Planning your Test Prep Strategy

Studying for a test?

A simple Google search will provide you with countless articles concerning test prep classes, studying, or advice.

Whether you’re planning on taking the GRE, GMAT, LSAT,  MCAT, or SAT prep you’ll have no trouble locating an expert’s advice on how you should structure your study plan. So with all those resources, I don’t want to focus this article on the number of hours you need to study per topic, or the appropriate length of time to spend per a question. Instead I want to offer a few ideas for you to consider as you start to map out your study plan and strategy.


Make the commitment: sign up and set your test date

One of the steps you should take before structuring your study plan is to schedule your test date. I speak from experience, it’s really hard to focus and commit to a study plan when you only have a vague idea of when you’ll actually be sitting for the real test. Not having a definite test date makes it that much easier to push aside studying as times get busy, because you can mentally keep pushing back a hypothetical test date. Go ahead, sit down with your planner, look at your schedule, and become realistic about when you are going to take the test. You probably don’t want to set a date too close in the future causing major stress and cramming in order to prepare, but you also don’t want to select a date too far into the future where it becomes easy to slack off or continually procrastinate. Consider also your work schedule and any upcoming trips, meetings, or projects that might affect your schedule or mental focus, and pick a time frame that allows your recommended length of preparation. A recommended book to read is


Study habits: be honest with yourself

Now that you’ve scheduled your test date and listed in on your calendar, it’s time to be realistic about setting up your preparation strategy. Here is where you really need to be honest with yourself about what works best for you. If you always concentrate better at night, then don’t set up a study plan that has all your studying done in the morning or afternoon. Same with location, if you were never able to study in public places like coffee shops, then don’t choose these as study locations just because that is where all your co-workers are studying. If you’re the type of person that starts to lose focus after an hour of studying, then don’t set a plan that requires two hours of studying every night just because it was recommended by a test prep expert. You need to start a list of all the factors that are going to make you the most successful while studying. As ambitious young professionals we all have busy lives, so you want to make sure you’re using your time and mental energy as efficiently as possible.


Don’t be influenced by friends, peers, or coworkers:

You have probably now done some soul-searching and reminisced about your study habits from college days, but as you start to put together your test prep strategy it’s important to remember to not compare yourself to friends or coworkers. Just because you have that one friend who studies four hours every night after work and ten hours during the weekend, or coworkers who commiserate over their demanding study plans and loss of a social life for months, doesn’t mean that you have to follow the same strategy! Don’t fall into the trap and panic that you are not studying enough if you decide or your schedule only permits you to study one hour a day. Same thing if all your coworkers are signing up for prep courses or hiring private tutors, don’t panic if neither of these formats appeal to your study preferences or are even part of your budget, and vice versa. If you feel you need to hire a personal tutor or need to schedule extra study time, don’t hold back just because others aren’t partaking in the same study strategy.


Have a life

Don’t force yourself to turn into a hermit for the next few months during your studying. You will need time to relax and refocus, so make sure you plan into your test prep strategy time for social activities, hobbies, and personal interests. Sure you might have to sacrifice the number of happy hours or movie nights, but you don’t want to completely remove these from your life. This especially pertains to activities and hobbies to might serve as stress relief. Studying for a graduate school exam is pretty stressful, so if you know you need to attend yoga sessions or have one dinner with your girlfriends a week, be sure to manage your time and study schedule enough to include those activities most important to you and your mental well-being.


Know your strong and weak areas

As I stated at the beginning, a simple Internet search results in numerous articles from test prep experts, each presenting a recommended amount of study time per each topic. It’s very useful information that can be taken into consideration, but remember you are allowed to use them only as guidelines. Before you start, take a practice exam to know your strong and weak areas. This way if you are solid in one area, you could adjust your schedule to only quick review of those concepts and allocate more time to a different area where you desperately need to refresh your knowledge.


Plan flexibility

Things come up. Whether it’s a last minute work project, or you were sick for a few days, make sure you create a test prep strategy that allows for flexibility. It doesn’t mean you can procrastinate and put off study sessions for days (or weeks). Rather, don’t have such a rigidly structured study plan, that missing one day (or even two) will throw off your entire prep schedule. In my case I’ve adopted a strategy similar to training for long distances, where you have rest days but if needed you can always manage to rearrange a rest day, or even miss a workout periodically without become too far off your training plan and goal.

Lauren Shank

Lauren Shank is a young professional pursing her passion for a career in Marketing and Communications. She has a B.S. in Psychology from Virginia Tech and currently works for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. Outside of work and GMAT prep, this ambitious and driven career girl can be found relaxing in yoga class, training for her next race, swimming, or just enjoying a good book or fashion magazine. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenEShank