Tag Archives: Ally Attacks the GMAT

Ally AttackED the GMAT: Mission Accomplished

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I hit “submit” on my final GMAT question last Friday afternoon and instantly felt my pulse skyrocket. A few seconds felt like forever as I waited for my scores to populate on the screen.  And when they did, it showed that eight weeks of studying had been productive. Like many TMMBA students had told me, it is possible to study for 1-2 months, work full time and still achieve competitive GMAT scores.

It’s been almost a week since my test date, which has given me time to decompress and wrap my head around what worked and what didn’t. Of course everyone studies differently and has different strengths, but here are the top 8 things I wish I knew when starting the test:

 8.       Practice Practice Practice. There’s always room for more practice tests- no matter how many you do. My Kaplan GMAT book came with five online practice tests and GMAC provides additional software (free) with two tests. I felt good about completing four of the practice tests, but I could have used even more.

7.       Know when to take a deep breath. When I started reading questions without even comprehending what they were about, I knew I was starting to get overwhelmed. At this point, the only way for me to recover was to spare a few precious seconds, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a small amount of time to refresh your brain and restart.

6.       Don’t be a perfectionist. Early on, I tried to get every single GMAT question right on my practice tests. Obviously this wasn’t going to happen, and I was taking way too long to complete the tests. Finally, I started altering my GMAT strategy so that I was OK with missing some questions. I started to learn that there were certain types of questions (mixture problems, volume questions, combined work formulas) that were taking me five minutes to complete and my answer was still wrong. I had to learn where to cut my losses, randomly guess, and focus on the areas I knew.

Looking just a bit nervous outside of the testing center…

5.       Focus on your weaknesses. From the very beginning, I knew that the quantitative portion would be my biggest struggle. I focused most of my early studying on this portion, but then began to work more on Integrate Reasoning, Analytical , and Verbal. Still, on test day, my scores came out very lopsided. I wish I would have spent more time on my areas that needed the most work.

4.       Strategize your plan to attack the GMAT. And most importantly- stick to it. Make a study plan and hold yourself to it. One hour a day worked for me during the week, since it was a manageable time and kept my brain in GMAT mode throughout the whole week. Find what works for you and stay consistent- like vacations and skipping the gym, it’s tough to go back when you’ve taken too much time off.

3.       Testing anxiety is realprepare for it. Does it help you to visualize where you’ll be taking the test? Go visit the testing center a few days prior (my proctors confirmed they’ll let you see the facility). Practice with a timer going so that the clock doesn’t cause stress. Do whatever you can to eliminate surprises on test day so you can focus on the test and not your stress.

2.       Drink water on test day. This one comes straight from my test center proctor. She told me that GMAT test takers are often too nervous to eat/drink, and they worry about the 8 minute breaks (you have plenty of time to use the bathroom). Thus, they don’t eat or drink before the test and as a result, occasionally faint in the testing center. Don’t make Jennifer pull out the smelling salts- make sure you prepare your body physically for the test.

And finally, the #1 thing I want TMMBA Applicants to know about the GMAT:

The GMAT isn’t everything. Sure, it’s easy to be consumed by this one test- I see how it happens! You devote so much time to studying and thinking about the GMAT, you automatically assume it must account for a huge part of your MBA application. Not true. As I mentioned in an earlier post, TMMBA evaluates applications holistically. This means that TMMBA takes the GMAT into consideration along with your professional experience, education, communication and interpersonal skills, and leadership potential. An extremely high GMAT score doesn’t guarantee admission and a low GMAT doesn’t automatically hurt your admittance. Keep the entire application in perspective as you get your scores back.

Of course there are many more tips that you may find useful as you start your GMAT journey. While I am certainly no expert on the test, I am always happy to talk with applicants about their GMAT questions or concerns, especially in regards to TMMBA admissions. Now that “Ally Attacks the GMAT” has come to a close, I seem to have a lot more time on my hands…

 Best of luck to all you GMAT test takers- attack away!

Week 7: Keep Calm and GMAT On

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In my family, instead of counting days until a big event, we count down in “sleeps”. So- in honor of that, one more “sleep” until the GMAT! Hopefully it’s a night of rest, relaxation, and preparation for the big day.

