April 22, 2013
February 8, 2013
Read this article. It’s about how Benjamin Franklin, a notable and influential founding father of the United States, structured his life so as to be as productive as possible and always live knowing tomorrow is, in fact, today. In the article, the author, Samuel Bacharach, a labor management professor at Cornell University, lists five habits Franklin employed to ensure procrastination was not part of his personal description.
In this post, I will apply each habit as listed by the author of the article in order to provide a framework for a productive GMAT study schedule—one that begins today and does not relent until Test Day!
1. Start a group and share knowledge. GMAT study is too often a very lonely endeavor. Despite my encouragement, it is with rare frequency my students organize study groups. I could speculate reasons as to why—busy schedules, different strengths/weaknesses, not wanting to exhibit weakness in front of others, lack of an idea about how to actually structure group study—and all are totally understandable. However, I really wish this were not the case. I have had groups jump at the chance to meet with their peers and have received a lot of positive feedback about the benefits.
Surrounding yourself with others plodding along a similar road to yours helps stimulate ideas, expand understanding, derive opportunities to learn by teaching, and motivate you to show up and get to work. Create a GMAT Junto!
2. Attack opportunities. You will never recognize opportunities if you do not look for them. A constructive attitude about what constitutes an opportunity during GMAT prep is a wondrous and invaluable thing. Really, several items on this list are opportunities all GMAT test preppers can expect to find. Starting a study group, making mistakes, and planning are all opportunities to get the most out of your study time.
As we discuss each, view them through the lens of opportunity and continue to approach GMAT prep in this way. For example, freaking out during a practice test gives you the chance to learn to recognize stress when it arises and devise a plan to overcome it. Test prep classes and the resources that accompany them are an opportunity to learn how to get the score you deserve to get. A previous misstep in calculating the tremendous challenge of the GMAT is an opportunity to make sure round two is the last round.
3. Time is a commodity in short supply. Time management, study schedules, and respect for the test are common themes in my writing on Kaplan’s GMAT Blog. For some thoughts on the matter, read these three posts: The GMAT Needs a Runway, How to Get Ready for the GMAT, and MBA Decision: The Financial Times Explores the Process.
4. Make a list. Beyond the pro-and-con list described in the article, plan out everything with regard to GMAT prep. So you can see for yourself, definitely take the time to list the good and bad aspects of a top notch study regimen, but continue to utilize lists during the prep cycle to maintain momentum and efficiency.
Something I tell all of my students to do is take the last 5-10 minutes of every study session to plan what they will do when they sit down for the next session. Doing this ensures you will hit the ground running and not be overwhelmed under the weight of all the stuff you could be doing. The latter situation usually results in a useless foray of social voyeurism on Facebook—something that definitively will NOT help improve your GMAT score.
5. Fail often; fail hard; but don’t expect to. Quite simply, celebrate mistakes. Each stumble on Preparation Road makes it that much more likely you will not make the same mistake on the only day it matters: Test Day. A mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Did you get it wrong because you got the right answer to the wrong question? Did you miss it because you searched outside the scope of the passage or argument? Did you run out of time because you gave two “tough nut” questions ten minutes of effort?
If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: tenacity is what builds high GMAT scores. After all, in the immortal words of Henry Ford:
”Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”
December 18, 2012
The holidays are upon us, and with them come a flurry of seasonal activities: shopping trips, parties, and visits with family and friends. If you’re planning on taking your GMAT in January, you’re probably struggling with the challenge of fitting your studies into your holiday schedule. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of this busy time.
First, acknowledge your limitations. Because of your holiday obligations, you’ll probably need to scale back your GMAT study time. The holidays provide you with a great opportunity to recharge mentally and emotionally, so there’s nothing wrong with cutting back a little on your studies to give yourself some more personal time. You’ll be able to create a study schedule–and stick to it–if you’re realistic with yourself about how much time you’ll actually have for studying over the holidays.
Second, since you’ll have less time to study, plan out carefully what you’re going to study and when. A specific agenda for each study session will help guarantee that you use your productively. If you’re used to longer study sessions (two or three hours), but you’ll be studying for shorter periods during the holidays, limit your agenda to one key topic at a time. For instance, you might spend an hour reviewing just proportions, rather than two hours reviewing proportions, averages, and ratios. This is also a good time to give yourself short quizzes (5 to 10 questions at time); in an hour, you can complete a short quiz in 15 to 30 minutes, giving you an equal amount of time to use for review of the quiz. As always, though, be sure to balance your studying between Quant and Verbal. A good plan is alternating between the two every day, or depending on your individual strengths and weaknesses, spending two days on one, followed by one day on the other.
Finally, recognize that there are benefits to a mini-vacation from your studies. Taking time away from intense studying gives you time to digest the material. There’s a lot to learn for the GMAT, and all that material takes time to “settle in” to your brain. Slowing down for a little while allows you to master concepts and helps prevent burn out. So take advantage of the pleasures of the holidays: enjoy your time spent not studying, maximize the time you do spend studying, and rest assured that your brain will benefit from the holiday as well.
