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How to prepare for the GMAT exam

A 11 min read

If you are an MBA aspirant who has decided to give the GMAT exam but has no idea how to prepare for the GMAT or where to begin, you have come to the right place. GMAT is one of the most important parts of your MBA application, and a strong GMAT score helps you stand out in your admission process and even secure scholarships. Also, your GMAT score is still completely in your control, unlike other parts of your application, such as your school/college grades. Thus, giving your best shot at it is that much more important.

In this article, we shall walk you through the four steps of GMAT preparation that have helped thousands of students score 700+ on the GMAT.

How to prepare for GMAT? – 4 Steps!

  1. Step 1: Familiarize yourself with the format and content.
  2. Step 2: Create a Study plan and (more importantly) stick to it!
  3. Step 3: Choose the right GMAT prep materials suited to your needs.
  4. Step 4: Manage your test day nerves.

Before we proceed further, here is a quick outline of this article:

Are you planning to pursue MBA at top business schools? Let us help you conquer the first step of the process i.e., taking the GMAT. Take a free mock test to understand your baseline score and start your GMAT prep with our free trial. We are the most reviewed online GMAT Prep company with 2500+ reviews on GMATClub.

Let us now understand each of these steps one by one:

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with the format and content

The GMAT or the Graduate Management Aptitude Test, is a 3 hour 7-minute long computer adaptive test that is used to assess your analytical, quantitative, verbal, and writing skills. Each test taker is given a score between 200 to 800. The test consists of four sections. The details about the duration of each section, the number of questions, and the question types is as follows:

GMAT Sections No. of Questions Question Types Duration
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) 1 essay Argument analysis and communication in the form of a critique 30 minutes
Integrated Reasoning (IR) 12 multiple choice Two-Part Analysis, Multi-source reasoning, Graphic interpretation, Table analysis 30 minutes
Quantitative 31 multiple choice Data Sufficiency, Problem Solving 62 minutes      
Verbal 36 multiple choice Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction 65 minutes

Watch this video to learn more about the GMAT exam, format eligibility, and fees:

Read our article on GMAT exam Format to know more about the lastest exam pattern, GMAT sections and question types

We also recommend that you familiarize yourself with each sub-section in GMAT quant and Verbal and solve 1-2 official questions from each section to get a feel of what questions are asked. Here are the detailed insights into each subsection of Verbal and quant and a few official questions from each question type/ subsection with detailed solutions. Try your hand at the same:

What is GMAT Sentence Correction + Sample questions on GMAT SC

What is GMAT Reading Comprehension + Sample questions on GMAT RC

What is GMAT Critcal reasoning + Sample questions on GMAT CR

GMAT quant- Sample questions

Step 2: Create a study plan

Creating a study plan is probably the most critical part of GMAT preparation. If done right, a personalised study plan can save you 60+ hours in your preparation. Therefore, your first step in your GMAT preparation must be creating a personalised study plan that suits your needs. Here are the steps to create a personalised study plan:

  1. Decide your target score
  2. Take a mock test to understand your baseline scores
  3. Decide whether your approach should be verbal driven or quant driven
  4. Estimate the amount of time you need
  5. Create the sequence of study
  6. Block the time to take mocks
Steps to create a study plan

Let us understand each of these steps in detail:

1. Decide your target score

Deciding your target GMAT score largely depends on the college you are targeting. We recommend that you score at least 20 points above the class average to increase your chances of admission and to secure a scholarship. For example, if the college you are targeting has an average GMAT score of 730, you should target to score 750+.

The average GMAT score for the top 30 colleges in US is 711. Therefore, if you are targeting these schools, you must target to score 730+.

Read our article on what is a good GMAT score to understand what score what is the ideal score for your target B-school and the five steps to find your target GMAT score

2. Take a mock test to understand baseline score

Once you have decided your target GMAT score, the next step is understanding where you currently stand and how much gap you need to bridge. To do this, you must have a baseline score. But merely having a baseline score will not help. You must have a detailed insight about your sectional scores and what subsections are your strengths and weaknesses within each section. You must also understand how you progressed within each section. These data points will help you determine whether you need to work on your basic concepts or only your application skills. They will also help you determine your time management strategies. Getting insights at such a molecular level may seem tedious and time-consuming, but as Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you only had an hour to chop down a tree, spend the first 45 minutes sharpening your axe.”

Planning with such attention to detail will only save you time in the future and ensure that you only target those areas that need to be improved.

The next question you would have is: How do I get these baseline scores?

