GMAT test-takers generally possess a sense of what score they wish to achieve. Whether consciously or otherwise, almost everyone has a goal in mind. What everyone doesn't have, however, is a plan to reach that target. A marathoner does not simply hope for the best – she trains and adjusts her strategy as she prepares for the race. And like that marathoner, you, as a GMAT test-taker, must begin by answering several key questions.
What is your target score?
In order to reach your goal, you must first set that goal. To do so, gather the necessary information, both from outside sources and within yourself.
- Investigate the schools that you hope to attend, or schools on the difficulty level that you hope to attend, to discover their requirements. Keep in mind that, while certain programs have firm GMAT score minimums, many have a range of results that they've accepted over the past admissions cycles. Research several of the schools you're interested in to determine the range you require. And do not forget – there are always exceptions.
- You may have personal goals that you wish to achieve, for a number of reasons. It may be that you desire the highest mark among your siblings or a better score than you earned previously. Perhaps you believe that a certain score carries a certain prestige. Whatever the reason, and whether or not anyone else feels your reason is valid, it means your ideal score is more personal. Do not ignore it in the goal-setting process. Here are some great daily activities that can improve your GMAT skills.
Where are you now?
To reach your destination, it is helpful to understand where you are starting.
- Complete a GMAT diagnostic test immediately. An initial score allows you to gauge how you are, or aren't, improving. To accurately determine where you stand, do a little studying on the format of the exam, the types of questions you will encounter (hello, Data Sufficiency!), and how scoring works before you sit for the diagnostic. This information can be found on mba.com, a site with which you have hopefully already registered.
- Dissect your diagnostic results, and determine what they mean. Identify the subject areas you are deficient in and those where you excelled. Note the sorts of questions that confused you, and even the more specific subsets of those types (e.g. inference questions as a type of Critical Reasoning problem). Analyze what mathematics topics were unclear, which were foreign, and which were just fine. The more specific your research, the better your preparation will be.
- If you've previously taken the test, then you already hold a starting score. What you don't have is an analysis of your performance beyond a result. Decide upon a manner to receive that; it is likely another exam with detailed feedback.
How will you reach your goal?
After you complete a diagnostic assessment, you may refine your target score (and perhaps set it higher). Now, you must develop a study plan.
- Incorporating any school courses you may be taking, tutoring sessions you may have scheduled, and other obligations you may have (e.g. work requirements or family events), outline a plan. Try to allot ample time every day to review for the GMAT. You may refine the actual activity that you do or subject that you cover during each work period, but have some sort of plan in place that you can adhere to. Having at least the time reserved well in advance will ensure that GMAT preparation isn’t lost in the mix of all that your life involves.
- As part of that plan, budget time for frequent full-length tests. There is no substitute for completing a full-length sample exam. You will strengthen your test stamina, practice a variety of questions in the same adaptive manner as the GMAT, learn what errors you tend to make, and have time to correct them before the actual GMAT. You will also have a strong measure of your progress toward your target score.
- Schedule your test. Be very realistic about how much time you can devote to studying and how much work you must do to reach your goal. Determine your class schedule, and as part of your study plan, decide on a date that you will take the test. This ensures your preparation is concrete and focused. Here are 3 factors you should consider when scheduling a GMAT test date.
At each of these steps, you must make refinements. You may need to budget more time to reviewing in order to reach your goal, or at least more closely follow your study plan. You may require more, or fewer tutoring hours. You might be studying the wrong subject areas. Your target score may prove too low. (If you are realistic at the outset, your target score should never prove too high. There is a way to reach your intended mark – if you are realistic.) Always be honest, and keep your sights set on your target score, but remember that admissions offices assess your entire package. A great GMAT score is a goal; it does not absolutely define you.