GMAT Study Plan: When to Prepare & How to Build a Schedule

Choosing when to study for the GMAT might be the most important decision in the preparation process. In 16 years of preparing students for this test, I have seen countless examples of people who needlessly extend the process and never truly devote the required time to the exam. They start their GMAT preparation and then: 

This is not an effective GMAT study plan! You will be so much more successful in this process if you devote most of your time to GMAT prep over a defined period while avoiding distractions and long breaks from studying. Set aside a roughly 10-week period (see our proposed GMAT study schedule below!) and try to follow these golden rules:

Building a successful GMAT study plan

1. Prepare for the GMAT as early as you can. 

Are you a college student about to start a job in investment banking, management consulting, or some other field in which you will likely seek an MBA? You will score higher and be more efficient in your GMAT preparation if you take the test at the end of your college semester while still in “study-mode” and before you start a new post-graduation position. While you might not want to prepare for a daunting exam right after graduation, it will be so much easier than when you are working 70 hours a week on Wall Street. Having watched the GMAT break many working professionals in New York City, I can promise you this is true! Remember: GMAT scores are valid for 5 years.

2. Prepare for the GMAT when you are not working (or not working a lot). 

3 weeks of full-time test prep without a job is roughly equivalent to 8-10 weeks of test prep while working. The GMAT is a highly sophisticated test that requires mastery of content and subtle pattern recognition. Your GMAT study plan is so much more effective and efficient when you are living and breathing the exam rather than struggling to stay awake while doing problems after a long day of work. If you are switching jobs or planning on taking some extended time off for any reason, plan on doing your GMAT prep then, even if you won’t be applying for several years. People who are able to prepare full-time for the exam typically score higher with less overall suffering.

3. Plan your preparation window wisely (and early) and clear your social schedule. 

For the majority of you who must prepare while working full-time, choose a several month period in your job during which you can take some days off and your workload will be minimal and do this long before your probable application deadline. (For example, see our ten-week schedule below!) If your supervisor is supportive of your MBA plans, let that person know and try to work out a schedule conducive to studying. Perhaps on Tuesdays and Thursdays you can go to work several hours later than normal so that you can put in a 2- to 3-hour study session each of those mornings. Make a defined study schedule and don’t deviate from it–use your weekends for studying and avoid any extended trips or work travel. It will be much less painful to study over an intense 10-week period than on and off over a year.

4. Be efficient with this well-planned study time. 

If you haven’t studied for the exam before, start with our 5-week GMAT course or a one-on-one tutoring package. People waste so much time trying to prepare on their own without a defined curriculum and without the guidance of an expert. Self-studying for this complex exam is generally a bad idea and usually ends up being more expensive and more time-consuming than if you had started with professional help. Set aside the right time period, do the right preparation, and be the envy of your friends or colleagues when you get a 700+ score in the shortest possible time frame.

Advice from an Expert Tutor: GMAT Study Plan


10 Week GMAT Study Schedule

With a full-time job, you should plan on spending 2-3 hours on GMAT preparation during three of your workdays, with a big 4-hour study session on one of your weekend days, and a shorter 2-hour session on the other. Ideally, you put in at least 12 hours a week over the 10-week period. Avoid short study sessions in which you are not able to dig deeply into topics and train both focus and pattern recognition. If you are not working full-time you can condense this GMAT study plan into 5-6 weeks.

Sample GMAT Study Schedule

WeekFocus
1Arithmetic and Critical Reasoning
2Algebra and Reading Comprehension
3Word Problems and Sentence Correction
4Geometry, Statistics, and SC
5Data Sufficiency and CR/RC Review
6Timed Question Sets, Quant Diagnostic and Practice Test
7Timed Question Sets, Quant Diagnostic and Practice Test
8Review Weak Areas
9Timed Question Sets, Quant Diagnostic and Practice Test
10Advanced Timed Question Sets, Practice Test, Official Test

Week 1: Arithmetic and Critical Reasoning (CR)

Refresh all core arithmetic content areas (calculations, percents, ratios, factors/multiples) and apply that knowledge to specific collections of official problems testing the same content area. Completing large batches of problems within one content area is essential for learning all the different wrinkles and strategies associated with that type. For all the question batches in the first five weeks, primarily use the official guide but add in questions from the supplement guides as needed.

Learn important strategies for critical reasoning questions and apply them to a collection of official problems. Having specific, regimented strategies for critical reasoning is key to success, and most students who self-study do not develop a systematic approach.

Week 2: Algebra and Reading Comprehension (RC)

Refresh all core algebra content areas (calculations, inequalities, exponents/roots, quadratics, common algebraic equations) and apply that knowledge to specific collections of official problems testing the same content area. The standard for algebra on the GMAT is high, so make sure you have complete mastery of this content.

