After 9 months, the journey is finally over! I took the test last week and scored a 710, Q49 V38. Here is my story:
I did not take a single math class in my undergraduate studies. I was a communications and history major. Having said that, I was always a fairly decent math student, so I thought that excelling on the GMAT would be more a matter of effort -- "studying harder" -- than anything. This, as it turned out, turned out to be a bit misguided, which I will get into. Verbal came fairly easy to me, however still needed much work on SC and CR.
I started studying for the GMAT in September of 2012 by purchasing the Manhattan GMAT
self-study program. I took the initial diagnostic, scoring a 520 with a 20th percentile in math.... I knew I was in for a climb.
After going through each Manhattan GMAT
study guide twice and taking 3 diagnostics, I topped out at a 640. Scoring was as follows: 520, 640, 620. Scoring a 620 on that third practice test really was a wake up call, as it made me realize that my "study harder" mentality clearly was not getting me close to the 700-range (my goal). I needed something new, and that's when I finally bit the bullet and ponied up for a personal tutor. To all you people out there like me on a budget -- remember this entire process of getting your MBA is an investment. You are going to end up spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on a program, so don't get cheap when it comes to qualifying yourself for a program you are actually excited about. This is not the time in your life to get cheap.
That's when Jeff Miller at Target Test Prep came in. After an initial phone call, Jeff offered a free 1.5 hour session to test his tutoring format (which you should take him up on). I was surprised to learn that he is based in NY (I'm LA-based), but that this would not be an issue as everything would be web/skype-based. I will admit I was skeptical at first, but I gave it a shot.
What Jeff taught me was, in short, THE difference-maker. His focus on understanding mechanics, mastering the mid-level difficulty problems, focus on Number properties, and overall ease to work with made all of our sessions a joy. He knows this test inside and out, and most importantly, tests you on problems very similar to those you will ACTUALLY SEE on the test. I don't want to knock Manhattan GMAT
too much here, as I do think they have some valuable assets on their platform (including the OG Archer, Thursdays with Ron, quality video recordings, foundations of math/verbal review, etc.) but their CAT exams are NOT great. They are much harder than the actual exam, and entice you into practicing VERY difficult problems rather than mastering the mid-level problems. Use the official GMAT software to take your practice tests. In addition, I felt that Target Test Prep's 19-chapter quant guide was superior to Manhattan's strategy guides, both in its explanation of concepts and quality of practice problems. TTP also gives you access to a sort of quiz center, where you can take timed practice tests of selected topics. Again, the questions they have on there are very similar to what you'll see on the real test. Finally, I think there is something to be said in general for having a personal tutor -- it forces you to verbally explain why you solved a problem a certain way, so therefore holds you accountable for your mistakes. I should mention that this was the first time in my life I have paid for a tutor; I had always been a self-study person and did great in school. So if I can try it, so can you.
Jeff also recommended a verbal tutor by the name of Neil Lukatch who was also great. He tutors LSAT, so his mastery of CR was very helpful. For SC I mostly relied on Manhattan GMAT
's materials (especially Thursday with Ron). I did not put too much work into RC, as that portion of the test seemed the easiest for me (and it's a pain to practice, let's be honest). Overall, I was slightly disappointed with my verbal score (I had been testing in the 40-ish range, so a 38 was a bit low), but I really made up for it with my quant score.
What this all amounts to is the best piece of advice I can give you for studying: study smarter, not harder. That is not to say you don't have to work hard for this -- you're kidding yourself or you're one of those unfair uber-geniuses if you think you don't have to bust your ass a bit on this test. For me, studying smarter meant having a great tutor to focus my efforts on the CORE concepts I'd see on the test, rather than getting bogged down with very difficult 700 level problems. And it paid off on test day.
Best of luck to all of you out there! Happy to answer any questions.