Ready to prepare for the GMAT, but not sure exactly how to improve your GMAT score? Don’t panic. We’re here to help!
In this guide, we’ll go over the best, most efficient ways to increase your GMAT score. We’ll also discuss how long you’ll need to study to reach your score goal and what makes it easier or harder to bump your score up to where you want.
How to Improve Your GMAT Score: The #1 Rule
Unfortunately, there are no “quick fixes” to GMAT score improvement. The only way to improve your score is to study for the test, and study effectively.
Studying effectively for the GMAT means, most importantly, using your study time well by targeting your weaknesses. It’s easy to get caught in a rut during your GMAT prep if you simply complete practice test after practice test without honing in on your specific error patterns.
The more efficiently you study—that is, the better use you make of your study time in terms of targeting your error patterns—the higher your GMAT score increase will be. Next, let’s go over how long you should plan to study in order to increase your GMAT score to the extent that you would like.
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How Long Do You Need to Study to Increase Your GMAT Score?
You should expect to devote quite a bit of time to improving your GMAT score. According to MBA.com, most test takers spend at least 50 hours studying for the exam. That number is even higher among those aiming to score 700+.
Let’s take a look at a 2014 survey from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) at MBA.com to get more detailed info about how long test-takers study, on average, for the exam.
First, here’s a breakdown of how long prospective business students spend preparing for the GMAT.
As you can see, while there’s a wide variety in how much time different students devote to GMAT prep, most test-takers study for the exam for over 51 hours.
The same MBA.com survey also calculated how hours spent preparing for the GMAT correspond to test scores. Let’s take a closer look.
Combined with the first chart, this graph gives us a great deal of information. First, again, most test-takers study for over 51 hours for the GMAT. Secondly, on average, students who study for more hours tend to score more highly on the test.
This means that the more you intend to improve your score, the longer you’ll likely need to spend on GMAT prep. Based on recent GMAC data, below are some estimates of how long to study for the GMAT based on how many points you need to improve:
- 0 – 50 point improvement: 50 hours
- 51 – 100 point improvement: 100 hours
- 101 – 150 point improvement: 150 hours
If you plan to improve more than 150 points, it will be a labor intensive and time consuming process. Very few students improve this much. If you plan to do so, consider hiring a private tutor to teach you one-on-one how to increase your GMAT score, and plan for a great deal of study time.
Remember that these are just rough estimates, and there’s no guarantee that studying for longer hours will result in a larger improvement in your score. Your personal circumstances may differ, and you may improve your GMAT score more or less in these time limits depending on a number of factors, which I’ll go over next.
Primarily, though, it comes down to the quality of your GMAT prep. While the quantity of hours may be there, you might be studying ineffectively or inefficiently, and thus not improving as much as you’d like with respect to the amount of time you’re devoting to prepping for the exam.
For more specific information on how long you should plan to study for the GMAT, check out our six-step guide to deciding how much time you’ll need for GMAT prep.
Improving Your GMAT Score: What Makes It Easier or Harder?
Generally speaking, more time spent studying for the GMAT translates to larger score increases, but there are a few key factors that make it easier or harder for you to improve. Let’s go over the main three reasons that you might find it more or less difficult to increase your GMAT score.
How Long You’ve Already Studied
If you’ve already studied quite a bit for the GMAT and have already improved your score, it might be harder to increase it even further. What you’ll need to do in this case is hone in more carefully on the precise errors you’re making and your weakest areas, and focus most of your energy on those.
If, on the other hand, you haven’t studied much for the GMAT so far, or if you’ve prepped a little but have done so rather aimlessly, you’ll have an easier time improving your score with some time and effort. In this case, you probably still have a lot to learn about the exam itself, which is where we come in.
How Quickly You Pick Up Material
Students pick up new material at different rates. Some students may only require a few study sessions to get the hang of something, while others will need more time to figure things out and get used to a new way of doing things. This applies to improving GMAT scores, too.
Similarly, some error patterns might be deeply ingrained, while others, you might find you discard rather easily.
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Be honest with yourself, as it’ll only serve you in the long run. If you know you take a little longer to build a new skill, accommodate yourself by building extra time into your study plan.
Your Foundational Skills
No matter how much you study, you won’t do well on the GMAT if you don’t have adequate underlying skills. GMAT score improvement relies on a strong foundation as well as deep knowledge of the content and format of the test itself.
The GMAT will test you on foundational skills in math, such as trigonometry, geometry, probability, and algebra.
In terms of grammar, the GMAT tests you on fundamental skills and concepts like sentence structure, pronoun usage, concision, verb tense, dangling modifiers, and subject-verb agreement.
The GMAT also requires you to demonstrate adequate reading, critical reasoning, and writing skills.
If you are a non-native English speaker or if you struggle with fundamental math, grammar, or reading skills, you will need to account for those issues in your study plan. Build time in to review and build those necessary skills.
GMAT Score Improvement: 13 Study Tips
There are a number of ways that you can ensure you don’t waste your time and energy when it comes to GMAT prep. Let’s go through 13 key study tips that will give you in-depth info on how to improve your GMAT score as efficiently and effectively as possible.
