When To Take the GMAT And Why Earlier Is Usually Better
When is the GMAT?
There is no set date (like there is for the SAT) that you must take the GMAT. So you have the liberty of scheduling a date and time for your testing at the nearest testing administration site.
In terms of the time of the year, you obviously should take the GMAT before the application deadlines. We highly recommend getting the GMAT out of the way early so you can spend the time leading up to the application deadline on your actual application essay questions.
Basically every year, Round 1 for each school is due around September/October. Then there’s Round 2, which is due in early January-ish. Then round 3 is due in April-ish. Each school is different, so be sure to check–but that’s generally how the cycle works.
So you want to take the GMAT at least 2-3 months before the due date of your application. If you are applying for Round 1 in September, you should budget to take the GMAT by June–which means you should start preparing in April-May-ish.
Actually, April/May is a pretty popular GMAT test date and time of year to start preparing for the GMAT. Why?
Because a lot of people found out about their Round 2 (most popular round) decisions by April 1. They all tell their friends which schools they were accepted in. And all their friends start thinking about applying to business school and decide to look for GMAT prep resources. So April is pretty popular because of that–and people generally take GMATs all the way into the application season in the fall/winter time.
Sounds good. Since I can choose when to take the exam when is the best time to do so?
Perhaps the best time to take your GMAT is while you are still in school, or shortly afterward. Remember, as you gain more real-world experience, you lose the test-taking intuition that you used to have when you were in school. Taking an intensive test like the GMAT 5 years after your last rigorous exam can be quite challenging. Test-taking intricacies like operating in a time-pressured environment, reading through answer choices, marking answers, and dealing with psychological issues are second nature to you when you are in school, but they become quite unfamiliar the longer you wait after college. You want to minimize this risk by taking the exam during the summer after graduation or the summer between your junior and senior year–this is the ideal time. Remember, the GMAT exam is valid for 5 years. If you have any intention of getting into business school sometime in the next 5 years, you should take it at your earliest convenience.
I am not in college anymore and I missed my chance to take the GMAT during this time. What do I do now?
Don’t worry. Thousands of people are in your shoes. You might not be used to the pressures of test taking so will need to pay extra attention to doing several practice exams mimicking exam-like conditions.
What do you mean by exam-like conditions?
I mean instead of just running through questions on a practice exam bit by bit, you should schedule an entire morning or afternoon to take the exam with a timer. Especially with the Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) format of the exam, you should take these practice exams AS IF it were the real thing, at least several days before your real exam and preferably earlier.
What else should I take into account?
If you are considering the GMAT, chances are you have a busy life. When applying to business school, you will need to dedicate time not only to your job, but also any extracurricular activities or initiatives you are pursuing. Part of an organization that holds ambitious yearly events? Put some time and effort and participate on the board in a leadership position. Itching for a promotion at your job so you can mention it in your Bschool application? You’ll need to put in the time and effort. You’ll also need to budget time for researching/visiting schools and writing those dreaded essays. And of course, you want a social life and time with your family. The GMAT is the LAST thing you want to worry about when juggling all these things. That’s why it is best to get it out of the way.
Should I study first and then schedule the exam or schedule the exam and then study?
This is a personal preference. I would recommend you to schedule the exam a few months in advance when you intend to take it. Pay the $250 (yes, not cheap) it costs to take the exam so that you are invested into the exam–forcing you to study. Otherwise, if you casually study for the exam, you may never progress anywhere.
What day of the week should I take the GMAT?
In terms of day what day of the week to take the GMAT – that’s really a personal preference. We realize many of our students are busy professionals with grueling day jobs. We recommend taking the exam on a Tuesday – effectively taking two days off from work – Monday and Tuesday. That gives you ample time to run through your last few practice exams on Saturday and Sunday and then spending the majority of Sunday night and Monday reviewing questions you get wrong. Of course, you should compile a collection of questions that you repeatedly get wrong so that on Monday night you can quickly review them.
We realize not everyone can take off multiple days off from work. If this is the case, then try Monday. That way you can spend Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday morning studying. And then on Sunday evening you can get prepare mentally for Monday.
Of course, never schedule your exam early in the morning if you are not an early morning person. Budget time for traffic, getting lost, going to the bathroom, etc.