A business school applicant begins researching how to prepare for the GMAT

How to Prepare for the GMAT: The Ultimate Guide

January 6, 2024
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How to Prepare for the GMAT in 4 StepsStep 1: Understand Format And ContentStep 2: Develop A Study PlanStep 3: Utilize The Right Resources And Execute Your PlanStep 4: Address GMAT AnxietyGMAT Challenges and Tips for Overcoming ThemFAQs

As standardized tests go, the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is among the most formidable. The test assesses your abilities in various areas, including writing, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning, to name a few. This article covers how to prepare for the GMAT and what challenges you might face in that process.

How to Prepare for the GMAT in 4 Steps

Below, we’ll cover how to prepare for the GMAT. 

Students studying in classroom

Step 1: Understand Format And Content

The first important step is to understand the format and content of the GMAT. 

Explore GMAT Current Edition

The GMAT Current edition is structured below:

  • Testing time: 3 hours and seven minutes.
  • Section structure: Includes these sections: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning.
  • Score reporting: You’ll also be able to select up to five schools to send scores to for free.

Explore GMAT Focus Edition 

The GMAT Focus edition was launched on November 7th and looks new. Here are some of the things that have been changed:

  • Testing time: 2 hours and 15 minutes without breaks.
  • Section structure: Includes three sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Data Insights. There is no essay. 
  • Section order selection: You can take the exam in whatever section order you want.
  • Question review & edit: You can bookmark and review as many questions as you want and change up to three answers per section.
  • Score reporting: You’ll receive detailed performance insights with each exam. You’ll also be able to select up to five schools to send scores to for free. Test-takers can see their GMAT scores on test day before they make those selections rather than after. 

Although the new GMAT has been reformatted, the actual content being tested will not change. 

Step 2: Develop A Study Plan

The key to preparing for the GMAT is to develop a study plan. Below, we show you how to do that.

1. Determine Your Target Score

Setting a target score is a crucial first step in developing a GMAT study plan. This involves understanding the score expectations of your desired business schools, not just overall but also the distribution between Quantitative and Verbal sections. 

Setting your goal with these expectations provides a focused and strategic approach to your preparation, guiding your efforts and shaping your overall study strategy. Your target score serves as a motivational benchmark, helping you prioritize areas of improvement and stay on track during your GMAT preparation.

2. Take A Mock Test To Establish Your Baseline Score

A mock test to establish your baseline score helps create an effective GMAT study plan. This diagnostic tool provides insights into your knowledge, identifying strengths and weaknesses across sections. Analyzing the baseline score guides the customization of your study plan to target specific skill gaps, ensuring a focused and efficient approach.

3. Determine Whether Your Approach Should Be Focused On Quant Or Verbal

This strategic choice involves analyzing your baseline score and self-assessing strengths and weaknesses. You can efficiently allocate study time to address specific skill gaps by identifying the section that requires more attention. 

This targeted approach ensures a balanced strategy, emphasizing improvement in the area most crucial for achieving your desired score and aligning with the preferences of your chosen business schools.

4. Estimate The Required Study Time

Estimating the required study time is crucial to crafting an effective GMAT study plan. This involves assessing your current knowledge, target score, and study session intensity. Considering these factors, you can create a balanced and consistent schedule that aligns with your goals and commitments. 

This estimation ensures efficient coverage of GMAT content, avoiding burnout and maintaining motivation throughout preparation. 

5. Organize The Sequence Of Your Study

This involves creating a structured roadmap based on assessing your strengths and weaknesses. Prioritize areas needing more attention and sequence your study plan to build a solid foundation before progressing to advanced topics. Consider your preferred learning style and available resources, and set milestones for efficient preparation. 

6. Allocate Time For Mock Tests

Practice exams are essential tools for assessing progress, refining time management, and simulating the test environment. Regularly interspersing mock tests allows for ongoing evaluation, identification of weaknesses, and adjustment of strategies. 

Allocating specific time blocks for these assessments enhances familiarity with the exam format and contributes to a more confident and effective performance on the GMAT.

Explore Sample Study Plans For Gmat Preparation

Exploring sample study plans for GMAT preparation is valuable in creating a personalized strategy. These plans offer insights into time allocation and which areas to focus on. Test-takers can tailor their study schedules to individual strengths and weaknesses by reviewing diverse sample study plans. 

These plans provide frameworks for comprehensive coverage of GMAT sections, emphasizing consistent review and practice for effective preparation and confidence-building.