It’s amazing how quickly two months of studying goes. I remember being excited to crack open my GMAT book at the beginning of June. Now, I’m definitely ready to stop lugging that brick of a book around. Since the GMAT also gives you your unofficial scores (Verbal, Quant, and Total) immediately after the test, there won’t be any additional time wondering how I did. For TMMBA applicants, this is helpful as you contemplate our final deadline on September 1, 2013. If you want to wait til the very last moment, you could take the test on Sept. 1 and submit your unofficial scores directly to us on that date to complete your application.

Back to D-Day- I’m the type of person who likes to have as much information as possible going into a situation. I’ve watched the official GMAT Video (What to Expect on Test Day) and gotten some tips online (Dealing with GMAT Anxiety, Do this, not That from GMAC). Here are the top points that I think will help my test day most:

 –Relax the morning before. Do whatever you need to do to get in the “zone”. It may be exercising, watching TV, meditation, or reading (no, not your GMAT book). Just make sure it’s something that gets your mind off of worrying about the test.

Eat a healthy breakfast/lunch before, and bring snacks to keep in your locker for breaks. Yes- I have difficulties not eating for four hours (plus it will help keep energy up!)

Don’t rush or feel pressed for time. There are enough stresses during the day- I know that traffic and things can only add to that stress level. I’m going to try to minimize other outer factors besides the actual test. Also- though my start time is 12:15pm, it’s recommended you are there 30 min early for check-in, etc. In my head then, my test time is really 11:45am- no later!

Don’t cram. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I cannot truly learn anything new in 24 hours. I can review and refresh what I’ve already learned (that’s where my review sheets and error logs come in) but there’s no use in stressing myself out more.

-Remember this list of things to bring: driver’s license (or passport), snacks and water for my locker, test confirmation print-out, sweatshirt (test centers can be chilly), and a watch (to keep an eye on the 8 minute breaks).

At the end of the day, the best part will be having the test over with! Check back next week for a complete de-brief of the experience. In the meantime, I’m going to try to …  keep-calm-and-gmat-on

Week 6: GMAT Verbal: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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One week! Just seven short days separate me from my GMAT date, and I still feel like there’s a lot to cover in a short period of time. Lately, in between taking more full-length practice tests, I’ve been focusing on the Verbal Section of the GMAT.

The GMAT Verbal section is the last part of the 4 hour test. It tests not only knowledge of the English language and grammar, but also reading comprehension, logic, and evaluation. Below, I’ve broken down GMAT Verbal into my opinions of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good:

–          No memorization– well, at least not to the extent of the Quant section. While I have sheets and flashcards full of formulas for Quant, memorization is less useful for Verbal. Beyond knowing  basic vocabulary and grammar rules, the Verbal Section is testing logic, understanding, and correction rather than memorized facts. Still in need of a “Key Concepts Page” for some basic refreshers? I’ve found some good ones on BeattheGMAT and GMATing.com.

–          Strategic Guessing and Pattern Recognition- I find that with the Verbal section, it’s easier to eliminate answer choices quickly. Also, knowing how to be an attentive test taker and seeing patterns in the answer choices can help to narrow your possibilities.  For example, if two choices use “is” in the sentence correction and three choices use “are”, determining what the proper “is/are” usage is can help you narrow the field of choices.

The Bad:

–          Test taker fatigue– the Verbal section is 75 minutes at the very end of the GMAT- that means that you’re well over two hours into the test. During my practice test, I’ve found that this is the point where I get start to get tired and careless. Continuing on with my previous sports references- Verbal is like the 4th quarter in the championship game. You can’t let your defense down now. A strong finish (and all those other clichés) is of the utmost importance. To combat this potential 4th quarter trouble,  I plan to take full advantage of my allotted breaks, and remember to slow down and check answers before rushing to finish.

–          Paying attention to the right details- It’s a tradeoff- missing key details can cost you questions, but paying too much attention to irrelevant details costs valuable time. To prevent this in my Reading Comprehension questions, I’ve started doing a quick scan of the passage to notice key points. After that, I read the question and possible answers before doing some hunting within the passage. This seems to help me distinguish between important details and the additional “noise” that the GMAT adds in to confuse test takers.

