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Taking the GMAT while working full time can be very challenging. If you are a professional that works an average of 8 hours a day, the prospect of studying and scoring well on the GMAT may seem insurmountable. This article explores the general content of the test and offers a few smart tips for success on the GMAT while working full time.

What to Expect on the GMAT

The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is taken by prospective students applying to business school. The GMAT measures critical thinking and reasoning skills. Potential GMAT scores range from 200 to 800.

The actual exam is computer-based.  Verbal and math question difficulty is determined using a computer adaptive algorithm.  This means that if you answer a question correctly, your next question will be a little harder.

Likewise, if you answer the question incorrectly, your next question will be a little easier.  Over time, the computer adaptive program will hone in on your natural ability level for each test section which will be reflected in your final score.

This means early questions count more than later questions on the test.  Early questions are more important because early questions trigger larger incremental up or down movements as the adaptive algorithm is determining your true ability level.  So make sure you focus closely on the early questions in each section.

Major Test Sections

The GMAT is broken into 4 major topic areas: Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning.

1. Analytical Writing Assessment

This section measures your ability to analyze an argument. The student needs to write a critique of an argument within 30 minutes. The topics typically focus on business-related issues that would be familiar to a wide audience.

You will be graded on the quality of your arguments addressed in your written response.  Although a computer grades your essay response, you do have the option of requesting a human to grade your essay for an additional fee.

2. Integrated Reasoning

Integrated reasoning measures your ability to analyze information from different sources. The challenging aspect of this section is that questions test both your math and verbal reasoning skills.  Ultimately your goal is to take a large amount of information and quickly recognize the most important elements.

This section includes 12 questions and you have a 30-minute time limit.

3. Quantitative Reasoning

This section measures your ability to solve arithmetic, basic algebra, and basic geometry problems. While that may sound easy, this section is harder than you might think due to the unique question types.

The first question type, problem-solving, represents problem types you might be familiar with from other standardized tests.  These are the standard problems with multiple choice answers.

However, the second problem type, data sufficiency, represents a more challenging question type, unique to the GMAT.  These questions ask you to determine whether you can answer a given question with the information provided to you.  These questions are designed to test your logic skills.

Make sure you spend extra time getting used to these question types because they require a much different thought process than standard problem-solving questions.

You have 62 minutes to complete 31 questions in this section.  That means you have just two minutes to answer each question. 

4. Verbal Reasoning

The verbal reasoning section measures your ability to read and evaluate arguments. You will find three major question types in this section: reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction.

Success in the verbal section requires regular practice because you only have 1.8 minutes to answer all 36 questions.

For more information, see our detailed GMAT guide

GMAT Study Tips

Tip 1: Take a Practice Test before Studying

Before cracking a single prep book, take one full exam when you have three and a half hours of free time.  After finishing the first exam, score your test and closely examine your performance in each major test section.

This will be your starting barometer that will guide your study plan.  Focus on your weakest areas first and leave your strongest areas for last.  The goal is to combine studying and regularly practicing test questions to cement the information in your mind through repetition.

After completing a full cycle of practice questions and studying for each section, re-take a full practice exam and compare it to your original results.  If you don’t see substantial improvement, you may need to consider a tutor or other study strategies.

Tip 2: Create a Personalized Strategy

When it comes to the GMAT, no single study strategy meets everyone’s needs.  Start by looking at your weekly schedule.  When do you get home from work?  How much time do you have to study in the evenings compared to the weekends?

Most people find they have 2 or 3 hours of extra time in the evenings and larger blocks of free time during the weekends. Schedule your free time each week and stick to those times consistently.

Set dates and deadlines for your study time. Time management and consistency are critical when prepping for the exam. Focus on one major test section at a time. Once you have mastered each section, take a quiz or practice test every two or three days to keep your skills sharp.

Keep in mind that most students take an average of 3 to 6 months to prepare for this test. The time you will need is dependent on your work schedule and free time.

Tip 3: Maximize Your Time

Instead of focusing on all subjects evenly, focus on your mistakes.  It’s easy to practice sections that are easy for us because it offers positive self-reinforcement.  The problem is it’s not an efficient use of your time, especially when most of your day is already take up with full-time work.

By focusing on your mistakes, you will realize more improvement in a shorter period than by focusing on everything.

Tip 4: The Power of Flashcards

One of the most effective ways to rapidly memorize new material is to regularly use flashcards.  Creating flashcards is an inexpensive and convenient way of memorizing new information throughout the day.

Organize your flashcards by major test section and drop them in your work bag.  Take them out whenever you have a 5 or 10-minute break at work.  If you keep the habit up, you might be surprised at how quickly you can memorize the most important concepts for each test section.

Tip 5: Practice Test Questions Daily

How many times do you check your social media a day?  Instead of checking your phone or the internet, use the time to practice a few extra questions.

The easiest way to do this is with your phone.  Most of the major test prep companies offer a downloadable app right on your phone.  These apps are a simple way to practice a few extra questions any time you have a little downtime at the office.

Tip 6: Track your Progress and Reward Yourself 

The best way to track your progress is by keeping a simple notebook or making use of the diagnostic information offered by some of the online practice test programs.  Write down your scores on practice tests and keep track of them over time.  Keep track of your weakest topics and spend extra time on those sections.

Whenever you see major improvements, make sure to take a break and do something you enjoy.  Positive reinforcement is critical for success.  Likewise, negative reinforcement can be catastrophic to your final score.

Tip 7: Visualize Your Success

Goal setting is critical.  Why do you want to take the GMAT?  What school would do you want to be accepted into?  What type of job do you want after you graduate?

Make sure you have answers to those questions.  Once you know your answers, regularly visualize those goals.  You might be shocked at how common it is to meet and even exceed your goals when you regularly visualize your success.

Written By
Lou Haverty is the founder of Financial Analyst Insider which is a resource to help aspiring financial professionals advance their careers.

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