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How Long Should I Study for the GMAT?

The most general answer to this question, to the most general non-specific reader, would be, either “it depends” or “the longer, the better“, both of them frustratingly vague and unenlightening.  Let’s talk about some factors which may come into play when considering how long to study for the GMAT.

Considerations

1) The first consideration is simply: how good are you at the whole standardized-test thing in general?  Some people regularly ace standardized tests.  Others regularly flub them.  This is an estimation—at a gut-level, how comfortable are you, and how successful have you been, with the whole standardized-test thing?

2) How many days you should study depends in part on how many hours a day you can study.  Let’s say that 1 hour a day for six months would be very approximately equivalent to six hours a day for one month.  The caveat, of course, is most people have real limits concerning how much they can focus and how much info they can absorb and assimilate in a single day.  If you could put in six hours a day of quality, high-focus study time, day after day, for a month, then that’s fantastic, but for most people—not only because of the practical constraints of job & family, but also because of the cognitive constraints on focus and assimilation—the best option would be less-time-per-day over a longer number days studying for the GMAT.

3) Let’s say you have taken a practice test, relatively cold, with little prep, and got some score.  We’ll call this a baseline score.  What is your target score? How much do you want to improve from this cold-take baseline?   Let’s say, with moderate prep, you could improve 50 points over a relatively cold-take. That’s readily do-able.  Improving 100 points—that’s more of a challenge.  Improving 150 or 200 points or more—that will take exceptionally diligent work, sustained over quite some time, and even then, an improvement of this magnitude is not guaranteed.

4) What are your relative strengths?  Consider the two big categories—math and verbal.  On a 1-10 scale, how would you rank your relative aptitudes in each?  This may play into extra time over and above the time you spend studying specifically for the GMAT.

Ballpark figures for study times

I would say a three month study plan, with 1-2 hour per weekday and a single 3-4 hour stint on each weekend—that I would call moderate study, probably enough to produce for most people a 50-100 point increase over a relatively cold-take score.  Again, this assumes eight hours of sleep a night, a healthy lifestyle, and a normal college-graduate level of learning and remembering.

If you want to improve substantially more than 50-100 points, I would suggest studying for the GMAT for a longer time than three months.  In general, the more you can spread your study out over a long period—say, six months—the more time you will have to return a second and even a third time to each topic, which really takes advantage of how the brain learns and processes.  Repeated exposure helps to encode material into long-term memory.

If, for whatever combination of reasons, you have only a month to prepare for the GMAT, understand that’s not ideal, and it will demand both longer stints each day as well as the sustained focus and commitment, in order to get the most out of it.   For a month, be ready to hunker down and work intensely.

If you are planning to take considerably less than a month to prepare for the GMAT—either you are unusually gifted, or you don’t really take the test seriously.  How long you study for the GMAT is, to some extent, a statement about how seriously you take the GMAT.  If you take the GMAT seriously, then put in the time to prepare for it.  If you don’t take it seriously, then why are you taking it at all?  This is your life: it’s not a game, not a stage-rehearsal for anything else.  Time is precious.  Why would you waste significant time and energy and focus and determination on something you don’t take seriously?  It’s absolutely necessary to have time doing things that are enjoyable and un-serious in order to refresh and recharge, but why take on something difficult and demanding if you don’t take it seriously?  Whoever you are, your time is worth more than that!  That’s my 2¢.

Extra studying

This concerns consideration #4 above.  If you would rate either of the categories three or below, that’s a red flag.  That’s an indication you need an extra head start.  This is a big curveball in the how-long-do-I-study-for-the-GMAT question!

If you are a math whiz but weak in verbal, and most especially if English is not your first language, then yes, pursue a moderate study schedule, say, a three-month study schedule for folks stronger in math, and in addition to that, READ!  Read at least an hour a day—two hours a day would be better.  Reading the high-brow material recommended at that blog will accustom your ear to advanced grammatical constructions typical of GMAT Sentence Correction, and will help you practice the analysis skills you will need on both GMAT Critical Reasoning and GMAT Reading Comprehension.  Ideally, you will begin this daily reading habit well before the rest of your GMAT studying—a year or more.  Where will you get the time to do all this reading?  Well, if you sharply reduce TV, video games, and other forms of electronic entertainment, you actually will be doing your brain a favor.

If you are relatively comfortable in verbal, and you haven’t even looked at math since an unfriendly farewell a few years back, then you need to study math, starting pretty much as soon as you finish reading this post.  You don’t get a calculator on the GMAT Quant section, so practice mental math—every day, you should add & subtract & multiply & divide in your head.  Get remedial books published for high school students, “Algebra Review”, “Geometry Review”, and start reading.  Look for every possible application of math in your life—areas of rooms, grocery bills, gas mileage—and do the real world math.  Ideally, all this focus on math should begin months before you embark on, say, a three-month study schedule for folks stronger in verbal.

In both cases, this extra focus you give one area or the other should be considered over and above how long you study for the GMAT.