For this, we recommend two strategies, depending on whether you are taking the GMAT for the first time or are a retaker:

  • If you have already given the GMAT recently, you can get an ESR score report for $30. This report will give you:
    • Total GMAT score and percentile
    • Sectional scores and time management
    • Sub-sectional scores and time management
    • Accuracy level during the test
    • The average difficulty level of questions you answered correctly and incorrectly
    • Average time per response for both correctly and incorrectly answered questions

Read this article to learn all about the ESR score report

  • If you are first time test taker, haven’t taken the GMAT recently or even otherwise, you can give the e-GMAT Sigma-X mock test, that is completely free of cost. The insights provided by Sigma-X mocks go above and beyond those provided by the ESR. You will not only be given insights into all of the above mentioned points, but also understand how much time you spent on each question, was there any luck factor, timing influence, or rush through factor in your performance.

Watch this video to understand and compare the insights provided by Sigma-X mocks and the ESR.

3. Decide whether your approach should be quant driven or Verbal driven

Did you know that there are 25 different ways to get a score of 700? You could get a score of Q42 and V44 to get a GMAT 700. Alternatively, you can also score Q50 and V34. While Q50 is equivalent to 85th percentile in the GMAT, a Q42 is a mere 43rd percentile. Therefore, choose your path wisely depending on whether your strong area is Verbal or Quant.

The insights derived from the previous step will come in handy to determine whether your approach should be quant driven or verbal driven. You must also decide what sub-sections within quant and Verbal are your strengths and weaknesses to develop an efficient plan.

Read this article to learn how to prepare for GMAT Verbal

Read this article to learn how to prepare for GMAT Quant

4. Estimate the amount of time you need

Now that you have your target GMAT score, a detailed insight into your baseline scores, and your approach sorted, you are ready to estimate the amount of time you need for your GMAT preparation.

Estimate the amount of time you need

If your approach to GMAT preparation is dedicated, consistent, and data-driven, you would need approximately 7 hours of study to improve by 10 points (on a scale of 800) in the total score. This is usually the case with Online courses as they are more engaging and provide active feedback. This not only makes it easier for students to concentrate longer and better but also ensures that students require half as many revisions to reach a high level of competence. However, if you are using books to study, you would need approximately 12 hours per 10 points (scale of 800) of improvement.

Also, you will need more time if you are extremely weak in a particular topic. For example, if a student’s starting percentile in Sentence Correction is 25 percentile, then the student should add 25% to this time estimate (for Sentence Correction only). The same holds true if you are truly weak in GMAT Quant. Let’s call this factor Confidence Building Time (CBT).

So, with the above estimates, a diligent student seeking 100-point improvement should be able to do so by using a data-driven online course in as few as 80 hours. Similarly, a 200-point score improvement would require 160 hours of effort using the same online course.

To conclude it all, here is a simple thumb rule to estimate the amount of time required:

Time required (in hours) = [Target GMAT Score – Starting GMAT Score] X [ 7/10] X [1+CBT]


  • Target GMAT Score = final score that you desire
  • Starting GMAT score = Starting score on an official mock test
  • 7/10 = 7 hours of effort for every 10 point score improvement
  • CBT = Confidence Building Time factor; its value can be 0.0 or 0.25

5. Create the sequence of study

Once you estimate the time needed to prepare, you must block the time off in your calendar so that you do not plan other activities and keep with your schedule. We recommend that you start with your relative strength so that it can set a good momentum for the rest of your preparation.

For Verbal, you must start with SC. Only when you have reached your target score in SC, you must move to CR and then RC. The reason for this order is that RC requires certain skills that get developed in SC and CR. Preparing these sections would automatically improve your skills in RC to a certain level.

For Quant, you can start with Number Properties and follow it up with Word Problems, Algebra, Geometry, and Advanced Topics in this order.

No matter which section you begin with, ensure that you only study one topic at a time. Do not jump to another topic midway. For example, if you are studying SC, ensure that you finish it before moving to, say, Number Properties. This focussed approach will ensure that you gain mastery in one section before moving on to another.

6. Block time to take mocks

Block time to take mocks

Ensure you include enough time for sub-sectional and full-length mocks in your study plan. We recommend that you take atleast 3-4 medium and hard level tests of 10 questions each in every sub-section before studying the next sub-section. This will ensure that you gain mastery in the subsection and help you retain everything you have learnt for a longer period. These sub-sectional tests will take around 10 hours each to give the test and review each question. So, set aside around 60 hours for this activity.

