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How To Ace The GMAT In 2 Months Or Less: My GMAT Study Plan

Optimizing GMAT Preparation: A Guide to Elevating Your Score

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The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) exam is a stepping stone for many engineers towards their dream of attending a prestigious business school. The MBA degree will allow them to combine their existing technical skills with business skills. The combination is indeed very powerful. I’ve blogged about the advantages of the MBA in the previous post Is an MBA Worth It?.

However, with countless resources available, how do you decide which ones to use to learn how to ace the GMAT? I embarked on a similar journey, navigating through a sea of study materials, practices, and mock tests. Today, I’m sharing my step-by-step GMAT study plan, highlighting the resources and GMAT tips I found most useful.

What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is a computer-based standardized test with multiple-choice questions. It is also computer-adaptive, which means that if you answer one question correctly then the next one will be harder, whereas if you answer one question wrong then the next one will be easier.

What Sections Are On The GMAT?

The GMAT has the following types of problems:

  1. Quantitative Reasoning (Q)
    • Tests: Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry
    • Format: 31 questions
    • Time limit: 62 minutes
    • Max score: 51
  2. Verbal Reasoning (V)
    • Tests: Reading, Grammar, Analytical Reasoning
    • Format: 36 questions
    • Time limit: 65 minutes
    • Max score: 51
  3. Integrated Reasoning (IR)
    • Tests: Ability to solve complex problems using data from multiple sources
    • Format: 12 questions, some with multiple parts
    • Time limit: 30 minutes
    • Max score: 8
  4. Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
    • Tests: How to analyze an argument
    • Format: Essay
    • Time limit: 30 minutes
    • Max score: 6

You have the option to select your preferred section order at the beginning of the actual exam.

My total score was 740 (97% percentile) and was split as follows:

  • Quantitative: 50
  • Verbal: 40
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: 5.5

The Integrated Reasoning section is a new addition to the test and was not included when I took the exam.

How Much Does The GMAT Cost?

The cost for the GMAT is $300 for the online version and $275 for the testing-center version in the United States. However, the cost is different for each country and there are additional fees for services related to score reports, e.g. to send score reports to each school. The is a very detailed matrix at MBA.com with the GMAT cost. I have pasted the matrix for the United States.

 Service FeesGMAT Exam
Delivered at a Test CenterDelivered Online
 GMAT Exam US$275US$300
 Enhanced Score Report (purchased at time of registration) US$30 Not Available
 Additional Score Report US$35 eachUS$35 each
 Cancel score (via mba.com My Account page after the exam)   US$25Not Applicable
 Reinstate score  US$50Not Applicable
 AWA Essay Rescoring  US$45US$45
Reschedule FeesDelivered at a Test CenterDelivered Online
More than 60 days before appointment US$55US$60
15-60 days before appointment US$110 US$120
14 days or less before appointment US$165US$180
Cancellation FeesDelivered at a Test CenterDelivered Online
More than 60 days before appointment US$110 refundUS$120 Refund
15-60 days before appointment  US$80 refundUS$90 Refund
 14 days or less before appointment US$55 refundUS$60 Refund
Ace the GMAT: What are the best GMAT study materials?

What are the best study materials for the GMAT?

  • Best books for GMAT preparation
    • All The GMAT by Manhattan Prep: An invaluable resource for GMAT preparation. Includes the best guides for all GMAT sections. Studying these guides will give you a concrete understanding of all GMAT topics. This bundle includes 6 full-length GMAT computer adaptive tests (CATs). My personal highlights within the set are the books on:
      • Sentence Completion (SC): An invaluable resource for Sentence Correction (SC). Comprehensive and user-friendly, it drastically improved my SC scores.
      • Word Translation
      • Geometry
    • The PowerScore GMAT Critical Reasoning Guide: Essential for Critical Reasoning (CR) improvements. After studying with this guide, I saw a significant boost in my CR scores.
  • Additional practice questions
    • GMAT Official Guide (bundle): This bundle includes the GMAT Official Guide, the GMAT Quantitative Review, the GMAT Verbal Review, the GMAT Data Insights Review, as well as the Online Question Bank. This is the only official set of books with real GMAT questions.
  • Best GMAT prep software – Online practice tests
    • GMAT™ Official Starter Kit + Practice Exams 1 & 2: This is a set of 2 official online free tests. They are the best simulation of the GMAT environment. If you are interested in purchasing additional official practice GMAT tests, then you can look at the GMAT Official Prep Store.
    • GMAT Club Quant Practise Tests: These Math tests are created by GMAT Club. Based on their own description they are “The Hardest Quant Tests. Period.”. I definitely recommend them for those, who are scoring 49-50 on other Quant practice tests and want to reach 51.
    • Manhattan Prep online tests: As I wrote above, this bundle includes 6 full-length GMAT computer adaptive tests (CATs).
  • Additional materials
    • Wall Street Journal & Businessweek: Not traditional study guides, but invaluable for Reading Comprehension (RC) improvement. Regular reading boosts comprehension and speed.