#1: Set a Target GMAT Score and Take a Diagnostic GMAT
The first step to improving your GMAT score is to set a target score. This is an important step in your GMAT prep because it will help you create a study plan that fits your personal needs.
First, take a diagnostic practice GMAT using the Official GMATPrep Software, available for free at MBA.com. This first practice test will give you a good idea of where you stand at the beginning of your GMAT prep and will give you more info about how much you might need to improve. Find out more about taking a diagnostic GMAT here.
Next, research business schools and make a list of your prospective MBA programs. Each MBA program usually lists a class profile every year, which provides information about the demographics of the incoming MBA class, including academic background and the average GMAT scores and GPAs of incoming students. Using these class profiles, list the average GMAT score at each of your prospective business schools.
Find the highest average GMAT score in your list. Your target GMAT score should be this score or, if you’d like to build in a cushion, 30 points higher.
Compare the score you got on your diagnostic GMAT to your target score. How much do you need to improve? Knowing this will help you decide how to increase your GMAT score and move into the next step: creating a study timeline and plan.
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For more in-depth information on setting a target GMAT score, check out our guide.
#2: Create a GMAT Study Plan and Stick to a Routine for GMAT Score Improvement
GMAT prep and wondering exactly how to increase your GMAT score can seem overwhelming at first, and it’s easy to get disorganized or to make the same mistakes over and over if you don’t have a set study plan.
The first step to creating your customized GMAT study plan is taking a diagnostic GMAT, as we discussed in the last tip. This will allow you to know what you need to focus on in your study sessions.
As you review your first GMAT practice test, what kinds of error patterns are you noticing? Your weakest areas are what you’ll need to devote most of your prep time to. If you’re wondering how to increase your GMAT score, look no further than your “weakest link” on the exam.
Make a detailed study plan for each week of your GMAT prep, working in ample time to focus on your weakest areas. The most important factors in a GMAT study plan are 1) routine—several planned study sessions every week, rather than haphazard, impromptu, or overly-long study sessions, which won’t allow you to gauge your progress as reliably—and 2) specificity.
Specificity is important so you can keep track of benchmarks in how well you’re meeting your GMAT score improvement goals. A reasonable goal for a one-hour GMAT study session might be to complete a 20-question critical reasoning practice quiz within 30 minutes, for example, and to write one sample essay. By contrast, if your plan is simply to study three times a week, you won’t be able to track your progress reliably or know how to change your study plan if you need to at some point.
Find more information on how to create a study plan here.
#3: Use High-Quality GMAT Prep Resources
Not all studying is created equal. Your GMAT prep won’t be effective if you don’t use GMAT prep materials that feature practice questions that are similar in content, tone, difficulty, and format to those on the real exam.
The GMAT tests your skills in very specific ways, and you’ll perform your best on the exam if you’re as familiar with the GMAT’s specific approach as possible.
It’s best to use practice tests that are in computerized adaptive format, just like the real test. The computerized adaptive format adjusts to your skill level in real time, giving you easier or harder questions depending on how many questions you get correct or incorrect.
It’s important to get used to the CAT format well in advance of the real exam so that you aren’t thrown off on test day.
The best GMAT practice materials are official ones—that is, those authored by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC)—as they are closest to what you’ll see on the day of the real GMAT. For a guide to the highest-quality GMAT prep resources, check out our comprehensive list of the best GMAT practice tests and questions.
#4: Learn the GMAT Format
Knowing the GMAT format inside and out is a key prep strategy. It’s as important as studying the content of the exam.
Knowing what to expect on exam day will help you move more efficiently and accurately through the GMAT without wondering what’s being asked of you or what might come next. You should be familiar with the sections, question types, and timing of the exam well before you take the GMAT.
To get familiar with the GMAT format, take plenty of official practice tests as you study. You can also learn more about the GMAT format here.
#5: Analyze Your Mistakes
Some students start off their GMAT prep by blindly completing practice test after practice test. This isn’t the best idea if you want to improve your GMAT score efficiently, as you’re likely to simply be repeating the same kinds of errors over and over. You might even be making your error patterns into a habit.
Instead of studying aimlessly, start your GMAT prep by analyzing your error patterns. When you read answer explanations for questions you struggled with or answered incorrectly, try to see exactly where your thought process fell apart and precisely where you went wrong.
Are you making careless mistakes due to timing or calculation errors, for example? Build timing drills into your regular study sessions.
Is there a specific grammar error you miss every time? Then you may need to work an extensive review of fundamental grammar concepts into your GMAT prep.
Are you jumping to conclusions in critical reasoning questions? Create customized quizzes consisting on critical reasoning questions alone and focus on avoiding taking inferences too far.
Whatever your error patterns are, record them as you prepare and address them head-on in your study sessions.
#6: Practice Your Pacing
On the GMAT, timing is key and can make or break your score. If you don’t finish a section on time or have to rush through the second half of a section and guess on a number of questions as a result, it can have a serious impact on your score.
If you struggle with timing, work pacing drills into your GMAT prep sessions. For example, each sentence correction question should take you about a minute to complete. Try to complete 10 sentence correction questions in 20 minutes at first. In your next session, try to complete 10 in 15 minutes, working up to completing 10 questions in 10 minutes or less.
