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How To Study for the GMAT: The Best GMAT Prep Guide

May 21 2023 By The MBA Exchange
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You need the test scores to back up your b-school ambitions. A strong or stellar Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT™) score can significantly increase the immediate impressiveness of your applications. 

Applicants to Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs need to make GMAT prep a cornerstone in the build of their candidacy. You don’t want to take on the application process without a good GMAT score. From quantitative to qualitative percentiles, your score shows your shine. A high GMAT could even win you a needed scholarship.

Your test date is a make-or-break moment when it all comes down to your performance. So how can you be sure that you know how to crack the GMAT exam and carry off a great score? You need some expert GMAT tips.

First…Understand the GMAT Sections

GMAT tip number one: understanding what the GMAT consists of gives you the leg up you need to smash your score. A solid GMAT prep plan takes all of the four main sections of the exam into account.

  • The 62-minute Quantitative Reasoning section indicates your mathematical abilities, covering problem-solving and data interpretation
  • The 65-minute Verbal Reasoning section puts your reading comprehension skills to the test, measuring how well you can understand – and put together – professional-level written material
  • The 30-minute Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section puts your communication capabilities on display, giving you a chance to show off your confidence with critical thinking and effective expression of ideas
  • The 30-minute Integrated Reasoning (IR) portion of the GMAT challenges your data analysis skills, asking you to interpret multiple formats of information presentation

Here’s another GMAT prep tip: don’t try to cruise through on a single strong area! Quantitative scores often lead to business school acceptance metrics. However, all the portions of the GMAT make a difference in your total score. A well-rounded score indicates a well-rounded candidate. When you decide how to prepare for the GMAT, focus on your weaknesses. But, be sure to practice in the areas you’re strong in at least a little, as well.

Options for GMAT Preparation

No two business school candidacies are exactly the same, and every candidate needs to find their unique best approach for how to study for the GMAT. As you get your head around the question of how best to study for the GMAT, decide whether you want to rely on self-study. Or would you do better working with a personal GMAT tutor or using materials from mass-market test prep firms? Consider your personal strengths and weaknesses and what you know about your study patterns. Here are some pointers to help you decide on your GMAT study strategy:


You can find practice GMAT tests online and go it alone in terms of test prep. For many with a limited budget or an inflexible work schedule, this could be an appealing option. You can work at your own pace and set your own schedule. With GMAT test averages rising higher than ever, test-taking support attracts big business. You can find scores of mass-market test prep outfits providing GMAT tips and tricks with only cursory online searching. Take the time to seek out the test prep materials you need to succeed. When looking for the best GMAT prep books and GMAT prep courses, weigh straightforward language above flashy sales claims. 

Of course, you will always be doing some level of self-studying throughout the process. The question is whether you want to supplement your studying by getting support from an expert. The problem with studying on your own is that it might be tough to assess yourself and your study performance. Figuring out how to crack the GMAT on your own might be laborious. Many find that leveraging external expertise is often the more effective move when it comes to studying for the GMAT.

GMAT Prep Courses

GMAT prep classes offer various types of support for future test-takers. As you evaluate potential sources of support for your GMAT prep plan, take these factors into account:

  • The reliability and seriousness of the source
  • The utility of sources like GMAT prep books and classes to your individual situation
  • The cost-benefit analysis – cheaper methods might not yield the results you need, resulting in a less-than-good bargain overall

Online GMAT prep services may have sample tests for download available, as well as free and subscription advice and secrets. If you’re planning on doing your GMAT prep online, make sure to vet free resources, making sure they meet the requirements of your top-tier b-school candidacy.

GMAT tutoring

A great GMAT tutor can transform your score. Your tutor might provide expert GMAT prep tips, show you the best ways to optimize your thoughtflow and study approach or catch personal weaknesses that self-study could miss. GMAT coaches can provide “you-specific” insights which can’t be learned from a textbook or video course.

