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GMAT Prep: 3 Study Habits You Should Start “Unlearning” Right Now

GMAT prep


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What are your go-to study tactics? What rituals do you perform when prepping for tests?

These are probably habits you began forming very early on—as far back as elementary school—when you took your first quizzes and standardized exams.

It makes sense to fall back on these approaches when faced with yet another high-stakes test, like the GMAT. You should go with what’s worked in the past, right?

Not exactly. The GMAT is a very different beast. To do well on this exam, you’ll need to re-think some of those comfortable old study habits, and adopt a more sophisticated, strategic approach.

These are 3 habits to “unlearn” right from day one!

1. Last-minute Cramming

Hoping to earn a competitive 700+ score on the GMAT? How many study hours do you think it will take to hit that goal?

The folks at the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) got to the bottom of this question by surveying over 4,000 test-takers on how long they studied for the GMAT, and their final results.

GMAC found a distinct correlation between longer study and higher scores. Students who devoted 120+ hours to GMAT prep were more likely to achieve scores of 700 and above.

These findings line up with what we’ve seen at Quantum over the last 15 years of coaching students. Slow and steady prep, spread out over 3-6 months, consistently yields the best results.

If you want a top score, we recommend making time for:

  • 150-200 hours of GMAT prep
  • 1500-2000 practice questions
  • 8-10 practice GMAT exams

Obviously, these are not goals you can hit over a few weekend marathon study sessions. Last-minute cramming may have worked well for you on other kinds of tests—but the unique challenges and escalating difficulty of GMAT questions demand a far more measured approach.

Bottom line? Plan to study several times a week for at least 3 months.

See this post for tips on how to structure your GMAT study sessions for maximum efficiency

2. Going After the “Easiest” Marks

Remember back in high school, or during your undergrad, when you would sometimes hedge your bets, and study only part of the material tested on an exam?

You’d go after the easiest grades—focus your efforts on the topics you knew best, and calculate which questions you could safely “bomb” without lowering your grade too much.

This approach might have worked on some tests, but if you’re aiming to do really well on the GMAT, you’ll have to forget about taking shortcuts.

Each of the GMAT sections—Quant, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, and AWA —are scored separately, and every B-school admissions team has their own method of weighing your performance in each area.

It’s about more than your overall score. You’ll want to do your best in every section, which means targeting your weak areas and continuing to improve on your strengths.

Bottom line? Prioritizing certain topics over others, and not spreading GMAT prep equally over all question-types, is one of the top reasons students underperform on exam day.

See this post for other common reasons students score low on the GMAT

3. Rote Learning & Memorization

Rote learning is one of the oldest study tricks out there. It’s a teaching technique found in classrooms all over the world, and students have relied on it for centuries to learn new things quickly.

Rote learning goes hand-in-hand with last-minute cramming. We’re talking about memorizing vast amounts of information, and drilling yourself on it, right before a big test.

On exam day, you “spit out” everything you memorized—and then promptly forget 90% of it forever.

Why won’t this study tactic work for the GMAT?

For starters, the GMAT tests more than factual knowledge and formulae. It tests your ability to analyze and think critically, and to apply what you know to increasingly difficult problems.

Simply “drilling” practice questions won’t do the trick. You’ll need to carefully analyze your performance at every stage of GMAT prep, pick out weak spots, and adapt your study plan to strengthen those weaknesses.

A certain amount of memorization is helpful, particularly with standard problem-solving steps and procedures—but mindless repetition won’t be enough to hone your ability to apply those steps  in the most effective and efficient ways.

Bottom line? You’ll need to approach GMAT prep purposefully, re-working your approach as you go, and staying alert to traps and pitfalls.

See this post on 5 ways to analyze your GMAT practice tests & improve performance

Looking for more help to avoid typical prep mistakes and map out a smart GMAT study plan?

Need support in a certain topic area? We’ve got you covered:

Click here to explore our FREE monthly workshops, mock exams, and personal assessments.

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