How to prepare for the GMAT test

If a decent GMAT score is the only thing keeping you from enrolling in your desired MBA program, adopting the best GMAT preparation strategies will help you perform much better on the exam and get into your dream business school.

The following is a guide on the best practices to get prepare for the GMAT according to former 99th percentile test-takers.

Preparing for the GMAT 💪

The GMAT is one of the most challenging exams a student will take in their lifetime. In full, it spells the Graduate Management Admission Test. The exam assesses a student’s Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning skills.

These are the key skills needed to succeed in modern MBA programs and the business world thereafter. If you want a great score in the exam, consider following the practices in this guide to boost your skills across different exam sections.

#1: Register for the exam

If you’ve not yet signed up for the GMAT exam, you can apply for the test on the exam website. The GMAT registration process is quite simple. Just log in to mba.com and keep essential information ready, and you’ll be done with the GMAT registration in less than 15 minutes.

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Where do I register?

You can register to take the GMAT test at mba.com.

You’ll input your details, schedule the exam and pay the registration fee. Be sure to select a testing location close to home, so you don’t spend much time getting to the center on test day. When it comes to the exam date, allow yourself enough time to prepare. Most students usually take 3 to 6 months to get ready for the GMAT.

However, don’t stress if your application deadlines force you to operate on a tight schedule! You’ll just need to spend a lot of time each week preparing in order to cover the syllabus in a short duration. 

Many MBA aspirants have prepared for the GMAT in less than three months and gone to excel in the test.

#2: Familiarize Yourself with GMAT Format and Structure

The GMAT is an 800-point exam comprising four sections: Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. There’s no pre-set order to the test; you decide which section to take first.

The Analytical Writing Section comprises one task to be done in 30 minutes. The Integrated Reasoning comprises 12 questions, and the duration is 30 minutes.

The Verbal Reasoning part will carry 36 questions to be done in 65 minutes, while the Quantitative Reasoning has 31 questions and a time limit of 62 minutes. The Verbal and Quantitative reasoning sections are computer-adaptive

Here’s a breakdown of the score range and time limit per section.

Test SectionNumber of Questions & Time LimitScore Range
Integrated Reasoning30 minutes;12 questions1-8(1-point increments)
Analytical Writing Assessment30 minutes;1 question0-6(In increments of 0.5-point)
Quantitative Reasoning62 minutes;31 questions6-51(1-point increments)
Verbal Reasoning65 minutes;36 questions6-51(1-point increments

What does it mean that the Verbal and Quantitative reasoning sections are computer-adaptive?

It simply means the tests adapt in real-time to how good or bad you are answering the questions. This feature enables the exam to analyze your ability accurately and provide business schools with reliable scores.

It works this way: You will receive a medium difficulty question to start in either the Quantitative or Verbal sections. According to how you answer the first question and the ones that follow, the computer adjusts the difficulty of the next questions.

Generally, the computer will assign you a tougher question if you answer the first one correctly. But if you don’t get the first question right, the computer will give you an easier question next. 

This happens throughout the two sections; once you are done, the computer will have a close to accurate assessment of your verbal and quantitative reasoning skills.

You will not be allowed to skip questions, return to them, or edit your responses. This is because the machine selects subsequent questions based on your responses to the previous ones.

#3: Familiarize yourself with GMAT Content

woman writing on book

Each section of the GMAT assesses a distinct set of concepts and skills. As a result, how you prepare for GMAT Verbal Reasoning will be unique from the way you prepare for GMAT Quantitative Reasoning, for example.

In addition, you should familiarize yourself with the GMAT’s own formats and question styles before the test. Otherwise, it’s easy to get thrown off by GMAT’s various unique question styles, even if you are conversant with the material.

There are various free GMAT strategy webinars you can attend to learn about GMAT content, how the GMAT testing algorithm works, and how to come up with a personalized study plan.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect per section of the GMAT

SectionQuestion Type & What’s Actually Tested
Analytical Writing AssessmentOne essay topic; An analysis of an argument on business or a topic of general interest
Quantitative31 Multiple–choice questions: Tests general knowledge in arithmetic, basic algebra, and basic geometry·      No calculators allowed 
Verbal 36 multiple-choice questions; grammar, logic skills, and your ability to answer questions about a reading passage
Integrated Reasoning 12 multiple-choice questions (most require multiple responses); Tests your ability to make inferences based on data presented in various charts, graphs, and tables·      Calculator provided 

#4: Diagnose your strengths and weaknesses

Now that you are familiar with GMAT content, question types, and format, it is time for you to evaluate your current abilities levels. You can use your current GMAT score as your starting point if you have already taken the test.