Students generally believe that you need to take a lot of mocks to ace the GMAT exam, however this is a myth. Taking a large number of mocks is of no use. The analysis done at the end of each mock is what matters. At e-GMAT, We recommend taking 3-4 full length mocks only after you have finished studying everything. Ensure that you analyse each mock in detail, as explained in step 2 above. You will not need to give a lot of mocks as you have already given umpteen number of sub-sectional tests. The mocks should only be taken to become test-ready. All the learning should be completed by the time you reach this stage. So, we recommend setting aside another 30-40 hours for this activity.

If you are an e-GMAT student, you can skip step 3, 4, 5, and 6 and directly go to the PSP tool after giving your Sigma-X mock. The PSP tool will give you a detailed day wise plan once you enter your target overall and sub-sectional scores. You can adjust the sub-sectional scores based on your strengths, and the tool will automatically adjust the other sub-sectional scores for the given target score. You can also put in the number of hours you are willing to put in everyday, and the tool will give you the plan accordingly.

Read this article to understand how to use the personalized study planner tool.

In case you aren’t an e-GMAT student, please write to us at support@e-gmat so that we can help you with the personalized study plan.

Sample study plans on how to prepare for the GMAT

Here are some tips on how to create the study plans and some sample study plans that suit your needs:

1) How to create your GMAT Study plan- Sample GMAT study plan and schedule

2) How to create a study plan for working professionals

3) Sample plan and tips for creating study plan for 1 month study

Now that you have your study plan ready, it is time to execute your plan and start studying. This is where step 3 comes in.

Step 3: Using the right resources and executing the plan

Before we get into how to select the right resources for your study, let us first understand the different steps of studying for the GMAT exam. At e-GMAT, we believe in a 3-stage learning process that has proven useful for thousands of students who got a 700+ score:

Stage 1: Learning Concepts and Methodologies

This is the phase wherein we learn all the concepts in a sub-section and learn the process of solving the questions in that sub-section.

Stage 2: Cementing

In this phase, we cement our learnings by first solving medium-difficulty questions and then hard questions. We start with relaxed timing and then progress to standard timing. Standard timing is the speed at which you’ll be expected to take the actual GMAT.

Stage 3: Test Readiness

This is the final phase of your prep. This is where you write full-length mocks to determine whether you’re ready for the GMAT or need to work on cementing your individual skills further.

Picking the right study material depends on which of the above three stages you are at. You can easily do so using the data obtained from step 1 and step 2 of Creating a study plan, that is, your target GMAT score and your starting abilities. For example, if your starting ability is below 650, you may have to start from Stage 1. However, you have a starting score of 700+ and are looking to improve by 20-30 points, you may only need to work on your Cementing and test readiness. You may not need to learn all the concepts.

Also, if you are looking to save time in your preparation, going for an online course which gives you regular feedback will be better. The e-GMAT online course gives you a personalised study plan, personalised customer support, data analytics and tracks your progress for predictable success, all of which aren’t possible if you choose to prepare using books. Take our free trial to see this for yourself!

To make an informed decision about your GMAT prep material, read our article on the Best GMAT preparation books and online resources where we compare some of the best GMAT preparation resources and their usefulness in the 3 stages of learning.

Step 4: Managing GMAT anxiety

It is natural to feel anxious about giving the GMAT exam, given that the stakes are so high and that your GMAT score plays a huge role in deciding your career trajectory and your earning potential in the years to come. While you prepare for all the other aspects of the exam, ensure that you prepare yourself mentally to handle the stress and the test day nerves too, so that you do not get overwhelmed.

Read our article on the 10 tips to tackle GMAT anxiety to understand how to overcome this anxiety


In conclusion, understanding the format and structure of the exam is the first step in your GMAT preparation journey. Creating a study plan by understanding your target and baseline scores is the next and probably the most important step. Once you have the study plan, utilize the right resources that suit your needs to make the best utilization of your prep time. Finally, ensure that you have your GMAT anxiety under control. But above all, ensure that you work hard and are sincere in your preparation, as there is no shortcut to GMAT success! We hope this article has given you an in depth insight on how you should prepare for the GMAT. So what are you waiting for? Get started with your GMAT preparation today!

If you are planning to take the GMAT, we can help you with a personalized study plan and give you access to quality online content to prepare. Write to us at acethegmat@e-gmat.com. We are the most reviewed GMAT prep company on gmatclub with 2500+ reviews. Why don’t you take a free trial and judge for yourself?

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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