Studying For The GMAT: Start Before You Start

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Start "dating" the GMAT as soon as possible.

Dr. Seuss once pondered: "How did it get so late so soon?"  In our hectic, electronic-media-driven age, this observation is all too apt on any one of a number of occasions.  In particular, something like the GMAT can "sneak up" on folks before they feel fully prepared.  If you know a GMAT lies in your future, how can you avoid having it "sneak up" on you in this way?  I will give some paradoxical advice.  When studying for the GMAT, start before your start.

What exactly do I mean by this quasi-Zen statement? Perhaps a more direct way to say it would be: wherever you are, whatever you are doing, no matter how remote the GMAT might seem, start now.  Of course, that needs a little clarification.  If you search the web, you will find things like three-month and six-month GMAT study schedules, and those are great.  Let's say that the final three or six months before the GMAT are the "engaged to the GMAT" period. During that time, presumably, you will do GMAT prep questions every day, read about strategies every day, and take mock GMAT tests.  That will be an intense time of focused studying.

Before "engagement" comes "dating."  Start "dating" the GMAT as soon as possible.  Right now would be a good idea just to get the gist of the question formats on the GMAT.  You don't need to learn every angle, every strategy, just yet --- that will come later.  Right now, all you need is a brief perusal.  In particular, if you look at the descriptions of the questions, and there's any one about which you feel, "Oh no!  I'll have to learn about that?! How will I do that?", then that's an excellent sign that you should start to get yourself comfortable with that question format long before you start the "engaged" stage of focused studying.  Check out some free blogs from time to time, and just start to get acquainted with the GMAT.  Start to assess the various options for prep material, so that by the time you pry open your wallet, you are making a highly informed decision.

Consider your own relative strengths and weaknesses.  If the Verbal section seems daunting, then start bolstering this right now.  For example, read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist magazine regularly.  If you can unpack the sentence structures and follow the arguments of those publications, what will stand you in good stead when you dive into GMAT Verbal material. Furthermore, if you say you want an MBA, that means you are saying that you intend to pursue a career in corporate management.  If that's what your life is going to be all about, then why wouldn't you read the WSJ and the Economist as soon as possible, to give yourself as much experience of that world as you can get before leaping into the thick of it?

If the idea of GMAT math gives you the heebie-jeebies, then do some math every day.  You may know that on the GMAT Quantitative section you can't use a calculator: you have to rely on mental math.  Therefore, do mental math every day: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  You need to know your times tables cold.  Force yourself to work with fractions.  Look for real world opportunities to do simple mental calculations: the tip on a meal, the total cost of a small grocery order, gas mileage of a car, square feet in a room, etc.  Have a trusted friend hold a calculator and drill you on your mental math.  You want these mental math skills to be well warmed-up and practiced before you have to start wrestling with GMAT math problems.  Another math area on the GMAT are the graphs you will see on the Integrated Reasoning section.  Those articles in the WSJ and the Economist are also invaluable because they tend to be littered with informative graphs.  Study each graph, trying to glean as much information as you possibly can.

Many people get average GMAT scores because they don't start until they start.  They ignore the GMAT as long as possible and procrastinate, and then at the last minute try to ride a wide binge of hectic preparation to success.   A tiny percent of the population can actually pull that off successfully: for most people, it's a disastrous plan.  The long approach to the GMAT that I am recommending is really what will best serve most people.  If you truly would like a good GMAT score, then, even if the concentrated study period won't begin until later, start the low intensity but sustained studying as soon as possible.  If you have that kind of preparation, the day of the GMAT won't come "so soon": rather, it will come at precisely at the right time!

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magooshThis post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in GMAT prep. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

Related Resources:

• How Meaningful Is The GMAT?
• Low GMAT Score? Don’t Panic…Yet.
• GMAT, GRE, SAT, and All Things Test Prep [Podcast]

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