October 1, 2012
A few months ago I had a student in one of my GMAT classes tell me her study plan. She was very diligent and committed to the study process, and the plan was a very well thought out and detailed. Furthermore, she was executing the plan brilliantly. The problem was that her score was going nowhere. She wasn’t gaining any ground from her masterful execution. What was the problem?
After digging a bit deeper, one thing stood out. She was using all the tools: practice tests, online quizzes, workshops, workbooks etc. None of this seemed odd. In fact, it was all commendable. However, there was a fatal flaw in the way she was using these resources. She wanted to makes sure that she had the endurance to answer these questions on test day. Therefore, when she sat down to do quantitative problems, she would create a set of 37, do them all, and then review the answers. She would do 41 questions for the GMAT verbal section. This seems like a great idea, right? It’s very realistic. Wrong!!!
This is the same challenge that Toyota solved with lean processes and the Lean Startup movement is busy solving in the entrepreneurial world. Working in large batches seems reasonable and efficient. However, when our goal is learning and validation, it is counterproductive in a big way. Now, we could spend a lot of time diving deep into either lean manufacturing or lean startup methods, and that would be a lot of fun. However, let’s stay on point and look at how it works with GMAT studying.
To complete 37 questions will take you about 75 minutes. During this time you are busy answering the questions. This practice is good, but you aren’t adding new knowledge to the mix. You are just moving along the experience curve and getting faster at what you know. But what if what you know is wrong? In that case, you will continue to make the same mistakes all the way through, without the benefit of learning from early mistakes.
Now imagine that you take them in batches of 5 questions and then review the answers. In this case, if you are lacking some crucial piece of knowledge, you will learn that in the first batch. Even if you got a question right, you may learn a better way to approach it. You will then be able to apply that knowledge in subsequent sets and move on to higher level challenges. By working in small batches you will do this over and over again. In this way you can compound your rate of learning and move to higher and higher scores.
As a final note on this, I thought I’d share a recent success story. I had a student who was scoring around 650 on his practice tests right up to the week before his test. His goal was mid 700’s. He was using a large batch approach as well. After making the switch to small batch study, he spent a week compounding his learning. On test day he scored a 750! Try studying in small batches….
September 8, 2012
The GMAT is in some ways a technological marvel. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, thousands of locations across the globe are instantly reporting scores on the same test. The computer-adaptive test adapts to your skill level, adjusting difficulty on a question by question basis. Every center is equipped with a state-of-the-art scanner that records examinees’ handprints as a security measure.
Unsurprisingly, technology can also help you prepare for this test. Every GMAT student knows that paper-based quizzes can’t produce a test-like experience. Full-length practice Computer Adaptive Tests, like those offered by Kaplan and from www.mba.com, are key to success. But you can take the online prep a step further; most GMAT prep books, like Kaplan’s or the Official Guide, are also available as PDFs. Learning your lessons from a tablet or computer screen get your eyes used to reading on a monitor, and forces you to take your notes on separate paper and not directly on the questions themselves. The more test-like your practice, the better!
When it comes to study schedules, technology can be a great help too. Sharing your schedule with your fellow students or with your instructor via an online calendar can help them help you keep on pace. And setting up automatic email reminders for your study sessions can make sure you don’t lose track of your GMAT prep on a busy day.
Finally, modern technology is great for finding likeminded students. Having a tough day studying? Looking for study-buddies in your area? Try posting on a GMAT forum or facebook page for encouragement, resources, and fellow GMAT students.
August 23, 2012
A few weeks ago, a group of break-dancers started dancing outside my GMAT classroom at a local university.
Now, a part of me thought this was very fun. I like to pretend I’m still cool to college students. So, I was smiling and trying not to bop my head to the music when I went out and asked them to turn down the music. They were pretty nice about it, too, and turned down their music. For about fifteen minutes. The second time I asked them to turn it down, I was a little less nice—and they were a little less happy to comply.
The third time, I didn’t ask. I called the Campus Police and had them rousted.
I felt bad about it. I was becoming “The Man.” I was an authority figure. I was stern. I wasn’t a “cool guy” anymore. But I got over my guilt quickly, by reminding myself that I was a GMAT teacher, and my students were GMAT students. We had goals to meet, and hours to work, and we couldn’t do that with techno blaring in through the closed door.
The lesson here is that being assertive is an important part of the GMAT preparation process. Of course, “being assertive” is not code for “being a jerk.” The last thing you want to do is alienate the friends and family who will support you if things get tough! But I’ve heard so many stories of students who didn’t stand up for themselves. One got stuck repeatedly answering the door to his apartment during a CAT, because his roommates had scheduled a delivery when they were out. Another had weekly family picnics; she couldn’t bring herself to tell her extended family that she needed a week or two off!
Preparing for the GMAT takes 120 to 150 hours, and it’s up to you to find that time. Spend time with your friends and family, but don’t let them become an obstacle. Tell them when you need time for a CAT. They’ll understand! A picnic, or a birthday party, or even an impromptu breakdancing session, is one day. The GMAT, your B-school, and your MBA can change the rest of your life.
June 14, 2012
Studying for the GMAT is not something that most test-takers take lightly and is usually a commitment of 2-3 months or more. While most students studying for a test like the GMAT often know what to study, they have many questions about how to study. Study schedules can definitely vary depending on your particular situation such as goal score, starting score, work schedule, school schedule, and family obligations, but, based on a long history of working with students and studying how we learn, here are some general rules of thumb to remember as you begin to form your personalized study schedule.