Set specific timing goals for yourself and include them in your GMAT study plan.
#7: Simulate GMAT Test Conditions
To do your best on the GMAT, it’s important not only to take practice tests regularly, but to simulate the actual conditions of the test as best as you can when you do so. This will allow you to feel more comfortable and less panicked on exam day, since you’ll know more about exactly what you’re getting into.
To do your best on the GMAT, you can get yourself as used to the physical and mental circumstances of the GMAT as possible. First, always stick to the time limits of the actual exam. Don’t take extra breaks, look things up during your practice tests, or stop in the middle of sections.
Secondly, don’t use a calculator during the quant section, since you won’t have access to one during the actual exam.
Thirdly, consider taking notes as you take GMAT practice tests using materials similar to what you’ll be provided with on test day. For your notes on the day of the exam, you’ll be given a laminated, double-sided scratch pad the size of a standard legal pad and a slender dry erase marker.
Take your practice test notes using similar materials, or consider purchasing a Simulation Test Booklet for the remainder of your prep. Check out our guide to note-taking during the GMAT for more tips on how to use your GMAT scratch pad effectively.
#8: Review Math Concepts
The GMAT quant section tests fundamental math skills and subject areas such as trigonometry, algebra, statistics, probability, and geometry. If you’re rusty in any of these content areas, you’ll need to brush up before the exam. The GMAT tests you on simple concepts in complex ways, so it’s important to have the basics down pat if you want to do well on the exam.
After you take your initial first or second GMAT practice test, see where you slipped up on the quant section. The answer explanations for the questions will let you know which math skill(s) are being tested. Keep a log of which skills and concepts you need to review, and work review sessions into your GMAT study plan.
#9: Practice Completing Calculations in Your Head
You won’t have access to a calculator during the GMAT quant section. But never fear! As long as you practice enough beforehand, you’ll be able to get through the math section without any trouble.
Don’t just practice doing calculations in your head during GMAT practice tests. To truly develop the skill, work it into your everyday life. When you calculate tips or change, try it without a calculator. Do this until it becomes second nature.
In addition, practice rounding and substituting “easier” numbers (such as those ending in five or zero) for trickier numbers. This is an especially important skill for data sufficiency questions, which ask you to discern what kind of information you would need to solve an equation rather than to solve the equation itself.
#10: Learn GMAT Grammar Rules
Sentence correction questions on the GMAT verbal section will test you on fundamental grammar concepts by asking you to “rewrite” sentences to correct errors in grammar and sentence structure. In order to improve your score, you’ll need to brush up on grammar, especially if you struggle on the verbal section.
It’s important to note that the GMAT doesn’t just test you on general grammar rules. The exam tests grammar in a few very specific ways each time, focusing on particular error types that you’ll see every time you take a practice test.
For more on the key GMAT grammar rules you’ll need to know to succeed on the exam, read our guide to the six essential GMAT grammar concepts.
#11: Read and Analyze Complex Texts
Reading comprehension questions on the GMAT verbal question will require you to read, understand, and analyze both short (200-250 word) and long (300-400 word) complex passages. These passages are related to subject areas such as the natural and social sciences, the humanities, law, and business.
To prepare for reading comprehension questions, you need to practice reading efficiently as well as accurately. Improve your score on the verbal section by regularly digesting sophisticated reading materials like The Atlantic, Nature, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Science, and even academic journal articles if you have access to them.
Try to briefly summarize each article you read and to identify its key points in order to practice synthesizing and analyzing complex materials. To work on timing in this area, give yourself a time limit for reading each article.
#12: Practice Outlining
On the analytical writing assessment (AWA) section, it can be tempting to simply start writing your essay as soon as you read through the prompt, especially since you only have 30 minutes to provide your writing sample. But making an outline that includes your key ideas in the order you plan to present them can actually save you time on the essay, as you won’t have to go back to the prompt and try to remember what you were planning to say.
An outline will also help you to write a higher-quality essay. Students who outline their essays beforehand generally produce more organized and cohesive writing samples. If you outline first, you’re also less likely to panic near the end of the available time and forget how to wrap up your thoughts.
Devote around five minutes to jotting down an outline before you write each practice essay. Include the main points you plan to cover in the order you plan to address them. Experiment with different kinds of outlines (more or less detailed, for example) to see what works best for you.
#13: Study Real GMAT Writing Prompts
It’s important to get used to the kinds of writing prompts you’ll encounter on the GMAT analytical writing assessment section. The AWA section will ask you to respond to and critique a given argument. To do this successfully, you’ll need to quickly understand the argument’s key points as well as its potential flaws in logic.
MBA.com provides real former GMAT writing prompts for the past several years of exams. You should practice writing outlines and full essays for these prompts regularly as part of your prep sessions. Check out our guide to mastering the analytical writing assessment section for more tips on writing a top-notch GMAT essay.
If you’re just kicking off your GMAT prep and still wondering how to improve your GMAT score, check out our more in-depth guide to the first steps to take when you start studying for the exam.
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