GMAT Study Plan #3: Fitness Plan

GMAT Study Plan #3: Fitness Plan

fitnessThe fitness plan is the best plan for most people who take the GMAT. The word “fitness” is an analogy to a physical fitness training program, such as a weight loss program or a marathon training program. In this case, of course, you will be training for the GMAT, and your actual physical fitness is not relevant here – as long as you have the stamina to sit and concentrate for the 4 hour testing period. However, physical fitness training is a good analogy for how to best prepare for the GMAT.

Let’s talk about why this GMAT study plan is ideal for most people. Most sensible study plans fit well into one of the frameworks we have discussed: the cram weekend, the final exam week, this plan, or obsession mode. All four plans have their own logic to them, and in the context of your life and your overall MBA application, there are reasons why you might choose any one of these plans. However, the fitness plan has advantages that apply to many people.

  • First, the Cram Weekend plan is too brief to ensure that you will be fully prepared for the GMAT. Even if you’re highly skilled at standardized tests, you’re still not likely to be at your top performance after only a weekend of cramming. You are unlikely to be familiar enough with the test format and timing, and you are certainly not likely to be at your peak performance level on data sufficiency questions.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, the obsession mode plan has some of the drawbacks of a very intense diet or workout program. Namely, the benefits don’t appear right away, even though you might be giving your all to preparing, so it’s quite easy to burn out on that plan. This is one reason why a fitness program is a good analogy for a GMAT program. As with physical fitness, on the GMAT, it’s hard to improve quickly, and it’s easy to burn out. Therefore, while training is good, and more training is usually better, the obsession mode plan can often be too intense and therefore be counterproductive for many people.

In other words, Cram Weekend and Obsession Mode are both extreme. The two more moderate plans are The Final Exam Week plan and The Fitness Plan. The problem with the final exam week plan is that most people can’t actually make it work, since they don’t have the time off of work to be able to commit to the plan. However, it can be good for people who can make the time to prepare for the exam, especially people who are very strong test-takers. Those people are likely to be able to get their top score after several weeks of intense studying, and then they have more time freed up to prepare for their essays and other parts of their application.

For most people, however, it’s going to take some time to get to your top GMAT score, and the GMAT Fitness study plan is a sure way to get there.


Since the Fitness Plan is longer than the other plans, it has more milestones, but they are similar:

  • Milestone #1 is familiarizing yourself with the exam.
  • Milestone #2 is taking the first GMATPrep practice test.
  • Milestone #3 is reaching 100 hours of practice.
  • Milestone #4 is taking the second GMATPrep practice test (this actually happens before you hit 100 hours, but it’s toward the end)

As in the other plans, the practice test is not quite your first step. You don’t want to waste a precious official practice test without knowing how a Data Sufficiency question works, and so on.

You can put dates to these milestones when you build your own study plan. Notice that, combining milestone #3 with the notes on “the system” below, you can see that, if you are practicing somewhere in the vicinity of 1 hour per day, you will reach Milestone #3 somewhere in the vicinity of 100 days.

The Analogy with Physical Fitness

GMAT FitnessAlthough they can be trite or overplayed, metaphors help us simplify planning. Let’s talk about why fitness is such a good analogy for the GMAT.

First, physical fitness is difficult to improve. Some of us are more talented than others; for example, some of us are naturally faster than others. These differences are hard to improve overnight. For instance, if I’m not a very good sprinter, then practicing sprints all day or even for a week will not improve my skills to the level of a natural-born sprinter. The situation is similar on the GMAT. Take critical thinking skills. These are not things that we memorize in school; rather, they are skills that are to some degree innate and which we practice over time – just like the ability to sprint and to perform other athletic activities.

That brings us to the second similarity between GMAT training and fitness training, which is that training will improve your performance. This is not a contradiction to the point we just made. The idea here is that, although it’s difficult to improve your performance and it cannot be done overnight, you can improve your performance over time. Indeed, all pros have to train. Top athletes, though innately talented, also practice diligently. The same is true on the GMAT. To be the very best that you can be, you’re going to have to practice diligently; you can be sure that other people will be practicing diligently as well. Even if you’re innate skill is not at the very top of the spectrum, training will still help you reach your maximum potential, much how, though you may not be a naturally highly gifted runner, for example, regular training can get you to the ability to run a half marathon or even a marathon.

Another similarity: going too hard can lead to exhaustion and inability to keep up with the plan. Many a fitness plan is foiled by going outside one day, running as far as you possibly can, and then getting so sore than you can’t bring yourself to exercise again any time soon, thereby ending the plan as soon as it started. I’m no athlete, but I’ll give you a personal example. I find that I have a daily limit of somewhere around 60-75 minutes of workout. If I exercise for longer, I often have to take a couple days off. If I stick to 60-75 minutes per day, then I’m able to exercise 6 days a week (not that I necessarily do).

The System: 1 Hour Per Day, 6 Days Per Week

The simpler your system, the less you have to think about your study plan, and the more you can think about GMAT questions, your new area of passion. The fitness plan, of all the plans, is probably the simplest.

Here are the parameters:

  • You practice at least 1 hour per day. If you are “feeling good” and want to go a little further, fine, but you want to avoid burnout. Also, extra time practicing on one day does not roll over into the next day.
  • You practice 6 days per week.

If you adhere to these two points, you will start to optimize a lot of the other factors of your study naturally. For example (and in case it doesn’t come naturally), you will want to do the following:

  • Mix Quantitative and Verbal practice. You can do both Quant and Verbal every day, you can alternate days practicing Quant and Verbal, or you can do some sort of mix depending on your mood, but you shouldn’t go more than a day of practice without having done some quality Q and some quality V. You need to maintain fitness in both areas, so you need to maintain a regular schedule in both areas. Moreover, when you sit for the GMAT, you’ll have to switch from Q (always the first of the two sections) to V after a short break, so there is no benefit to narrowly compartmentalizing the two areas.
  • Aim for a big session occasionally. Although you want to be careful not to burn out, sometimes it’s good to go hard. It’s good practice for sitting for the entire exam, and it allows you to tap into the energy that you will occasionally discover (whether it’s enthusiasm, anxiety, or both or something else). You might, for example, study for 3 or 4 hours every Saturday. But this time does not make up for or roll over into days that come before or after. You still have to put in at least an hour a day, six days a week. Big sessions are “bonus.”
  • Allow yourself less strenuous practice on days on which you’re tired. For example, if your 6th day of practice is Sunday and Monday is your weekly day off, you may tend to be especially tired each Sunday. In that case, Sunday is a great day for cumulative review of all of the questions you have practiced during the prior five days. Speaking of which…
  • Incorporate cumulative review into your practice. Quality review counts toward your practice time. Ironically, people often don’t review because they don’t feel that reviewing questions is as worthwhile as trying fresh questions. To a certain degree, the opposite is true: practicing questions is only worthwhile if it leads to improvement, and review tends to unlock improvement.

For more on spending time, and finding time, see the notes on the Final Exam Week plan.

What’s Next

If you’re unsure which GMAT study plan is right for you, I recommend that you go with the Fitness Plan. You can build out your schedule in more detail by getting a Personalized GMAT Study Plan and putting in an application deadline that is at least 90 days in the future.

Welcome! You are encouraged to register with the site and login (for free). When you register, you support the site and your question history is saved.