Learn important strategies for reading comprehension and apply them to a collection of official passages and questions. Success in reading comprehension depends on both your reading approach and your ability to recognize patterns and tricks related to specific types of questions.

Week 3: Word Problems and Sentence Correction (SC)

Learn strategies and best practices for attacking the common word problems used on the GMAT. It is essential that you master these word problems, because they are part of almost every test: Venn Diagram, Work/Rate and Distance/Rate, Mixture, Weighted Average, Conversion, etc. Do large sets of each type of word problem to see every trick and wrinkle used to make these staple GMAT questions.

Sentence Correction problems require a mastery of the core underlying grammar AND good strategy. After a thorough initial grammar review, it is best to learn the grammar through doing problems, rather than in a vacuum. Sentence correction is mostly testing your decision-making process and most students do not approach this question type the right way. By learning grammar through the problems, you practice both proper strategy and the underlying content.

Week 4: Geometry/Statistics and SC

Use this week to focus on the “secondary” but more difficult quant content areas of geometry and statistics. Make sure you are rock solid on all important geometry formulas and relationships and learn essential strategies for attacking complicated geometry problems. For statistics, make sure you have mastery of the basic descriptive statistics—mean, median, mode, range, and standard deviation—and a solid foundation in basic probability and combinatorics. Do large collections of questions testing each of these difficult content areas.

Do another week of sentence correction problems, focusing on both grammar and strategy. To succeed in sentence correction, it is essential that you do a lot of practice problems so that you have seen a majority of the commonly tested grammar scenarios. Keep a well-organized error log of sentence correction problems and revisit them to make sure you understand both your strategy errors and your content knowledge issues.

Week 5: Data Sufficiency and CR/RC Review

Do a large collection of data sufficiency questions and learn how to apply optimal strategies to this complicated question type. Most students do not properly leverage the numerous hints present in DS questions, so it is essential that you learn best practices for this fundamental quant question type. In this collection, you will also get to review all the different quant content areas used to make the different questions.

Focus on a large collection of harder CR and RC questions. The strategies and skill sets required for these two question types are quite similar, and you will see that more clearly as you do sets during this week and as you review core strategies.

Week 6: Timed Question Sets + Quant Diagnostic + Practice Test

Using the official resources offered by GMAC (official practice questions 1 + 2 and the supplement guides) do 3 to 4 timed sets of medium and hard questions: 31-question sets for quant ( ½ problem solving and ½ data sufficiency) and 36-question verbal sets (roughly 1/3rd of each type).

Do the first of the three 24-question quant diagnostic tests in the official quantitative practice bundle.

Do the first official practice test.

Week 7: Timed Question Sets + Quant Diagnostic + Practice Test

Using the official resources (official practice questions 1 + 2 and the supplement guides) do 3 to 4 timed sets of medium and hard questions: 31-question sets for quant ( ½ problem solving and ½ data sufficiency) and 36-question verbal sets (roughly 1/3rd of each type).

Do the second of the three 24-question quant diagnostic tests in the official quantitative practice bundle.

Do the second official practice test.

Week 8: Review Weak Areas

Use your results from the previous two weeks of timed sets and tests to determine weak areas and do a deep dive back into those question types and content areas. Maybe on the quant side you find that questions testing inequalities, work/rate scenarios, factors and multiples, and geometry are causing problems. Revisit those content areas and do additional sets of those question types. Maybe on the verbal side you find that SC questions testing comparisons and meaning are problematic and in CR, assumption and useful to evaluate questions are causing problems. Use this week to shore up weaker areas and create a solid floor going into the final two weeks.

Week 9: Timed Question Sets + Quant Diagnostic + Practice Test

Using the official resources (official practice questions 1 + 2 and the supplement guides) do 3 to 4 timed sets of medium and hard questions: 31-question sets for quant ( ½ problem solving and ½ data sufficiency) and 36-question verbal sets (roughly 1/3rd of each type).

Do the final of the three 24-question quant diagnostic tests in the official quantitative practice bundle.

Do the third official practice test.

Week 10: Advanced Timed Question Sets + Practice Test + Official Test

Using the Advanced Question Book online bank, do 3 to 4 timed sets of hard questions: 31-question sets for quant ( ½ problem solving and ½ data sufficiency) and 36-question verbal sets (roughly 1/3rd of each type).

Do the fourth official practice test.

Crush the official GMAT with a 700+!

If you don’t get the score you want, order the enhanced score report (ESR) and take the test again. You can use the remaining practice tests and resources to prepare in this period, focusing on the weaker areas shown by the ESR.