Studying for a good GMAT score

650 is a very respectable goal score for many business school applicants. Many of the average GMAT scores at top business schools, such as Michigan State (Broad), and Indiana University (Kelley) hover around 650. A score of 650 or higher generally signifies excellent critical reasoning ability and a capacity to deal with complex management issues. To reach this critical score, follow these steps.

10 Steps to scoring a 650 on the GMAT

1. Figure out a timeline

If you’re planning to apply to b-school in a few months, register for the GMAT immediately, as desirable slots tend to fill up quickly. If you intend to apply within 3 months to a year (or even a few years), you have more time and can begin a comprehensive study plan before registering the test. Remember: since GMAT scores are valid 5 years from your test, it is never too early to begin your prep.

2. Assess yourself

Briefly review any GMAT material you can find online, and then take the free CAT available on the GMAC’s official website. Assess whether your performance meets your standards. If you are already scoring a 700 or higher, you may not need to study much more, but be sure to maintain your score by reviewing material. If you are scoring below 600 or even 550, do not panic. It is definitely possible to reach your goal score of 650 with a bit of hard work.

3. Establish a plan

Decide what GMAT study materials will best help you reach your goal score. To maximize your chance of scoring well, consider enrolling in Knewton’s GMAT course, the industry leader for adaptive online learning. Knewton provides targeted recommendations and practice problems–along with live classes and expert teachers–to help you improve your score in the most efficient way possible.

4. Address your weaknesses

Whichever study method you choose, begin targeting your weaknesses immediately. For example, if you are scoring well in Reading Comprehension but having trouble with Data Sufficiency, focus intensely on Data Sufficiency (while still maintaining your verbal skills). If you are having trouble with Reading Comprehension because you perceive yourself to be a poor reader, do not assume that all hope is lost; focus on learning strategies that help you determine the main idea, purpose, attitude, and structure of whatever article you are given.

5. Keep the big picture in mind

The more specifically you can target your weaknesses, the better. For instance, if you know that you can handle Data Sufficiency algebra problems but have difficulty with Data Sufficiency word problems, drill with those types of questions for awhile. The more effort you put into addressing our weaknesses, the faster you will see tangible improvement. At the same time, keep the big picture in mind. In addition to targeting your weaknesses, be sure to maintain your mastery of areas in which you excel.

6. Create a study schedule

Be realistic: create a schedule you’ll be able to follow for at least a few weeks. If you are constantly adopting new strategies and not executing them, you will never know if your plans are effective or not. For every 10 points you lag behind with your GMAT score, you should aim to study an hour a week for a month (at least). For instance, if you are scoring a 570 and aiming for a 650, try to study 8 hours a week for a month. (These projections are a rough estimate; study patterns vary greatly from person to person.) Depending on your personality, it may also help to make GMAT prep a social experience and pair up with a study partner.

7. Re-assess yourself

Take another practice CAT if you haven’t already. Be sure to take the CAT under test-like conditions in order to ensure your score is an accurate reflection of your skills. Take only official breaks, and don’t cheat yourself by consulting outside study materials.

8. Tweak your strategy and turn up the heat

If you are improving at an appropriate pace, continue prepping the way you are. If you are improving slightly but not at the desired pace, intensify your program or register for a GMAT class (if you haven’t done so already). If you are already in a class, make sure to complete all homework and extra practice and learn from your mistakes. Recognize patterns in questions and try to use short-cuts to save time.

9. Practice, makes perfect

A week before the exam, take a series of GMAT practice tests to gain familiarity with the feeling of the exam. Get used to the level of mental and physical endurance required. Review test-day protocol, so you don’t inadvertantly break test center rules.

10. Test day

Don’t be concerned about cramming for the exam last-minute. It is unlikely that such preparations will affect your score. Instead, make sure that you eat and sleep properly. Remember that the exam is partially a stress and endurance test and that however much you prepare, there may still be something unexpected about the questions you encounter.

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