Today, Mark Skoskiewicz, Founder of MyGuru, is here to share how you can apply business strategy to your GMAT study plan. Enjoy!
In my former life as a business strategy consultant, we defined strategy as a clear explanation or description of what you will and will not do to achieve a goal. When developing business strategy, that meant making decisions about products and services to offer (or not), capabilities to build (or not), assets to buy (or not), etc. Strategy development involves considering trade-offs and making decisions about how to reach a goal.
I recently wrote a blog article about following three principles to improve your GMAT score: 1) fuel your mind and body 2) employ a strategy when developing your GMAT study plan and 3) practice deliberately. In this article, we’ll focus in on principle #2 – employ a strategy to improve your GMAT score.
First, let’s address one critical question.
How is any good strategy developed in general?
Developing a strategy, for achieving anything really, involves 6 important steps:
- 1. Define and be very clear about your goal
- 2. Build a “fact-base” with all of the information you might need to make a plan to meet your goal
- 3. Create a prioritized list of key issues, opportunities, and decisions relevant to meeting the goal…
- 4. …with these in mind, develop a few high level alternative approaches you could follow
- 5. Carefully design a customized approach to meeting your goals, after considering the pro and cons of each alternative, that addresses all key decisions you’ll need to make
- 6. Turn this “approach” into a detailed plan with timing, key steps, etc.
Businesses that don’t follow a structured strategy development approach tend to be much less successful (because they have poorly or undefined strategies) than those that do, and the same can be said about people that do have a clear GMAT prep strategy vs. people that do not.
Let’s walk through each of the steps to illustrate how to create a powerful GMAT study plan that follows sound strategy development principles.
#1: Define your GMAT goal
Ultimately, your GMAT goal is a number; it’s the score you need to feel comfortable that your GMAT score has contributed positively to your chances of admission to your chosen MBA program. Thinking about your GMAT goal this way is very different from just assuming “well, higher is better!”
Your target school (Top 10 vs. Top 50 vs. Top 100), undergraduate transcript, and other elements of your application will inform what your GMAT score goal should be. If the average GMAT score at your target school is 600, your goal can be different than the student who is targeting an MBA program with an average score of 700. Sometimes, it’s important to attain a certain quantitative or verbal score – this depends on the situation.
By simply stepping back and considering your situation, it shouldn’t be too difficult to put a stake in the ground and establish your target score. Every decision you make has an opportunity cost, and if you decide to put undue focus on improving your GMAT score, perhaps because you’ve set an unnecessarily aggressive goal, you’ll spend valuable time and effort on GMAT prep that could have been spent on other areas of the application.
#2 Build Your GMAT fact-base
Next, you need to gather all of the relevant information about your situation to inform the development of a few different approaches to studying for the GMAT, including:
- An understanding of what’s actually on the GMAT, and how familiar you are with each concept
- The results of a timed, diagnostic practice test that you should take, to establish a performance baseline in each area of the GMAT
- An idea of when you need to take the GMAT to be able to apply to MBA programs on time
- A sense for how strong other elements of your application are (academics, work experience, etc.)
- A self-evaluation of how you learn best (reading, watching videos, in a class, 1-1, etc.)
- A self-evaluation of your current schedule, responsibilities, organization skills, motivation, and general discipline as it related to adding a major activity into your life (i.e., studying for the GMAT takes time and requires discipline, structure, and focus)
- Financial situation – how much money can you spend preparing?
#3 Identify your key issues, opportunities, and decisions
Now, identify and document the most important factors, issues, or opportunities, unique to you and your situation that may impact your ability to achieve your target GMAT score.
This may include things such as having spiky content strengths (i.e., 90th+ percentile quant score without studying) or significant content weakness (25th percentile score in a section or below), or having very little or quite a bit of time before you need to take the GMAT.
If you have always scored very well or poorly on standardized tests, that’s of course relevant and should be noted. If, for example, the idea of taking the GMAT causes you to tense up immediately, you are probably facing some stress or confidence issues.
Your specific situation might, of course, have other relevant factors. The key point is to review your fact-base, and identify the clear issues or opportunities that will affect your ability to meet your goal. Just following a structured strategy development process should naturally allow these issues to surface.
#4 Create a few different alternative preparation approaches
A GMAT prep approach is a high level plan for achieving your target GMAT score. It addresses the key issues and decisions relevant to achieving your target GMAT score without getting too specific (that is saved for the specific GMAT study plan you’ll create in step #6). Relevant dimensions include:
- Time – how much time to spend studying
- Materials – prep book vs. online program
- Support – self-study vs. work with an expert (GMAT class vs. private tutor)
- Location/logistics – in-home, library, coffee shop, prep company center
- Focus areas – will you focus your time equally on all sections of the GMAT, or hone certain areas
Without being overly complicated, some potential approaches can be developed with clear benefits and risks. For example, one option is to take a class in a center, in-person, but supplement with some self-study by simply doing the assigned homework. Another is to leverage an online GMAT prep program and physical test prep books and study on your own. A third is to hire a private tutor and spend a significant amount of time with that tutor, letting them decide what materials are best.
#5 Evaluate each alternative approach and design one that’s customized to your specific situation
In my experience, if you follow a structured approach to building your GMAT fact-base and at least considering what prep alternatives are out there, the logical approach for you will become clear. If you are targeting a school that requires a 600 GMAT score, you are really busy, you have no clear strengths or weaknesses, and you scored a 500 on your initial diagnostic, a test prep class may be a great fit for you. You’re already close to where you need to be. If you just decided to take the GMAT, you need to score 700, you are really lost in a specific section, and your test is 3-4 weeks away, a private tutor is probably most efficient.
The customized approach that flows from step #5 should tell you major but basic things like:
- How long you’ll take to study
- What you’ll focus on more vs. less
- Whether you’ll take a class, self-study, or use a GMAT tutor, etc.
#6 Turn your chosen preparation approach into a detailed GMAT study (and execution) plan
Finally, you need to write down a specific plan of attack for preparing for the GMAT that includes work steps such as:
- When will you sign up for the GMAT?
- When will you sign up for a GMAT course (or buy the books, or use a tutor)?
- On what days of the week will you study?
- How many weeks of study will be allocated to each section of the GMAT?
- Which practice problems will you do?
- When will you take GMAT practice tests to measure your progress?
If you are getting support from a GMAT prep class or tutor, they’ll help with some of these decisions, but you need to take full ownership of the process and the eventual results you’ll achieve.
Successfully preparing for the GMAT requires a strategic approach. This starts with setting a target GMAT score, building a GMAT fact-base, designing alternatives, and then creating a highly customized GMAT study plan.