Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just take a few months off work, find a few cozy coffee shops, and devote yourself wholeheartedly to studying for the GMAT? Unfortunately, sometimes forgoing that paycheck just isn’t an option. If you find yourself trying to balance GMAT prep with a rigorous full-time (or full-time plus) job, don’t despair. You can make it work!
Here are 6 tips to help you meet your GMAT goals — and keep your day job.
1. Start with a realistic plan.
Your first step is seeing where you stand. Take a full-length GMAT practice CAT under test-like conditions to get a realistic assessment of your skill set. The result of your diagnostic should be used to evaluate and better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
The diagnostic will also give you a better idea of how much time you’ll need to set aside for GMAT prep (this also depends on how many hours/week of study time you’ll be able to squeeze in around your work schedule). If you’re only looking to increase your score a few points, you may only need a month or so of prep work. If you’re looking for a bigger gain, don’t worry — it’s definitely possible, but it might take you a bit longer to get there.
2. Target your weaknesses.
You’ve scheduled precious time to study for the GMAT around your work hours — now make sure you’re making the most of that time. The more specifically you target your weaknesses, the faster you’ll see tangible improvement. Examine the results of your practice tests and problems carefully — if you consistently have trouble with Data Sufficiency algebra problems but always get Data Sufficiency probability problems right, don’t waste your time studying probability! Do enough review to maintain your strengths, but focus your attention predominantly on your weaknesses.
3. Don’t break study dates with yourself.
As Woody Allen put it, “80% of success is showing up.” Create a realistic schedule for yourself that takes into account your personal preferences. If you’re a zombie before 9 AM, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be able to get up early and prep before work. Instead, set aside time during lunch, at night, or on the weekends. Experiment with different strategies to see what works best for you, and treat your “study dates” with yourself like you would a work meeting. Not showing up shouldn’t an option. Your discipline will be strengthened each time you don’t feel like studying but compel yourself to. Soon, you might start to enjoy your sessions or view them as a satisfying challenge, a way to “work out” your analytical muscles!
4. Be positive and keep the big picture in mind.
Let’s be real: working full-time and studying for the GMAT isn’t going to be a walk in the park. But don’t despair: it won’t last forever. Keep an inspirational quote or a picture of your dream b-school above your desk to remind you of your larger goals.
Stay positive about your GMAT skills too. While focusing on your weakest areas, you should also maintain your mastery of areas in which you excel. Confidence matters. Don’t get too down on yourself if you’re having trouble with a certain section or type of question — the more you practice, the better you’ll do.
5. Make it social (if that works for you).
Consider adding a slightly competitive or collaborative element to your GMAT preparation. Find a co-worker who’s also taking the GMAT — you know they’re out there! — and set up a weekly study group where you trade off running question drills. At the very least, social motivation may help you keep your study dates with yourself, just like a gym membership. And you may be able to share your strategies and frustrations with others.
6. Maintain momentum.
It’s good to aim for perfection, but at the same time, recognize that no matter how much studying you do, you won’t be able to eliminate the need to think on the spot and handle unfamiliar variations of familiar problems. Also recognize that the test gets harder the better you perform, so it will always feel like an uphill climb to some extent.
Don’t let small setbacks get you down. If you have an especially busy week at work and can’t get in your GMAT prep, don’t waste time beating yourself up. The sooner you start back up with your study plan, the sooner your days of GMAT prep will be done!