Completing a certain number of study hours does not guarantee you any particular GMAT score (if only it were that easy!). But as future MBAs, you certainly want some quantitative info. A 2005 GMAC survey of MBA.com registrants showed a strong correlation between the hours test-takers spent on preparation, and their subsequent score. The survey showed that students who scored a 700 or better averaged 114 GMAT studying hours. Those who scored from a 600 to a 690 averaged about 100 GMAT studying hours. Though the survey is a few years old, I don’t imagine that the numbers need to be adjusted drastically, especially in the more competitive environment of business school admissions today (the number of GMAT administrations every year continues to rise). So, if you’re looking for a top GMAT score, you’re going to need to put in the time.
Of course, 114 hours is an average. Some people can score 700 with fewer hours; some need more than 114 hours to attain a 700. But if we use 114 hours as a benchmark, that number can be broken up in several different ways. Let’s say in a 24-hour day, you work for 8 hours, sleep for 6 hours, and do other things for another 2 hours (eating, showering, commuting, using the lavatory, reading to your children – these are things that you still need to do while studying for the GMAT, it goes without saying!). That leaves you about 8 hours in a day. Let’s say you chose to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING else during those 8 hours but study. Then yes, you COULD study for just 2 weeks (114/8 = 14¼ days), if you study 8 hours a day, every day, and do nothing else. However, most people spread out their prep hours over several months, which makes sense given everything else that GMAT preparers tend to have going on in their lives, and also allows for better retention and steady progression throughout your study period.
The more practical approach is to not worry so much about the exact number of hours. Instead, keep these two things in mind:
1. The GMAT has a total testing time of 3 hours and 30 minutes.
This does not include the two 8-minute optional breaks. So you’re looking at a total time of a little less than 240 minutes (4 hours). With that in mind, do NOT study for more than four hours at a time. Ideally, 1½-2 hours blocks of study are best.
- Many students say “well, I can only study on the weekends, so I’ll need to spend all day on Saturday and/or Sunday to study.” If this is the case, break it up. Start studying first thing in the morning, maybe from 8am – 12pm. Then, take a break. And I don’t mean an 8-minute break. Go for a jog. Eat food. Listen to music. Take a short nap. Just rest your brain for a couple of hours.
- Then if you need to, study for another extended time period (again, no longer than four hours). 7-8 hours of GMAT studying in one day is impressive – just don’t make it 7-8 consecutive hours.
2. A comprehensive program is a great way to channel your focus…
…so that it’s not just about the number of hours you study, but how to effectively study during those hours. To piggyback off his thoughts, taking a GMAT course does a couple of things with regard to the number of hours.
- It commits you to study for at least the number of hours that a course has, through the class sessions (on the assumption that you go to class). Though I wish I could wave a magic wand over my students during class and say “Bam! You will now reach your desired GMAT score!” the truth is that even while taking a classroom course, you’ll need to study on your own as well, regardless of how long a class is.
- It helps structure your outside-of-class studying. Since courses generally have a syllabus, homework assignments, etc., you’ll know what to do with the remaining time, as opposed to spending time (and mental energy) thinking about what you need to work on.
Carve out time in your appointment book or Outlook calendar, and just say, “tonight, I’m going to study for about 2 hours. Tomorrow, time to relax. The next day, I’ll review over my last practice test for an hour or two.” If that “114 hours” statistic seems daunting, break your study into attainable goals and study sessions, and remember that the most important goal is to study efficiently and productively.