GMAT Tip of the Week

The Dog Days of Summer

(This is one of a series of GMAT tips that we offer on our blog.)

August is an interesting month, in that it’s known primarily for its lack of identity. One of the few months without a major American holiday, it represents the no-man’s-land between summer and back-to-school. The excitement of warmer weather has given way to the monotony of hot-and-humid, and everyone seems to be waiting: farmers for the harvest, sports fans for the pennant races and football season, students and teachers for the school bells, and residents of beach communities for tourists to disperse and leave the beaches to the locals. Meanwhile, business school applicants are awaiting the first round deadlines for their applications (most will come in October).

As Tom Petty likely puts it best, “the waiting is the hardest part” — you know that you should be doing something proactive with your time, but those “dog days of summer” tend to lull us in to a monotonous, not-particularly-productive routine. Here is how you can put the time to better use for your fall GMAT test date:

Study with a purpose! Often times, your best intentions are your own undoing, as your only initiative is to “do more problems”. The problem with that is that, in doing so, you likely find yourself in a rut, doing problem after problem without gaining much value from each. Much like an elite athlete will divide his workouts in to specific purposes (strength, speed, quicknees, endurance), you should do the same for your GMAT preparation. Spending two hours “doing problems” will help, but spending the same amount of time trying to get quicker on the math questions, for example, helps you twofold — you’re getting quicker, but you’re doing problems at the same time. Accordingly, you derive the same benefit of “doing problems”, but it’s psychologically easier to study with a particular focus (you don’t feel like you’re just grinding out another set), and you also build confidence by knowing that you addressed a specific area of emphasis. Here are some easy ways to improve the effectiveness of your study time:

Take practice tests, and spend time analyzing your results to see where you need to improve. Based upon that, give yourself drills designed to attack those areas. Some examples include:

  • If you need to get quicker, give yourself drills designed to solve problems faster. Either:

Give yourself 30 seconds to start on each problem (of a set of 10 or 20), forcing yourself to start quickly, and then go back to finish the set building upon your initial work.

Look at each problem and identify what you’re being asked to do (which skills are necessary, and what will the answer represent), then go back and solve the set.

  • If you need to improve a specific skill area, drill yourself on sets of 10 questions within that discipline.
  • If you tend to lose focus late in the exam and make silly mistakes, work on your verbal skills at the end of another project or a long day of work to practice maintaining focus.

Again, by performing drills such as those above, you will still derive the benefit of “doing more problems”, but you’ll also find that your study sessions are easier to get through, and that your return on investment of time is increased. Work smartly through the dog days of summer so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor in the fall!