The Ugly:

–          Grammar– Every time you write affect or effect, do you wonder which one to use? Do you know there are times when you should use fewer, and times when you should choose lesser? Basic grammar is something that often falls to the wayside with spell check, but the GMAT won’t let you get away that easily. A strong mastery of common grammar rules is essential for the GMAT. One site that I’ve been frequenting for years with my random questions is Grammar Girl. Her “Quick and Dirty Tips” cover most things you’ll need to know for the GMAT.

Sure, there’s good, bad, and ugly to the GMAT Verbal. But the best part is that when the section is over on test day, you’ve completed the GMAT! Now on to the one week cramming (just kidding… that’s not recommended!)

Week 5: Why the GMAT?

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Five weeks into my studying and I’ve started having the dreaded GMAT nightmares. I woke up the other night, convinced that I had showed up three days late to my testing appointment (which is correctly circled on four separate calendars now).

Nightmares or not, my studying has shown me that the GMAT does begin to occupy a lot of your time and thought processes.

So…“Why does the TMMBA Program require the GMAT?”

or… does TMMBA really care if you can calculate the time at which two trucks  arrive at a destination 80 miles away if one is going 55 mph and the other….

Well, TMMBA doesn’t necessarily need to know the answer to the truck question above. But in terms of the entire test, and your ability to confront problems like that one, we find that information very useful. From an admissions perspective, GMAT scores are valuable in more ways than one. Trust me, we wouldn’t make you put the time, money, and sweat into a test if we didn’t think it was necessary. Here are a few reasons why we require the test:

  • It helps us measure general intellectual ability: The TMMBA Admissions team has found that the GMAT provides a reasonably valid and reliable measure of applicants’ verbal, quantitative, and writing abilities. Evaluating these skills helps us to predict applicants’ potential for academic success in the program.
  • It’s a comparable statistic across candidates: A 3.75 GPA at one University doesn’t necessarily equate to a 3.75 at another school. And every applicant file has a different resume than the next. So what do all TMMBA applications have in common? GMAT scores. In the admission world, there are few equalizing metrics across applicants, but the GMAT score provides comparable data points across all of our applicants.
  • It demonstrates your dedication: Hopefully, you’re taking the GMAT because you want to become an MBA student. Think of studying for the GMAT like batting practice- you get the chance to take small swings at large quantities of data before you start the game. You are beginning to get the feel for what it’s like to study, manage your priorities, and handle the stresses of student life. While you’re getting into student mode, the admissions team also sees your dedication to the rigors of the program.
  • It shows you can think under pressure: A timed exam brings with it lots of anxiety and nervousness. Not to mention you are making one decision after another. Sound like the business world? GMAT scores help us to see how adept you are at thinking, reasoning, and solving under time constraints and stress.

    TMMBA Selection Criteria
  • It gives you a chance to excel: It’s tough to change your work experience in an application year, and it’s impossible to alter your college GPA after graduating.  These parts of your application may be fixed, but the GMAT is one variable that’s completely under your control. If you feel you may have a weaker area of the application, improving your GMAT may be one way to help supplement.

As you can see, the TMMBA Admissions team values GMAT scores as an important component of your application. Keep in mind though, that each application is viewed holistically, meaning that all aspects of the application are evaluated equally to determine your fit for the TMMBA program. Take a look at the selection criteria (at right) to see what TMMBA looks for in selecting great students.

Week 4- Let’s Talk: Test Day Time Management

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150 minutes… 2 1/2 hours…. 9,000 seconds…. and  78 questions.

That’s what the Verbal and Quantitative sections together look like on the GMAT. Sound like plenty of time? In my few practice tests, 150 minutes goes faster than you think (not to mention the whole test’s 4 hours). Which speedvsaccuracybrings us to the constant GMAT dilemma- Speed or Accuracy?

