The GMAT (graduate management admission test) is a prerequisite for any serious MBA programme. To impress prospective students and employers, the website of every top business school shows the average GMAT score of their MBA intakes. Even though I am not an advocate of this standardised test, it is an unavoidable and important step in any MBA application.
Comparing to the SAT (scholastic aptitude test) or A-Levels in high school, the GMAT is not that difficult. It does not give candidates the same level of anxiety as university entrance exams. After all, there isn’t a fixed deadline for the GMAT - candidates can always delay their MBA application to the next year. Also, there is no limit to the number of times you can take the test. But even so, preparing for the GMAT usually takes up a substantial portion of the time spent on an MBA application. After several years in the workplace, most people find their skills in taking a public exam have waned. Therefore, it takes extra effort to sit down and work through the sometimes tedious exercises in preparation for the GMAT.
Friends often ask me how much time to spend preparing and when to start. The simple answers are, of course, as much and as soon as possible, but that is easier said than done. It is common for young professionals in Hong Kong to work long hours and have very little free time at their disposal. The professional demands placed on junior bankers, lawyers and accountants alike make it extremely difficult to spare meaningful time to prepare for the test. So, the question should be how to make best use of the limited time available.
My approach is straightforward: identify your weakness early on and design a game plan to address it. Each GMAT question is weighted differently corresponding to its difficulty. Unlike most public exams, the weighted score and the difficulty of later questions depend on how well you answer the earlier ones. If you get one answer wrong, your next question will be easier and have a lower weighted score. The GMAT scoring matrix means a wrong answer has two implications, and it requires candidates to good all-rounders. In effect, for most candidates, their highest possible score is determined by their weakest, not their strongest, area.
Diligently going through the mock GMAT questions helps in overcoming weaknesses. As that happens, candidates can decide when to change focus or adjust their study plan. A good way to improve your score is by visiting GMAT discussion forums and forming study groups to exchange ideas. The key is to find people with similar aspirations and abilities who can also serve as allies as you go through the rest of the application process.
This is sound advice, but it is also sub-optimal. No working professional can afford to spend all their free time preparing for the GMAT. Quitting your job to do that is too risky – and a gap in your resume for that reason might even hurt your subsequent application. For that reason, possibly the best time to take your GMAT is in the last year of college. Any score recorded is valid for five years, and while it may be too early to tell whether an MBA is the path to take, having the GMAT early on gives an option to apply later with a head start.
Originally posted on Education Post.