Recently, I’ve been gaining a lot of messages from my friends and people on gmatclub.com on how to start studying for the GMAT since I managed to make a jump from 550 to 740 in 5 months. So instead of doing tailored replies to all, I’ve decided to dump all my debriefs here in one place so people truly know how to start and nail the GMAT. I found that there are 5 crucial steps to studying the GMAT well.
- Initial assessment – for knowing where you are
- Studying strategies – for making the best out of the time you have
- Resources – for improving your initial assessment skills
- Time management – for improving your pace and managing practice timelines
- Peer learning – for advancing your GMAT strategies
To first start off with your GMAT studying, you should assess where your abilities are. By knowing your score… you will know which section to start studying first.
Use GMATprep Software to assess your abilities. Don’t be a whiny kid and say you want to save it for later. It’s a load of excuse.
The GMATprep software will give you the best measurement of where you are. You might start thinking, hey, I should save all of these practice tests for later. Why the hell later? Will later get you a higher score? Hell no. The right way of studying gets you there. Practice exams just let you know your benchmark. And no, do not use other company’s GMAT CAT. Those are inaccurate. Why the hell do you want an inaccurate measurement?! Once you know where you are… then you can start using the practice test as a simulation for the big day.
After the initial assessment, you should be able to decide where to study first. If your quant is weak… start at quant… if your verbal is weak start with verbal… if both aspects are week… start with the one you are most comfortable with in terms of studying for very long periods of time.
The first step to GMAT studying is start studying the fundamentals. Build your grounds up. You can pick up the fundamentals from a variety of places such as the Manhattan Prep GMAT books or Magoosh. I personally recommend the Manhattan series.
You need to have a great understanding of what GMAT tests you in each section. You need to know what types of questions are available, what types of sections there are, and what mindset you should have when approaching these questions.
The second step is to analyze your studying errors. This is crucial to making it big at anything. Learn how to constantly make your own mistakes and fix them. Be an active reader not a passive test taker. This is how I do it:
- Write your errors down. (I used an excel sheet.)
- Write why you made them.
- Write an explanation on how you can fix them.
- Redo those questions 1 – 2 times until you feel like you will never make the same errors again.
- Redo the questions again and find faster and more precise approaches.
The third step is to analyze the questions you are studying. This is a preventative measure against traps in in the GMAT. Sometimes it’s not because being silly made you choose the wrong choices, but it’s because the GMAT is designed in such a way to mess with your head. Also, ONLY ANALYZE OFFICIAL QUESTIONS!!
- Categorize questions. Some books certainly do it for you, but my suggestion is to come up with your very own category. This helps you remember better.
- Identify answer choice patterns. After doing questions for a while you’ll realize there’s a pattern to the layout of answers in GMAT for each type of question category. This will help shape your mindset to spot answers much more accurately.
- Identify why answer choices are RIGHT and are WRONG. This helped me save a lot of time. In the exam room I was telling myself ‘oh wow look at that answer, it’s definitely wrong. Goodbye dick head.’
The fourth step is to start practice using the official guide questions. Official guide questions are commonly known as OGs. OGs have numbers behind them for example 13, 14, and 15. These number represents the year these OGs are published in. Each OG has a set of the same questions and a set of new questions. The reason OGs are important is because they questions are written by the test takers themselves. You will get to learn what kind of questions you will actually face in the exam. It is important to have a GMAT ear. Questions from other resources will often have answers or rationale that are SO different from what you will find on the GMAT exam. The difference will make you unable to fully understand the questions and answers.
Do the questions concurrently with your fundamental practices. This will allow you to use what you learn and apply them readily.
The fifth step is super explanatory: practice mocks! Mocks should be practiced every 2 weeks. It will show you how you’ve progressed so far in the journey. So the next question would be, how many mocks should I do? As many as possible. I know that the GMAC offers only 6 mocks and 1 question pack but there are other mocks out there. Try to spread them out equally. For example, do Manhattan Prep mocks and then do GMATprep software mocks. This will allow you to fully practice altogether 12 mocks which is probably more than enough.
The sixth step is to work on your GMAT test taking strategies. Be sure that before you get to this stage that you know what the fundamentals are. If you do not know what those are, you will have 0 chance of making it good in the long run. Test taking strategies… I would recommend the best places to learn them from is reading from online forums or online preps. The online preps I used are mathrevolution and empowergmat. The other strategies I got are from my tutors.
Below will be a list of the resources I used. Hopefully, I will get the time to write reviews on them! I know some people use less resources than me but achieved the same exact score. Studying is to each his own way so go for the ones you think are the best.
You can find resources for GMAT EVERY WHERE on the internet. This is not an exhaustive list but it’s just the list I used.
fundamental, mock tests, advance strategies, peer learning
- GMAT Prep Software (from mba.com – free!)