While preparing for the GMAT, I also looked at study materials from Princeton Review and Kaplan. However, I did not find that they correlate that well with the real GMAT exam and they did not help me improve. That’s why I do not recommend them.

Ace the GMAT: How to start preparing for the GMAT?

How to start preparing for the GMAT?

In order to start preparing for the GMAT you need 2 main elements:

  • Determine your target GMAT score: How much do you want to score? Is 650 enough? 700? 750? 780?
  • Understand your starting point: Which sections of the GMAT do you need the most focus on?

What Is A Good GMAT Score?

At the beginning of your GMAT journey, it is best practice to understand what is a good GMAT score. Obviously, it would be great to have 800/800 as our target GMAT score. However, the effort to reach this score would be tremendous and preparation would take too much time. In most cases, you don’t need to score this high anyway.

As a first pass, you can look at the average GMAT scores of your target business schools. Each school provides these statistics on its website. A quick way to find these averages is to just google “<B-school name> gmat average”, e.g. “HBS gmat average” (without the quotes).

Most top MBA programs have an average GMAT score of 720-740. As you go lower in the rankings you will find schools that have considerably lower averages. Obviously, you want to reach as high as possible. An average score means that there will be students that have much lower scores than the average, however the lower your GMAT the more stellar the rest of your MBA application needs to be.

My GMAT target was 750. In order to keep myself focused on the target, I wrote this number in big letters on a piece of paper and put it in a place where I would look at it multiple times a day. In the end, my 740 score was a tad short, but close enough.

Average GMAT Scores By School In 2023

The following matrix shows the average GMAT scores by the top business schools, based on the class that started in 2023.

Ranking CategoryMBA ProgramAverage GMAT Score
Top 3 (“HSW”)Harvard Business School740
Top 3 (“HSW”)Stanford GSB738
Top 3 (“HSW”)Wharton (University of Pennsylvania)728
M7 (Magnificent 7)Kellogg (Northwestern University)731
M7 (Magnificent 7)Booth (University of Chicago)730
M7 (Magnificent 7)MIT Sloan730
M7 (Magnificent 7)Columbia730
Top 15Haas (Berkeley)740
Top 15Yale SOM720
Top 15NYU Stern732
Top 15Darden (University of Virginia)710
Top 15Tuck (Dartmouth College)726
Top 15Fuqua (Duke University)713
Top 15Ross (University of Michigan – Ann Arbor)719
Top 15UCLA Anderson710
Top 20Johnson (Cornell University)710
Top 20McCombs (University of Texas – Austin)704
Top 20Tepper (Carnegie Mellon University)710
Top 20Kenan-Flagler (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)696
Top 20Marshall (University of Southern California)722

Understand your starting point

At the beginning of your GMAT study, everything is unknown. You don’t know what types of questions to expect, the difficulty of each section, or even your own capabilities. You might have given CATs (Computer-Aided Tests) with multiple choice questions before, such as the GRE, or you might not have.

In order to reduce this uncertainty, my recommendation is to do a diagnostic test as early as possible. It’s a good idea to use an official free GMAT practice test. This will help you:

  • Understand the format of the exam
  • Become familiar with the types of questions
  • Find out your strengths and weaknesses
  • Determine where you need to spend more time going forward

The first time that you give a mock test will be full of unknowns, but it will be a tremendous help. In my case, my first mock test was one from Princeton Review. I got 610 (Q48 V26). Even though I don’t recommend Princeton Review online tests, as they don’t correlate with the real GMAT, it helped me understand that I need to focus on verbal, in order to increase my score. So, this is where I started my efforts.

