way to use them. The brain encodes deep memory with repeated exposure.
Furthermore, it’s important to vary context. Many folks make the mistake of doing almost exclusively focused studying. It’s not enough to understand what’s true about isosceles triangles only while you are reviewing everything in geometry, and, similarly, it isn’t helpful to practice all the geometry questions at once.
On the GMAT, question #14 may be about permutations or compound interest, and then when you press “submit answer”, BAM! Question #15 about isosceles triangles will pop up out of the blue; right there and then, with no warm-up or context, you will need to understand them. For the GMAT, you don’t understand something until you can recall it flawlessly, with full details, completely cold, with no warm-up at all.
A good GMAT study plan will take this into account. By enforcing mixed practice, early and often, such a plan will present enough repeated exposures, in out-of-context appearances, to build deep understanding. This non-linear path through the material may seem inefficient, but in the long run, it’s actually one of the fastest ways to encode the information into your brain. A good GMAT study plan will also allow for three or six months of studying. A single month involves a breakneck pace, and any time less than this is crazy.
Folks who have no idea how the brain works, assume that six weeks of ten hours a week, spread evenly through each week, is the same as three intense 20-hour weekend sessions. The amount of time is the same, but the brain’s capacity to absorb and assimilate material is vastly different.
Finally, do you know when your brain does the important work of consolidating the memory of what you learn? In REM sleep. Human sleeps goes through cycles of about 90 minutes, with the REM period coming at the end of each cycle. The REM periods get longer and longer on successive cycles, so in eight hours of sleep, the longest REM period is right before waking.
If you sleep only 6-7 hours in a night, you miss out on this particularly long REM period, thus compromising your ability to learn and remember. Hence, the importance of adequate sleep while you are studying for the GMAT.
Getting a full eight hours of sleep is yet another casualty of postmodern post-industrial hyper-efficiency. Caffeine and energy drinks will make you feel more awake, but they do absolutely zilch to replace the lost opportunity to encode memory.
If you want to excel on the GMAT, then be ready to dig in for the long haul when it comes to preparing. There are few endeavors in life in which truly outstanding results emerge from a quick and efficient shortcut, and GMAT is no exception.