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GMAT Preparation Tips

How to Effectively Study for the GMAT

Learning to dominate the GMAT is like learning to play a sport (or instrument, or language, or any skill that is foreign to you and must be developed). You must dedicate time and attention to three fundamental areas: 1) Learning the content; 2) Adopting strategies and “tricks” to be more efficient; and 3) Practice, practice, practice.

I started learning to play golf when I was 10 years old. My instructor verbally told me everything I would need to do in order to hit the little white ball. It went something like this: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, placing the ball toward the front of your stance. Then, grip the club, starting by placing your left hand on the club, then the right, and intertwine your left index finer and right pinky finger. To start your swing, rotate your shoulders…. I’m going dizzy just thinking about it!

What do you think happened when I stepped up and took my first swing? Well, I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the ball didn’t exactly go where I wanted it to go. Today, I regularly shoot in the 70’s, which is pretty good for an amateur golfer. What changed over the years? Well, I applied myself to those three areas of mastery mentioned above. If you do the same for the GMAT, the sky is the limit in terms of your potential GMAT score.

Let’s take a closer look at each focus area:

1. Learn the Content

The good news about the GMAT is that it is a “beatable” test. What that means is that everything on it is know. There will be no surprises for you on test day, provided that you invest the time and learn whatever content you need help with.

There are several useful ways to learn the content that is tested on the GMAT:

  1. Get a textbook that teaches not only the relevant math and verbal skills you’ll need to master but also plenty of GMAT practice problems representative of what you’re likely to see on test day. We think one of the best books on the market today is Chili Hot GMAT by Brandon Royal.
  2. Watch instructional videos on the topics that you specifically need help with. Dominate the GMAT is the only GMAT prep company we’re aware of that offers a-la-carte GMAT video tutorials on all of the content areas and questions types on the GMAT. Just need help with probability and combinatorics, for example? There’s a specific lesson for just that topic.
  3. Take a GMAT course online. Online prep courses are generally cheaper than classroom courses and provide freedom and flexibility to study whenever and wherever you want. They are comprehensive in nature and cover all of the information taught in a classroom environment while providing ample practice problems and practice tests to provide thorough preparation.
  4. Take a classroom GMAT course. Classroom courses are 2-3 times more expensive than GMAT online courses, but they provide you with face-to-face interaction with a live instructor.
  5. Hire a private or small-group GMAT tutor.

Here is a quick overview of the content that is tested on the GMAT:

GMAT Quantitative Section — Arithmetic (fractions, percents, decimals, number theory), basic algebra (solving for “x,” simultaneous equations, quadratic equations, exponents, roots & radicals), word problems, basic geometry (triangles, circles, coordinate geometry, polygons, solid figures), data analysis (probability, sets, combinatorics), and data interpretation.

GMAT Verbal Section — English grammar (subject-verb agreement, pronouns, parallel construction, idioms, diction, verb tenses, modifiers), reading comprehension (identifying main ideas, making inferences, finding supporting details, logical structure of passages), and critical reasoning (analyzing arguments, drawing conclusions, strengthening and weakening logical arguments).

A full list of GMAT content topics can be found here.

2. Learn “Tricks” and Test-taking Strategies

As I was learning to play golf more effectively and efficiently, I quickly realized that the “textbook” way of doing things wasn’t always the best way to get that little white ball in the hole. So too with the GMAT, the traditional way of answering certain types of problems isn’t always the most effective way of answering them.

Consider this example:

Q: From 2008 – 2009, book sales decreased by 80%. If sales in 2010 were the same as they were in 2008, by what percent did they increase from 2009 – 2010?
(A) 80%
(B) 100%
(C) 120%
(D) 400%
(E) 500%

If your default reaction was to try to solve this problem the way your 7th grade algebra teacher would have taught you to solve it, you probably wasted unnecessary time and effort. As a general rule, the traditional way of solving GMAT math and verbal problems is often not the best way. There are a number of useful non-standard math and verbal techniques that will serve you well on the GMAT — not only to help you get harder problems correct, but also to save valuable time in the process.

You should spend part of your GMAT preparation time learning these strategies and tricks. One such non-standard math technique is taught in a free session offered by Dominate the GMAT. To learn more, GMAT preparation courses or a good textbook may be helpful as well.

(By the way, the answer to the question above is “D.” Nice job if you got that).

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

At the end of the day, you can put all sorts of GMAT content knowledge, strategies, and test-taking tips into your brain, but unless you apply it all to hundreds of practice problems and practice tests, you may still struggle on test day. There are several great resources for practice GMAT preparation material:

  1. The best compendium of real former GMAT questions is the GMAT Review Official Guide – 12th Edition. This is really the definitive book in the industry for practice problems. The questions in each section get incrementally more difficult, too, so it’s a great resource for students who are trying to score in the 500’s as well as for students trying to score in the 700’s.
  2. Two full-length GMAT online practice tests are available for free when you create an account at mba.com.
  3. The best GMAT practice tests are available here. It is important that you practice under exam conditions so that you develop time management skills while you’re applying what you’re learning during your GMAT preparation.

To bring the golf analogy full circle, there’s always more you can learn and more problems to practice. We have found that 6-8 weeks is plenty of time to adequately prepare for the GMAT, provided that you’re investing at least 5 hours a week to your studies. Pick a test date a couple months out, decide on a course of study (book? GMAT course online? tutor?), and take action. We have no doubt that you’ll be able to dominate the GMAT on test day!