While this startlingly illogical approach works for some, it’s NOT optimal for most of us. That said, there is no RIGHT amount of time to prepare. How much time you’ll need to prepare for the GMAT depends on the following questions:
1) What’s your target? Are you striving for your personal best or are you aiming for the window set by one or more schools? If the latter, are you using the school’s published average score? While this provides a general indication, the average score may or may not be the right target for YOU. A more helpful tool is the school’s 20th–80th percentile range, i.e. the range of scores earned by the middle 60 % of accepted applicants. Better yet, call or visit your target schools. Connect with an admission’s officer and start a dialogue about you and the school. Then, in the context of the overall fit for both sides, let them know you are methodically prepping for GMAT and would appreciate their assistance in appropriately managing your time. Ask what GMAT score you need to achieve to be admitted to their program. One of my tutoring clients was told by a Top 5 school that she needed a 650 to gain admission, because they liked the rest of her application. The same school told 2 other students (with law school backgrounds) that their target score was 730.
2) What’s your baseline score? You need to know your starting point in order to determine how much you need to accomplish. You can use a prior GMAT, a Kaplan diagnostic test (available at Kaplan Centers for free), or one of the GMAC practice tests available at mba.com when you register for the test.
3) What prep method are you going to use? Class room course, online, one-on-one tutoring, self-study books? Don’t forget to factor in the course schedule or tutor’s availability. Be realistic. Know your tolerance for concentrating on math and grammar after a full day’s work.
4) Finally, what are the other demands on your time? You still need to take care of work (remember you’re going to be asking for recommendations!), family, and maybe community/volunteer responsibilities. Notice I haven’t included social life here - put it on hold unless you are planning to drag out the process. This is serious business - hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime, full-bore commitment to your future.
The stakes are high; In a recent Kaplan survey, 55% of admissions officers said the GMAT was the most important consideration in their evaluation of a candidate. Another 35% send it was the second most important factor. That’s right: 90% of admissions personnel interviewed considered your performance on the GMAT as the most or second most important consideration in your application package. Moreover, data collected by U.S. News and World Report indicate that each 10 points your GMAT score increases correlates with an additional $5,000 in annual income. So when you’re deciding how much time and effort to devote to GMAT prep, balance your commitment against the time and money that went into building your college GPA. Then add in the impact of an MBA on your expected lifetime earnings.
Plan and act as if you were training for an Olympic event.
• Know your target score, your test date, your schedule. Plan to hit peak performance on test day.
• Allow time for 8 hrs. sleep per night - remember, you’re in training.
• Exercise at least 3 times per week - daily is better.
• Allow time for a weekly practice test (3.5 hours plus twice that to review.)
Okay, got it! So how much time do I need to budget?
GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council) research shows GMAT scores are strongly correlated with both the number of hours of prep and the number of weeks of prep. GMAC offers the following data:
Score–Hours of Study
Of course these data don’t reflect the starting scores or the extent of variation around the values. Will 4 extra hours of study raise a test taker’s score 150 points, i.e. 540 to 690? Not likely. However, if you use Kaplan’s benchmark of an 80 point increase from pre-course baseline test to Test Day, a bump from 620 to 700 with 114 hours of study tracks pretty well. On the other hand, I’ve seen cases of even greater increases - 170, 210, even 340 points. But these students invested proportionately more hours in study.
Bottom Line - plan to spend at least 3 months on GMAT prep; 6 months is better. And you’ll need to schedule between 1 and 3 hours per day for study with approximately 10 hours set aside each week for the practice tests and review. This disciplined commitment in conjunction with the right study materials and guidance is the formula for Test Day success. Now go for it!