When should I start preparing for the GMAT?

Because we work with hundreds of MBA candidates each year, many of whom are targeting 700+ GMAT scores and are applying to top business schools around the world, we often get asked:

When is the best time to take the GMAT?

3 months before the deadline? 6 months? 2 weeks? 2 years?

And is there a “best time” of the year to take the test?

You may already know, by now, that most major cities have test centres where you can take the GMAT almost any day of the year. For example, Toronto is home to 2 GMAT test centres: one downtown at St. Claire & Yonge, and one in the West End near Dundas & 427. Moreover, if you’re not picky about the time and day, you could find availability for an exam within a few days.

Tip: you might notice available times within 1-2 weeks of today’s date, then almost no availability for another 2-3 weeks, and then lots of available spots 1 month out. This is because candidates sometimes reschedule their exams as they get closer to the date and realize they’re not ready (you could reschedule the test for a fee of $50 until 7 days before the exam date).

If you study properly (more on this later), you could take the exam close to your target school’s application deadline, though we recommend leaving yourself a buffer of 1-2 months in case you’re not happy with your results and need to retake the test.

(You could take another test 16 days after your earlier one, and not more than 5 times per year. These restrictions apply even if you cancel your scores on the test day. Each exam attempt is US$250.)

Remember also that schools that accept applications in Rounds will need your official score results by the deadline posted on their website – this means that you’ll need to take your test at least 2-3 weeks before the deadline, and ideally earlier. The MBA application process is already stressful enough, you don’t need the extra worry of the exam results not reaching the school on time.

When would be the best time to start my preparation?

The short answer is, as soon as possible. GMAT is a difficult exam that is frequently underestimated not only by novice test takers, but also by many amateur tutors. Your exam results are valid for 5 years, so if you think you’ll apply within 5 years and have time to study now, start now!

Tip: If you’re still in University, take the GMAT while you’re in school (hey what’s one extra test?) You’ll improve your chances of getting a higher score and won’t have to worry about it when you graduate.

How long would it take me to prepare for the GMAT?

Your progress is measured in score improvement, not simply your current score. For this reason, it’s very important that you take a diagnostic test before you begin studying. Sign up for a Free GMAT mock exam in Toronto (offered in a proctored environment that simulates the real test), or take a Free online GMAT exam from home.

To estimate your required length of study, we recommend using the following guidelines:

Study Option 1: If you study on your own with books, or attend GMAT courses focused heavily on theory, you’ll need to spend on average 20 hours for every 10 points improvement (e.g. if you need to improve by 200 points, you should allocate 400 hours for your GMAT prep).

Study Option 2: If you take a well structured online program (such as this one), you’ll spend on average 15 hours for every 10 points improvement (e.g. if you need to improve by 200 points, you should allocate 300 hours).

Study Option 3: If you enroll in a well structured in-person training program (such as this one), you’ll spend on average 10 hours for every 10 points improvement (e.g. if you need to improve by 200 points, you’ll be able to reach your goal, on average, by spending 200 hours of study).

When building your study plan, make sure to estimate a realistic amount of time you could spend each week and you’ll be able to understand your timeline for the entire GMAT preparation. For example, if you need to spend 300 hours and could allocate 15 hours a week, your GMAT prep will take about 20 weeks, or 4-5 months.

Remember that the speed of your improvement, and your ultimate success on the test, are determined not only by the number of hours you spend, but also by the quality of resources and coaching you get.

We meet many students who studied with dozens of books for hundreds of hours, or took 100-hour and even 180-hour GMAT courses and showed little improvement.

Don’t fall into the one-dimensional “it’s all about the number of hours” trap. GMAT preparation is about smart training, not simply about raking up hundreds of hours of study.

For this reason, Option 3 (a well-structured classroom program that focuses on developing advanced skills) will not only let you learn faster, but will help you achieve higher scores as a result.

What is the best first step to start my GMAT prep?

In the next posts we’ll talk about how to select best resources for your GMAT prep, how to avoid most common mistakes of unsuccessful test takers, how to stick to your study plan, and how to evaluate your progress along the way, so that you know when you need to adjust.

In the meantime, be sure to take the first step as soon as possible. Don’t begin studying until you take a diagnostic test to evaluate your current GMAT skills – this will help you build an efficient study plan and realistically assess your preparation timelines!

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