The first thing to know about studying for the GMAT is that the GMAT is not a test that you want to cram for. Studying for the GMAT is like preparing for a marathon. You want to build up to test day with a plan that builds your skill and stamina. Because the GMAT tests your critical thinking skills and various content skills, you need to know how to think flexibly and thoroughly about the material tested. Flexibility and critical thinking are skills that ideally require knowledge of the patterns in the GMAT. Therefore, it is best to build this type of depth and flexibility in a gradual way.
Next, remember to be deliberate in your study schedule. Make dates with your GMAT books and practice tests and keep them! The easiest thing to do is to procrastinate because the deadline is weeks away and nothing is naturally there to keep you accountable. Therefore, find a way to stay accountable by setting a date reminder and/or having someone help you stay on track with your schedule.
Along with deliberate study times, be purposeful with your GMAT dates. Instead of just putting “study GMAT” on the calendar add specifics about the purpose of the session; for instance, June 13th could be your night to spend some quality time with right triangles in geometry and subject-verb agreement in sentence correction. At the beginning, the purpose of your session should be aimed at mastery of specific topics. Closer to test day, start to incorporate timing sections and mixed practice into the goal of your sessions.
Studying for the GMAT takes time. As Lucas mentioned previously, plan to spend about 2-3 months and 100-120 hours studying for the GMAT. The top scorers on the GMAT spend 120+ hours, on average, studying for test day over a period of time. The length of each study session will vary based on your specific situation; however, most students aim for sessions between 1 and 3 hours in a sitting. If you take the average 120 hours of studying for a top scorer and divide that over the course of the average 10 weeks of studying, you get approximately 12 hours per week. This includes time spent in class sessions and tutoring sessions for the GMAT. If you spread those hours equally, it’s best to do about 2-3 hours per day, 6 days per week and to take one day off per week.
During each incremental session, it’s also important to take periodic breaks. There is quite a bit of research to support spaced learning, which, in essence, means to set up to chunks of study time with short breaks built in. Give your brain periodic breaks to process the information that you are taking in. The frequency and length of your breaks can vary a bit; however, a 5-10 minute break every 25-30 minutes of studying is a good rule of thumb. Time of day can matter as well. Know your good times of day and try to study during those times in which you are most alert. There is research that suggests students learn best in the evening; however, know yourself and when you work best.
In a typical studying chunk of time over one particular subject, here is my favorite way to arrange your early studying when you are building content mastery. Each chunk takes about 1 hour and 20+ minutes with 1+ hour devoted to study. Ideally, you will get 2 chunks in a normal day and 3-4 chunks in on a completely free day.
Each Studying Chunk – For the entire chunk, stay within one area (i.e. Number properties, geometry, etc…)
1) Set a timer for 20-25 minutes
2) Review Notes on that particular topic (5 minutes)
3) Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (15-20 min)
TAKE A 5-10 MINUTE BREAK – NO GMAT – DO SOMETHING DISTRACTING
4) Set the timer for 20-25 minutes – stick with the same subject area
5) Review Notes (2 minutes)
6) Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (18-23 min)
TAKE A 5-10 MINUTE BREAK– NO GMAT – DO SOMETHING DISTRACTING
7) Set the timer for 20-25 minutes – stick with the same subject area
8) Review Notes (2 minutes)
9) Practice Questions with immediate review or online workshop/tutorial (18-23 min)
END OF CHUNK ONE — CHANGE SUBJECTS FOR THE NEXT CHUNK
Even if your studying chunks vary a bit, it’s important to review your notes on the topic at the beginning of each session to reinforce the proper technique and approach. You also want to review every question, even those that you get right. The more you compare your reasoning with expert reasoning, the more you adopt the expert reasoning. Also, as you walk through the questions, practice asking yourself those critical questions that your instructor or tutor asks you as you navigate questions in your sessions. So, now that you know the “when,” what about the “where”?
Most people have preferences about study location. However, it’s good to vary your study location periodically. Information that you learn can become context dependent if you study in the same location over and over. If you vary the location and even the noise level a bit, the content and skill that you learn will be more flexible and the unfamiliar context of the testing room won’t hinder your ability to access that information.
Finally, keep a positive attitude about your progress. Progress on the GMAT can be an up and down road with periodic spikes and dips. Through it all, keep your eye focused on improving your skill and critical thinking approach. Always give yourself action steps and make mistakes with a growth mindset. Use your mistakes as learning opportunities instead of letting them diminish your confidence. Attitude matters! Give yourself the grace and time to stumble and grow. Now, it’s time to strap on your tennis shoes and start training for this marathon of a test!
May 24, 2012
Captain America was a man out of time. Everyone he knew had grown old or died in the sixty years he was frozen in ice. He was left behind by a rapidly changing culture, and the modern world didn’t (yet) have use for a super-soldier in the new paradigm of war. So what did he do to deal with this stress? He hit a punching bag.
Well, to be more accurate, he punched through a punching bag.
But I digress. There is a lesson we can learn from this superhero that will help us on test day, and it’s not about punching aliens or throwing indestructible shields. Rather, what he shows us is that exercise works. You don’t literally need to beat up canvas sacks of sand (though I enjoy knocking a heavy bag around from time to time). Anything from yoga to running to weightlifting can clear your head, burn off stress, and improve concentration.
We’ve already discussed how important study plans are to GMAT success, and we recommend every student make one. So when you build your schedule, fit in a few trips to the gym, track, or boxing ring. Exercise will improve your test-day performance, because at the moment, it’s the closest the real world has to a super-soldier serum.