If this is your first GMAT try, take a free Analytical writing, integrated reasoning, verbal and quantitative diagnostic quiz online to determine your starting point.

Pre-diagnostic assessments will help you know your strengths and weaknesses. You can find a free GMAT starter kit plus a diagnosis exam here.

#5: Come up with a study plan

person writing bucket list on book

Prepping for the GMAT is a significant time commitment. As you can see from their names, many of the sections deal with reasoning questions; so, cramming won’t help you even a teeny tiny bit. It’s kind of like getting ready for a marathon.

As you approach Test Day, you want to enhance your skills and stamina gradually. That’s why it’s good to start early. On average, most students take 3 to 6 months to prep for the exam.

Your study plan should be adaptive, meaning it should reflect your starting score, target score, work schedule, family obligation, and school schedule, if any. It should also clearly state when to study, what to study and when to schedule practice tests. Mark study dates on your calendar and adds specifics of what to cover in each session. Make sure to incorporate practice tests too.

When it comes to a target score, set clear and trackable milestones, GMAT prep advice says you should devote around 50 hours to improve by 50 points, 100 hours to gain 100 points, and 150 hours to gain 150 points during your study period.

You can also use free online tools to come up with a study plan.

#6: Review and study one section of the test at a time

The GMAT syllabus is vast; the best way to approach it is to deal with one section at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Use the learn It, Drill It, Repeat approach. In each section, begin by identifying the content you need to review and build a foundation from there. Simply go back to the diagnostic test and review the questions you missed.

You’ll be able to determine what exactly they tested. Focus on those concepts as you study and practice them until they become second nature. Once you’re comfortable with the content, evaluate what questions you frequently miss. And if you don’t understand a concept, just repeat the process until you get it.

Thankfully, the official GMAT books are organized by question type, allowing you to practice certain types of questions. However, it’s not enough to simply sit down and finish them all!  Understand how each question works, what silly mistakes look like, and what kind of strategy you may use to overcome them.

#7: Use official GMAT practice questions

Practice tests are an important part of exam prep. They help determine progress and build confidence and stamina for the actual exam. But most practice tests found online or in GMAT books are not official; some are even substandard. You want to avoid those and use practice tests from GMAC instead.

The GMAT Official Practice Starter Kit and Exams 1 & 2  will help you know the format and type of questions asked in the GMAT. The kit includes two free computer-adaptive GMAT exams.

#8: Learn GMAT strategies

You’ll need more than just knowledge to ace the GMAT. Even the brightest students can be thrown off in an exam if they don’t know how to handle different questions, manage their anxiety, and manage their time right.

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A strategy consists of things like eliminating the answers that are obviously wrong, using your mind to do the quick math, guessing when necessary, managing your time and anxiety, as well as tips relevant to individual sections of the test.

There are many books and courses designed by perfect scorers to teach students the secrets and strategies they used to achieve excellent scores. Take advantage of resources such as Barron’s GMAT book.

#9: Practice Educated Guessing

You will probably encounter questions on the GMAT exam that will require you to make informed guesses. Such questions require you to analyze the information supplied and eliminate answers that are obviously wrong, narrow down your choices and make an educated guess. Do many questions of this type to perfect your informed guessing.

#10: Practice pacing

To successfully complete the GMAT exam, time management is essential. As you approach Test Day, start to integrate pacing into the objective of your prep sessions. keep track of how much time you spend per practice question and try to attain the following guidelines:

  • Quant Section: two minutes per question
  • Verbal section:
  • Sentence Correction: 60 to 90 seconds
  • Reading Comprehension: read passage 2-4 minutes then 8 minutes per set of 4 questions and 6 minutes per set of 3 questions,
  • Critical Reasoning: 90 seconds to 3 minutes
  • Integrated Reasoning: 2 minutes and 30 seconds for each question set
  • Don’t waste time on a question when you are unsure of the answer. You don’t need to answer every question right; where unsure, use the process of elimination or make an educated guess.