Ace the GMAT: Mastering Verbal -Three Pillars of Preparation

Mastering Verbal: Three Pillars of Preparation

1. Sentence Correction (SC): My initial struggles in SC were dramatically alleviated after diving into the Manhattan Prep GMAT SC guide. Highly recommended for anyone finding themselves lost in SC. It’s comprehensive, yet easy to digest. After finishing this guide, my accuracy rate in this section skyrocketed immediately. In most cases, I knew the right answer before even reading the answer choices. It was a really quick win for me.

2. Critical Reasoning (CR): The PowerScore GMAT Critical Reasoning Guide was my savior here This is a relatively large book, but it has a great structure. A noticeable surge in my CR scores was evident after I finished it. It became really easy to differentiate the correct answer from the wrong answer.

3. Reading Comprehension (RC): RC improvement, in my experience, isn’t about cramming from a guide. I found that regularly reading publications like the Wall Street Journal or Businessweek made a significant difference. Immersing myself in such content improved both my reading speed and comprehension, which allowed me to optimize my time while going through the reading comprehension passages.

After these rigorous preparations, my practice sessions with the GMAT Official Guide on Verbal had an 80-90% accuracy rate in each section.

Ace the GMAT: Quantitative Preparation - From Fundamentals to Advanced Insights

Quantitative Preparation: From Fundamentals to Advanced Insights

Though confident in my quantitative abilities, I still aimed to optimize my score in the quantitative section. Enter the suite of Manhattan GMAT math books. Particularly, their Word Translation and Geometry guides proved invaluable. For those hovering around the Q48 score, the Word Translation can give you that push to hit Q50 or Q51.

After finishing the above books I continued with exercises from the Quantitative books of the GMAT Official Guide, prioritizing those mentioned in the MGMAT guides.

As part of my final push in Quant, I practiced with the GMAT Club Quant Practise Tests, initially scoring between 80%-95%. However, after some alterations in their scoring metrics, my percentile dropped. At that point, I shifted my focus, considering them more a test of morale than of knowledge. However, I do believe that they helped me boost my confidence that I could score even a Q51.

Ace the GMAT: AWA Mastery - Templates To The Rescue

AWA Mastery: Templates To The Rescue

The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section of the GMAT consists of one 30-minute writing task, which is the Analysis of an Argument. This might seem daunting, but with the right strategies, you can effectively prepare for it.

I would like to note here that AWA is scored algorithmically by a machine and not by humans. So, your essay needs to:

  • Be structured
  • Include appropriate keywords that are relevant to the topic
  • Find holes in the argument

In order to tackle the above, the best way is to start with a specific template that you reuse in all your essays. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or provide some incredible idea that will amaze the evaluator. Instead, you need structure and consistency.

My recommendation is to start with the AWA template from the GMAT Club user chineseburned. They are not perfect and might not be best suited for you. Also, they might be copied by thousands of other readers online. So, the best way is to customize them, in order to fit your writing style. From that point on, you write all the AWA essays using the same structure.

Finally, you can use the official list of AWA topics, in order to practice. I made sure to use several of these topics, in order to try my structure. Also, it was important to make sure that I could remain within the 30 minutes of the allocated time.

GMAT Essay Template

I’ve pasted the AWA template from the GMAT Club user chineseburned below:

Intro:
The argument claims that ....(restate)
Stated in this way the argument: 
	a) manipulates facts and conveys a distorted view of the situation
	b) reveals examples of leap of faith, poor reasoning and ill-defined terminology
	c) fails to mention several key factors, on the basis of which it could be evaluated
The conclusion of the argument relies on assumptions for which there is no clear evidence. Hence, the argument is weak/unconvincing and has several flaws.

1st Paragraph:
First, the argument readily assumes that......
This statement is a stretch....
For example,...
Clearly,...
The argument could have been much clearer if it explicitly stated that...

2nd Paragraph:
Second, the argument claims that....
This is again a very weak and unsupported claim as the argument does not demonstrate any correlation between....and...
To illustrate,...
While,...
However,....indeed....
In fact, it is not at all clear...rather....
If the argument had provided evidence that.....then the argument would have been a lot more convincing.

3rd Pararagraph:
Finally,...
(pose some questions for the argument).....Without convincing answers to these questions, one is left with the impression that the claim is more of a wishful thinking rather than substantive evidence.

