How to Set SMART Goals for Your GMAT Prep

Whether you’re preparing for your first GMAT or your third, starting the study process can be a headache.  Organizing the what, when and how of your GMAT prep may appear more complex than an 800-level Critical Reasoning question.  However, proper goal setting can simplify this process, alleviating unnecessary stress and confusion.

Goals are the driving force behind great accomplishments.  They allow us to translate dreams into realities by providing a road map of how to achieve them.  However, all goals are not created equal.  While good goals give us measured steps and action plans for achievement, bad or ambiguous goals hinder action and lead to frustration.  The right goals for you GMAT prep will both streamline and enhance how you study.

Luckily, goals and goal setting have been studied in-depth, and the same rubric professional athletes and business leaders use to drive their success adapts succinctly to the GMAT.  Apply the following rules of SMART goal setting to boost your GMAT prep.

 For GMAT prep, goals need to be:

1) Specific

The better you can define what you want to achieve, the better you’ll know how to achieve it.  This means both having a specific score to aim for and understanding your underlying reasons for taking the GMAT.

Start by defining the who, what, and why behind your decision to take the GMAT.  Obviously, the “who” will be you, and the “what” — what’s involved in taking the GMAT — will be the same for most people with minor variations.  However, the “why” should be personal and should require some deeper thinking.

You’re likely taking the GMAT to get into business school, but can you specify why you want to go to business school?  Attaching the reason you’re taking the GMAT to a larger life ambition will multiply your motivation and focus.

2) Measurable

A goal is said to be measurable when there is a definite way to tell if it has been achieved.  Since your GMAT goal is based around a certain score, it is inherently measurable.

However, measurability goes beyond just the end result: You also need to be able to measure your progress throughout your prep work.  Monitor your study efforts by keeping track of the new concepts you learn, and use practice questions and practice tests as metrics to measure your grasp of the material.  Measurements of your progress act as a GPS, informing you of whether or not your efforts are leading to towards your goal.

3) Adjustable

Like people, goals need to adapt to situations as they arise.  Inflexibility can lead to additional stress and unrealistic expectations.  For example, if there was a lengthy interruption to your prep, such as an illness, you may need to adjust your goal score accordingly.  When plans change, you need to be realistic about the effect of these changes.

In such situations, rigid goals can lead to unfeasible requirements in order to reach them, like doing two week’s worth of studying in one week.  Instead of pulling all-nighters, which rarely work, adjust your goal score to reflect this new reality or reschedule your test date, if you can, in order to allow enough time to reach your original goal.

4) Realistic

As touched upon in the previous point, unrealistic expectations breed stress and disappointment.  Realistic goals are actionable and motivating.  However, try not to equate “realistic” with “average.” A realistic GMAT score can still mean a score within the 90 percentile; after all, realistic by definition means within the realm of possibilities.

To determine what’s realistic for you, you need to account for a number of factors, including how much time you have to study and the level of your current abilities.  A GMAT goal score that is challenging but believable — i.e. that with the right amount of effort you could see yourself achieving — sparks more motivation than a goal that is easily achievable or a goal that seems impossible.

5) Time-based

Signing up for the GMAT gives you a specific time frame in which to reach your goal score.  However, the time-based aspect of your GMAT goal needs to extend beyond a start and end date.  Each study task you need to complete requires its own deadline within this time frame.

For example, you may have planned to take a certain number of practice tests and complete an amount of practice questions.  Create deadlines for when you need to complete each of these study items as they lead up to the test.  Just as each part of the test can be broken down into parts, the duration of your studying should be broken down into different segments.

After you’ve set a specific and realistic goal, it’s time to carry it out.  Measure your progress over time, and if needed, make adjustments in either your original goal or your efforts in order to keep the goal realistic.