Our guest blogger is Ashley Wells, a member of Forte's MBA Launch program for MBA applicants. She is excited to share her perspectives on the process of pursuing an MBA. Every person’s “GMAT story” is unique. Taking a Class. I’ve read in storybooks that some people scored a 700 right off the bat on their diagnostic test without ever cracking a book. I’ve heard of others who simply read GMAT books and prepared on their own and got the score they desired. For the vast majority of us humans, a GMAT preparation class is necessary for one simple reason: it helps you to structure your studying and stick to a designated plan, complete with a weekly check-in with a brilliant instructor to guide you and answer your study questions. Not to mention, if you are in line with all the other competitive MBA candidate hopefuls, you will be inspired to stay current on the homework assignments in order to be relatively stable when called upon in class or showing your answers on practice questions. Overall, the MBA class is a safe space to make mistakes, practice mental math and re-learn 7th grade math concepts (remember those isosceles triangles?), improve your grammar, and accomplish the core task at hand: surviving the GMAT. Timing. Taking the GMAT is kind of like having a child, there is no “perfect time” to do it. There will always be a major project or proposal at work, vacations you want to take, and unpredictable life events that steal our attention. No matter what, if you are studying correctly for the GMAT, you will be setting aside a significant amount of your time on a weekly basis to give all you have to the GMAT. For me personally, I chose Saturday classes because my regular work week was too unpredictable for me to commit to an evening class. My Saturday class became my ritual every week, and as best as possible, I adhered to the syllabus in order to tackle GMAT studying in chunks, rather than cramming or dragging it out for longer than necessary. I devoted 15-20 hours per week to study quant most mornings before work, and study verbal several evenings during the week. I took the weekend to take practice tests or do long problem sets, as well as sit in on my weekly class. If I had time during my lunch break, I would even listen in to online study session webinars that my test preparation company provided. All in all, breaking up my studying into multiple times throughout the day helped me concentrate in smaller doses rather than studying 4 or 6 hours straight and losing focus. Controlling Your Emotions. The GMAT nearly “got to me” on several occasions. Whether from exhaustion or frustration or sheer sadness at the riddance of my normal social life, there were many times that I found myself in tears after a bad practice test or studying a certain topic multiple times only to find myself still missing questions on problem sets. As an A-student all of my life who was used to studying hard before tests and performing well, the GMAT really threw me a curve ball with its adaptive test methodology. There were several practice tests, for example, where I was in the 75-80% percentile range on quant through question 30, and then would miss 5 of the last 7 questions to end up in the 30% range. On my first official GMAT test, I scored 110 points lower than my last practice test—110 points. I quite literally almost blacked out in the testing center when I saw my score. However, despite these experiences, I had to force myself to get back on the horse, continue studying, and achieve my goal which I knew was within reach. Your Support Network. The people you surround yourself with during GMAT studying are extremely important to your overall sanity and long-term test success. There are three types of support you need: People who care about your GMAT success. These are your friends who understand your goals and level of commitment. They may be taking the test at the same time or have taken it before. Your parents most likely fall into this category. They want you to succeed, understand your frustrations, encourage you, and tell you to keep going when you want to quit. People who could care less about your GMAT success. These people are the ones who encourage you to go away for a beach trip in the middle of your study sprint and want you to go out on Saturday nights instead of staying in and studying. It is wise to politely decline their text message, email, and phone invitations about 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, you should go out with them for your own personal well-being. Being around people whose face would not change if you told them you got a 300 or an 800 score can be liberating. People who you do not know but commiserate with you and the GMAT. These individuals are strangers who you can find on the world wide web. I referenced many study support sites, mainly the blog on GMATClub.com, to hear honest GMAT stories and struggles from people all over the world taking the test. There are inspiring stories with titles such as “From 450 to 780,” and ones less positive but that are real and let you know you are not alone in your frustrations. Take Time to Celebrate. Your GMAT studying process is designed for you to reach your goal score. While you are on your way to that ultimate success, you should reward yourself by celebrating the small stuff. If you finally nail your timing on quant in a problem set, take an evening off to get together with friends. When you first score in your goal range on a practice test, treat yourself to a pedicure or great meal out. And finally, have something really freaking fantastic lined up for you at the finish line. My first test, which as mentioned did not go so well, at least resulted in a big group dinner right afterwards so that I was with my support network. The day after my second test, which was a personal success, I took off on a vacation to Israel, Jordan, Greece, and Turkey. These were things I could look forward to throughout my GMAT journey. Celebrating your short-term and long-term achievements along your study route will definitely help keep your mind in check. Good luck studying! I’d love to hear your feedback and questions in the comments section below. Ashley Wells is a Strategy and Operations consultant at Deloitte. She is currently enrolled in Forte’s inaugural MBA Launch program for women. She is an MBA 2014 candidate hopeful and is excited to share her experiences and insights throughout the MBA application process. She has a degree in Political Science from The George Washington University.