High quality preparation is essential to achieving your best score on the GMAT. High quality preparation means becoming intimately acquainted with the test structure, format, and the types of questions that are being asked. It means improving upon your weak areas through practice and repetition. It means developing your ability to answer the tougher questions correctly. It also means becoming aware of the types of answers that tend to be the correct ones.

Are there any advantages of taking a top-quality GMAT Prep course versus studying alone with the books and CDs available on the market?

It really depends on your academic background, study habits, availability and, ultimately, your desired test score. Preparing on your own can save you some financial resources, but may not be as effective as learning from instructors who dissect each answer and impart knowledge and advice from their own GMAT and MBA experiences. Studies show that visualization and discussion in a seminar environment will enable you to recognize complex structures better than learning the same material in a non-interactive way.

During your GMAT preparation, be sure to incorporate the following approaches:

- Ascertain your preferred and most effective learning style (accelerated timeline vs. steady progress; controlled vs. self-paced study environment; studying in groups vs. individually; classroom learning vs. one-on-one private tutoring)

- Manage your test anxiety. Minimize your worries and pay attention to good nutrition and adequate exercise. Maintain adequate sleep with a consistent schedule leading up to your test.

- Make a special effort to improve your weaknesses along with strengthening your expertise during practice. During the weeks and days before the test:

- Take a few days off work right before the test. Depending on your own test-taking and learning style, either relax completely or do one practice test at your scheduled test time each day. Then review the result and relax for the remainder of the day. You may want to take the day before the test off entirely so that your brain can relax more right before the test day. Be sure not to over-study the day before the test.

- Memorize the most typical problems and answer types.

- Review all prior mistakes along with explanations. - Make a list of those typical errors you tend to make and consciously remind yourself of them and refrain from making the same mistakes.

- Save one of the two free GMATPrep tests available from www.mba.com for right before the actual test and practice the tests in a mock test setting of your choice so that your memory of the actual question types and difficulty levels which have appeared in prior GMAT tests stays fresh. When you are ready to take the practice computer adaptive tests (CATs), we recommend:

- Create a study environment that is as similar as possible to the actual testing setting, which typically includes a quiet space, possibly a computer room or office environment. For example, locate or set up a serious test-taking environment in your house or a public library or a park or another facility so that you can exclusively focus on taking the mock tests. - Use a systematic approach to your test. Take all questions seriously and answer them. Skipping questions is not helpful on the GMAT CAT.

- Do not take prolonged breaks during a practice test. In the actual test center, you will not be allowed coffee breaks etc. during sections. There is only one 5-minute break after the 60-minute AWA section and another 5-minute break after the 75-minute Quantitative section.

- Eliminate distractions and be conscious of time. Especially when you taking practice tests, be as aware of the clock as you will need to be on the actual exam.

- After completing a practice test, be sure to go over the questions you answered incorrectly. This is the only way to improve. You must understand your mistakes so that you will not make them on the test. (Manhattan Review provides you with over 100 pages of detailed solution guides!)

- AND practice, practice, practice! Remember that the actual exam is on the computer so take advantage of opportunities to practice with Computer Adapted Tests. For many test-takers, reading large amounts of material on the screen is not easy. It not only dries out their eyes but also makes it hard to absorb the material. Simply practice reading etc. on the computer. The only way to improve is to practice, but be sure to practice with the right approach in a smart and effective way.

The author is an Academic Director at Manhattan Review