Step 3: Utilize The Right Resources And Execute Your Plan

Effective GMAT preparation involves utilizing appropriate resources and executing your study plan diligently. Identify high-quality materials, such as official GMAT resources and third-party materials. Consistent plan execution, including following study times and regular progress assessments, enhances accountability and ensures necessary adjustments. 

Combining official and supplementary resources optimizes your preparedness for the GMAT, increasing the likelihood of achieving your target score.

Step 4: Address GMAT Anxiety

Addressing GMAT anxiety is vital for a comprehensive study plan. Manage stress by incorporating relaxation techniques, creating a positive study environment, and practicing with timed mock tests. 

Identifying and confronting anxiety triggers allows for targeted strategies, while seeking support from study groups fosters resilience. Integrating stress management into your routine enhances mental preparedness, ensuring a more confident and composed performance on the GMAT.

How to prepare for the GMAT is dependent on your dedication and drive to succeed at this extremely hard test. 

GMAT Challenges and Tips for Overcoming Them

Challenge 1: Misinterpreting Early Struggles

  • Many GMAT aspirants may interpret early struggles as permanent shortcomings, hindering progress.
  • Tip: Resist categorizing mistakes as insurmountable failures. Believe in your capacity to improve and maintain determination. Seek inspiration from others who overcame challenges in GMAT preparation.

Challenge 2: Complexity Increase During the Test

  • The GMAT questions become more complex as you progress, and fatigue can jeopardize earlier progress.
  • Tip: Manage pacing to avoid early fatigue. Start at a reasonable rate, take occasional breaks, and maintain a consistent answering pace. Prioritize correct answers without rushing through the entire test.

Challenge 3: Falling Short of Goals Despite Efforts

  • Despite early and determined preparation, some test-takers may fall short of their GMAT goals, leading to confidence issues.
  • Tip: Reevaluate your preparation strategy. Instead of focusing solely on quantity, spend time analyzing incorrect responses. Consider seeking new methods to break out of cycles of similar mistakes.

Challenge 4: Difficulty with Specific GMAT Sections

  • Some individuals struggle with specific GMAT sections, such as the writing assessment, often due to pace-related issues.
  • Tip: If you identify persistent issues, seek tutoring to develop familiarity and focused training. Tailor your approach to overcome difficulties and unlock your potential in challenging sections.


If you still have questions, here are some frequently asked questions. 

1. Have There Been Any Recent Changes to the GMAT? 

Yes, there have been considerable changes. The test has actually been shortened to make it more manageable for test-takers.

GMAC also instituted a new feature called Select Section Order. Excitingly, this means that you can now decide which order to take the test’s sections. 

2. Do I Need to Take a GMAT Prep Class?

You don’t need to take a GMAT prep class, however it can help provide a clear view of what to expect from the test, as well as introduce you to people in similar situations to yours (i.e., potential study partners).

3. Do I Really Need to Take a Diagnostic Test? 

Taking a diagnostic test early on in your GMAT study is strongly suggested. These give you a better baseline idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are and give you better insight into what your targets should be. 

4. How Long Should I Spend Studying for the GMAT?

There’s no exact way to pinpoint how many hours equates to what exact score because people spend time differently. 

GMAC has released data on this subject, though, and in a recent year, the median amount of preparation time for the GMAT resulting in scores in the 600s was 80 hours. Use this gauge to hone your studying schedule in an appropriate amount of prep time for your target scores. 

hours spent preparing for the GMAT exam

5. How Do I Deal With Pre-Test Nerves?

To beat the pre-test nerves, it is best to be prepared. Come prepared with all the materials you’ll need before, during, and after the test and, to that point, know beforehand what you need to bring. If, during the test, you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or dreadful, practice deep, rhythmic breathing to regulate your heart rate and take your focus elsewhere for a moment. 

6. What Should My Target Score Be?

Research your B-School(s) of choice to find out past class averages and, if included, what the institution has suggested are good scores for applicants to their program. Get specific, and find out these scores for each section.


In your quest to learn how to prepare for the GMAT, realize that even your being on this page reveals your motivation to do well. The key to claiming those excellent GMAT section scores is understanding the test and its format, studying hard, especially on your lacking sections, and utilizing outside resources when helpful. 

Again, the GMAT scores you present to MBA admissions committees matter; they help compare you to other students but do not make up your entire application. Allow your scores to represent you as a student, but do not consider them solely representative. 

Prepare adequately and study with determination; your GMAT scores will be just one more way you excel as an MBA applicant.

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At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.
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