How to Get the Most from GMAT and GRE Study Sessions

Blog post by Margo Diewald, Senior Tutor, The MBA Exchange

Having tutored a wide variety of MBA applicants over the years, The MBA Exchange has helped individuals identify, fix and avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings that otherwise could constrain their preparation and – more importantly – their test performance. Our customized tutoring services for GMAT and GRE test takers include the following tips for those who want to achieve the highest possible score with the least possible frustration and stress.

1. Balance your test prep with real-life demands
Ideally, you could focus all your waking hours to preparing for the GMAT or GRE. However, the reality is that you also have a career, family obligations, and social activities to consider. And don’t forget the importance of eating properly, exercising regularly, and getting a full night’s sleep. That’s why we advise our clients to treat their study sessions as “appointments” by blocking out prep time on their calendars. Informing colleagues, relatives and friends about the importance of your study time can help make them more understanding and supportive when you have to postpone or cancel some interaction with them. MBA applicants who treat test prep this seriously are more likely to master the material on the actual test.

2. Time your study sessions to maximize learning
Did you know that the time of day when you study has an impact on your learning and retention? Generally, individuals are most alert and receptive to learning new information and new techniques earlier in the day than later. This is due to a combination of circadian rhythms and the impact of fatigue and stress from the workday. Most of us tend to be less flexible in our thinking and less willing to try new approaches after a demanding workday.

For best results, we recommend that you:
• Use morning or early afternoon sessions to cover the material that’s new and/or more challenging.
• Use evening sessions to cover the material that’s already familiar and/or less challenging. The duration of your study sessions also impacts your learning and retention. Sessions are most effective when 1 to 2 hours long. Studying for longer than 2 hours in a single session, without a break, has diminishing returns as the mind needs a break to process and store new information. Think of your brain as a computer that requires some time periodically to “back up to the cloud.” So, we advise our clients to schedule breaks every 90 minutes or so.

3. Make your study breaks more effective
To give your brain sufficient time to process and store information from short-term memory into long-term memory, you need to give it rest. Therefore, you should use study breaks to allow your brain to switch off. You know how some people swear they get the best ideas in the shower? Well, these “aha” moments happen when the brain has transitioned from active to passive cognition. Challenging concepts may finally “click” after you allow time for this passive processing to happen.

Furthermore, the most useful study breaks are those accompanied by an activity that is: physical and routine, doesn’t require active thinking, and creates space for passive cognition to occur.
Some proven suggestions:
• Do something physically active, such as walking around the block, going on a short run, taking a bike ride, doing a set of pushups or completing a brief yoga sequence.
• Do one of the mindless chores on your daily to-do list, such as folding clean laundry or emptying the dishwasher. These tasks tend to take just the right amount of time – 5 to 15 minutes each – so you can do one or more without taking too long of a break.

Very important: during your study breaks, resist the temptation to turn on the TV or pick up your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. These devices negatively impact attention spans and require active cognition. It’s too easy to waste time and lose momentum, so be sure to remain technology-free during breaks.

So, if our observations and suggestions resonate with you, and if expert tutoring on the GMAT or GRE could help you achieve your personable best, The MBA Exchange is here for you!