July 8, 2012
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – The Matrix
I guess that, since you are still reading this post, you are considering taking your prep to the next level and entering the GMAT matrix. Truly mastering the GMAT requires that you peel back the veneer of the test and understand the patterns behind the test or, as we commonly say here at Kaplan, learn the inner-calculus of the test. One of my favorite sayings about standardized tests like the GMAT is that “the GMAT never repeats, but it rhymes.” This is one of the great things about preparing for a standardized test. The test-maker must use a framework of question types, answer types, passages, etc. in order to truly standardize the test. There is a specific set of skills that the test-maker includes in the test each and every time. With that in mind, let’s peek inside the matrix of GMAT test prep.
In order to learn the patterns of the test and master the GMAT, there are a few key things to do and keep in mind as you prep.
1) The Problem Fades and the Concept Remains
As you prep, do so with an eye toward the bigger concept behind a particular question. Ask yourself what the test-makers are really testing with the question in front of you – what vital skill or skills are they including. Don’t fight with individual questions or let one miss throw you on that particular topic. The specifics of the questions (names, numbers, etc..) will be different on test day, but the concept being tested will absolutely be there. Identifying the concept being tested and/or the type of question focuses your approach and narrows your options. Get into the habit of identifying the question type and primary concept each time you approach a question in practice. The tougher questions are usually just a combination of more basic skills stacked on top of each other. By thinking strategically and identifying the concept(s) and question type, you take the mask off the question.
2) Mastery First, Timing Later
When you first start to prep, it should not be about timing. Your GMAT timing will not improve in the right way until you are better able to read the patterns in the test, so don’t fret about timing until you have built the content mastery to back it up. When you get to the point that you can spot the concept being tested and the strategy you should use to tackle the question when you glance at the question, then you are ready to turn your attention to timing practice.
3) Review every explanation
In order to build the mastery noted above, it’s important to review every explanation, even when you get a question correct. Too many people neglect this step, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to truly being able to see the matrix of the test! Often, people prep by just doing question after question without fully reviewing their approach. While it’s important to check the answer, it is equally important to review why you chose the answer that you did. Your goal on the GMAT is to be correct AND efficient. The hardest thing to do is to read all of the explanations for the questions you got right. You want to make sure that you 1) got the right answer for the right reason and 2) are approaching the question in the most efficient way.
4) Make mistakes with a growth mindset
In order to really master the GMAT, your response to mistakes needs to be appropriate. Too many test-takers let mistakes define their performance and dampen their eventual improvement. Mistakes are good if viewed in the right light. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. They are the ideal opportunities for improvement. Mistakes represent the glitches in your ability to read the matrix that must be identified in order to be fixed. It’s much better to make these mistakes before test day so that you have the ability to fix, reinforce, and strengthen your approach. Therefore, don’t be afraid to make mistakes in your practice. Make them boldly so that you can sharpen your mastery as you fix them!
5) Use full-length practice tests to target areas of study
In your prep and mastery building, full-length tests are important, but it’s not the score that is the vital component. While a score is important as you track performance, it is more important to track the trends in your performance. The first thing is to make sure that you understand the basics about how the test is scored. For instance, long strings of missed questions are typically worse than missing the same number of questions spread out. Also, there is a steep penalty for questions left unanswered at the end of a section. Your review of the test should take these things into account. It’s also important to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. As you review, put your questions into categories: 1) answered correctly and with the best strategic approach, 2) answered correctly but could tweak the approach to make it more efficient, 3) answered incorrectly because of a misread or silly error (face-palm moment), 4) answered incorrectly but the content is somewhat familiar, and 5) answered incorrectly and the content needs a lot of review. These categories are placed in the order of approach as well. Tackle the issues that are easiest to fix first to quickly boost and tighten your approach, and formulate your study plan on the basis of this analysis. Taking test after test does not do as much for you as using your test performance as a tool to inform the practice that you will do. Take another practice test after 15-20 hours or so of solid practice and repeat the analysis.
6) The How Matters (Just not in the way that you think…)
How you answer the questions on the test definitely matters; however, it’s with an eye towards efficiency rather than the official, linear quantitative or verbal route. The test-makers do not require you to show your work or demonstrate the “proper” steps. As a matter of fact, stop thinking about the textbook route as the “proper” route! Too many test-takers feel like they are somehow copping out by using a strategy or shortcut to get to the answer, but that is actually preferred. You are not only being tested on your content knowledge, but more importantly, you are being tested on your ability to recognize the best and most efficient approach to a question. Take the red pill, learn to read the test matrix, and use that to master the GMAT!
How you prep matters! Prep with an eye towards learning the patterns behind the test and improvement will happen. Combine your quest for mastery with a solid study plan to maximize your improvement. Experts see and use patterns! While you contemplate what your approach will be – red pill or blue pill – I hope to see you soon in the GMAT matrix!
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!