The dreaded GMAT. Recommended preparation time to get the score you want is 8 weeks. ESCP postgrad student Catarina Machado thought she had double that, until she discovered that exam dates filled up quickly, and internship offers can take forever to come. At the end, she only had 3 weeks.

I was in my last semester of my Bachelor’s Degree in Management and I already knew I wanted to apply to ESCP, so I needed to take a logic test. For me, the best choice was the GMAT. The dreaded GMAT, seen as one of the biggest challenges for students worldwide trying to apply to the best Business Schools in Europe. I had already done my research, talked with friends who had done it or were preparing for it –  some of them already had done more than 6 months preparation! According to GMAC, the organisers of the GMAT, well over 60% of students spend at least 4 weeks preparing for the exam.

It was late October when I decided which master’s to apply to. And to do the GMAT on time for the ESCP deadlines, I had to take it, at the latest, at the beginning of March, which gave me about 4 and 1/2 months of preparation. I checked the test dates, and everything was planned out so that I could spend the recommended time of studying to be able to perform my best.

GMAT study hours

However, I could not schedule a date right away, since I was still waiting for answers to internship applications. I wanted to make sure that it would be ok for me to miss a day of work to take the test; I had not mentioned this during the interviews. The waiting process took much longer than I expected: it wasn’t until late November that I was able to accept an internship offer.

I made the naive mistake of thinking the test dates would be there waiting for me. Wrong! When I went to schedule the exam, the latest available date was the 10th of January – 2 months before I had planned on taking it! At the same time, end of semester group works and individual workload started to increase and every time I tried to open the GMAT books (which I had bought in October), it was impossible to focus because of all the tasks I had to finish to complete my Bachelor’s degree.

When I was done with all the group projects and exams, I realised time was running out: I only had 3 weeks to prepare for the GMAT Test! How was I going to succeed in such a short time?

How I squeezed it into 3 weeks of prep time

Acceptance, determination, and willingness

There was no need to think about how I got myself in this situation, but rather focus on the time I still had. I had set the goal of being accepted to ESCP, and this test was one of the means for my success. I knew I would have stressful and tiring weeks, in which I would have to spend most (if not all) of my time studying, but it was a sacrifice I needed to make to reach my goal. And I guarantee you it was worth it!

Use the difference resources you have available

The books have everything you need. The platform listed in the books has videos to help you master the exam and gives tips from different sources on how to address each rough spot you come across, such as how to solve an exercise faster. The platform exams are in a really similar format to the final one you take, and you can also choose by exam section. Use them in a tactical way to address your weaknesses!

Study timetable and learning plan

Try to make a calendar of your goals for each day, the learnings, and what you actually covered. This way, you will find your rhythm in the first few days, determine a pace, and adapt your calendar accordingly. Make sure you are covering all the different topics and types of exercise and, especially, that you are doing a lot of them. Here’s a sample study plan proposed by GMAC – that I squeezed into 3 weeks.


Realise! Prioritise! Adapt! Repeat!

I was surprised to learn which were my strong and weak areas. And after a while, I realised there were different times of the day when I was more or less productive in the different areas of the exam. For example, I was mastering the Quantitative Reasoning exercises in the morning or the last thing in the evening. The Verbal Reasoning had to be done after a break longer than 10-15 minutes, and after lunch, the only part I could do effectively was the Integrated Reasoning.

I advise you to have the ability to understand yourself, your difficulties and your timing, then prioritise the area(s) you need to focus on, and when (especially if you don’t have much time), adapt according to this, and repeat the process the number of times needed  to achieve the best results.

My Advice

Set your priorities and find your rhythm, then work them in order to have the best result possible. You may experience stress and fear of failure.  If that happens, just focus on your goal and when you’ll be finished. For example, I was really disappointed with my results in Verbal Reasoning. I was failing so many exercises that I didn’t think that I would be able to overcome it, but in the end, I was able to find my way to address it by watching videos, reviewing tips and doing a LOT of exercises.

The key to success is repetition and speed.

The main challenge of the GMAT is the short time you have to answer so many questions. Avoid getting stuck on one question, and even if it is hard, keep in your mind that you HAVE TO move on to the next one. This is true not only for  D-Day, but also during exam prep. Do not get stuck for several hours or days on a specific topic. Move on! The difference between the exam and the prep, is that on the latter you can go back to the exercises where you had difficulties to figure out how to solve them. Keep in mind that everything is possible!

I don’t know if my score is good enough… Should I still apply?

Yes, 100% yes. The GMAT Test is just one of the many criteria to get accepted at ESCP. It has the same (or less) weight than other components. For example, the admissions team looks at all of these factors:

  • Your academic results from your Bachelor’s Degree
  • International Experience
  • Previous Internships
  • Extra-curriculars
  • Language skills.

And if you’re shortlisted…

  • Your interview, which has a significant weight.

Can you see how there are so many factors weighing on your application?

A mediocre GMAT score can be compensated if you excel in the remaining selection criteria.

So, my advice is for you to apply, and you may get surprised as I was. Even though I was proud of what I achieved in such a short time, my GMAT score of 630 was not brilliant, and I wondered if it was enough to be accepted. I shortly realised after being in the interview that the focus was way more towards me and my achievements in the above-mentioned areas, rather than what logic test score I had.

ESCP and the Master in Management offer a world of opportunities you will not want to miss! So, do not let your self-doubt ruin the possibility of enjoying this amazing programme. Join us!

About the author

Catarina Machado, BSc in Management at Nova SBE, Lisbon

I’m currently in the ESCP Master in Management Master Year 1. I took both semesters on the Madrid campus, and I plan on taking a gap year starting this summer. If the right internship opportunity does not present itself because of the pandemic, I’ll start M2 in Berlin, and then follow it with a gap semester.