How To Prepare For GMAT: Aspiring Management Consultant Guide

Today, we’re hearing from Mark Skoskiewicz, founder of MyGuru, an in-person and online tutoring and test prep firm. Mark holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He also earned an undergraduate business degree from Indiana University. _____________________________________________________________________________________

This article is aimed at anyone considering an MBA, and an eventual transition into management consulting. Do you need an MBA to break into consulting? Absolutely not. Does it increase your chances? Pick the right program, and you bet it does. This article will show you how to prepare for the GMAT, to make those chances as much in your favor as possible.

If you don’t already have an MBA and are considering a career in management consulting, you should at least be thinking about the GMAT and how to prepare for it. Why? Well, because a career in consulting and the decision to obtain an MBA often go together.

Note – if you are seeking to enter the management consulting field but you already have an MBA, then this article is not really for you.

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As a special offer for MC readers, Management Consulted has partnered with MyGuru to offer all aspiring MBAs a free 30min diagnostic online tutoring session. MyGuru is a leader in online GMAT tutoring and was founded by a former consultant and Kellogg School of Management alum.

Now, without further ado – how do you begin preparing for the GMAT?

How To Prepare For GMAT Question: I’m Not Currently Considering Getting an MBA. Why Would I Consider Taking the GMAT?

The GMAT is, obviously, intended to be taken by people applying to business school. But here are two reasons to consider taking it even if you aren’t 100% confident you’ll eventually seek an MBA:

  1. An official GMAT score is valid for 5 years, and a lot can change in 5 years. You may be considering an MBA sooner than you think.

Business school may not be in your immediate plans, but things change as your career progresses. Case in point: the average age of 1st year MBA students has been falling. Currently, the average age of Harvard MBAs is 27, meaning they have about 5 years of work experience. The average number of years of experience at Stanford is 4. This means that, if you are a senior in college and pursuing a career in management consulting, it may not be a bad idea to plan on taking the GMAT before you graduate.

“Consulting’ is one of the most common pre-MBA careers. The number of consultants who don’t earn an MBA and progress from analyst to partner is not high. It’s more common at smaller firms, but at MBB and other well-known consulting brands like Deloitte or Accenture, progressing up the ranks will require an MBA. This is logical. You’ll learn a ton in consulting about both different business functions and industries. But after 2-3 years on the job, to begin moving into roles that require management of larger projects and teams, the experiences, skills, polish, and brand that come from earning an MBA are valuable.

Consulting Firms Sometimes Pay For Your MBA

These firms will often pay for the MBA if you return for a few years, which makes it even more attractive. But let’s assume you don’t want to continue being a consultant. Then, too, an MBA is still a very logical option. One of the main reasons people pursue an MBA is in fact to switch careers. After 2-3 years in consulting you will have learned what you like or don’t like in the professional world, and an MBA provides the vehicle to transition into a new role in a different industry.

Since a majority of analysts at top consulting firms leave to get an MBA, if you are pursuing a career in management consulting, it is worth considering whether you should take the GMAT as a pre-cursor to making the decision to apply for admission to an MBA program.

2. Let’s face it. The consulting industry can be a bit elitist. A high GMAT score will get a recruiter’s attention. And to be fair, the GMAT is a somewhat objective measure of your analytical horsepower and critical thinking skill.

Consulting firms give case interviews to figure out whether you can think critically and solve problems both logically and creatively, and whether you can do math quickly in your head. In other words, they give case interviews to test your analytical and general intellectual horsepower. But the GMAT is, in large part, a measure of these same capabilities. In fact, many top consulting firms are interested in your GMAT score and putting a 700+ score on your resume will help augment your resume.

How To Prepare For GMAT Question: I’m Thinking about Getting an MBA. When Should I think about Taking the GMAT?

It is generally accepted that the closer you are to being in college, the easier a standardized test like the GMAT is likely to seem to you. I If you haven’t been in school for 10 years, remembering rules about triangles or algebra or sentence structure can be difficult. When I first started studying for the GMAT, I had forgotten rules about triangles completely. If you don’t know or can’t recall that the three angles of a triangle add to 180 degrees, you will miss what are essentially extremely easy GMAT questions.

