In general, test takers tend to do better in the math section of the GMAT than in the verbal. But what if you're one of the exceptions to this rule? Don't worry, GMAT math is not rocket science, even though it might seem like it at times (especially if you do not have a quantitative background).
Days 1 to 3 - Getting Started
Use the first few days of your GMAT studies to familiarize yourself with how the GMAT works. This computer-based test is probably unlike any other that you've sat before, for one main reason: you cannot skip questions. Your score is estimated through an algorithm that self adjusts to your performance, attempting to determine your skill level.
The best place to begin your research would be the official site of the GMAT, MBA.com. Most people use the site to register for a test date, but you can also access a lot of information regarding the test. More importantly, at MBA.com you can download a software called GMATPrep. This program features generous details concerning the test, practice items, and two great computer-adaptive tests (CATs). There two tests are by far the closest simulations to the real GMAT available. My advice is to take the first CAT at the beginning of your studies to establish a baseline score and then assess your strengths and weaknesses.
After taking a GMATPrep practice test in realistic, timed conditions, try to spend some time analyzing the results. Your main goal should be to personalize the plan below according to your own particular weak points. You should devote more time to weak areas and less time to strong areas.
Days 4 to 14 - Verbal Practice
- PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible
- Kaplan GMAT Verbal Workbook
- Official Guide for GMAT Review, 12th Edition
Most GMAT study plans recommend tackling the quantitative portion of the test first, but if you're stronger in verbal you will be better served covering the verbal section prior to addressing math. The reason behind this is simple: if you already feel comfortable with verbal, spend a little time getting used to the question formats and start doing some focused practice. After you've eliminated any minor issues you might be having with verbal, you can then concentrate your efforts on improving your quantitative skills.
There are three types of questions tested on the GMAT Verbal section: Sentence Correction (SC), Critical Reasoning (CR), and Reading Comprehension (RC). The way in which you allot your time to each type of question will depend on your relative strength in each. Again, your weaknesses influence the way you prep: if you miss only one or two Reading Comprehension questions, but seem to do a lot worse in Sentence Correction, then make sure to spend more time preparing for SC versus RC. In this example, you may want to adjust your study schedule to work on RC passages for two days, but take five days to thoroughly study grammar for SC.
The first two books mentioned in the shopping list above cover most of the concepts and strategies you'll need when dealing with verbal questions. The PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible is a great book that covers the ten types of common CR questions you might see on test day. It's a great read and the authors frame the GMAT as a fun challenge, which makes studying all the more pleasant. The Kaplan GMAT Verbal Workbook is also a solid GMAT verbal book. It has a great chapter about reading with a critical eye, which will help you develop a more refined technique when analyzing CR and RC passages. It also features a solid grammar review to fine tune your strategy for Sentence Correction.
While these books are great for reviewing GMAT verbal concepts, you should rely heavily on the Official Guide for GMAT Review (OG) for practice. The OG guide is packed with hundreds of questions to keep you busy. However, don't try to solve the practice questions in these ten days of verbal study. Save some questions for the next month of your prep plan. It's a good idea to answer a handful of verbal questions each day while you're studying quant, just to keep your (already-strong) skills fresh.
Days 15 to 45 - Quantitative Practice
- Kaplan GMAT Math Workbook
- Manhattan GMAT Series of five quantitative guides
- Official Guide for GMAT Review, 12th Edition
- Official Guide for the GMAT Quantitative Review, 2nd Edition
GMAT Math might seem difficult for two reasons. First, the test has its own unique style of posing math problems. Diligent practice will however help you overcome this issue; also, recognizing often-tested patterns will allow you to tackle GMAT math problems effectively.
Second, the math section of the GMAT features about 17 Data Sufficiency (DS) problems, a question type that you likely have not encountered before. Data Sufficiency offers two pieces of information which you must evaluate in order to establish whether they are enough (or sufficient) to answer a given question. DS questions present the biggest challenge when studying for the GMAT because you must somehow overcome the tricky combination of an unfamiliar question structure with your rusty math skills. Perhaps an added hurdle would be the fact that most students make the mistake of solving Data Sufficiency questions when in fact they are only asked to evaluate. This wastes precious time, and not finishing the section in the allotted 75 minutes leads to heavy scoring penalties.
Before you start worrying too much, note that there are ways of attacking DS efficiently: the most widely appreciated is the so-called AD/BCE split, a technique that will help you eliminate answer choices fast. As mentioned above, you'll surely be able to improve your accuracy as you practice and get use to the format.
The five Manhattan GMAT math guides are among the most complete resources available for addressing the math section of the GMAT. Of these, pay special attention to the Number Properties and Word Translations guides. Number properties are tested in many GMAT quant questions, while word problems are some of the trickiest you'll see because of the need to translate words into mathematical equations. The guides have another plus: they reference Offical Guide for GMAT Review questions for practice. While the Manhattan GMAT books certainly contain their fair share of practice, the fact that they contain lists of problems from the Official Guide that specifically test what is discussed is undoubtedly helpful, since it allows you to solidify your newly-acquired knowledge by practicing with the very best real questions.
These five guides will likely suffice when it comes to reviewing GMAT math concepts, but you may also want to take a look at the strategy sections of the Kaplan GMAT Math Workbook. It's a pretty good resource for practice, featuring about 600 math practice problems.
When studying concepts or solving problems, there are two things that you should utilize in order to make the most of your time. The first would be to use an error log. Error logs are important for tracking your progress in each section and targeting any topic that seems to be a weakness. They are also useful in the final days of your prep, when you should review the questions that you were unsure of, or that feature interesting solutions. The second habit that you should pick up is using flashcards. In quant, making flashcards generally involves writing a problem on the front of the card and its solution on the back. There are a couple of reasons why flashcards are recommended. Flashcards allow you to: study in an organized fashion; have a quick reference for problems (to be used in conjunction with the error log); and get a firm grasp of problems that seem tricky.
Days 46 to 60 - Final Days of Prep
By now, you should have covered most (if not all) the materials that you'll need to succeed on the GMAT. Spend the last two weeks taking computer-adaptive tests and reviewing any topics you've had persistent trouble with.
Taking CATs is a good exercise because it helps you improve your timing and stamina. Remember: not answering all the questions in a section hurts your score a lot-about three percentile points for each question that you leave unanswered. Also, the GMAT is a mentally and physically exhausting experience, requiring you to concentrate and sit in front of a computer for almost four hours with only a few short breaks in between sections. This is why it is advisable to take mock tests under realistic conditions: you need to prepare your mind and body for the GMAT marathon.
After GMATPrep, I highly recommend using Manhattan GMAT practice tests, since in my experience they provide excellent GMAT simulation. Use the codes that you receive with the Manhattan GMAT guides you've purchased to access these online tests (for free). Manhattan GMAT's quantitative sections are a bit on the tough side, but if you manage to do well on these tests, you'll have nothing to worry about on your actual GMAT. Try to save the second GMATPrep test for the final three days of your prep: the score you get on this last GMATPrep test is probably close to your actual test-day performance. However, a word of caution when taking CATs: try not to take more than one practice test every three days. They are extremely demanding and you also need time to analyze your scores and your errors.
In these final days, make sure to look over a few templates for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA). While the score you get in this section does not count towards your main GMAT score, AWAs set the mood for your entire test since this section appears first on the GMAT.
Try to relax the day before your test. It's important to be well-rested and confident before going in the test room. I'm certain that all that effort you put into re-learning high school math will pay off and that you'll hit your target score!
About the Author:
Dana is a finance student and a moderator for Beat The GMAT, one of the world's largest online resources for GMAT prep and MBA admissions advice.