Conclusion:
In conclusion, the argument is flawed for the above-mentioned reasons and is therefore unconvincing. It could be considerably strengthened if the author clearly mentioned all the relevant facts....
In order to assess the merits of a certain situation/decision, it is essential to have full knowledge of all contributing factors. In this particular case....
Without this information, the argument remains unsubstantiated and open to debate.
Ace the GMAT: The Pivotal Role of Practice Tests

The Pivotal Role of Practice Tests

While preparing for the GMAT it is crucial to keep track of your progress and the areas of improvement. Doing periodic practice tests helps a lot in knowing where you stand and whether you have reached your GMAT score target.

In my preparation, I mainly used the 2 Official GMAT practice tests, as well as the 6 full-length CATs from the Manhattan Prep bundle. If you want, you can also buy more official tests from the GMAT Official Prep Store. I found that both of them were great in predicting my final score, however, there was a difference:

  • The Official tests have questions that seem relatively easier, e.g. shorter texts for Reading Comprehension. I always had quite a bit of spare time after finishing these tests
  • The Manhattan Prep tests felt much more difficult. The questions seemed harder and I barely managed to finish the tests within the allocated time.

The interesting part for me, though, was that the scores from both tests were highly correlated together. If you feel that you only prefer to do official tests, then I suggest that you buy more of the official ones, as their price is not very high. They are very close to the real test. However, if you decide to try the Manhattan Prep tests, feel assured that their scoring is valid.

Ace the GMAT: How Long to Study for the GMAT?

How Long to Study for the GMAT?

The optimal time for a GMAT study is around 2-3 months, which is a lot of time to get a good score.

It is easy to get burned if you study GMAT for a long time. After 2 months, you will go into diminishing returns (and possibly even negative returns). After all the hard work, the exercises become boring, studying becomes careless and it seems useless to start reading another book from the beginning because you already know 90-95% of the material anyway (but you still want to read 300 or 500 pages, to cover the last details). You don’t need to spend additional time learning the same things again and again from different books. Don’t fall for analysis paralysis.

One typical mistake is to focus on achieving a perfect score in a section (e.g. very often people try to score Q51 in the Math section), but neglect the other section (i.e. the Verbal section in this example). If there is a big difference between the two sections, then the best way to improve your overall GMAT score is to focus on the section with the lowest score. After a specific level in math or verbal, you get insignificant results for lots of effort. For example, there is no point trying to go from Q49 to Q51, if you have V30, because the increase V30->V32 is both easier to do and more effective than Q49 -> Q51.

Therefore, in my opinion, you should create a study schedule and set a target based on either of the following:

  • Date: Register to set the test date for the GMAT exam 2-3 months after the date that you start studying
  • Target score: At the beginning of your studies set a GMAT target score. After you hit this target 2-3 times in practice tests, register to take the GMAT in the next week.

If there is no target (either score or date), it’s really easy to get burned.

Just for reference, here are my scores on the last 5 tests that I gook:

  • Manhattan GMAT CAT 5: 740 (Q50 V41)
  • GMATPREP 1: 760 (Q49 V46)
  • GMATPREP 2: 740 (Q50 V40)
  • Manhattan GMAT CAT 6: 750 (Q51 V41)
  • GMATPREP 1 Retake: 770 (Q51 V43)

At that point, with a high score of 770 and all scores being consistently around my target of 750, I decided that it was time to take the actual test. It was not worth it for me to prepare for a higher score.

Ace the GMAT: Final Thoughts and Closing Advice

How To Ace The GMAT: Final Thoughts and Closing Advice

With a target score of 750 in sight, my actual GMAT yielded a 740. A tad short, but reflective of my consistent performance. Towards the test’s conclusion in the test day, I felt the drain, which might have affected my verbal score. And it was a huge relief when I saw the good news on the computer. It meant that I had achieved a good score and my journey was over.

To all GMAT aspirants, remember that the journey to your dream score is unique. It’s about finding resources that resonate with your learning style. My story is one among many, but I hope my insights offer direction and motivation.

What GMAT resources did you use to ace the GMAT? Which ones would you recommend? Share your experience in the comments below!

About Me

I am an engineer with 15+ years in the tech industry, including roles at Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. I've been a Software Engineer, Product Manager, and Technical Program Manager. I also have an MBA from Kellogg School of Management with Majors in Finance and Marketing.

What drives me? A passion for empowering engineers to achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE). I reached FIRE, when I turned 40 years old. Whether it's through personal finance strategies or career insights, I'm here to guide you on this path. Have questions or need advice? Feel free to reach out!

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