  • Why are you taking too long to solve certain GMAT questions?
  • Where in your current approach are you introducing opportunities to make mistakes?
  • Do you unintentionally gloss over key information?
  • Why do you fall for the test maker’s trap answers?

Working with an experienced tutor can make the difference when it comes to your GMAT score. When you have the personal dedication and availability from an accountability partner with top-tier credentials and a history of proven success, you can fully achieve your highest potential. When you’re dealing with the inevitable “ups and downs” of test prep, you want someone on your side to give you the sincere support and guidance you need to get you through. 

8 Tips & Tricks for Cracking the GMAT

Build your confidence and achieve the score you need to secure your seat at your target MBA programs. Check out these top-notch GMAT tips and tricks.

1. Pick the right tutor (if you decide to hire one)

Studying with a skilled GMAT tutor gives you lots more bang for your buck than prepping with a buddy, who might not know much more than you about how to study for the GMAT. A good GMAT tutor can effectively show you how to crack the GMAT exam. How do you pick the right GMAT tutor? Personal compatibility, expert knowledge of GMAT tips and tricks and a knack for diagnosing test-taking weaknesses are all a must. 

2. Practice the test on a computer

An important GMAT prep tip: since the GMAT is a computer adaptive test, you should study for the GMAT in that specific testing environment. Just studying with pen and paper won’t be enough. The GMAT is adaptive, which means that the questions change based on your previous answers. It’s hard to answer the question, “how hard is the GMAT?” – because the test gets harder as you rack up a higher score. And, as you give more correct answers, your lowest possible score rises. Practicing with computerized GMAT tools helps you adapt to the technology and gain confidence. That’s how you ace the GMAT.

3. Get serious about time

Time yourself as you go during GMAT study. We know it can seem intimidating at times (especially if you’re someone who feels pressured when timed) but you need to simulate the exam as closely as possible to know what you need to improve on. If you can’t finish a section in time, that’s important information for you to know. You might need to target increasing your speed, or put together other strategies to maximize how many problems you can get through during a testing period. 

The first 10 questions on a section set the scale for your score, so you should take your time with them. However, the rest of the questions matter, too, and you don’t want to leave any points on the floor.

The GMAT penalizes blank questions, so don’t waste time you don’t have on a question that stumps you. It’s better to rule out obviously wrong answers and take your best guess after a reasonable amount of time and move on to the next question.

4. Prep for success in all percentiles

Top GMAT quant scores are highly prized by some, but all the percentiles of your GMAT score matter. If you want to know how to ace the GMAT, get well-rounded!

The quantitative percentile covers areas of mathematics you probably studied in school: algebra, geometry, trigonometry and statistics. You won’t have access to a calculator, so mental math skills are a must.

The verbal section contributes equally as a part of your final score. Don’t think you can safely skip prepping for this part when you study for the GMAT. Business school adcoms look at your verbal percentile to see how well you communicate and understand others, key skills in today’s business world.

Advanced questions success gives your GMAT score that extra elite sparkle, always attractive to admissions committees. A helpful trick is to review challenging GMAT questions from previous exams, and increase your chances of standing out.

5. Plan to take the test twice

The first time you take the GMAT, despite your prep, you might not be at your best. The test-taking scene can come as something of a shock, causing test anxiety to flare up. Take the pressure off your performance by planning to take the test at least twice. Your scores stay active for five years afterward, so you could even take the test as a college student, years before it’s time to apply for b-school. Once you know the territory, you can retest with greater confidence. 

6. Connect with other test takers

Your custom study plan might be unlike any other, but you can also learn how to crack the GMAT exam from the experience of others. When you connect with other people prepping for, and who have succeeded with, GMAT testing, you reduce testing anxiety and receive helpful GMAT-specific study tips and tricks.

7. Plan your study session strategically

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.

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 they are 1-2 hours long. Studying for longer than two hours in a single session without a break has diminishing returns. 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.” Schedule breaks every 90 minutes or so.