So, when should you take the GMAT?

The earlier the better, assuming you’ll use it within 5 years. If you are in your senior year of college and have some extra time to devote to studying, this could be a great time to take the GMAT. Depending on when during your senior year you take the GMAT, you may also be able to add the score to your resume (see point above) and increase your chances of getting a job offer.

Paradoxically, one of the reasons to take the GMAT earlier rather than later, is that it’s less important than most people assume it is.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important. A 700+ score puts you in a much better position to get admitted to a top 10 program than a 650+ score. 650 is far better than 600. And so on. But the rest of your application is very important as well; perhaps more important than many people realize. Admissions committees really do look at the overall application to determine whether the student will add to the community and can do the work.

I see too many aspiring MBA students spend hundreds of hours trying to boost their GMAT score from 700 to 730. Those additional hours could be invested in getting involved in community service, taking on a leadership position at work or elsewhere. Or could be used writing more effective, consistent application essays that reflect a compelling personal narrative about your accomplishments and capabilities.

All top business schools are genuinely very concerned with understanding:

a) Why you want to go to business school (i.e., what career are you trying to pursue, what skills are you trying to build, what experiences are you trying to have)

b) Why you want to go to their school specifically (i.e., what does this school focus on relative to other top programs that you find attractive). It’s very important to answer both of those questions well throughout your application. Sometimes, this means revising your essays dozens of times. This takes time.

“My boss and I applied to Kellogg at essentially the same time. He was my boss (more leadership experience, obviously) and had a higher GMAT score by a large amount (760 vs. 710). Yet I got into Kellogg’s full-time program and he did not. I can only assume that my application was more internally consistent and generally compelling than his.”

I’d take a 700 GMAT score with a well-rounded application and clearly articulated vision for attending business school over a 730 GMAT scorer with a confusing list of reasons for getting an MBA any day of the week. I would suggest avoiding the temptation to spend 40 more hours studying for 30 more points on your GMAT score. So, the recommendation here is to essentially get the GMAT out of the way earlier so you can spend your time engaging in, or at least writing an application about, activities that will make or break your application to a top MBA program.

In sum, take the GMAT early, whether that’s in college, or a full 2-3 years before you are applying to school. This will allow you to exert maximum effort on other critical elements of your application.

How To Prepare For GMAT Question: I’ve decided to take the GMAT. How should I prepare?

Since this is a somewhat general overview of why, when, and how to prepare for the GMAT, I’ll avoid getting into too much detail about GMAT content, strategies, tips and tricks. I’ve been providing GMAT tutoring for 10+ years now, and I’ve developed a list of six basic but important recommendations for how to prepare for the GMAT:

  1. Take at least 3 months. Don’t cram.
  2. Make the Official Guide to the GMAT the foundation of your materials
  3. Complete some sort of upfront diagnostic and develop a customized study plan
  4. Don’t be afraid to get help when/if you get stuck
  5. Follow deliberate practice principles when you are doing homework and working on practice problems
  6. Take regular, timed practice tests to track progress

Take at least 3 months. Don’t cram.

Some people are naturally comfortable with and confident regarding standardized tests. But that’s somewhat rare. The more you practice, the better you’ll do. The test has tricky questions and it’s very difficult to memorize your way through it. The best approach to the GMAT is to master the basic underlying concepts it tests first. Then do a large amount of practice to build your critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the context of answering GMAT questions. It takes time to do this.

Make the Official Guide to the GMAT, and its related materials, the foundation of your study plan

What are the best books or online courses for GMAT preparation? There are many high quality, innovative GMAT prep companies and materials out there. It’s not as if you are in “trouble” if you choose Princeton Review, Kaplan, Manhattan, Magoosh, etc. At the same time, a practice problem from a non-GMAC.org source has the potential to cover an irrelevant topic or cover a topic in the wrong way. GMAC.org, the same organization that designs and administers the real, actual GMAT, has invested heavily in providing materials that leverage the exact same content that you’ll see on the real GMAT. There is no real substitute. You may supplement with other materials, but you should ideally invest in The GMAT Official Guide Bundle: 3 Books + Online Question Bank. All of the additional items you see on MBA.com are also very reasonable options from a quality and cost perspective.

