You’ve finished your undergraduate studies and still want to pursue higher education…but now you have a full-time job and aren’t sure if you can handle it. This is a common concern of many aspiring graduate school applicants, but there’s good news: You can do both! All it takes is a commitment to making efficient use of your time and making sure you’re studying the right way.
Some students put off studying because, when it comes down to it, they don’t know how to start. Make sure you don’t make this mistake; the earlier you start, the better! Official scores can take weeks to be released, so be sure to take the GRE and GMAT score–reporting processes into account before scheduling your exam. It’s also wise to allow yourself enough time to retake the exam, should you need to, before your application is due.
I recommend about three to six months of preparation for most students; this provides the perfect timeframe to learn about the exam, cover the fundamentals, and practice. You may be able to get by with studying for a shorter period of time if you have a strong academic foundation (or haven’t been out of school for long!), but you might feel rushed or unprepared come test day. Any longer than six months of studying, and you might start forgetting what you learned at the beginning!
Utilize Your Resources
Online resources are your friends. The most common versions of the GRE and GMAT are computer-adaptive, so there is no better way to prep than using a computer. First, learn everything you can about the GRE or GMAT exam. It’s important to understand the structure of the test and the resources available to you so you can tailor your studying to your personal strengths and weaknesses. The official test websites offer a few tips for studying for the GRE and GMAT, which will get you started.
Once you have a general understanding of the structure of your exam and the best strategies for taking it, research study resources that have good success rates and reputations. Don’t just blindly go with big companies. Tests change; in fact, the GRE underwent a significant change in August 2011, including the removal of Antonyms and Analogies. The GMAT also changed in June 2012, with the addition of the Integrated Reasoning section. The test prep companies that were the best 10 years ago may not be keeping up with these changes, so do your research and read recent reviews. Make sure you’re studying with up-to-date, proven materials that will give you the highest chance for success.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Even though finding the time to study can be stressful, there is one benefit: It forces you to be disciplined. With limited study time every day, you’ll have to make the most of it – which means less time for procrastination.
The beauty of online resources is that you can study anytime. Many are even now accessible on your smartphone, through your browser or mobile apps, so you can practice almost anywhere. Schedule blocks of time to study and stick to them; you’ll be surprised at how even small amounts of time add up. Some ideas:
- On your way to and from work (when you are taking public transit, of course!);
- During your lunch hour;
- On your breaks;
- At a library or coffeehouse after work, or
- On the weekend. You can even set up study dates with friends at a coffee shop or library (if you’re all able to still focus on your studying, that is!).
Make sure to take time for practice tests, too. Many are included in the study materials you’ll purchase, and they’re a great way to prepare you for what it will actually be like on test day, in terms of managing your time and anticipating the types of questions you can expect.
Get It Out of the Way
That being said, it’s wise to get the exam out of the way as soon as you can so you can focus on other parts of your application. The admissions process consists of much more than just your test score. Make sure you don’t spend so much time studying for – and taking – the test that you forget to focus on getting good recommendations and writing a solid personal statement.
Also, most grad schools prefer applicants with some work experience. In fact, work experience can make up for a slightly lower test score because schools know that these students can contribute real-world knowledge and examples to the classroom. For example, I went to business school at Berkeley after five years of full-time work, and I still had less work experience than many of my classmates. You may find that your job works in your favor.
Finding time to study for a graduate exam, in addition to a full-time workweek, sounds intimidating, but it can be done! Plan early, invest in good study materials, create (and stick to) a schedule, and make efficient use of your study time. While working and studying can sound overwhelming, remember that each can feed the other!