For those of you looking to get a graduate degree in business, the GMAT represents such a pivotal moment in your path toward a successful business career, we recommend devoting as much time and resources as possible to getting the best score you can.
In a perfect world, everyone would have as much time as they needed in order to master the material, including time to take the GMAT more than once. Everyone would have access to a variety of different study materials in order to get maximum benefits. And everyone would have their own private GMAT tutors (pro bono, while we’re at it) to help tailor the subject matter to individual strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to devise the perfect GMAT prep regimen. For some students who are limited in time and financial resources—or who are just uniquely confident in their standardized test abilities—just cramming with the Official Guide for a few weeks is all they do to get ready. While we wouldn’t recommend just cramming for a month with a single book, here we offer some tips to help you make the most of that scenario.
USE THE DIAGNOSTIC TEST
If you’re dedicating yourself to only working with the Official Guide (the OG) in your GMAT prep, then that means you won’t be using any tutors or prep course curriculum to help guide your studying. There’s so much material covered on the GMAT that trying to attack it all without any coherent strategy is a good way to get nowhere fast. And since you’ve only allowed yourself a month to get ready for the test, making efficient use of your time will be especially important.
This is why making use of the diagnostic test is so essential. On the one hand, it will help give you an idea of where you stand relative to the average GMAT taker, so you can develop a realistic target score. But it will also help break down your strengths and weaknesses according to question type and subject. This is crucial information because it will help you devise a customized (and maximally efficient) study plan for yourself.
Use the diagnostic test to figure out where you’re particular strengths and weaknesses are. Go hard after your weaknesses. But don’t totally skip the subjects you’re stronger in. Your natural skills mean that those are the parts of the test where you’re hoping to earn the most points toward your overall score—and you want to make sure you exploit your skills as much as you can!
USE THE TEACHING MATERIALS—NOT JUST THE PRACTICE MATERIALS
One of the things that makes the OG so uniquely attractive to GMAT preppers is that it’s the only source of official GMAT questions—thus it gives you a much better picture of what the questions on the actual GMAT will look and sound like. However, many GMAT preppers, content with the accuracy of the OG’s materials, fail to appreciate that practicing with the materials is not exactly the same as learning from them.
This is especially true for students who have assumed the cram mentality—which involves simply trying to “cram” (get it?) as much “studying” into what little time you have as possible. However, this can lead to simply attempting questions and checking to see whether or not you’ve gotten the answers right. The best thing you can do with these practice materials is use them as a springboard toward learning the concepts behind the individual questions—this is the way to learn and to improve your actual GMAT skills.
One drawback of the OG is that it doesn’t necessarily contain the most detailed explanations of its answers. This can make it a less-than-ideal source for building your understanding of new or difficult concepts. And it typically doesn’t offer multiple kinds of solutions to suit different learning styles. This means that you will have to put in a little more work to make sure that you’re using your practice materials to build your understanding—including adapting that understanding to your own problem-solving style.
GO BEYOND THE BOOK
Saying you’re just using the OG doesn’t exactly mean you have to just use the OG. For one thing, the publishers of the OG have taken great strides, in recent years, to include more online tools for GMAT students. This includes online full-length practice tests, which are an essential part of GMAT prep and which are especially valuable for practice in implementing your academic knowledge to the actual structure of the test, which is administered on the computer and follows a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) format.
Be sure to take at least a few full-length practice tests before test day, to make sure you have a good handle of the actual nature of the test. After all, the GMAT is a test of non-academic skills, such as time management, stamina, and composure.
The OG’s online materials also include other helpful organizational tools, like an online question bank. This allows you to organize the different materials in custom ways (such as by question type, difficulty, or just whether or not you’ve answered it correctly in the past). This can help you mimic the benefits of a more customized approach, and can help you make maximum use of minimal time.
You can (and should) also supplement your GMAT prep with unaffiliated online study materials. One benefit of buying the OG is that, because it’s so authoritative and popular, there are many people who discuss their own practice with it on the internet. If you are having a difficult time understanding a solution, it’s likely that someone else has encountered the same difficulty, and you might be able to find an explanation on the internet. And beyond the OG’s questions themselves, there are countless online resources (including, for instance, very helpful videos made by professional tutors) that take in-depth looks at GMAT-style questions and subject matter.