Time Management in your GMAT Preparation & MBA Application | TopMBA.com

Time Management in your GMAT Preparation & MBA Application

By Matt Sabourin

Updated September 2, 2019 Updated September 2, 2019

You can find thousands of articles on GMAT preparation; what to study, when to take the exam, what scores you should aim for. Of all the topics covered though, time management frequently gets glossed over, most likely because it’s not something your mind can directly connect to your score. As someone who benefited greatly (a 60 point increase) in their retake exam primarily by improving time management during preparation, I believe this is an oversight. So here are some considerations to take when strategizing for your exam, and how they carry over to the application process.

Setting priorities for GMAT preparation           

Your available time for GMAT preparation is a finite resource. Setting priorities and being strategic in your time management is therefore key. Decide where you can get the greatest return on investment.  If you’re getting most of your SC (sentence correction) or number properties questions correct on your initial practice exams you shouldn’t devote as much time to these areas.  Why spend 50 hours on one topic if it’s only going to improve your score on one section by 1 or 2 points, when you could spend those same 50 hours drilling another area and improving by 10. After setting priorities, block off a set amount of time each day for GMAT preparation and plan what you will study each session, using a calendar. For me this was crucial; setting priorities and knowing ahead of time what you need to accomplish each day takes a lot of stress out of studying, and planning the rest of your life while studying is that much easier.

Don’t mix subjects during your study session

As for your actual study session, don't mix subjects on a given day, or if you must, don't cram in two quant or two verbal subjects, do one of each every study session.  Many guides are divided up into subjects, making this much easier. For instance, I used the Manhattan quant guides. They are divided up in such a way that you can do one guide per day, or half a guide, etc. The reason for avoiding mixing during your study session is that you're learning/reviewing VERY different types of math/logic/abstract reasoning. The human brain works optimally when it can focus and consolidate one type of data at a given time, if you jump around then none of the different subjects are going to be concretized in your memory in an effective manner. The moral? Focus on one subject and give it 100%, not four subjects at 25% each.  

Avoid test burnout with time management

Next, consider ‘test burnout’.  Part of the time management I mentioned earlier should include budgeting in breaks during the day. The brain works best focusing on a subject, but it gets fatigued. Every hour or 90 minutes of GMAT preparation I would get up and walk around my house, and try to shut my brain off for 5-10 minutes, finding something else to focus my eyes on besides a study guide. I also tried to avoid going over the amount of time I had scheduled on a given day; when you start to go into ‘overtime’ the topics you study at the end of your sessions are usually not learned as well.  Also be sure to schedule in some downtime, or even a day or two off here and there; on these days do something to recharge yourself mentally to avoid test burnout. My biggest mistake the first time I took the GMATs was not doing this, and by the time I took the exam I was exhausted. Finally, make sure you're getting enough sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough. This isn't just for the week or so before GMATs. Learning is absolutely exhausting for your brain; just as much as exercise is exhausting physically. Sleep is when your brain 'cements' what you've learned during the previous day. Don’t succumb to test burnout with bad sleep habits; your sleep cycles should be consistent and regulated for your entire study/exam period.

Manage your MBA application

These concepts carry over to your MBA application as well. For instance, it is much more efficient to focus on one section of your MBA application in one sitting – especially if you are doing multiple applications. So for example, do the education section of each MBA application one day, the next day employment, etc.  You'll have that information in front of you and organized and can input it into each application as opposed to needing to access four or five different types of information for each application. Similarly, do essays one at a time. This helps avoid the dreaded error in your MBA application of using the wrong school name in an essay. You want to be focusing on the subject of the essay that is right in front of you.  

Time management may not be at the top of most applicants’ minds during the MBA admissions cycle, but it is quite crucial as a framework on which your efforts will lay, and I hope that I have given you something to take back to your studies here today.

About Matthew Sabourin

Matthew Sabourin is an IT professional from the Boston area. He is currently undertaking an MBA at the School of Management at Boston University, with a specific interest in the functioning of collective investment vehicles, particularly hedge funds. He will blogging regularly thoughout his MBA program. He has a GMAT Score of 730, as well as a 6 on the AWA section, and 8 on Integrated Reasoning. His other interests include fitness, birdwatching, and sports in general.

This article was originally published in January 2014 . It was last updated in September 2019

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