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 Now that you’ve decided to go back to school, you might be feeling like Al Pacino in Godfather III; “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!” It is overwhelming just thinking about hitting the books again, relearning the math you could not wait to forget.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

You have a worthy goal; to get in the top school of your choice and receive the best education you can. It is an admirable goal and just as any project you successfully completed, it requires some legwork. GMAT is an important piece of the admission puzzle and with careful planning, consistent effort and determination; it could be your best ally.

The quantitative section is likely to be the harder piece for you unless you are already working in a quantitative field. You may have to spend a disproportionate amount of time on remembering and mastering this section. You will have to “re-learn” some of the theory behind numbers, and acquire GMAT specific tools and strategies to solve difficult questions.

Remember: understanding math concepts theoretically is one thing, execution is another. This means after brushing up on the basics, there’s a bunch of practice to be done.

Data sufficiency will probably be a new question for you. That section of the GMAT requires a lot of review and you need all the help you can get.

You may have never taken a computer adaptive test (CAT) before. What “adaptive” means is that there will be no predetermined set of questions or set difficulty level.  The computer tries to match the difficulty of each successive question, to both your overall performance and the question you’ve just answered.

The better you perform, the more challenging the questions â€" and the more challenging the questions, the more points you will receive for answering them correctly. You can’t skip questions on the CAT: you can see one question at a time, and there is no going back to change an answer once it’s confirmed.

Finally, not finishing the test is more heavily penalized compared to guessing a few questions throughout the test.

The degree to which your score influences your acceptance into business programs is contingent on a number of factors.  Admissions committees consider, for example, how long you’ve been out of school and will likely give more weight on the GMAT scores of students who’ve been out of school for a while.

You might be under the impression that this exam is most difficult hurdle in your admissions process. This is avoidable when you allow sufficient practice time and guide yourself by logic rather than emotion during GMAT preparation.

You will master the basics of “reading, writing, and math.” The verbal segment assumes that you understand standard conventions of written English and are capable of presenting coherent and compelling arguments in two analytical essays. The math segment assumes you know the basics of algebra, geometry, and arithmetic and can apply these concepts in situations slightly more challenging than high school math class.  

The GMAT is not your enemy â€" half the battle is simply knowing what to expect on the exam and planning well. Remember that GMAT is most concerned with your ability to execute and find efficient solutions to problems from limited areas.

First things first: take a diagnostic test.  Like any project, you need to know where you are to determine where you want to be, which will then enable you to set your intentions and organize a study schedule.

Another crucial step before organizing your study plan is deciding on a convenient and suitable time to take the test and register in advance. This will ensure that you take the test at your convenience help you determine the details of your study plan.

Considering these factors along side general score expectations of your favorite schools will help you set specific, achievable, and realistic goals for your score.

One of the biggest obstacles for mature test takers is maintaining motivation and keeping GMAT preparation as a priority. Concrete data and good planning will help you on both accounts.

If possible, sign up for the GMAT when you won’t be juggling competing responsibilities or priorities. The GMAT is an exam that will require a lot of mental stamina and emotional stability. You need to ensure that you’re not distracted during your preparation.

Create a realistic study plan and stick to it. You have a life to live and other responsibilities. Having a defined GMAT study schedule is useful in two ways: 1) it ensures GMAT study doesn’t get last priority in your life, and 2) seeing the big picture will help you realize that, in fact, preparation is “doable.”

GMAT is a sprint and a marathon. You will have to answer each question in about two minutes. Maintaining an aggressive and industrious pace will distinguish you. At the same time, the GMAT requires a level of mental stamina you will need when you get to grad school. If you strike a balance between these two temporal modes, you will outdistance a good number of GMAT examinees.

Keep your score and expectations in perspective. Don’t obsess over “acceptable” scores. It’s more constructive to review your diagnostic tests and consider how to raise your score a bit from last time.

There will be a time, after you’ve taken several of practice tests in a row, that you seem to keep getting the same score despite your amount of studying. Ideally this will be around the same time you’ve scheduled your test.  

When this happens, don’t drag out the process by continuing to postpone test day to allow more for preparation.  At some point your motivation, interest and performance will start declining.  Take the test â€" for your own sake â€" before you start driving yourself crazy!

This Personal Development article was written by Ender Markal on 11/5/2010

Ender Markal is a math tutor and the founder of SFTutors. He has been tutoring math since 1992. He has worked with students at all levels, from first grade to college and beyond. Ender has helped many students increase their grades in school, scores on standardized tests and boost their self-confidence. His diverse background in engineering and finance gives him a unique perspective in math subjects and applications.