In favor of Speed: take a look at the computer adaptive make-up of the GMAT, and you’ll see that there are substantial penalties to your score for guessing or not answering questions. The timing of the GMAT allows for about 2 minutes per question on Quant, about 1 min 50 sec. on Verbal. But of course, some questions will take longer, and some (hopefully) will be shorter. Timing is something that can get better with practice- consistently timing how fast your 2 min/question goes will help you develop a guideline for speed on the test. Because let’s face it – even if you know the right way to solve a problem, if you run out of time to answer, it doesn’t count!

In favor of Accuracy: did you have a mother who constantly told you to slow down? I did… and from the one time I backed my car into the garage door (I had places to be!), I learned my lesson that sometimes, speed isn’t everything. Sometimes, it pays to measure twice and cut once (or look twice and hit the gas pedal once). The GMAT is very similar- getting an answer in 25 seconds flat doesn’t help much if your answer is incorrect. Taking the time to carefully read questions, find patterns, and commit to your problem solving strategy is usually a good use of time.

Well- I’m back where I started. Seeing both sides shows that the only way to approach a GMAT time strategy is with a careful balance of speed and accuracy. Over emphasize one, and the other suffers.

For me, I started my GMAT studying with a closer emphasis on accuracy. After all, I had to know the concepts before I worked on speed. Now that I’m over a month in, and a month away from my test date, I have begun taking a closer look at timing. Two minutes goes by quickly, but it is comforting to know that I’m starting to grasp the concepts now. If all else fails, there’s always something to be said for an educated guess or eliminating answers.

Obviously I don’t know all there is to know about GMAT Test Timing Strategy- but if you’re interested, the Manhattan GMAT Blog claims they have Everything you Need to Know about Time Management.

Overall, the only thing that I know for certain is that both speed and accuracy increase with practice. I’m going to keep at it with my free practice tests, and I’ll have to make sure my timer is handy!

Week 3 – Does Data Sufficiency make your head spin?

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As a contact-lens wearer, I occasionally have a rough morning when I put my contacts in the wrong eyes, mixing up left and right. This leads to an unpleasant few minutes where I can’t focus and my blurry vision starts to give me a headache. For me, the Data Sufficiency Questions on the Quantitative portion of the GMAT make me feel like I put my contacts in wrong. These questions are uncomfortable, annoying, and usually headache-inducing.

Not sure what a data sufficiency question is? Here’s an example:

If x is a positive integer, is x divided by 5 an odd integer?
1.)     x contains only odd factors
2.)     x is a multiple of 5

A)            Statement (1) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (2) alone is not sufficient.
B)            Statement (2) ALONE is sufficient, but statement (1) alone is not sufficient.
C)            BOTH statements TOGETHER are sufficient, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient.
D)            EACH statement ALONE is sufficient.
E)             Statement (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer, and additional data is needed.

But, given that Data Sufficiency Questions will make up about 38-40% of the 37 Quantitative section questions, there’s no getting around these ones. From lots of practice and lots of missed questions, I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes:

Mistake #1: Reading the answer choices (A,B,C,D,E) – there’s not time! gmatblurry

Since all data sufficiency questions have the same answers, there’s no use reading them each time. I’m making sure that I know the answers and what they mean beforehand. Also, to avoid confusion and overwhelming myself with answers, I always start by setting myself up for process of elimination. For each D.S. question, I write 12TEN on my scratch pad. From there, I approach each statement and cross off answer possibilities as I go.

1 (Statement 1 only)
2 (Statement 2 only)
T (Together- both statements sufficient)
E (either statement alone sufficient
N (Neither)

You learn quickly that you can start crossing out answers as you evaluate statements. (For instance, if Statement 1 doesn’t work, you can cross off 1 & E).

Mistake #2: What is the question stem asking?

I always have to ask myself this it seems. Maybe with the time pressure, I feel like I need to go quickly onto the problem choices. There’s information in the stem that needs to be dealt with first though. Before you begin, ask if you’re looking for a Yes/No answer (i.e. is X=25) or a Value (what is x equal to?) This helps set the course so you know how far to solve. Which leads me to my next mistake:

Mistake #3: Don’t solve if you don’t need to!