8. Take a break!

You could focus all your waking hours on preparing for the GMAT. 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. Treat your study sessions as “appointments,” blocking out prep time on your calendar. MBA applicants who treat test prep this seriously are more likely to master the material on the actual test.

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. Often it’s true that 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.

How long does it take to prepare for the GMAT?

The question of how much time you need for GMAT prep depends on a few factors, including your prior testing history and your overall confidence with standardized testing. That said, even if you usually sail through standardized tests, it’s worth taking time to study for the GMAT. The adjustive test administration style can definitely take some getting used to!

Top MBA programs want to see strong GMAT scores and percentiles from applicants. It’s worth taking as much time as you need to prepare for the GMAT in order to avoid the weakness that a low GMAT score produces in an MBA candidacy. Achieving a top score will not only strengthen your MBA candidacy but also allow you to focus on the other, more subjective aspects of your admissions campaign.

Your GMAT target should drive your test prep strategy. GMAT prep tests can help you get a sense of where you’re currently scoring, and how long you’ll need to prep before you’re ready to schedule your test date.

A New Solution for GMAT/GRE Takers Challenged by “Word Problems”

Building financial models, crafting a business case, analyzing and interpreting complex contract language or creating a work breakdown structure for a consulting engagement requires many of the same skills necessary to prevail on the GMAT or GRE. These strengths don’t just benefit you during testing! However, interpreting word problems presents a major challenge for many MBA applicants, students and grads. At The MBA Exchange, we’ve seen many who find it difficult to solve word problems consistently, efficiently and intuitively. 

Roughly 85-90% of success on GMAT word problems comes from your ability to quickly recognize the type of question and select a structured approach to set up the correct equation(s), and then correctly interpret which piece of information goes where. Success is about translating words to math, then modifying and applying that approach in greater detail for specific types of word problems.

The remaining 10-15% of success on GMAT word problems is about solving as efficiently as possible. Successful test takers adopt a mindset of doing as little work as possible to arrive at the right answer as quickly as possible. If you selected and structured a good approach, then the computational part should be relatively effortless.

Most test-prep books on the market today don’t adequately explain how to adapt and apply more general strategies for solving word problems to the specific and challenging problems found on the actual GMAT exam. 

Margo Diewald, Senior Tutor at The MBA Exchange, was well-aware of that gap when she authored her book All Your Word Problems Solved – Crushing Standardized Test Math for the GMAT®, GRE®, SAT®, PSAT/NMSQT®, and ACT®.

In straightforward, easy-to-follow language and full color, “All Your Word Problems Solved” presents a system of approaches for individuals tackling any of the major standardized tests. 

This GMAT prep resource lets you learn, practice and apply strategies to more intuitively and consistently solve even the toughest word problems. Substantial review material is also included, with explanations of the similarities and differences among related-but-different concepts.

Simply stated, the book helps readers learn how to consistently solve word problems by:

  • Solving for the right thing
  • Solving for that answer as efficiently as possible

People who create these tests know that, for any given type of question, there are certain patterns of mistakes that a large number of students make. Most of the available-but-wrong answer choices are the result of errors in logic, not mistakes in mental calculations. 

Study for the GMAT with us!

The MBA admissions experts at The MBA Exchange have the test prep tips, strategies and guidance you need to crush the GMAT and securely nail that aspect of your candidacy. Our strategies have worked where other tips from top GMAT prep sources haven’t. It’s just one part of our long track record of admissions support success for top MBA programs.

Our team at The MBA Exchange draws on decades of experience to help you figure out how to ace the GMAT. Our team coaches thousands of successful GMAT (and GRE) test-takers every year.  Whether you’re staring down GMAT prep for the first time or coming back to the test after frustrating past failures or less-than-stellar scores, our GMAT tutors can advise you on the best GMAT test prep strategy for you. 

You can find more information about our test prep and tutoring services here. Please contact us for further test prep and tutoring information.