GMAT Study Plan Details
Studying for the GMAT is not something that most test-takers take lightly and is usually a commitment of 2-3 months or more. While most students studying for a test like the GMAT often know what to study, they have many questions about how to study. Study schedules can definitely vary depending on your particular situation such as goal score, starting score, work schedule, school schedule, and family obligations, but, based on a long history of working with students and studying how we learn, here are some general rules of thumb to remember as you begin to form your personalized study schedule.
The first thing to know about studying for the GMAT is that the GMAT is not a test that you want to cram for. Studying for the GMAT is like preparing for a marathon. You want to build up to test day with a plan that builds your skill and stamina. Because the GMAT tests your critical thinking skills and various content skills, you need to know how to think flexibly and thoroughly about the material tested. Flexibility and critical thinking are skills that ideally require knowledge of the patterns in the GMAT. Therefore, it is best to build this type of depth and flexibility in a gradual way.
Next, remember to be deliberate in your study schedule. Make dates with your GMAT books and practice tests and keep them! The easiest thing to do is to procrastinate because the deadline is weeks away and nothing is naturally there to keep you accountable. Therefore, find a way to stay accountable by setting a date reminder and/or having someone help you stay on track with your schedule.
Along with deliberate study times, be purposeful with your GMAT dates. Instead of just putting “study GMAT” on the calendar add specifics about the purpose of the session; for instance, June 13th could be your night to spend some quality time with right triangles in geometry and subject-verb agreement in sentence correction. At the beginning, the purpose of your session should be aimed at mastery of specific topics. Closer to test day, start to incorporate timing sections and mixed practice into the goal of your sessions.
Studying for the GMAT takes time. As Lucas mentioned previously, plan to spend about 2-3 months and 100-120 hours studying for the GMAT. The top scorers on the GMAT spend 120+ hours, on average, studying for test day over a period of time. The length of each study session will vary based on your specific situation; however, most students aim for sessions between 1 and 3 hours in a sitting. If you take the average 120 hours of studying for a top scorer and divide that over the course of the average 10 weeks of studying, you get approximately 12 hours per week. This includes time spent in class sessions and tutoring sessions for the GMAT. If you spread those hours equally, it’s best to do about 2-3 hours per day, 6 days per week and to take one day off per week.
During each incremental session, it’s also important to take periodic breaks. There is quite a bit of research to support spaced learning, which, in essence, means to set up to chunks of study time with short breaks built in. Give your brain periodic breaks to process the information that you are taking in. The frequency and length of your breaks can vary a bit; however, a 5-10 minute break every 25-30 minutes of studying is a good rule of thumb. Time of day can matter as well. Know your good times of day and try to study during those times in which you are most alert. There is research that suggests students learn best in the evening; however, know yourself and when you work best.
In a typical studying chunk of time over one particular subject, here is my favorite way to arrange your early studying when you are building content mastery. Each chunk takes about 1 hour and 20+ minutes with 1+ hour devoted to study. Ideally, you will get 2 chunks in a normal day and 3-4 chunks in on a completely free day.
Each Studying Chunk – For the entire chunk, stay within one area (i.e. Number properties, geometry, etc…)
1) Set a timer for 20-25 minutes
2) Review Notes on that particular topic (5 minutes)
3) Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (15-20 min)
TAKE A 5-10 MINUTE BREAK – NO GMAT – DO SOMETHING DISTRACTING
4) Set the timer for 20-25 minutes – stick with the same subject area
5) Review Notes (2 minutes)
6) Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (18-23 min)
TAKE A 5-10 MINUTE BREAK– NO GMAT – DO SOMETHING DISTRACTING
7) Set the timer for 20-25 minutes – stick with the same subject area
8) Review Notes (2 minutes)
9) Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (18-23 min)
END OF CHUNK ONE — CHANGE SUBJECTS FOR THE NEXT CHUNK
Even if your studying chunks vary a bit, it’s important to review your notes on the topic at the beginning of each session to reinforce the proper technique and approach. You also want to review every question, even those that you get right. The more you compare your reasoning with expert reasoning, the more you adopt the expert reasoning. Also, as you walk through the questions, practice asking yourself those critical questions that your instructor or tutor asks you as you navigate questions in your sessions. So, now that you know the “when,” what about the “where”?
Most people have preferences about study location. However, it’s good to vary your study location periodically. Information that you learn can become context dependent if you study in the same location over and over. If you vary the location and even the noise level a bit, the content and skill that you learn will be more flexible and the unfamiliar context of the testing room won’t hinder your ability to access that information.
Finally, keep a positive attitude about your progress. Progress on the GMAT can be an up and down road with periodic spikes and dips. Through it all, keep your eye focused on improving your skill and critical thinking approach. Always give yourself action steps and make mistakes with a growth mindset. Use your mistakes as learning opportunities instead of letting them diminish your confidence. Attitude matters! Give yourself the grace and time to stumble and grow. Now, it’s time to strap on your tennis shoes and start training for this marathon of a test!