How long to study for GMAT

Studying for the GMAT is a serious commitment of time, typically taking two to three months or more. While most prospective MBAs preparing for test day know what they need to study, you likely have many questions about studying — and more specifically, how to make the appropriate amount of time. Study plans may vary depending on several variables, including your:

  • Goal score
  • Starting score
  • Work schedule
  • Timetable
  • Family obligations

Few people take the GMAT under ideal circumstances. Most test-takers juggle work demands and other responsibilities, and the time it takes to study for the GMAT depends on your circumstances.

It also depends on your starting point and whether you have a solid foundation in English and math.

Think of the GMAT in terms of your best score—the maximum score you can achieve. The concept of your best score can make more sense than a target score (often set arbitrarily).

It takes time to get your best GMAT score. There are people who rush the test and do well – although they don’t necessarily get their best score. There are also those who lose momentum for too long.

You have to create a detailed GMAT study plan

The first thing to know about studying for the GMAT is that this is not a test you can cram for. Think of it more like preparing for a marathon.

You want to build on the test day with a plan that will gradually improve your skills and endurance. Because the GMAT tests your critical thinking and analytical skills, you need to know how to think flexibly and logically about the material being tested.

These analytical and critical thinking skills require knowledge of the patterns in the GMAT material. So it’s best to gradually build up that kind of depth and flexibility.

Next, remember to be conscious of your study plan. Make dates on your calendar with your GMAT books and practice tests – and keep them!

It’s easy to procrastinate when the deadline is weeks away, so find a way to stay accountable by setting a date reminder and/or having someone help you stick to your study schedule.

How long does GMAT preparation take?

Remember that learning for the GMAT takes time. Allow about two to three months and 100-120 hours to review and practice regularly.

The GMAT’s top scorers spend an average of more than 120 hours studying over a given period of time for the Test Day.

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The length of each learning session depends on your specific situation; however, most students aim for sessions between one and three hours per session.

If you take the average 120 hours of study for a top scorer and divide these over the average ten weeks of study, you come to around 12 hours per week.

This includes the time spent in class and tutoring sessions for the GMAT. When you spread these hours out evenly, it’s best to work about two to three hours a day, six days a week, and take one day off a week.

Is a long study time required for GMAT?

As a rule of thumb, three to six months is about the right amount of time to sustain the intensity required to prepare for the GMAT.

Lengthening your preparation will not necessarily improve your score. After a certain point in the process, there are often diminishing returns.

Unlike other tests, the GMAT tests your ability rather than your knowledge. Think of preparing for the GMAT as training for a marathon.

You build your ability over time to do your best on the day. Much of GMAT skill is acquired through practice.

Does long study time for GMAT work?

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the organization behind the GMAT exam, those who score over 700 study over 90 hours for the test.

However, GMAC points out that there is no cause-and-effect process. Spending more hours studying doesn’t guarantee a high score, but it helps to keep over a hundred hours of preparation as a rough estimate for your practice.

Your natural skills (which we don’t always have exact access to) may play some role in your score. However, regardless of your natural ability, you will not achieve your best score without the proper preparation.

According to the GMAC™ (2016) mba.com Prospective Student Survey of more than 3,600 GMAT test-takers, 62% of test-takers begin their preparation four or more weeks before their exam date.

Those who started their preparation earlier accumulated more preparation hours overall. Those who studied more did better – 60 hours or more yielded scores of 500 or more.

Creating a personal plan works

Your study plan is as individual as you are. Create a plan that sets a pace that suits you and your lifestyle. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know your own skills and level of performance, in which areas you are good and what you still have to master
  • Adjust your own learning habits accordingly
  • Have patience with yourself and the learning process

It’s really all about learning smart

Ultimately, it comes down to how smart you learn, not just how long you study. Develop a study plan that includes not only when you will study, but also what you will study.

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Consider how best to prepare based on your discipline, motivation, and personal preferences (e.g., self-study, one-on-one, study groups, and classes). Check out the GMAT Study Timeline to help you prepare.

Also see and explore GMAT study guide: How to prepare

How can you prepare effectively?

Building GMAT knowledge is a bit like building muscle at the gym. You have to keep at it and do a little bit every day.