#11: Keep a Study Journal

person writing on a book

Keep a diary or something of the sort to document what you have covered and what’s still pending. Keep track of the subjects, questions, and GMAT mock tests you’re working on each day. You will be able to meet your GMAT daily goals in this manner.

#12: Work on your mental math

When it comes to the GMAT quantitative part, mental math is the technique you’ll want to have in your toolbox.

When you’re practicing, avoid the impulse to pull out your calculator at every opportunity. Instead, do mental math computations. Because you won’t use a calculator on the Quant section, you’ll need to grow your mental math skills. If you can do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division fast in your head, you’ll save a lot of time.

#13: Read a lot

Maybe you’re still in college, or perhaps it’s been a while now! Whatever the case may be, if you really want to excel on the verbal level, you must become an expert reader.

Make it a habit to read for 60 minutes each day, which is roughly the time it takes to complete the GMAT’s Verbal section, reading difficult stuff, such as classic books or high-quality journals like The Economist, The New Yorker, Scientific American, The New York Times, or Wired.  You want to learn from a writer who can write well and use sophisticated language.

Spend some time chopping up those texts as well. Ask yourself questions about the material: themes, style, viewpoints, etc. this will get you ready for GMAT’s English section.

#14: Eliminate distractions

Distractions make it tough to pay close attention to what you are reading, making it difficult to memorize details. Find a quiet place to read. Please switch off your phone’s notifications and temporarily disable your favorite websites.

If you have to listen to music while studying, go with instrumental music, so you don’t sing along. It’s also a wise idea to take breaks to refresh and re-energize after every 45 minutes.

Different Ways to Prep for The GMAT And Their Pros and Cons

✅ 1. Online GMAT Prep Courses

Online courses are often seen as the best way to prepare for the GMAT. They often incorporate self-paced or live instructor-led tutorials, question-and-answer banks, computer adaptive practice tests, personalized study plans, performance tracking and analysis, and student support.

All these features are accessible from a desktop or mobile device at any time. Online courses are frequently more interesting and enjoyable; it’s no surprise that most users complete the curriculums. The only disadvantage is that they can be quite pricey.

✅ 2. In-person GMAT Classes

In-person GMAT classes are provided in many towns by various test prep companies. Groups of students sit in a real class and listen to a teacher. If you prefer a classroom learning environment, this is it.

The instructor will hold you accountable, making sure you grasp the basic concepts of the GMAT syllabus. You can interact with other students, ask questions and get clarifications where needed. Examples of live in-person GMAT classes are those provided by Princeton Review, the Economist, and Kaplan.

✅ 3. Private GMAT Tutors

There is no doubt that hiring a professional GMAT coach is one of the best ways to prepare for the exam. Tutors assist you in understanding concepts that you find difficult. In addition, most tutoring packages can be completely customized depending on your need. The tutor will adapt their teaching methodology to fit your learning style and ensure that you learn the right things.

You’ll receive direct instructions and feedback and also support to keep you focused and motivated. Unfortunately, private coaching is usually the most expensive way to prepare for any exam. Prices range from $150/hr to $300/hr. Plus, it’s not easy to know if the person you are hiring is qualified.

✅ 4. GMAT Prep Books

Before the internet era, test prep books were more popular. However, nowadays, most students prefer online or in-person courses and find textbooks to be either subpar, out-of-date, or boring. However, there are still many compelling reasons to use GMAT prep books, and you can easily find good ones if you look carefully.

Kaplan says it takes around 120 hours to get ready for the GMAT. Most online curriculums come down roughly to the same number of hours in study and practice materials.  But a decent GMAT prep book will suffice just fine if you don’t have the cash to splash on online courses. You can also get one to supplement your online course.

Gmat Study and Practice Resources

What is a good GMAT score? 🤔

GMAT scores of 700 to 740 are considered good, and those above 740+ are considered excellent. As of 2021, you need a score of at least 703 to get into the top 50 business colleges and universities in the US.

The score of admits in these schools ranges from 634 – 734. Similarly, the average GMAT score for the top graduate business schools in Europe is 676.

Wrap Up 🎁

Preparing for the GMAT requires serious commitment and resources. To help you choose between various GMAT prep courses, classes, and tutoring services, we’ve reviewed the 10 best GMAT prep courses. Feel free to take a look and find one that suits your budget, learning style, and target score.