How to prepare for the GMAT - Advice from RSM MBA Team

Everyone learns in different ways and at a different pace. But when it comes to preparing for the GMAT and gaining a score reasonably reflective of your abilities – there are some general rules of thumb that can help you get the score you want.

RSM's  MBA Marketing & Admissions Director Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp has been helping prospective students through the MBA application process for years. Here she shares her observations on preparing for the GMAT in a way that can help ensure a successful application to an RSM MBA programme.

First up – make sure you DO prepare

It's not uncommon for people to go into the GMAT blindly and then have an unpleasant surprise when they achieve a score different to what they expected. Even people who are very confident in their cognitive abilities need to prepare. We have seen financial consultants and accountants with scores of 10%.  Doing well in the GMAT is not just dependant on ability, but being familiar with the sorts of questions that are asked, how they are phrased and so on. Everyone needs to prepare.

Familiarise yourself with the language and test environment

In the GMAT, being familiar with the context is just as important as learning the content. If you've never come across English Maths terms like a protractor, you are going to be stuck. Get accustomed to the jargon that's used, to answering questions under time pressure – which can be stressful – and to using an online test platform. Make sure you do practice tests online. Another useful thing to know is that the computer adjusts the difficulty of the questions to how quickly and correctly you answer them. So if the questions are getting too easy, perhaps you might want to speed things up.

Know what learning style works best for you

There is no single right way to prepare. I always tell our candidates to consider how they prepared for exams in the past and what worked. If you need time to reinforce new content then start preparing two or three months in advance doing an hour of online exercises a day. If you have limited time or like to learn intensively in a short period then opt for a weekend course at a test centre. If you like working with somebody, hire a tutor at a test centre, or if you prefer self-study simply buy a book or use online resources. Look at your study preferences, how much time you have, and what options are available.

Take the test sooner rather than later.

I always advise students to take the test as soon as they are ready rather than wait until the application deadline. You want your GMAT to be reflective of your potential. Since you must wait a month between re-takes, you should allow enough time to take the test again if you want to. Once you have registered for the test you have two practice tests. You can see with your first practice test how far you are from a score that you are happy with. If the practices test are roughly at a level you are comfortable with then you are ready to take the test.

Don't be disheartened by a low score

If you achieve a low score the first time, don't worry. Take the test again but try to ensure there is a significant improvement in your score. It never reflects badly on a candidate if they have multiple test scores, particularly if there is significant improvement. Some schools take an average of your scores. At RSM we take the highest score. There is a limit, of course, and if you submit 12 scores we will start asking questions. Mostly we see people who have taken up to three tests. The important thing is that your score is as reflective as possible of your potential. Once you feel you have reached that, stop taking tests.

Start working on your application before you take the GMAT

You don't need to put the whole application process on hold while you prepare for the GMAT. You can start working on your essays or even submit your application simultaneously or before you start preparing for the GMAT. If you submit your application to RSM before taking the GMAT, we put it on file and as soon as we receive your GMAT score we start the evaluation process. Be sure to send in the unofficial score report that you receive on the day of taking the test to us as soon as possible. You can fax and/or email a copy to us. This will enable us to update your application file whilst awaiting the official score report.

Consider your GMAT as only part of your application.

At RSM your GMAT score is placed in the context of your overall profile. We value it, but we also view it in relation to your academic and professional background, and everything else you bring to the table. Consider it important to the success of your application but not the be-all and end-all. It's also important to know that our admissions staff is aware of the test and that certain nationalities do better than others. Some nationalities have an average GMAT score of 500, while others have an average of 700. We take all this into consideration when assessing your eligibility However, something to note is that, regardless of the admissons decision, the GMAT could be important when you are on the programme. If you are considering, going on exchange to one of our partner schools, for example, or if you are targeting certain professional fields post-MBA.

Speak to former or current RSM students

We are always happy to connect prospective candidates with current students or alumni to get some insights into how they prepared. It can also be really valuable to speak to people of your same nationality – they might have encountered particular language issues and have tips to share, or they might know of some local resources that you are not aware of. Listen to all the options available to you. You also have thousands of test preparation sites which can be very useful.

We recommend all prospective MBA candidates to visit the MBA.com site as a starting point in preparation for more tips and advice on the GMAT, including sample examinations.

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