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7 Essential Tips for GMAT Prep

For the last 15 years or so, the average GMAT score for candidates admitted to top MBA programs has been rising steadily. In the US, the mean GMAT score of tests reported to MBA programs is now 658, up 48 points from five years ago. At the elite M7 schools, the average GMAT for the class of 2025 was 732, with Harvard topping out with a 740 average.

The new Focus Edition GMAT debuted in November 2024 with a new scoring algorithm and a top score of 805. It’s likely that scores will be in flux for a bit as test prep materials and advice are refined and test takers and schools adapt to the new format and content.

 While the GMAT is just one data point schools consider in making admissions decisions, it’s clear that a strong performance and a competitive score is important.With scores on the rise, how should you prepare to maximize your results? And what strategies are the most efficient and effective for increasing your score? Here, I’ve distilled my best advice into seven top tips.

Essential GMAT Prep Tips

1. Get familiar with the format.

The new Focus edition is an hour shorter and the number of questions in each section has been reduced. That means that questions you miss have a greater impact. It’s also an adaptive format, where the difficulty of the questions adjust based on your performance on previous questions. You also now have the option of choosing which section of the test you do first. You can take the section that comes easier to you first to build confidence, or do the hard part first when you’re fresh. 

All these format changes affect your test-taking strategy and your test time management –which test prep experts say is the key to a strong score. Make sure you understand the structure, and take a few practice tests to get comfortable with the format. You may also want to take a practice run with the Graduate Record Exam. Most business schools accept both. Make sure you understand the differences in the tests and find out which is best suited to your strengths.

2. Quality over quantity time.

In surveys, applicants who scored over 700 report studying at least 80 to 100 hours for the exam — but don’t be misled by the numbers. Imagine it this way: You can’t credibly train for the marathon by only trying to run 20 miles on Saturdays. Likewise, you can’t power through one marathon cram session on the weekend and expect to gain mastery. Instead, create a study schedule and invest your time in bite-size sessions to build the mental muscle that’s needed to go the distance at exam time.

3. Self-study or hire a coach? Know thyself.

It might be encouraging to know that roughly two-thirds of candidates say they study on their own, according to self-reported data from GMAT’s annual survey. Statistically, there’s no difference between the GMAT score of a candidate who self-preps and one who shells out money for a coach or test prep course. What’s essential is knowing whether you have the self-discipline to self-prep diligently and set yourself up for success. The most type-A among us will set up a study schedule (imperative) and put ourselves through the paces without fail. Others thrive with the extra accountability of having to show up to class or meet with a coach.

4. Minimize distracted prep.

Many of us are hardwired to multitask and do so with pride. But multitasking is deathly for your GMAT prep. “But I’ve studied 16 hours this week!” a frustrated client will lament; “Why isn’t my score improving?’ All too often those hours are made up of study sessions jammed into a commute or a short window in the day, while answering messages, ordering dinner, and allowing other interruptions.

The key to making meaningful gains is sitting down and giving the GMAT your undivided attention. Silencing your phone for 30 minutes of focused effort is the kind of productive prep in which you’re more apt to absorb the material and move the needle on your score, as opposed to two “study” hours when all your devices are firing.

5. Create specific, targeted goals.

Set a learning objective every time you sit down to study. For example, aim to decrease the amount of time from 2 minutes to 1.45 for answering easy data sufficiency questions, refreshing sentence structure, or reviewing exponent rules you can apply to problem solving. Having a very clear learning objective will go a long way in terms of helping to create structure and focus as well as opportunities to measure your progress. It’s also gratifying to look back at the end of the week and see how many things you checked off the list. Having those small, measurable successes will fuel your endurance. 

6. Recreate the test-center environment.

It can be shockingly difficult to sit down in a quiet room and take a test for more than two hours. This is especially true if you’re accustomed to snacking, listening to music, padding around barefoot, putting your feet up on the chair — all of this being taboo at the test center, of course. Even if you’re taking the test online from home, try to create an environment as close to the test center as possible. Think of ways to make yourself a little less comfortable, to accustom yourself to the physical and mental stress. Get rid of your music, water bottle and snacks. Practice waiting a few minutes before getting up to use the bathroom on a whim. 

7. Have a “break strategy.”

You’ll get an optional break between sections, but be aware that it’s not terribly long. The break time will pass quicker than you think, so simulate the break to optimize how you will use it. Practice by setting a timer, getting up, getting a drink, using the bathroom – really go through the motions. Once you begin your exam, the clock keeps running, so if you’re late, you’re losing precious minutes.

Bonus Tip: Connect with other candidates.

Not only does misery love company, but finding others suffering through data insights prep creates community and accountability. There’s no shortage of online groups or forums that can help you stay on task while you commiserate with others. I wouldn’t call it a good time, but you’re more apt to persist when the going gets tough — and even find some humor in it all — if you’re alongside others who are suffering through the same.

Want more advice?

For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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