Start now and focus yourself mentally. Preparing for the GMAT takes more time and effort than many people expect (especially if you are scoring below the mean GMAT score of 539). It’s best to prepare for unexpected outcomes so that you save plenty of time to manage the other components of your applications, such as school visits, essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews. There are many factors to consider when deciding on a preparation plan. Here are some:

  • When was the last time you did any significant amount of algebra, geometry, or number crunching without access to external resources (formulas, calculators, Excel, co-workers)?
  • How often do you read dense publications in which you have little interest?
  • When was the last time you studied grammar rules?
  • How often do you play logic games, or have you ever taken a logic class?

If your answer is “a long time ago” or “hardly ever,” you are like most people and need to start preparing now. Ample preparation eliminates undue stress. Start devising a schedule by reviewing the sample prep outline below.


Dates Activities
Sept. – Dec. ’11
  • Take a practice test
  • Evaluate score and devise an action plan based on assessment
  • Research preparation options (courses, tutoring, books and study guides, websites)
  • Determine the score range of applicants at schools that interest you
  • Start self-study
Oct ‘11 – Jan ’12
  • Enroll in preparation program
  • Set personal study schedule (12 hours per week recommended)
  • Work hard to prepare effectively
Jan ‘12
  • Take your official GMAT exam
  • Consider additional GMAT preparation
Jan – May ’12
  • Complete additional GMAT preparation
  • Retake the GMAT

A wide variety of options exist to help you learn what’s required for the GMAT. Here are the most common:

  • Courses – GMAT preparation courses come in a variety of incarnations – from those offered on college campuses to retail courses offered by companies large and small. Generally, courses offer the most cost-effective solution to preparing for the GMAT. A good course will supply you with both the knowledge you need and ways in which to apply it. While courses are not tailored to the individual, generally they are comprehensive enough to help most people succeed.

  • Tutoring – tutoring offers test-takers individualized instruction, which allows a person to get guidance in the areas she needs most in a format most conducive to her learning style. Tutoring is also flexible, and generally allows people the greatest opportunity for significant GMAT improvement – though usually at a higher price. Tutoring often works best for those test-takers scoring significantly higher or lower than the average.

  • Books – Books are another way to get an overview of GMAT content. As with courses, book quality varies from company to company. A good set of GMAT books will supply the knowledge and tools needed to tackle GMAT content, as well as sufficient practice to begin applying what you learn. You should be aware of the difference between practice books and preparation books. Practice books, such as The Official Guide for GMAT Review (produced by GMAC), contain mostly sample questions. Preparation books will include sample questions, but will also contain a lot of the content you need to know, as well as strategy and approaches to manage questions. The sample questions in preparation books will be there, in part, to help you apply things you’ve learned. Both types of books have their merits, just be sure which you need before purchasing.

  • Website Guides – the WWW contains a wealth of information on the GMAT and on GMAT preparation (not all of it good). Be a discerning consumer when searching for GMAT content and knowledge on the web. Be wary of forums, as a great many questionable people with questionable motives and perspectives populate them. Your best bet is to seek out online content from reputable companies. Most companies offer limited access to their online content free of charge. Start there and look for study guides and insight pages on GMAT preparation.

  • Flashcards – often a staple of courses, tutoring, and self-study approaches, flash cards offer an accessible way to learn the content tested by the GMAT. A good set of flash cards will also include examples and sample problems, designed to show you how the content is applied. Flash cards are very rarely enough to help people with the recognition and application aspects so crucial to using your knowledge on the GMAT, but are a good place to start gaining the knowledge and hammering it home so that it’s at immediate recall. For more on how to avoid the pitfalls of flashcards, check out Don’t Be “That (flashcard) Guy” on our blog.

In deciding how you should go about preparing for the GMAT, you’ll likely want to consider price, but you’ll also want to consider the best fit for you. Preparation today runs the gamut – from one-on-one in-person to self-study to live virtual courses to pre-recorded video classes to everything in between. Keep in mind that almost everyone seeks out help for the GMAT, and there are myriad providers of GMAT-related materials and services. Check to see how the company you’re considering purchasing something from approaches the GMAT, approaches learning, and approaches preparation. Keep in mind that it is often more cost/time effective to invest in professional instruction than it is to try to learn everything on your own.

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