A boom in applications to business schools is not surprising MBA admissions officers, who say a similar upturn occurred following the dot-com crash earlier in this decade. The increase in B-school applications is -- once again -- fueled by the economic crisis.

Applicants recognize that scoring well on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will help secure them a spot at competitive business schools thereby increasing their likelihood of success after graduation. With this in mind, MBA Podcaster interviewed five of the leading test prep companies to impart advice and recommendations for GMAT test takers in this year's competitive application season. The show encompasses all aspects of taking the GMAT, from timing, to test-taking conditions, to how many times to take the GMAT.

Business school applicants are facing increasing competition. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) says more than three-quarters of the schools they surveyed reported an increase in application volume in 2008, up from 64% in 2007. In addition, the number of GMAT tests taken outside the U.S. increased 21.5% over 2007 to 105,914 and the number of GMAT tests taken in the US increased 5.9% over 2007 to 158,727.

What advice do test prep experts offer to help GMAT test takers? There appears to be a consensus for how soon students should begin preparing for the GMAT.  That's about six months. Jose Ferreira of Knewton says the best way to get good score gains is to do a little bit less work over a longer period time. Lots and lots of practice. He says practice these alien concepts gradually over a longer period of time to get them to sink in.

Whether students take two months or two years to prep for the GMAT, Jon Denning of PowerScore says they should know their starting point. He recommends students take a few practice tests at the very beginning of the process, to provide a ballpark for the score, and to get familiar with the GMAT.

If students only have a couple of months to prepare for the GMAT, Liza Wheale of Kaplan says that's like trying to learn how to learn the entire French language two weeks before a trip to Paris -- impossible. What is possible, however, she says, is focusing on the areas of the GMAT that will bring you the most success, in the same way that focusing on conversational French that will be relevant to your trip will be the most beneficial.

Each one of the experts advised students to not change their normal routine in advance of the GMAT. Brian Galvin of Veritas Prep says one of his students had heard that salmon was great brain food, so she dined at an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant the night before her GMAT, eating as much salmon as she could. She woke up with food poisoning the day of the test.

Admissions officers may raise their eyebrows over test-taking students who are into the double-digits, Chris Ryan of Manhattan Review warns, especially if the scores are hanging around the same number. All five experts advise B-school applicants to examine where they are weak on the GMAT - is it the nerves, the permutations and computations, the sense of not quite being prepared - and focus on that for the next GMAT.

And, for students who wonder if it's possible to score high without really studying, Ferriera says being a natural at taking the GMAT is not unlike being able to bend your elbow backwards.