My whole life I’ve been solving to the end of problems. I see an equal sign and a math equation and look for that one final number. In D.S. problems, many questions are just looking for the ability to answer. For instance, if a question asks “What is the value of x?”  and you have simplified an equation down to:  502x = 1975 – 2(20) , don’t waste time calculating for x. You know you can arrive at x, which is what the question is asking for. The correct answer would be how many statements you used to arrive at the final equation.

Mistake #4: Watch out for statements that give no new information.

Take this question for example:

Company X has a total of 400 employees. (addit’l information in question)…. What percentage of Company X employees received a raise?

1) 80 of Company X’s employees are managers.
2) 320 of Company X’s employees are not managers

Warning bells should be going off in your head right now. Even though the two statements are worded differently, they present the exact same information (giving numerical data on how many managers/non-managers are in the employee group). Don’t be fooled by the same statement simply re-packaged in a different format.

If all else fails with Data Sufficiency questions, and you’re simply stuck in a rut, take an educated guess. Hopefully though, by mastering some of your mistakes, you won’t have to resort to that. Good luck!

Week 2- Quantitative Section Studying: Where’s the Calculator?

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Last week, I kicked off my 8 week GMAT journey with some tips on registering for the test and getting your study schedule planned out. For Week 2, it was time to dig in and start studying full force!

I began with a quick glance through the my prep book and then took one of the in-book practice tests. If you need a hit to your confidence, this is the way to start! Besides being perplexed and wrong on many answers throughout the test, jumping right into a practice round was a great introduction. Rather than reading about the format of the questions and the content of the test, I could see for myself what a typical test included. The practice run gave me a good idea of my strengths and weaknesses, and thus gave me a road map for my study strategy.

From the initial practice test, I found that my weakest area was the Quantitative portion of the test. I decided to focus my initial attention for the next 2-3 weeks on this part of the test, adding more time if needed. calculator

In talking with applicants about the Quant section, I try to warn people that they are not able to use a calculator on this portion of the test. That point never quite hit home until I started doing the math myself. Though the test writers keep the numbers fairly small and manageable without a calculator, I never quite realized how much I rely on mine for basic math. My speed calculations are going to have to improve over the next few weeks, as well as my memorization of formulas and arithmetic rules. It’s amazing how fast those skills go when you’re not using them every day!

As I’m working through the prep book and example questions for the math section, there are a few tools that have been pretty helpful:

  • Error Log: What do the following have in common? Nested functions, Rules of Radicals, Combinations and Probability, Combined Work Formula, Mixture Problems…?  They’re all topics that have tricked me thus far on the GMAT. I keep a fairly detailed record of the questions I miss in the practice problems, or the topics that I can’t even remember learning about (did I miss a whole month of math in high school?) This is called an “Error Log” and it’s a recommended tool to refer to as you study and prepare. Some people keep a detailed spreadsheet with analysis of every question they get wrong. For me, I simply keep a running list in the back of my prep book, with page numbers and what I did wrong for each problem. I plan to look back on this, especially in the final “crunch time” days, to make sure I don’t repeat errors on my test day. Always remember to learn from your mistakes!
  • Daily GMAT Problem: Yes, there are some days where I might not get to my studying until late at night, or maybe not even at all that day (I’ll make it up- promise!) But every day, the least I can do is answer one GMAT question. I signed up for Beat the GMAT’s Daily Math Question (Verbal Questions are also available for my later studying) that gets e-mailed to me every morning. Whether it’s staying an extra 5 minutes after work or completing the question on my lunch break, I make sure I answer the question every day. Some days it’s a confidence boost to know the answer, but other days, I learn something new. Either way, it’s a good way to fit the GMAT into your day.
  • Quantitative Formula Sheets: Quick- what’s the equation for the area of a trapezoid? 2 weeks ago, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. Now, it’s one more formula that I’ve started to memorize. And there’s no way around it… you have to memorize them. For me, seeing all the formulas in one condensed place is more convenient than hunting through a giant book. Also, this way, I can slip a sheet into my purse and memorize when I have 5 minutes free. While you can certainly make your own “cheat sheet” or buy a pre-made version, there are plenty of free online versions also. One of my favorites comes from PlatinumGMAT, but there are also many options on the GMATClub Forums if you look around.

