One of the most common problems I see with GMAT self studiers is that they often do not know how to get the most out of their GMAT practice.  Putting in a lot of time toward your prep is great-but if you aren't strategic about how you practice, you risk underperforming to your full potential on your GMAT test day.

The following article outlines five tips that every GMAT self studier should consider when approaching their practice:

Tip #1: Allocate Sufficient Time to Your Prep

Very frequently in the Beat The GMAT community I encounter desperate messages like the following (paraphrased message): I need to get a 700 in two weeks but haven't started studying yet. Help!

I certainly sympathize for people in this situation, but the reality is that these folks usually have little chance of reaching their target score on the GMAT.  Studying for the GMAT should be a time-intensive activity, where incremental improvements take place over weeks.

The best thing that a GMAT self studier can do is to allocate enough time for comprehensive prep. In my November 4, 2009 article, What We Heard from the Makers of the GMAT, I shared some data published by the GMAC (the makers of the GMAT) that correlates GMAT performance with amount of prep time.  The results of the study are pretty common sense: the more you study the better you do.

Ideally, a GMAT self studier should allocate 2-3 months for their GMAT prep.  Below is my recommended timeline for studying for the GMAT while considering deadlines for business school:

  • January - Begin studying for the GMAT
  • April - Take your GMAT
  • April-May - If you aren't satisfied by your score, prep to retake GMAT
  • June - Retake GMAT
  • July-October - Complete your MBA applications due Round 1

Tip #2: Take GMATPrep Tests at the Beginning and End of Your Prep

Everyone who takes the GMAT should download the GMATPrep software available for free at  GMATPrep is by far the best GMAT practice test software on the market.  Unlike any other practice tests you will find, GMATPrep features actual GMAT questions that have been retired-thus, these tests are highly representative of the real test.

There are only two practice tests available on GMATPrep, so you must make sure not to squander them. I always advocate that you take one at the beginning and one at the end of your prep-this way you will have a fairly accurate sense of how much you've improved during the course of your studies.

When you take your first GMATPrep test, be sure to do a quick review of the GMAT just to understand the different parts of the test and how it works.  I usually recommend that students not prepare too much before taking their first GMATPrep test because you want to get a baseline of where you currently stand with the GMAT, and a sense of where you are weak or strong with regard to GMAT subjects.

Your last GMATPrep test should be taken in the last week of your prep as you are winding down your studies.  This final practice test should be an indicator of what you should expect your real GMAT test score to be.

Tip #3: Keep Rigorous Error Logs of all Your Practice

Build a spreadsheet error log, or download one available here: GMAT Practice Grid

Whenever you finish a practice test, or go through a set of practice questions, record the results in a log.  Here are some elements I suggest you track:

  • Time it took to complete a problem
  • Result - Correct, wrong, careless error, concept error
  • Type of question - Verbal, math, grammar error, geometry, etc.

Recording all of these data is incredibly time consuming but very much worth the effort.  The reason why is that error logs provide analytics on your own GMAT skills.  As you collect data, you will be able to analyze interesting patterns in your performance and hone in on specific GMAT skills where you are weak and where you are strong.

The point of error logs is to make you more tactical as you progress in your studies.  An example: let's say you've done multiple GMAT math practice problem sets, and in looking back at your error logs you've noticed that 40% of the time you get permutation math problems correct and 95% of the time you get arithmetic problems correct.  From these data, you should conclude that you need to allocate more of your time toward shoring up your permutation skills and that you can spend less attention on arithmetic.

Error logs are great for practicing your test pacing too.  Be sure to time all of your practice problem sets and record time spent per problem.  A stopwatch is definitely a good investment in your GMAT prep.

Tip #4: Take Regular Practice Tests

The GMAT is a strange test-its format is probably one that you've not seen before.  In my opinion, the main reason why the GMAT is so unfamiliar to test takers is that you have to take it on the computer.

Taking a test on a computer is very different from taking a test on those pencil-and-paper scantrons that you had in high school.  The only way you can get comfortable with the unique computer-adaptive format of the GMAT is to take lots of practice tests.

I recommend that GMAT self studiers take a practice test on a weekly basis.  When I was preparing for the GMAT, I took over ten practice tests.  It took me a long time to feel comfortable with using my scratch paper, working a mouse, and reading a question on the monitor, but toward the end of my prep I was a pro.

Tip #5: Take Your Practice GMATs Under Simulated Conditions

This tip is very much related to Tip #4 above, but I think it is such an important point that it deserves to be highlighted separately: be sure to take your practice tests under 'simulated' conditions.

That is, try to recreate your actual, physical testing environment during the day of your GMAT test.  Be sure to do the following:

  • Take your practice tests at the same time of day your actual GMAT is scheduled
  • Respect the time limits per section in your practice tests
  • Give yourself the same amount of time for breaks during your practice tests as you would receive during your real GMAT
  • Take the test in a public area that has light ambient noise; I recommend a somewhat well-trafficked area of a public library
  • If you plan to use earplugs (which I recommend), then wear earplugs during all of your practice tests

Putting in effort to simulate your testing conditions will help reduce the stress you'll feel on test day.  You will feel mentally prepared to enter that test center and know what to expect.

For other tips on preparing for the GMAT, I invite you to visit Beat The GMAT, where new articles about GMAT prep are published every day.

About the Author:

Eric Bahn is the founder of Beat The GMAT, one of the world's largest resources for free GMAT prep and MBA admissions advice.  To read more articles on the GMAT and applying to business school, visit: