But before you dive into a class or a book, you need to know how to use your time wisely. That means planning your studies. And not just for what to study and when, but knowing how to structure each of your study sessions.
Just studying won’t cut it. Test success is predicated on studying well. Look at how to organize your GMAT study time, so that there is no wasted energy.
Study Every Day – Almost
I don’t want to focus on how often you should study in this article, but it is worth mentioning that the more you study, the better prepared you will be for the test. Not only will it allow you to cover more, but it will allow you to sustain a routine and cover concepts on a regular basis.
Long breaks between study sessions, though necessary at times, should be infrequent. If you are serious about doing well on the GMAT, it’s important to make it a part of your daily routine – just like brushing your teeth.
Two To Three Hours
For your study sessions, I recommend setting a goal of two to three hours. Obviously, life can intervene and make it hard to meet this goal, but remember that one hour is better than no hours.
On the other side of the spectrum, I would not recommend anything over four hours in a day (you’ll have to do four-hour sessions when you take practice tests).
Students can be overzealous. They are enthusiastic about their studies and plan to take eight, ten and 12-hour study marathons. This blows my mind! There is nothing productive about this type of commitment. Anything useful is achieved in the first two or three hours, and the rest of the time is spent trying to make it productive by not being distracted or falling asleep.
Set realistic goals for yourself and don’t shoot for the stars. Baby steps are the key to improvement.
Along a similar trajectory, don’t study one thing for your entire study period. Plan to work on eight to ten things. I received this advice from a guitar teacher who studied jazz. I also heard this advice from a friend who is a jazz pianist. Both of them said not to spend more than 20 minutes on a particular piece of music or exercise because after that amount of time, mistakes are made. Minds become distracted.
This advice applies equally to us. After 20 minutes of working on GMAT Reading Comprehension, all the useful and important studying is over. You’ll begin to lose interest, commit more mistakes and implant those mistakes in your memory.
Remember that it is not practice that makes perfect, it is perfect practice that makes perfect. So don’t practice imperfectly.
Routines Are Liberating
Each study session should follow a similar routine. For one, routines make it easier to focus on the content of your studies. No mental energy is exerted on how to spend your time. You already know what to do.
Next, developing a routine and a habit will facilitate the learning process, allowing you to follow the previous recommendations.
And finally, routines are liberating. With a routine, you can give yourself to studying, you know what to expect, and you are not surprised. All of these will help you to study more effectively and efficiently.
Here is an example of a three-hour routine I’d recommend to my students. Feel free to start here, but adapt it to fit your needs:
1. 20 minutes: study weekly verbal concept
2. 20 minutes: study weekly math concept
3. 20 minutes: do timed verbal practice
4. 10 minutes: break time
5. 20 minutes: review verbal practice, taking notes
6. 20 minutes: review math concepts from prior study session
7. 20 minutes: do timed math practice
8. 10 minutes: break time
9. 20 minutes: review math practice, taking notes
10. 20 minutes: review verbal concepts from prior study session
Some important points to notice: the schedule switches from verbal to math as much as possible, and there is time set aside to review concepts from prior sessions. This is to encourage and guarantee spaced repetition.
Breaks Every Hour
The last point, which is apparent in the sample schedule, involves taking regular breaks. Don’t expect to power through three hours of content. Something that I learned while tutoring teens is that we all need breaks to refresh and reset our minds.
I had students who would start to fidget, stare at extremely interesting spots on the floor, and work increasingly hard to not listen to what I had to say. In turn, I would become frustrated and unnerved. This would normally lead to a cataclysmic event similar to a volcanic eruption – until I discovered the unstructured break.
We’d take ten minutes to do anything except what I was trying to get into the student’s head. We’d play a game, head outside for some fresh air, walk around the library, or fiddle with crazy ideas, like whether or not we’d want to travel through time or meet an intelligent life form from another planet. In the end, we would both come back refreshed and ready to learn.
Make breaks an essential part of your studies. The key is to change perspectives, breathe different air, and circulate blood, so that you can return to your studies with renewed focus. I highly recommend standing, moving around and stretching for your breaks. I strongly discourage staring at your computer or phone, looking at status updates on Facebook.
Many students underestimate the importance of structuring their time during study sessions. Many just open a book and start on page one. But what is needed, as with most things, is a conscious, thoughtful plan for success.
We need to use our time wisely because there isn’t a lot of it. Commit yourself to a routine and organize your study time. Ultimately, it will be a struggle to commit to, but once you spend a week or so on the structured schedule, you’ll make more progress than you ever thought possible.
This post was written by Kevin Rocci, resident GMAT expert at a leader in GMAT prep.
The article was orginally published at BusinessBecause.