So you’re thinking about graduate school. That means you must have done fairly well in college – you may have even been able to get good grades without a lot of studying. Some Mountain Dew, a few late-night runs to Taco Bell, and a couple nights of intense studying may have been all you needed to pass your tests and graduate with the highest GPA amongst your friends. Good for you. Unfortunately, the GRE and GMAT are not your average college exam.
These tests are (most likely) unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. They combine both quantitative and verbal sections, and they require you to do some very critical thinking. Plus, they’re not an undergraduate exam that is done in two hours – these tests can take nearly four hours to complete. And because they are harder than anything you have experienced before, your approach to studying should be different.
Very few people can go into the exam and leave with a perfect score without studying. In fact, a majority of people need at least three solid months to prepare for either the GRE or GMAT. Here’s why:
1.) You Need to Review the Basics
How well do you remember your high school trigonometry course? How about the difference between sentence fluff and deep structure? Can you tell me what the word ‘compendium’ means off the top of your head? These are just a few of the things that you will encounter on the test, so it helps to be prepared for them by reviewing the basics. The first month is an excellent time to learn the basics of the test structure and the types of questions that you will encounter. Take a practice test to see how you score on each section and grade it. You can then start to discover which topics you need to review, what you will need to learn from scratch, and how to best allocate your time.
2.) You Need to Dive In
Once you have decided how much you need to study, you may realize that you cannot do it all on your own. If this is the case, a prep course may be the best option. At Success Prep, our GRE & GMAT courses are between four and five weeks long and we cover both the quantitative and verbal sections so you are fully prepared for the exam. In addition, we assume that our students know nothing about the test, so you can learn the basics AND the more advanced content. A prep course like this teaches you the things you need to know, and then allows you to practice the concepts you learned outside of the classroom for homework, holding you accountable for completing the assignment and thus, learning the content.
3.) You Need to Practice What You’ve Learned
Many people make the mistake of scheduling the exam for the date immediately following completion of the prep course. While this allows you to take the test while the content is fresh in your mind, it does not allow you to practice what you have learned. Most people need to spend about ten hours (or more) each week reviewing the concepts learned in class and honing their skills. Ideally, you should complete 50-100 practice problems each week, and then take one practice test each weekend to determine if you are raising your score. Students should plan to take at least four additional practice tests once the class has finished – one each week for an entire month.
As stated above, this isn’t a perfect formula. Some people, such as those who have been out of school for decades or those who learned English as a second language, may need even longer to study in order to fully prepare for the exam. That being said, three months (or a little longer) is what the average prospective graduate student should plan to spend preparing for the GMAT or GRE. This means that studying should begin well before the application deadline! Many schools will require official scores,, which take about three weeks to be sent from the testing agency. In order to allow this extra time, you should plan to start studying at minimum four months before the final application deadline, and maybe even earlier. Good luck!