How to Prepare for the GMAT: Advice From the Experts

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Looking back, I could have used some good GMAT advice when starting my test prep. I definitely had questions about how to prepare for the GMAT—I hadn’t taken a standardized test since the SAT eons ago!

For better or for worse, the GMAT is a key part of b-school admissions (hence “Graduate Management Admission Test”), and getting those high GMAT scores is important. So whether you’re like me and are starting out with questionable math skills, or have a full-time job and dread coming home to do sentence correction questions, here’s the best GMAT preparation advice to help you reach your target score by your test date!

Table of Contents

Top 10 Best GMAT Preparation Tips

Wondering how to ace the GMAT? First, you need a plan of action! Here are the top GMAT tips and tricks for how to do well on test day.

1. Plan for an appropriate time to take the GMAT test

First and foremost among my prep tips? Make sure you have the right test date (for you)!

It’s important to figure out when in the year you’ll have time to prepare for the GMAT, especially if you are also juggling a full-time job and other commitments. In general, you’ll want to set aside about 3 months before your deadlines to get some solid studying in with minimal distractions. Get a personalized recommendation on how long to study for the GMAT with a quiz.

Preparing for the GMAT is stressful enough—it would only be worse if it’s during your busy season at work, or in the midst of planning your upcoming wedding! Of course, you’ll also want to make sure to plan your GMAT test date with your MBA application deadline in mind.

2. Learn the most frequently tested GMAT concepts

It might not feel like it but there is a finite amount of information that is going to be tested on the GMAT (phew!). While it would be ideal to be an expert in every single possible topic to be tested, it would be disappointing to hyperfocus on function notation and find that it has the least chance of showing up on the the quant section. Begin by focusing your study on topics that are most frequently tested in integrated reasoning, the verbal section, and the quant section.

What topics are the most frequently tested, you ask? Here is our answer!

3. Develop a solid GMAT study plan

Particularly for students focusing on self-study, you need to begin your GMAT prep with two important things in mind:

4. Get quality GMAT study materials

You don’t need to buy every prep book on the market to do well on the GMAT. In fact, it would be a waste of time and money to do so. There is a lot of material out there, from books to video lectures to phone apps.

Pick study materials that will work best with the way you like to study.

Don’t force yourself to read textbooks if you’d rather watch video lessons! Know thyself.

If you want to learn about the variety of study materials and their media formats, check out our favorite study resources here. We’ve also got some free GMAT materials compiled here too because quality isn’t a synonym for expensive.

What makes for good GMAT prep materials? My GMAT advice for prep is to look for solid lessons, to start with. You’ll also want to stock up on official and expert-written practice tests. These should give you explanations for correct answers as well as wrong answer choices so you can improve your GMAT skills by reviewing your work.

5. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses

Let’s face it, pobody’s nerfect. As you study along with your GMAT materials, you’ll make mistakes. Make a habit to learn from these errors by keeping an error log. Take time to revisit your error log and analyze the areas where you make frequent mistakes. This exercise might be difficult at first but will pay off in the long run since it will start to highlight the types of questions and content where you need to focus on improving. This exercise is 100% free, customizable to you, and highlights exactly where you should spend extra time. Since you probably have limited study time balancing your other human duties, make the most of what time you have and laser focus on improving whether it’s critical reasoning, geometry, idioms, or IR. It’s easy to brush off a topic because you dread studying it, but if you attack your weaknesses head-on by really understanding the concepts and strategies, you’ll find that those hard topics won’t be as painful as you think! Get your own free, customizable GMAT error log and remember, if you’re a Magoosh GMAT premium user, our excellent Student Help team is available to answer all of your academic questions.

6. Get familiar with the GMAT format and structure

The directions on the GMAT won’t change the day of the test, so you will save a lot of time on test day if you come in already knowing the format and the directions. Definitely pay close attention to the directions for the data sufficiency section. Those types of questions are a little different than what you may be used to seeing on standardized tests.

This lines up with the previous GMAT test tip about getting good materials: you need good practice tests to see how the exam works. Excellent practice exams will mirror the format and timing of the GMAT exactly. Because the GMAT is an adaptive test, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the adaptive format in particular!

7. Work on your GMAT timing

The time limit on the GMAT puts a lot of structure around how long you can spend on each question, especially because the test is computer-adaptive and you will only see one question at a time.

Be familiar with how much time you have to answer the questions for each section (total section time/number of questions per section). Time yourself when you are doing practice problems so that you can train your body to get a feel for how long 2 minutes feels like without having to stare at the timer.

