We’re still firmly entrenched in the first third of the year, and if 2015 is the year that you plan to conquer the GMAT you’re in luck. Why?
Because your GMAT study plan should include three phases:
One of the most common mistakes that GMAT studiers make is that they forget that they need to learn before they can execute. Are you keeping an eye on the stopwatch on every question you complete? Are you taking multiple practice tests in your first month of GMAT prep? Have you uttered the phrase “how could I ever do this in two minutes???”? If so, you’re probably not paying nearly enough attention to the learning phase. In the learning phase you should:
- Review core skills related to the GMAT by DOING them and not just by trying to memorize them. You were once a master of (or maybe a B-student at) factoring quadratics and identifying misplaced modifiers and completing long division. Retrain your mind to do those things well again by practicing those skills.
- Learn about the GMAT question types and the strategies that will help you attack them efficiently. For this you might consider a prep course or self-study program, or you can always start by reviewing prep books and free online resources.
- Take as much time as you need to complete and learn from problems. You’ll learn a lot more from struggling through a problem in six minutes than you will from taking two minutes, giving up, and then reading the typewritten solution in the back of the book. Let yourself learn! Again, it’s critical to learn by doing – by actively engaging with problems and talking yourself into understanding – than it is to try to memorize your way to success. The stopwatch is not your friend in the first third of your preparation!
- Embrace mistakes and keep a positive attitude. The GMAT is a hard test; most people struggle with unfamiliar question formats (Data Sufficiency, anyone?) and challenging concepts (without a calculator, too). Recognize that it will take some time to learn/re-learn these skills, and that making mistakes and thinking about them is one of the best ways to learn.
Regardless of how you’ve studied, you’ll need to complete plenty of practice to make sure you’re comfortable implementing those strategies and using those skills on test day. Once you’ve developed a good sense of what the GMAT is testing and how you need to approach it, it’s time to spend a few weeks devouring practice problems. Among the best sources include:
In this phase, you can start concerning yourself with the stopwatch a little and you’ll want to identify weaknesses and common mistakes so that you can emphasize those. Particularly with GMAT verbal, the more official problems you see the more you develop a feel for the style of them, so it’s important to emphasize practice not just for the conscious skills but also for those subconscious feelings you’ll get on test day from having seen so many ways they’ll ask you a question.
- Work on pacing and develop a sense for how much time you’ll need to complete each section. From there you can develop a pacing plan.
- Determine which “silly” mistakes you tend to make under timed pressure and exam conditions, and be hyperaware of them on test day.
- Develop the kind of mental stamina you’ll need to hold up under a 4-hour test day. Verbal strategies can be much easier to employ in a 60-minute study session than at the end of a several-hour test! Make sure that at least a few times you take the entire test including AWA and IR for the first hour.
- Continue to see new problems and hone your skills.
While it’s not a terrible idea to take a practice test early in your study regimen and another partway through the Practice phase, most of your tests should come toward the end of your study process. Why? Because the learning and practice phases are so important. You can’t execute until you’ve developed the skills and strategies necessary to do so, and you won’t do nearly as effective a job of gaining and practicing those if you’re not allowing yourself the time and subject-by-subject focus to learn with an open mind.
So be certain to let yourself learn with a natural progression via the GMAT Study Rule of Thirds. Learn first; then focus on practice; then emphasize execution via practice tests. Studying in thirds is the best way to ensure that you get into a school that’s your first choice.
By Brian Galvin