So you've decided that you want an MBA, but you realize that the deadlines are rushing at you and you now have only one month to take the GMAT. You've never been keen on cramming, but right now this seems like the only reasonable option, given that you work full time and also need to write your application essays.
If this sounds like you, don't fret! A one-month GMAT study plan can yield surprisingly good results, provided you use all the right resources and strategies.
Days 1 and 2 - Brief Introduction and Plan Development
If you are beginning your GMAT prep from scratch and don't know anything about the test, you should spend a reasonable amount of time up front with research. Understanding the mechanics of the GMAT is important no matter how little time you have, since this test is really unique.
Start by browsing MBA.com, the official site of the GMAT. This is where you'll find the most relevant information about the test, the way it's scored, and an overview of the various types of questions you'll see on your test day. Once you've registered on the site, you can also download the GMATPrep software, a program with two full-length CATs (computer adaptive tests) that are universally recognized as the most accurate estimators of your GMAT score. Should you feel that certain details about the test are not clear to you, try to skim through the introductory chapters of some of the books referenced below (particularly those released by Kaplan) or ask for expert advice from communities such as Beat The GMAT.
Your next step is to take a diagnostic test. I advise you to use one of the tests provided by the GMATPrep program that you've just downloaded. This initial assessment of your skills should give you an idea about your strengths and weaknesses, which should in turn help you personalize the study plan outlined below. The most important rule when tailoring the a study plan is that you should invest more time in targeting your weak spots and prep with more difficult material for your strengths. Another important rule is that from the very beginning of your prep you should make a habit of keeping an error log to help narrow down your weak areas. You can read more about maintaining error logs at Beat The GMAT.
Days 3 to 14 - Quantitative Refresher
- Kaplan GMAT Math Workbook - for math concept review
- The Official Guide for the GMAT Review - for practice problems
After getting acquainted with the GMAT basics, you should waste no time in starting to work on the actual content of the test. Most students prefer to start with the quantitative portion of the GMAT for two main reasons: First, the quant section of the test is the easiest to improve upon - no subtle understanding of texts or grammar rules, just straight math. Second, the math you'll find on your test day should be material you've seen before, mainly junior high or high school topics that you simply need to reconnect with.
Math on the GMAT is difficult because you're constrained for time. On average you will need to answer each quantitative question within 2 minutes. Another challenge is that the GMAT tests a strange type of math question called Data Sufficiency, which is unique to the GMAT. With Data Sufficiency questions, you will be provided a math problem and two pieces of data. From the data provided you will then be asked whether you have sufficient information to answer the question (note: in these problems you are not asked to find the answer-just whether you have sufficient information to find the answer, yes or no).
I recommend that you begin your GMAT math review with the Kaplan GMAT Math Workbook. This book covers the most commonly tested topics on the GMAT and also has a lot of practice questions. However, given that you are short on prep time, the best strategy is to go through the concept lessons in this book (doing maybe 2-3 questions per topic), but rely on The Official Guide for the GMAT Review exclusively for practice. The reason for this is that Official Guide material features actual, but retired questions that closely resemble the problems you'll likely see on test day, and thus provides the best practice.
Another important aspect when practicing is to remember to always time yourself. As you progress, try to solve the problems within the given 2-minute time constraint. This timed practice is invaluable for proper test-day pacing, since not finishing the test results in severe penalties.
Days 15 to 26 - Verbal Workout
- Kaplan GMAT Verbal Workbook - for practice problems
- The PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible - for verbal concept review
- The Official Guide for the GMAT Review - for practice problems
The next 12 days of your study plan involves strengthening your verbal aptitude. As is the case with the quantitative section, it is advisable to first become familiar with the various GMAT verbal question types/strategy before reviewing practice problems. You should allot about 4 days per question type: spend a day and a half reviewing tips and strategy, and then spend two and a half days practicing from Official Guide material. Try to adopt this review structure for each question type, but adjust this schedule depending on your strengths and weaknesses (spending more time on weak areas). Despite the fact that this period of your prep is meant for verbal review, try to do just a handful of quant questions each day in order to maintain a grasp of the math concepts you've just acquired.
Since you're very short on time, you'll need a fairly condensed review of the three types of questions you will see on the verbal section (Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension). My advice is to study with Kaplan's GMAT Verbal Workbook. This book does a fine job of covering Reading Comprehension and Sentence Correction. However, Critical Reasoning could have been treated better in this book, which is why you might want to consider purchasing the The PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible, especially if Critical Reasoning (CR) is one of your weak subjects. At the very beginning of the PowerScore guide, you'll find a list of must-read chapters that will help you channel your attention to the most commonly tested types of CR questions found on the GMAT.
For your verbal practice it is essential that you work with the Official Guide for GMAT Review book. No test prep company I have seen has been able to produce verbal practice problems of the same quality as the Official Guide series. Moreover, many test takers have reported that certain question patterns seen in the Official Guide for GMAT Review have been also tested on the real GMAT. So regard these retired questions as a preview of your real test experience.
Finally, don't forget to time yourself. Many test takers perceive the GMAT verbal section to be more difficult than the GMAT math section, primarily because you only have about 1 minute and 45 seconds to answer each question.
Days 27 to 30 - Finishing Touches and Practice Tests
You should spend Day 27 taking the second computer adaptive test in the GMATprep software. When you take this practice test, try to simulate the actual GMAT testing environment as best you can-I recommend taking your test in a somewhat well trafficked area of a library to get used to the ambient noise. You should also note any feelings of anxiety or stress you felt during your last practice test and try to address them in your remaining days.
Spend Day 28 by looking over a few templates for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section of the GMAT. The AWA is the essay writing portion of the GMAT, which appears first on the test but does not count toward your final GMAT score (scaled between 200 and 800). Your AWA score is generally considered less important than your main GMAT score, but the fact that you start the GMAT with AWAs means that it will set the tone for the remainder of your test. Writing with confidence will certainly have a positive impact on your later performance!
During the final two days before your test day, avoid studying too much and try to relax. If need be, you can review a couple of problems. But be sure to lightly prep in these final days, since your body and your mind should be well rested before the 4-hour marathon that is the GMAT.
After one month of prep, you should now be sufficiently prepared to do well on the GMAT! Good luck, and be sure to share your experiences with other test takers in GMAT prep communities like Beat The GMAT.
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.