- GMAT Prep Exam 1 & Exam 2 & Question Bank 1 (from mba.com)
- Manhattan Prep MCATs (6 available)
- Official guide 2010, 2013, 2016
- Official Quantitative and Verbal Review (old version and new version)
- Mathrevolution.com (Oh my god you can totally reach Q50 with this)
- Manhattan Review Quantitative Question Bank
- Manhattan Prep Full set
- e-gmat course for verbal (includes SC/CR/ but bad for RC)
- Powerscore CR/SC/RC
- The Economist GMAT App (Don’t use it if you’re lazy.)
- Kaplan 800 (Only good for math practice)
- Kaplan Math Workbook
What people don’t realize about GMAT is the smarts put into creating the adaptive exam. If everybody had all the time in the world, they will definitely be able to tackle every question of the GMAT. However, what the GMAT is testing is how good you are at adapting approaches so that you can achieve the best result in the shortest amount of time. Thus, time management is key to getting the best out of your exam experience.
Here’s how I improved my time management over the course of my studying.
1) Guess 3 – 4 answers max. You only need to answer 75% of the easy/medium questions right with 25% of the hard questions right to break a 700. The thing about GMAT is that not all of the questions will score you. The GMAC (test makers) often throw in 5 – 7 experimental questions. So when you think there’s absolutely no way to solve a question, drop it and move on to another question that you can solve.
2) Time yourself during practice after you’re familiar with the basics. There’s no use to timing yourself if you cannot do basic math. Here’s a break down:
- Easy: 45 seconds or less with 100% accuracy
- Medium: 1 minute or less with 100% accuracy
- Hard: 1 minute 30 seconds or less with 75% accuracy
- Easy/Medium: 1 minute or less
- Hard: 2 minute or less
RC (Answering questions should be 1 minute each)
- Single Passages: 3 – 4 minutes
- Long Passages: 5 – 6 minutes
3) Keep in mind that you have a whole 75 minutes to go through both questions. If you find yourself going too fast… slow down… find yourself going too slow? Drop questions and speed up. The best way to understand how fast you are doing questions is to buy the enhanced score report. You can send them over to me and I will be able to help you interpret the scores.
For Quantitative: maximum 20 minutes for 10 questions.
For Verbal: maximum 20 minutes for 14 questions.
A lot of people may not think that peer learning is an important part to making the best out of your score, but I found it to be one of the best things that really helped my score jump up a whole notch.
The reason peer learning is awesome is that it helps you reflect whether your method to approach to certain types of GMAT questions is effective. One should learn to be versatile while taking the GMAT. There are always sure fire ways to tackle a question but if you can learn better and faster ways or the rational behind it, you sure as hell will be able to not be stumped when a question asks you to think differently. You can start peer learning by joining online communities such as beatthegmat.com or gmatclub.com. I personally recommend gmatclub.com since there are a lot of active users from all around the world practicing GMAT every day. After all, it’s good to make friends throughout your b-school journey… from start until end… or until you guys end up in the same school.
A lot of people may say that GMAT is just a part of the application and the whole candidacy is assessed holistically… and that’s true but I do think having a good GMAT score lends a significantly strong helping hand towards one’s profile for b-school application. So study early and diligently unless you’re a genius.
- DO NOT STUDY ONE DAY BEFORE THE EXAM. I REPEAT. DO NOT.
However you can review your mistakes. Go over your mistakes. Do it.
- Bring ear plus. There will always be that asshole in the exam room who sighs really loudly. To that person, I hate you.
- Bring snacks. Stay energize!
- Be there 30 minutes early!
- Stay in the present, there’s no use mulling over past questions or future ones.
- Finish the exam, do not leave questions unanswered. You will be penalized.
Motivation for test takers
Don’t quit your war until your last battle is fought.
I want to reiterated that THE MOMENT YOU GIVE UP is the moment you stop giving yourself a chance for what you want. I know it’s VERY scary to face that tiny computer screen glaring a 650 at you after scoring a 660. I’ve been there. It hurts like a bitch to feel like all the effort and money you’ve wasted… went to nothing. However, it didn’t go to nothing… it went to your dreams. And your dream is not nothing. It’s something.
I don’t even have safety schools for when I’m applying to MBA programs. I was READY to not go in the year 2017 because I cannot handle myself going to schools I’m just feel okay with. Some people are reluctant to face failure… me too. But I realized that the EXPENSE of accepting less than I could go for was way more painful than seeing low scores OVER and OVER.
A little background about me. I call myself the one who sucked at math. I skipped ALL high school math. I scored only 640/800 for SAT. My calculus grades were C and C+. By the end of 2 years of work I do not know how to do simple addition and long division… luckily my multiplications are on point.
So If I can go up to 740 from a 550… then so can you.
For more information on studying tips on quant and verbal section. Click here.