Summary

That’s a general overview of how long to study for the GMAT.  The study schedules at the links above will give you more details, and more a sense of what’s required.  If you have more questions about your specific situation, please let us know in the comment section below.  🙂

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12 Responses to How Long Should I Study for the GMAT?

1. Hagini September 29, 2016 at 11:24 am #

Hi Mike,

I’m planning to subscribe to the Magoosh Premium and follow the 6 month study plan. However, I’d like to know where I stand right now. What diagnostic or practice test would you suggest I take to assess myself before the preparation?

• Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 30, 2016 at 4:36 am #

Hi Hagini,

If you’re looking for a short diagnostic, we have one available! https://magoosh.com/gmat/gmat-diagnostic-test/ Otherwise, official materials offer the most reliable and best diagnostics, so I would pick up a GMAT Official Guide. 🙂

2. Deepak June 20, 2016 at 4:05 am #

Hi

I have not written competitive exams in a long time. The last was CAT in 2005. For some reason, I had to shelve my MBA aspirations and been working in the IT Industry for 11 years. But, now the circumstances are a little more favorable. So, I took a Mock Manhattan CAT with no preparation and scored 600 (Q45 V28). Honestly, I was not feeling comfortable even while doing the Quant (my stronger suite always).But the final score has given me some confidence. I am planning to take up the test somewhere around end of August. I am also planning to get the Magoosh’s premium course. Considering, I have just over 2 months to prepare, what would be the best strategy? I am thinking that I might have to crunch the 12 week beginners study schedule into 10. Or should I go for the Advanced study schedule?

Thanks

Regards
Deepak

• Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 20, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

Great questions, Deepak. Where time is concerned, both our 12 week Advanced Study Schedule and out 12 week beginner study schedule take the same amount of time. Either way, you’re looking at a range of between 14 and 20 hours of study time per week, if you do it in 12 weeks. This comes out to between 21 and 30 hours of study a week if you crunch the schedule into a 2 month (8 week) period. If you have a lot of spare time during the week, and few other responsibilities besides GMAT prep, this could work.

As for which 12 week schedule you should choose, I actually recommend a different one other than beginner or advanced. Given the gap between your Quant and Verbal performance, you should consider Magoosh’s 12-week Verbal focused GMAT study schedule. (And of course, it’s also possible to combine the features of different 12-week study schedules.)

3. Parni June 6, 2016 at 8:28 am #

Hi,

In the first two practice test that I gave (without prep) I scored 560- 580 (V- 22 Q- 45)
This means I should be just focusing on VA rather than doing Quant ?

• Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 6, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

Wow, that’s quite a split. Assuming you’re at the target score you need for Quant (based on the score requirements of your school), you should definitely shift most of your focus to Verbal. But I still recommend doing at least some light Quant practice here and there. It’s good to stay in practice so that every aspect of the exam is fresh in your mind and no GMAT skill is forgotten on test day.

4. Sourav Kings February 28, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

Ola Mike… first of all accept my condolences on short but great article.
Many newbie aspirants, like me, around the world, takes the mind game of ‘number of hours preparation’ way to seriously without actually understanding WHY and HOW it really matters. Your blog puts right foot forward on demystifying exactly the same concern.

“…Repeated exposure helps to encode material into long-term memory…”

This point ,at least for most of us, is one of the foremost crucial factor as it internally determines how well one is prepared on the D-day. Better the level of optimal concentration on this ‘repeated exposure’ on any topic is, lesser the number of hours required to invest on the same.

Cheers !
Sourav

5. Akshat February 11, 2016 at 12:08 am #

Very helpful. Thanks for sharing…

6. Patrick Chan October 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

Hi Mike,

B-school has been a faint interest I’ve played with the idea for the course of the last few months. Decided to google a bit of studying habits today and I’m happy I came across this blog. I don’t typically leave messages like this, but wanted to say thanks for putting this together – it’s not very common that you run into a response similar to your’s when reading things online :). Quite refreshing.

Just thought I would drop a note. It’s something I’ll think of pursuing more seriously over the next few months and the GMAT will be the first of a few hurdles, I’m sure.

Cheers,
Patrick

• Dani Lichliter October 29, 2015 at 11:36 am #

Hi Patrick,
Thanks for your kind note and for reading our blog. If you decide to take the GMAT, we hope you’ll come on back to Magoosh! 🙂
All the best,
Dani

7. Kenni March 30, 2014 at 8:34 am #

There is no two about the length of time required to prepare for the GMAT. To get a high score of 700 points and above, the intending test taker will have to go extra mile and do extra work. It takes only diligent students to hit the 700 points. A lot of personal sacrifice will also have to go into the whole preparation and study.

The prospective test taker should also consider if he or she will require some tutoring from an expert. In conclusion, I will advise the test to spend quality time in preparation for the GMAT! No pain, no gain!

• Mike March 30, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

Kenni,
Quite true. I guess the only thing I would say about “no pain, no gain” is that — just because it will be hard work doesn’t necessarily mean it would be unenjoyable. The skills needed for the GMAT are ultimately the skills needed in the business world, and I would hope every GMAT taker has some relish for the world she or he is entering.
Mike 🙂

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