Try not to lose momentum and quit your studies and start again. You must also continue your practice in all tested themes so that you do not lose your winnings.

You will find that if you neglect a particular section for a while in order to focus on other parts of the test, your ability will diminish there.

Regardless of your schedule, it’s helpful to think of three phases to your preparation.

  1. In the first step, you deal with concepts and strategies.
  2. In the second phase you introduce the timer.
  3. In the third, you practice mock tests (and your timing strategy) to build up the mental stamina required for the actual test.

What about the GMAT online exam?

Remember that while the GMAT online exam excludes the AWA essay, it does not include breaks between the quantitative and verbal sections.

Make sure you take the test under the same conditions as on the day of the test. Building endurance against mental fatigue (and being able to strategize for you) is crucial.

If you are taking the online GMAT, be sure to practice with both the online and physical whiteboard before test day. Whether you are taking the exam at home or at a test center, you need to make sure you know what to expect. 

Remember that your GMAT score is valid for 5 years. You want to give yourself as much time as possible for the GMAT that doesn’t overlap with your application preparation (e.g., writing your term paper) or things like starting a new job.

Your GMAT score is not the be-all and end-all of your application, but it is important. Make sure you put in the time to get the best score you’re capable of.

Factors that determine how long it takes to prepare for the GMAT

Before you can estimate the amount of time it will take to prepare for the GMAT, you should understand the factors that affect preparation time and have quantifiable answers to the following questions

  1. What is your current state of preparation?
  2. What is your target GMAT score?
  3. What resources will you use for your preparation?

Your current level of GMAT preparation

As with any journey, the time it takes to reach your goal/value depends on where you are. Therefore, the first step is to assess your current level of preparation/readiness for the GMAT.

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If you are taking the GMAT for the first time, you can use one of the following methods to assess your current level of preparation:

  1. Official GMAT Guide Diagnostic Quiz
  2. GMAT Prep mock tests

If you have already taken the GMAT, learn how to use your GMAT Enhanced Score Report to assess your current level of preparation.

Next, we’ll take a quick look at each of the above methods and their pros and cons, and suggest the most accurate approach that combines both of the above resources.

OG Diagnosis: The GMAT Official Guide includes a diagnostic test in both printed and online versions. These guides are produced by GMAC, the organization that owns and developed the GMAT test.

The diagnostic test serves as a good starting point to understand your strengths and weaknesses and helps you prioritize your areas of focus during the preparation and creation of your study plan.

It contains 48 quant and 52 verbal questions.

However, there are some limitations you need to be aware of:

  • Non-adaptive: The diagnostic test is not adaptive; so you have the freedom to switch back and forth between the questions, which are not possible on a real test.
  • It doesn’t give you a raw GMAT score: The diagnostic test doesn’t give you a definitive score in the same way as the GMAT.

GMAT Prep Mock Tests: GMAC also offers the Official GMAT Starter Kit + Practice Exams 1 & 2. This kit contains 90 questions along with two practice exams.

These practice exams contain questions that were used in previous GMAT tests and are now being discontinued. They also use the same scoring algorithm as the actual GMAT tests.

However, there are a few reasons why you shouldn’t use it to assess your current level of preparedness:

  • Requires Knowledge of All Sections: Since a mock test consists of all sections tested on the GMAT, you should be familiar with all sections and question types tested on the GMAT test before taking the test.

    So if you’ve just started your preparation, it can negatively impact your score and lower your confidence.

  • Affected by Timing: Your GMAT sham test score will be affected by your time management skills. In a standardized test like the GMAT, time management plays a crucial role in your bottom line.

    And since you may not have developed a time management strategy for your GMAT test, your score at this point may be severely skewed because of this.

So, to estimate your current test score, the official GMAT mock tests would be overkill and inefficient use of your time and the official mock tests.

Conclusion

The time you should spend preparing for the GMAT exam is individual to you. While we don’t know what’s right for you, we do know how much time, on average; others spend preparing for the exam and their self-reported GMAT scores. We also know that successful business school candidates have taken 3-6 months to prepare.

Those who do better on the GMAT exam tend to spend more time studying for it. However, there is no cause-and-effect process. 90 hours of study doesn’t guarantee you’ll score in the 700 point range.

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