How to make a full-time job, personal and social commitments plus exam preparation a real 'mission possible'?

GMAT Study Time 

Let’s take a look at GMAT preparation. The GMAT is required for admission to business schools and universities that offer MBA degrees or Master’s programmes in Management, Finance or related fields. The Graduate Management Admission Test is quite challenging. Successful test takers have reported to its owners, the GMAC, that they committed 100 hours in study and practice. This amount of time is usually spread over three to four months. However, depending on your starting level, and the intensity and efficiency of your preparation, achieving a good enough score (over 620 on a 200-800 scale) could take you over a year.

Know your ‘enemy’

Here are several of the most common challenges which GMAT test takers face during their preparation:

• Those who prepare for the GMAT are already at a stage of their lives when they have busy work schedules, and personal and social commitments. The GMAT is yet another time-stripper that they have to add to the list.

• Most of the GMAT test takers graduated university at least two or three years ago already and they have lost their study habits.

• The Quantitative and the Integrated Reasoning sections of the GMAT require that people refresh their high-school and college maths. Often people who come from humanities backgrounds have forgotten or have never even mastered maths knowledge back in their school or college years. So they really need to build a sound foundation in this field.

• The skills that the Verbal section requires are fluency in reading and writing in English, with a rich vocabulary which one cannot build overnight, as well as a good sense of Standard English grammar which takes a lot of drilling and focus. Furthermore, some of the types of GMAT question are really about logic and English is just the medium.

• The GMAT is a standardised test with tight time limitations and a long duration of 3.5 exhausting hours. Many people just feel uncomfortable with timed tests, despite the fact that at work we all have time limitations and deadlines.

• The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, meaning that the system selects the level of difficulty of the questions depending on how the test taker answered the previous question. It is a dynamic test which keeps you alert while accurately evaluating the actual level of your skills.

• The GMAT has a written component – The Analytical Writing Assessment – a.k.a. the 'essay'. The word 'essay' often brings daunting memories of high school or college essays, just as the term ‘standardised test’ does. So many potential GMAT test takers imagine themselves being desperately stuck in front of the white screen with no ideas of what to write and no clear structure to follow. However, the GMAT 'essay' tests your logic, argumentation skills and written expression.

Alter your mindset

• Now, forget all the bullet points you just read above! Don’t listen to myths and others’ opinions before you give it a try yourself. 

• Take GMAT exam preparation as a chance to develop skills which you will actually need in business school and in your professional life. Exam preparation is not about the score, it is about your skills; it is not about knowledge, but about applying knowledge.

• Commit to achieving the best score you can within your timeline and budget.

• Know your study habits and choose the most efficient approach. Be open to advice, monitor your progress and be prepared to make amendments when needed.

Don’t struggle alone. Do your homework, but remember that working in a team brings a lot of value. Your team may be just you and your GMAT coaches, or you and your GMAT class, or you and a study partner.

• You can try to reinvent the wheel on your own only if you have too much time to commit to GMAT prep. Because this is not the case, it is wiser to benefit from expert advice and guidance.

Once you have the right mindset, you need to go to action.

Check 5 Ways to Handle Work and MBA at the Same Time

Exam preparation – the professional way

Here is a piece of advice on GMAT exam preparation to all people with a full-time job and a busy schedule, provided by Brian Galvin, Vice President of Academics at Veritas Prep – a US-based leader in test prep and admissions consulting working internationally.

Brian believes that nearly everyone finds it difficult to blend studying for the GMAT with holding down a full-time job and trying to keep up with fitness, relationships and sleep. Those who are successful are those who make the GMAT a priority and who take care to fit the GMAT into their lives.

Be accountable and monitor your progress

Brian’s experience reveals that making the GMAT a priority means setting up accountability.

Tell people that you’re studying and will be at the library on certain days/times – that way your friends or roommates will make you feel guilty if they find you on the couch or at the pub.

He suggests that you write down your goals for the week and check yourself at the weekend to make sure that you kept up with those goals. Accountability is important, as it is simply too easy to have great intentions of studying but to keep putting it off until tomorrow or 'when you’re in the right mindset'.

Be realistic and flexible

Then it’s also important to fit the GMAT into your life. Brian has witnessed many study plans being derailed when the sacrifices become too great too quickly. Here is what he suggests:

Create a plan that centres on a realistic amount of studying (for example, 2-3 weeknight sessions of 1.5-2 hours per week and one big weekend chunk on one day) and allow yourself some flexibility in accomplishing those weekly goals. If an old college friend is going to be in town on Wednesday, that becomes one of your “off days” and you know that you’d better put in work on Monday and Tuesday to compensate. Or if you just need a day off, that means that the next day you have to be “on.”

And we can’t but agree with Brian that weekly goals, as opposed to daily schedules, factor in the facts that

you’re human and that you’re living a balanced life.

Too often studiers are “all-or-nothing,” and when they miss a scheduled session or two they fall out of the habit altogether. Keep your goals accountable, but also realistic and flexible.

Practice, practice, practice

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive standardised test which takes 3.5 hours and challenges you with 90 questions and a 30-minute written task. You have to get fit to the rhythm and to the duration. This happens step by step – starting from practicing a single type of questions, to ultimately doing full-length times practice tests of realistic GMAT difficulty for several weeks before the test date.

Here is another piece of free expert advice provided especially for you by MBA admissions coach Stacy Blackman:

All applicants are busy "jugglers" trying to manage so many commitments at once. The key to success on the standardized exams is practice. Even if it is 30 minutes per day, squeeze it in. Do some practice problems every day. Carve 30 minutes off the lunch hour, set the alarm 30 minutes early. Whatever it takes, fit that daily practice into your schedule. Of course on days that you can do more. Practicing full length exams is also essential. But don't try to get by with erratic practice. Do it regularly in small chunks. With these exams, it really is true, practice makes perfect!

And finally… the FAST approach

I can compare GMAT preparation with a long-distance run, even if you achieve your best just for a couple of months. However, exams for the CFA and ACCA charters take years to complete a real endurance run. So you can prepare for all these exams like marathon runners do. And who are among the world’s best long-distance runners? Kenyans.

Here are the four principles which Br. O’Connell - one of their lead coached - applies – Focus, Alignment, Stability and Timing. This is the FAST approach. I can translate it into exam preparation as Focus on your performance, Alignment with the test format, Stability of your knowledge and Timing of the preparation and on the test.

Get ready for your long-distance run and make the most of your exam preparation to be a GMAT champion even though you have your full-time job, personal and social commitments.

Check out PrepAdviser's infographic:

The FAST Way to GMAT Exam Preparation with a Full-time job PrepAdviser Infographic