In addition to getting into a rhythm for timing, work on your stamina for prolonged focus. Since the GMAT is almost 4 hours, it will require focus that may not come naturally to you. Watch the video below or check out an in-depth article on time management tips you can check out.

8. Take advantage of the materials provided by the test makers

The test makers publish a ton of study materials which you should definitely take advantage of! Their materials contain old, retired GMAT questions and that is the best way for you to familiarize yourself with the types of questions you’ll be asked on the test.

Check out their store catalog to see the full offerings. As the test-makers, they have some pretty good GMAT advice, too!

9. Practice, practice, practice!

Expert GMAT advice is united on this point: The best way to apply your studying is to do tons and tons of practice questions. You’ll become familiar with the different ways the same topic can be tested, and you’ll uncover weaknesses that will help you hone in on areas for improvement.

Don’t be discouraged by getting practice questions wrong. Being able to understand why you got certain questions wrong will help you avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Better to get questions wrong in practice than on test day! Remember that GMAT error log you created and don’t give up!

10. Simulate the test-day experience

The last of these tips for taking the GMAT is definitely not the least. In fact, it’s key to getting a high score on the GMAT! Take a practice test in a test-like setting.

More than any other of the GMAT exam tips, students balk at this one. But while it may be difficult to set aside a large chunk of time to study, you should definitely try to simulate the test day experience at least once. This is key: during your GMAT prep, you’ve been building accuracy. But it’s also important to build endurance for the duration of the test!

Find a quiet place with a computer and pull up the free GMATPrep software or one of Magoosh’s practice tests (included with a Premium subscription). It’s important to take an entire practice test in one sitting. This will help you get comfortable for what it feels like to be testing on the computer for 3.5 hours.

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Bonus: GMAT Advice from the Test Makers

Want more GMAT test taking tips? Here’s some bonus GMAT advice, straight from the test-makers! Being relaxed and confident on test day is key to doing well on the GMAT. And the best way to know what to expect is to get information from the actual makers of the test. MBA.com has a number of web pages to give you insights into what to expect on test day:

  1. Take a Tour of the Test Center
  2. The Interactive GMAT Prep Timeline
  3. View Country Specific Test Center Regulations
  4. Planning for Your Test Day
  5. Exam Day Advice from Test Takers
  6. GMAT Test Center Checklist
  7. Presenting Proper Identification
  8. Palm Vein Reader Biometric Identification
  9. GMAT Exam Administration Rules
  10. Rights and Responsibilities of GMAT Test Takers

And of course, be sure to check out the main official “Prepare For the GMAT” web page.

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Final GMAT Advice: Don’t Forget to Use Solid GMAT Prep Materials!

In the above GMAT preparation tips, you’ve probably noticed a theme: getting the best possible materials is key to getting the best possible score!

With that in mind, here’s a set of links to reviews for the GMAT prep materials. Below the review links, also check out a quick guide to page count and cost for the best GMAT preparation books.

magoosh logo gmat club beat the gmat logosmanhattan prep logo

Read our review for Magoosh resources
Read our review for GMAT forums Read our review for Manhattan GMAT
Graduate Admissions Council (GMAC) logo NOVA Press logo PowerScore logo
Read our review for The Official Guide (from GMAC)Read our review for Nova GMATRead our review for PowerScore GMAT
No.BookPublisherPagesMost Recent EditionPractice Tests/QuestionsApprox. Price on Amazon (New)Notes
1Complete GMAT Strategy Guide SetManhattan11797th6 practice tests$145You don't need the most current edition. The 10-book 6th edition that separates the books by section is an acceptable alternative.
2The Official Guide to the GMAT ReviewGMAC168020201700+ questions$543 books. Worth buying for the official practice material from GMAC.
3GMAT Math Prep CourseNova5162019600+ math questions$38Worth buying if you need additional challenging math practice.
4The PowerScore GMAT Critical Reasoning BiblePowerScore6712019600+ verbal$62Three books (one for each verbal section). Consider buying only for extra practice on the subjects where you need it. The CR book has best reputation.

Yes, the GMAT will be difficult as it’s meant to measure your ability to think critically, a skill you’ll need in b-school and beyond as a professional. At the end of the day, you can do excel and get into your dream school if you put mindful study towards your goal. I’m proud of you for investing in yourself and your future. You can do this!

Ready to get an awesome GMAT score? Start here.

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Author

  • Jen Nguyen

    Jen is here to do everything in her power to help you ace the GMAT. She is a graduate from the University of Virginia, with a major in Economics and a minor in UVA Men’s Basketball. She is a certified yoga teacher, the world’s laziest runner, and likes to experiment with vegan cooking (it’s really not as gross as it sounds).