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7 Essential Tips for GMAT Prep

Business schools have reported a significant rise in GMAT averages over the last 15 years. In the US, the average GMAT score is now 658, up 48 points from five years ago. Roughly a quarter of test takers in 2021 had scores of 700 and up in 2021, compared to 14 percent five years ago. At top schools, the average GMAT for the class of 2024 was 730 and higher.

It’s clear that a strong performance and a competitive score is important. While the GMAT is just one data point schools consider in making admissions, it is a standard measure used to both predict your academic success for the MBA and measure you against other candidates.

The Graduate Management Admission Council has just announced changes coming to the test in 2023. A new Focus Edition will reduce the test time by an hour and eliminate the essay portion of the exam. (The current version will remain available until early 2024 to avoid disruption for those already in the midst of applications and test prep.)

With scores on the rise and changes in the works, 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.

Given the changes in length and focus of the test and the shift to online tests taken at home or a testing center, it’s important to know exactly what you’re in for—and this is the right test for you. Most MBA programs also accept the GRE and other exams and allow you the freedom to choose. Make sure you understand the differences in the tests and pick the one that’s best for you.

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 running 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 very 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.

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 emails, 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 four 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 remotely at 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 sessions, but be aware that it’s not terribly long. Practice by setting a timer, getting up, getting a drink, using the bathroom – really go through the motions. The time will pass quicker than you think. Once you begin your exam, it’s on a test driver, 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 sufficiency 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?

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