Complete some sort of upfront diagnostic and develop a customized study plan.

Too many students just jump in and start working their way through a GMAT prep book. That’s OK, but it’s not the most efficient approach. MyGuru, for example, takes a simple approach and recommends that each student takes the 100-question diagnostic test from the Official Guide to the GMAT before the first session. GMAT tutors then work with the student to design a customized plan of attack. Everyone has limited time and resources. If you clearly need to spend more time on quant than verbal, plodding through a generic prep book will be sub-optimal. You can certainly start with a generic outline and plan provided by whatever materials you’ve invested in, but it’s very important to customize for your unique situation.

Don’t be afraid to get help when/if you get stuck

I’m biased, because I own a tutoring company. Fair. But I really think that many GMAT unlocked-padlock-pic, get unstuck when preparing for GMATstudents can “unlock” a path to a higher score by getting some personalized help in targeted areas. My personal experience, prior to going to business school and starting a tutoring company, involved self-studying for the GMAT. I had an extremely high diagnostic test score in verbal, and was much weaker in quant. So I built a customized study plan, and spent hours and hours focused on doing quantitative practice problems. But ultimately, I was unable to teach myself how to consistently answer more difficult quant questions correctly (e.g., number theory, time-rate problems, etc.). Some focused help from a GMAT tutor would have truly helped me boost my final score.

Follow deliberate practice principles when you are working on practice problems

The way to build new skills is not necessarily about working hard or for longer periods of time (though that of course helps). Practicing deliberately means practicing in a way that maximizes each hour you invest in practice. To get the most skill development per hour. Here are the key deliberate practice principles to follow when understanding how to prepare for the GMAT.

  • Conduct careful research to understand the full range of skills required to excel in any given discipline. (And potentially having those skills explained to you by an expert coach). Understand the question types and quant and verbal concepts you are going to need to master.
  • Deconstruct any given skill down to its most basic elements to identify and master the most fundamental concept. Do this before attempting more difficult skills. (Nail the easy quant concepts and questions before jumping around to more difficult ones).
  • Starting by really going slow. Take the time it takes to complete a problem with full understanding. Make sure you truly comprehend how the problem works, and why the right answer is correct.
  • Displaying a high degree of focus on the task at hand when studying for the GMAT. It has tricky problem types and requires knowledge of a broad range of underlying math concepts. It’s important to not be distracted while you’re studying.
  • Pushing yourself beyond your limits and getting immediate feedback on what went wrong. This idea of immediate feedback when studying for the GMAT is key. (This can come from reviewing the answer in the back of the book, reviewing an online video, or working with a GMAT tutor.)
  • Expecting deliberate practice to be draining and difficult to sustain for several hours in a row.

Deliberate practice is the key to skill development, whether you are building GMAT skills or any other type of skill.

Take regular, timed practice tests to track progress and build test-taking time management skills

Many students run into trouble when preparing for the GMAT because they underestimate the stress and pressure that comes from the test being timed. And on some level, it’s not just about management of pressure and stress. Being able to logically eliminate incorrect answers quickly to save time is an important time management related test-taking skill. Plus, if you don’t take multiple timed practice tests, you may not get the right indication of your competence. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in a student getting unexpectedly low results. They’ve prepared for several months and expect a 700+ score, only to see a mid-500s score flash on their screen.

How To Prepare For GMAT: Conclusion

It might make sense to take the GMAT earlier rather than later. Careers in management consulting often lead to consideration of earning an MBA. If you do decide to take the GMAT, make sure you diagnose your skill level upfront. Develop a customized plan, and follow deliberate practice principles.

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