Preparing for the GMAT is no small ordeal. It requires patience, focus, dedication, hard work, and organization. I’d like to focus on organization and planning in relation to test prep because it seems to be an aspect of preparation that students neglect. But taking the time to organize, and planning before hand, can have untold benefits for test preparation.
1. A Schedule
Nothing will lead to success more than a study schedule. It will take some time to set up, but this is time well spent because it means that every time you sit down to study you will be more efficient.
2. Use a Calendar
Find the date of your test and start working backwards. Even if you are using a prefab GMAT study plan, you should still sit down and look at all the days and weeks before the test, and map out the plan. Mark out the hours that you will study, the days you know you will be too busy, and the flex days for extra studying if something unexpected cuts into your study days.
3. Set Big Goals and Small Goals
The big goals are set—ace the test and get into a top school. But you also need small goals and tasks for each day you study. Layout a plan for the small goals and tasks for each day ahead of time. This will ensure you cover all the necessary material before the test and give you little boosts of confidence when you accomplish the small, daily goals.
4. Regular Study
Haphazard studying is tantamount to not studying. Try the best you can to set up a regular time during the day. And even try to set up regular study days. The more that you can make studying and prepping a routine, the more habit forming you make it, the more effective your study time will be. Your body and mind will be primed and ready to learn. Pro Tip: Schedule your test for the same time that you study.
Plan for breaks. Usually, 5 minutes for every hour of studying is sufficient. Also, don’t dedicate the whole day to only one thing. Add variety to your studying so that you cover a range of topics in a two or three hour period. You will actually learn more and retain more by mixing things up. This goes for day-to-day studies also. Spend some time reviewing material from a previous week as well as learning something new. Finally, eight hour power sessions of study are not necessarily the best way to learn. Plan ahead and spend a few hours studying over the course of multiple days. This is far better.
Your notebook is as important as the material you use to prepare for the test. You need high-quality practice questions just as much as you need an organized approach to taking notes and recording your progress. Here are a few tips for your notebook.
7. Get a Notebook You Like
This might seem obvious, which is probably why it is often overlooked, but having an object that you inherently like will encourage you to use it more. If this means spending a little more on a notebook with nice paper, do it. The extra cash is worth it.
8. Write the Date
Every time you start a new page, write the date at the top. This will make it easier to navigate your notebook and to search through it for a particular formula. I know this might seem obvious, but it is what is most obvious that we tend to overlook.
9. Write Down Everything
You never know when you will want to return to a problem you solved or a strategy you discovered through your studies. Make note of everything you notice along the way: the types of questions you miss, the reason you missed a question, a shortcut you learn, a new grammar point to remember, or a creative approach to a math problem. Also, the act of writing everything down will help to cement the ideas in your mind.
10. Create A Personal Cheat Sheet
Not for cheating, but for remembering—a cheat sheet is a quick reference guide of question types, common wrong answer traps, math formulas, commonly tested grammar points, and anything else that you might need to reference as you begin to study. When you review your notes from a study session, add the most crucial information to your cheat sheet.
Use your cheat sheet as you study and don’t be afraid to look at it. The cheat sheet serves the same purpose as training wheels on a bike—something to get you started. But at a certain point, the training wheels hold you back from really riding a bike. Same goes for the cheat sheet. At a certain point, you will notice that you don’t need to look at the cheat sheet, and you can just dive in and dominate those practice questions.
11. When You Study
Finally, we are ready to study, but hold on and look around. Is there something more that you can do to increase your chance for success?
12. Study Space
Make it neat. It’s as easy as that. Eliminate all the nonsense and clutter, and not just on your desk, but in the whole room. The more you clean the space, the easier it will be to focus, find materials, and learn.
13. Mimic Testing Environment
This is more for when you take practice tests, but even for your regular study, do your best to mimic the test. If it is on a computer, make sure to practice on a computer. But don’t just use your laptop. Borrow someone else’s computer or go to a library and use a computer you are not comfortable on. Use a whiteboard for your notes instead of pen and paper. You want to minimize surprises on the day of the test, so take the time to find out what the testing environment is like and mimic it when you study.