When Will I Be Ready to Take the GMAT?

Trying to figure out when you should take the GMAT and how to fit studying into your schedule can be stressful. Manhattan Prep instructor Elaine Loh explains how to organize your study process to succeed.

How long do I need to study for the GMAT? When will I be ready? How much time per week should I invest?

These are questions I get over and over and over, particularly from students who haven’t started studying yet. They’re usually trying to figure out whether or not they can manage class, and they’re on the verge of a mild freak-out.

You want the quick, bullet-point answer?

Okay, here you go. We offer a nine-session class (typically once a week), and we say you’ll probably want two to three weeks after the class to finish studying. That’s assuming that you do all the homework, and that’s also assuming that the homework takes you five to ten hours to complete between sessions.

Now, here is the longer answer that you are not going to like.

I can’t answer those questions for you. Like, at all. Everybody is different, and there is no magic bullet, one-size-fits-all plan to studying for the GMAT. I can make a prediction for you based on your current life schedule and your previous academic habits. But what it really comes down to is this: How much do you want it? Seriously. That’s the number one determining factor of how long it will take. If you’re not sure that you want to go to B-school, and you’re just checking out your options, chances are, you’ll drop out of class. Truly. It happens all the time. And that’s okay! But why invest a lot of time, money, and effort toward something that you maybe would give a three on a scale of one to ten? If that’s you, that’s cool. Stop reading now and go grab a latte with all the money you’ll save from not taking class at the wrong time. We’ll be here for you when you’re ready.

If, however, you know you want to make this life change, here are some questions to help you figure out when you’ll be ready:

Do you have a full-time job?

If so, it’s going to be relatively harder for you to find time and energy. Therefore, it will take you longer to study. For example, you might study after work two to three times a week for an hour and a half, and once on the weekend. You must give yourself days off—from both work and studying—or you will burn out. You might end up needing several months after class is over to catch up on homework and feel ready.

Have you not done math since 11th grade?

If you’re out of college and you haven’t done math for a while, it will take you longer to study. You’ll need to invest a lot of time up front learning foundational math skills. What I don’t recommend is trying to study math on your own first before enrolling in a class or getting a tutor. I’ve seen people do that a million times, and 990,000 of them end up giving up and not taking the GMAT at all. (Figure out that percentage as a quick math check!) Math is too overwhelming and, frankly, too complicated to teach yourself! You need someone to guide you even more at the beginning. Once you have your foundation, you can work on it on your own. But that will take time.

Do you have family obligations?

Kids? Friends? Relationships? Refer to question #1. Life takes time and energy, so again, it will take you longer to study. But the good news is that these people who take your time and energy can also give you time and energy, through their love and support. Make sure you tell the right people what you’re doing and how they can help. Very often, family members and friends don’t even know what a challenge it is to go from a 560 to a 720, so they don’t understand what you need. Spell it out for them. Set your study schedule and have them help you stick to it! And on the flip side, don’t tell those family members or friends who won’t actually support you. You know who those people are. Just be ready to sidestep them for the next few months.

Now, if you don’t have a job, are independently wealthy, are a math genius, and don’t have any obligations that eat up your time—tell me how you did that, because clearly, I am living the wrong life! The truth of the matter is that most of you reading this will answer yes to one (or more!) of these three questions, so take heart that you are all in the same boat. Thousands of people manage to find the time to study and do well on the test every year, and you can be one of them. Take the anxiety you feel about finding that time, and channel it into creating a study schedule that is realistic and that you can stick to. If you’re not sure how to do that, start here. Know that the road will be at least several months long, possibly even a year long. And that’s okay. But go into it with realistic expectations. This will be hard and it will take a while. But if you really want it, it will be worth it.

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