Students often ask how much time they should spend studying for the GMAT. The short answer: there is no one size fits all solution. That said, at Knewton we generally recommend a prep period of around three months. It’s enough time to build a solid foundation in every key area of GMAT study, but not so long that you burn out by the time exam day rolls around.
If a 3-month study schedule is something you’re considering, here are some guidelines and tips for spending your time:
Week 1: Take a diagnostic practice test to see where you stand overall. Learn the basic parameters of each section including scoring and question types.
Weeks 2 – 4: Do as many practice problems as possible for each section and read explanations for any wrong answers. The goal is not just to see whether you are better at Verbal or Quant, but specifically which sections (Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction) and which question types (strengthening arguments, usage of idioms) are the most difficult for you.
Weeks 4 – 8: Now that you have a lot of practice questions under your belt, you want to focus on the bigger ideas behind them. If Sentence Correction is killing you, work through a good guide to essential GMAT grammar rules. If Data Sufficiency algebra is your weak spot, then crack open a math textbook and brush up on your fundamentals. During this middle phase you should keep doing practice problems for every section — not just the ones you struggle with! — but the real goal should be mastering the content.
Weeks 9 – 12: For the last month, focus on strategy. We recommend doing this last because strategies are what you will want to have in your head if you ever get stuck on the content of a question. Try plugging in numbers on the Problem Solving section. Work on sketching quick outlines for passages in RC. Practice negating assumptions in CR. These methods don’t involve mastery of any GMAT material, but they can save you serious time once you have them down.
In addition to strategy work, review any math or grammar content that still feels foggy during this period, and be sure to take one more practice test before the last week.
Final Week: The final week before the GMAT is best spent working on your timing strategies. Complete entire sections of the GMAT and time yourself so that you have a sense of how long you should spend on each question type. Don’t try to learn complex new math concepts or test-taking strategies during this period; instead, prepare yourself mentally and emotionally by getting more sleep and maintaining healthy eating habits. Shorten your study sessions and reduce your stress, but make time to review the essentials.
As you study, be sure to remember:
- Consistency and routine are your friends. Try to study at the same time each day, and be sure to pace yourself. Studying every other night for between 45 minutes and two hours will allow for much more long-term retention of content than weekly cram-fests and all-nighters.
- Try to cover each section every time you study. We definitely do not recommend spending a month solely on verbal and then a month on math. Follow up Critical Reasoning lessons with Data Sufficiency questions to keep everything fresh in your mind.
- Focus on your weaknesses. While you certainly shouldn’t neglect math for verbal or vice versa, you may focus more on one section if you find that you lose considerably more points in that area.
- Work repetition into your schedule. This will ensure whatever you learn at the start of the three months is still in your head at the end.
- Don’t overemphasize practice tests. Full-length practice tests are an important part of any GMAT prep regimen, but it’s important not to overdo. One full test every other week is more than enough. Three tests over the course of three months is also a sensible structure. Don’t panic if you get a bad score on a practice test, nor celebrate too much if you get a good score on one. Whatever scores you find yourself getting, focus more on the questions you miss than on the actual score. The point of taking practice tests is to improve, not to predict the future.
Three months is enough time to complete a test prep course should you invest in one. If you’re self-studying, you can take a cue from the structure of an official class: Take your studies one “lesson” at a time, and spread your work out over several weeks. Pacing and structure are key.
Remember that even though you take the GMAT in one day, the score you get will largely be determined by decisions you made months prior regarding study plan and method.