I’m going to keep chipping away at these math problems, but let me know if you have another tip for the Quant section!

And PS- the area of a trapezoid is area_trapezoid2, in case you needed to know.

Ready, Set, GMAT

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Four simple letters- one big test. The GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) seems to strike fear in the hearts of many TMMBA applicants. While I am very familiar with the test, I will admit:  I’ve never taken the GMAT myself. That’s all about to change though. My intent is to put myself in your shoes, and see the GMAT from a test-taker’s perspective. Over the next 8 weeks, I’ll be blogging about my experience with the test from start to finish- passing along my tips and thoughts during the process. My hope is that with a look inside the GMAT, TMMBA applicants will see that while the test is a big task, it may not be as bad as you think.

In a survey of our TMMBA Class of 2014, 36% of students reported spending 1-2 months studying for their GMAT. Consequently, I have scheduled my test for end of July, giving me just under two months to study. To simulate the experiences that many of our students go through, I’ll be studying during non-work hours, and using many of the study techniques that we recommend at TMMBA.

My dad used to tell me that the greatest time wasted is the time it takes to get started. So far, I feel like this is extremely true with the GMAT. Once I finally got up the nerve to schedule my date for the test and get my study materials in order, it felt like I was ready to go. Here’s what I did to get the ball rolling:

1. Schedule the test.  Just do it! This first step is crucial since it helps you determine your study timeline. Also, there’s something about committing to a test date that gets you motivated to crack open those books.

I recommend evaluating your calendar of work and personal commitments as well as taking a look at the deadlines that you’re trying to meet. For example, with the TMMBA final deadline on September 1, many of our students take their GMAT in late July or August. Remember that dates fill up quickly- especially for weekend tests. There are two testing centers in the Seattle area (one by Northgate, one in Renton) and they administer tests every day of the week, with different time options.

To register, I logged onto MBA.com and clicked the link to “Register Today.” After creating my GMAT profile, it was easy to schedule an appointment based on their calendar of availability. A word of caution: make sure you’re ready to commit to your date, since you pay $250 to schedule, and you are not able to cancel or change dates without additional fees.

2. gmatbookshelfGet your study materials. GMAT studying usually happens one of two ways-  self study or private coaching/prep courses. Either way can be effective, but it depends on many factors, like time, money, and the level of help that you need. For TMMBA students, 88% of our current class chose the self-study option, and I intend to go that route as well.

To begin, I researched various GMAT prep books. Our students recommend the Official GMAT Guide, Kaplan, The Manhattan Guide, and the Princeton Review among their top choices. Whichever publisher you choose, here are a few things that I was looking for:

  • Make sure your book(s) cover all 4 GMAT test parts – Quantitative, Verbal, Analytical Reasoning, and Integrated Reasoning. The Integrated Reasoning portion of the test was released in June 2012, so make sure you have an updated version (especially of concern if you’re buying used copies or borrowing from the library).
  • Look for practice tests- both online and in the book. Some of the best books I found included as many as 8 full-length practice tests online. Make sure there are plenty of questions available for you to work through.
  • Evaluate options for digital books/materials – the book I finally settled on came with an IPad version to download. Really helpful when you don’t feel like carrying a 1,000 page book around with you for 2 months.

Also note that when you register for your GMAT, you will be able to access introductory software that contains practice questions and tests as well. It’s a great resource, though you may find you need an additional book or two as well.

3. Determine a study plan. Now- I had the book, I had the test date- time for a plan. Most coaches and GMAT blogs will always recommend coming up with a study plan, and I agree. I needed a Study-Scheduleconsistent schedule that I could commit to and plan around. With my test date scheduled, I worked backwards from that date and came up with a rough outline of my study schedule (at right). Note that for me, 72 hrs seemed to be a realistic goal in terms of time commitment and the score I was aiming for. This total hours number will be different for everyone. Just be sure to have a goal and plan accordingly (then stick to it!)

With those three steps taken care of, I’m well on my way to some (hopefully) successful studying. Stay tuned for more posts in the coming weeks about study strategies, tips, and best practices.

Are you a prospective student studying for the GMAT? Write a comment and let us know what your approach is!