Suppose you graduated from college, say, five or ten years ago or more.  Suppose you have been working in the business world, and for business/career reasons, now want to pursue an MBA.  The problem is: you haven’t cracked a textbook or thought about anything particularly academic since graduation, but now you have to face the GMAT!  Where do you begin?

Of course, even more so for you than for someone right out of school, it will very important to use only the best GMAT books and resources.   It would also be an excellent idea to find a proven GMAT study schedule, to organize your approach to this challenge.  If you could find some local study partners, that would also be a good support.  (Don’t be embarrassed if your study partners are almost a decade younger than you: as we get older, we all can learn from adult people both older than us and younger than us.)

As you know, the GMAT is not easy.  It’s a challenging test.  The average GMAT scores, where folks are clustered in the middle of the Bell Curve, are down in the 540’s — certainly not scores that will turn any heads.  It takes quite a bit to stand out from the pack.

A few concrete recommendations.  Early on in your preparation, find a used GMAT prep book, any book, current or out of date, and take a practice GMAT test more or less cold, just to get a rough idea of your baseline and challenge areas.   If Verbal is a challenge area, start reading.  Read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist magazine, if you don’t already: those two fine publications will enhance your understanding of the global marketplace.   Read Scientific American for practice with natural science content.  If you can borrow social science textbooks, from a friend or from a local library, force yourself to fight through a couple chapters.   Read for content, but also pay attention to arguments in the text and even to the grammatical structure of individual sentences.

If math is a challenge area, then DO NOT TOUCH a calculator between now and whenever your GMAT is.   Henceforth, all math you need to do in your head or with pencil & paper.  Look for everyday math to practice: calculating tips, estimating gas mileage, etc.  Make sure, every single day, to practice at least some basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, all in your head.  That’s not all of GMAT math, but you have to have your mental math “muscles” warmed up before you can handle most of the rest of the math on the GMAT.

Ideally, you will prepare sufficiently so that you do well on your first GMAT attempt, but if you don’t, or if you are coming to this article having done not so well the first time, then you probably should take the GMAT again.  Obviously, it’s important on a retake that you address whatever didn’t prepare you properly or didn’t work for you during the first attempt.  You may well find some of the above suggestions helpful, and the good GMAT preparation resources will have more.

Overall, don’t lose heart.  While this may seem an insuperable challenge at the outset, with proper preparation you can rise to the occasion and produce a respectable GMAT score.

This post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

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