GMAT Tip of the Week: New Year, New You, New Study Plan

GMAT Tip of the WeekHappy New Year!  If you’re reading this on January 9, our publication date, and your New Year’s Resolution is still intact, you’re probably in the majority.  But within the next few weeks that will change… This week the gyms, yoga studios, pools, and health food stores of the world were packed with people for whom 2015 is the year to become great; by Valentine’s Day, however, Netflix usage, Frito-Lay sales, and Taco Bell drive through volume will be back to their normal levels, while GMAT class attendance will start to wane, too.

As a GMAT student who wants to make 2015 the year of the elite MBA acceptance letter, how can you be among the disappointingly-few who keep up this week’s excellence exuberance?

Keep it simple.

The problem with most New Year’s Resolutions and GMAT study plan’s is that they’re far too ambitious.  Hatched over eggnog and 7-10 days of paid vacation, these plans are destined to failure because they’re way too much for anyone to adhere to in the long term.  They often read like:

“I’ll get up 90 minutes before I normally do and study over a healthy breakfast, then after work three days a week I’ll go the library, and every Saturday I’ll take a practice test and spend Sunday mornings with a tutor reviewing it all.”

“I’ll take a leave of absence from work so that I can study 40-50 hours a week for three months, then I’ll take the GMAT in the spring and get a high score, then volunteer all summer to demonstrate my community service, then apply round 1 to Harvard/Stanford/Wharton, and maybe throw Yale or London Business School in the mix as a safety school.”

“I’ll turn off my smartphone and give up social media for the next few months, study at least 90 minutes a day, and….”

And the problem with those study plans? You’ll resent them within a week, just like most New Year’s Resolvers resent their no-carb / all-lettuce diets and overpriced gym memberships.  You have to come up with a study plan that:

1) You can fit in to your lifestyle so that you can keep to it.

This means that you factor in your hobbies and, yes, limitations.  If you’re not a morning person, you won’t keep to a schedule of studying every morning before work.  If you thrive on a good workout, giving up your soccer league or gym regimen completely won’t work either.  And friends, family, work functions, etc. are always important.

2) You can build on.

The best study plans are those that start a bit smaller and build into something more robust, like a “Couch to 5k (or marathon)” training program.  If you want to run a marathon, you start with a couple miles and build up to 18-20 milers as your body is ready for it.  If you want a 700 on the GMAT, you start with a handful of study sessions per week and build into longer sessions when they’re more purposeful and you know what you’re using the time to work on.

3) Focus on achievement, not activity.

Veritas Prep emphasizes the famous John Wooden quote “never mistake activity for achievement”, meaning that simply spending 4 hours studying Sentence Correction, for example, isn’t going to get the job done; it’s the quality of study that helps.  So hold yourself accountable for goals, not time spent.  Think in terms of “I want to do 25 SC problems focusing on major error categories first, then thinking of logical meaning second”

or “I’m going to practice applying right triangle principles to geometry problems” or “I’m going to do a timed drill to force myself to think more quickly.”  Give your study sessions themes and achievement goals, and they’ll not only be more productive but they’ll also be more fun.

So what does a productive, sustainable study schedule look like?

*It’s firm but flexible.  Plan to study at least 3 times per week, but let yourself move Tuesday’s session to Wednesday if you get tickets to a Tuesday concert or you work late and just need to blow off steam with a run.  You have to get those sessions in, but you don’t have to resent them or go through the motions just to stick to your (probably arbitrary) schedule.

*It’s achievement-driven.  Your study sessions have themes and goals, not just durations.

*It’s reasonable. Know yourself and your preferences and limitations.

Very few people can study for hours every day, so schedule something you can commit to – a few sessions per week, maybe two weeknights and one weekend morning, or something that you know you can hold yourself accountable to.

*It’s custom-built. Think about when you’ve been most successful in other academic pursuits and try to replicate that.  Do you study better in the morning?  In the evening?  With friends or music?  Alone?  After a good workout?   With a snack?  Build your plan around your own successes.

*It’s built to expand.  2-3 study sessions a week may very well not be enough for you, so be honest with yourself once you’ve up and running.  Do you need more time to master algebra?  Do you need to build in a class or On Demand program to supplement your practice?  Do you have enough time for practice tests?  Once you’re committed to a bsseline study regimen, you need to be honest with yourself about what you need, and at that point it’s often easier to bite the bullet and dive into something more intense.

But in the beginning, make sure you have a schedule/plan that you won’t quit before your neighbors even take their Christmas lights down.

January is a great time to make plans for self-improvement, but most of those plans never live to see February.  To ensure that your New YEAR’s Resolution to succeed on the GMAT isn’t limited to one month or less, resolve to plan on something that will last.  If you can do that, we’ll see you back in this GMAT Tip of the Week every Friday until you have that score you’re looking for.

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By Brian Galvin