Many students preparing for the GMAT find themselves in the same situation. With a limited budget, they can’t afford a private tutor. With limited time, they can’t schedule time for a class. With limited GMAT resources in their area, they have to use what’s online or in a nearby library. This leaves students to navigate GMAT prep on their own.
These students have to create their own path to success. With little guidance, this can be quite a challenge. But if you are a strong self-studier, or know the self-studier’s approach, you can properly prepare for the GMAT.
Establish a Plan
The smartest thing a student can do before preparing for the GMAT is set up a plan. This means finding a GMAT study schedule, adapting a study plan, or making your own. When evaluating a study plan or making your own, here are some important points to consider:
- Make sure you factor in how much time you have to study each day along with how much time you have on the weekends.
- Don’t budget a seven-hour block of time to study. Rather, schedule smaller blocks of time with breaks. You will only be productive for about an hour at a time so make sure you plan accordingly.
- Don’t dedicate all your time to one thing. Every 20 minutes or so, move on to something else. This will keep your mind fresh and keep you interested.
- Schedule ‘flex days’ that you can use when you miss a study day. Life is unpredictable and you won’t always be able to follow the plan exactly, so plan for the unexpected.
- Adapt as you go. The more you study, the more you will know about your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t just follow along blindly. Make the changes as your knowledge and understanding changes.
- Plan to take practice tests. It is crucial to have as many complete practice tests under your belt as possible before the test. If you are looking for free practice tests, I recommend the free GMATPrep software from GMAC.
Know What You Don’t Know
Above all else, self-studiers know their strengths and weaknesses. Without this self-knowledge, very little improvement can be made. Self-studiers wouldn’t know where to begin their studies and where to focus their energy. Also, self-studiers know that these strengths and weaknesses are in flux and require consistent assessment. Finally, a good self-studier has an objective metric for measuring how well they understand a certain topic. This last point I think is key, so let’s dive a little bit deeper.
For those looking for a way to measure understanding, assign a numerical value to your knowledge:
0 = “I have no idea what is going on, and I think I might have forgotten where I live in the process.”
1 = “I think I might have seen this before, but I don’t know where and it isn’t helping me to make progress.”
2 = “I remember this from Mrs. Pythagorean’s geometry class, but I need a little help to set up the problem and solve it.”
3 = “I can answer these questions correctly when working through a set of problems.”
4 = “I can see this concept among other concepts and answer the question with ease.”
5 = “I know this, understand the underlying concepts, and could explain it to a friend.”
These are the stages of knowing what you need to be familiar with. Track yourself as you learn new concepts and answer questions. Either keep a journal of your progress or make a mental note each day. Having a sense of your zeros and your fives will inform your study plan and how to allocate your time.
Mistakes are the sauce to your pasta, the crust to your pizza. Without mistakes, no learning can occur. With each mistake, a path opens before the self-studier. The student knows which path to walk down and what concepts to focus her energy on.
Each time self-studiers miss a problem, it sets off a chain reaction. First, they read through the explanation of the question and investigate the answer choices. Next, they ask themselves what about the problem caused them trouble: Was it the wording of the problem? Was it how to set up the problem? Was it a distracting answer choice? Was it a known concept presented in a new way? Or was it an unknown concept entirely? After all the inquiries, they assign a value to their knowledge of the question and then take steps to learn more. This means they post a question about parallelism to Beat the GMAT, watch videos that cover probability, or study GMAT Verbal strategies.