The optimum time needed depends on the test-taker but the prep phase for any test has two components — the prep-phase and the testing-phase. How long should each of these components be? Let’s start by working backwards.
A 30-45 day testing-phase is a must
The GMAT is a long test with the test duration totaling up to 4 hours if we include the 8-min breaks. So, in a sense it is as much a test of mental stamina as it is of quantitative & verbal aptitude.
You might be used to working long hours but 4 hours of intense sustained test-taking effort is something that is qualitatively different form the effort required at work.
How do you develop this test-taking stamina? By ensuring that you take a certain number of Mock Tests before your actual test date. What is a good number? The minimum is 8 and the maximum 17 (more on this in another post).
This means that you would need to
• Spend time analyzing your test with a fine-toothed comb and precisely identify problem areas.
• Work on those areas so that when you take the next test you make fewer mistakes from those areas.
If you take a minimum of 8 tests then, the least time you would require to make a meaningful improvement from your first mock score to the last is 30 days. In some cases you might need more than that.
The best example is a former student who had 10 years of work experience and was applying to the executive programs at the IIMs. He started his testing phase having planned for a 30-day window and scored a 600 on the first GMAT Prep Software test. Based on his scores on the next two tests and the work he was putting in between tests, he felt he could really improve his score provided he had more time. He thus postponed his test-date by two weeks. During this 45-day period we worked together on his areas of improvement and test-taking psychology, as a result he ended up scoring a 690 on D-day.
This example just underlines the importance of a executed testing phase.
How long should your prepare for before your first GMAT Prep Software test?
The duration of the prep phase purely depends on the test-taker. But that does not answer anything. So I have tried to classify the test-taker’s ability and use that to suggest an appropriate duration for the prep-phase.
Instead of classifying test-takers as average or above-average, which is subjective, I have classified test-takers based on the scaled scores that they can secure without any prep.
The former student I had discussed earlier had started his GMAT prep after 10 years of working and was very rusty, so he first finished all the Study Material we provide and then took up our 3-month training program before taking his first mock.
Whether you take classroom prep or prepare on your own, your prep-phase if done diligently and with regularity should not last more than 3 months in most cases. The only exceptions are test-takers with a lot of work experience or those are really weak in of the two areas, Quant and Verbal. In such cases the prep-phase can be stretched up to 6 months.
So what is the optimum time to prepare for the GMAT? If I have to give an answer that applies to most Indian GMAT test-takers, it would be 4 months —3 months of prepping and 1 month of testing.
Your next question should be — how do I organize my prep and what materials should I use? We will take those questions up in a forthcoming post.