A version of this article was originally published in the QS Top Grad School Guide 2016-2017, available to read here.
The GMAT and the GRE General Test remain important requirements when applying to graduate schools in the US and around the world. While the two tests have many differences, the key to success in both is having a clear plan – and sticking to it!
Follow these 10 steps to kick-start your study plan, or improve on your current GMAT or GRE prep strategy.
1. Pick a sensible date for your test
When taking the GMAT or GRE, you have a degree of flexibility as to when you take the test. Pick a date that is practical and reasonable for you. It’s wise to go for a date at the end of a break, or a period of holiday, to ensure that you will have some time to focus solely on preparing, and to revisit any areas in which your confidence is lacking.
2. Expect the unexpected
There’s no way around it: revising for the GMAT or GRE is a lengthy affair, and you’re sure to run into some unexpected difficulties along the way. This could be an external factor that you hadn’t anticipated, or a part of the test that unexpectedly requires more study time. When building a study timetable, don’t forget to be overly generous with your distribution of time to compensate for these factors.
3. Prepare your study environment
It may sound simple, but having a calm, organized space to work in is an important foundation on which to build an effective study schedule. By taking the time to plan and organize your workspace, materials, and textbooks, you’ll be saving vital study time further down the line.
4. Establish a routine
For a big undertaking like the GMAT or GRE, taking an ad hoc approach to studying just won’t cut it, so it’s vitally important to have a clear structure for your study hours. If you think that you’ll only be able to concentrate on a single section for an hour or two, then adjust your study plan accordingly by factoring in a break, or a change in your area of focus.
5. Use breaks wisely
Research has shown that breaks and distractions are a vital part of the revision process, when they’re used correctly. Everyone has their limits when it comes to studying, so don’t be afraid to pause for a snack, or even a jog or walk around the block when you’re feeling restless. However, be wary of using breaks as an excuse to give up – instead, use them as a way of stimulating yourself to reach your next small goal. Instead of saying, “I give up on this: it’s time for a break”, it’s better to say, “I’m getting tired, but before I have a break I will achieve…”
6. Create a study diary
Nobody’s perfect, and with so much information to take in, you’re sure to forget some details along the way. That’s where a study diary can help out. By keeping a diary of the areas you’ve covered, you can easily refresh your knowledge further down the line. By making a note – however brief – of your thought processes and key facts, you’ll be making it significantly easier to recap.
7. Investigate other ways of revising
The saying, “a change is as good as a rest” is definitely one that can be applied to studying. Though rest is vital, changing up your revision format can also improve your concentration and results. Try studying as part of a group, either with friends or through a local Meetup group. Take practice tests online, and explore the large range of GMAT and GRE prep apps available. Or get creative by turning your revision into diagrams, or posting flashcards around your home.
8. Be consistent
Getting a high score on the GMAT or GRE is all about playing the long game. Cramming is simply not as effective as a well-planned and properly executed study plan, so put the hours in from the beginning, and keep at it.
9. Test yourself
There are many techniques you can use to test your knowledge, including online practice tests. If you’re keeping a study diary, remember to check it regularly, to refresh your memory. If you’re practicing for a part of the test such as quantitative reasoning, try teaching some of the algebra and data analysis involved to a friend or family member. Passing on knowledge is one of the best ways to check your knowledge and confidence.
10. Beware of complacency
Using practice tests is a tried and tested way of tracking your progress, and a handy way of highlighting any weaknesses in your strategy that you might not be aware of. However, without sounding too pessimistic, it’s important to remember that they are just practices. There are a myriad of factors that can affect your performance on test day, so keep pushing yourself, whether you’re scoring high on practice tests or not: aim high, but keep your feet firmly on the ground.
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