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540 to 720 to 770, long debrief

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Joined: 11 Apr 2013
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GMAT 1: 720 Q47 V42
GMAT 2: 770 Q48 V48
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540 to 720 to 770, long debrief [#permalink] New post 12 Jun 2013, 10:11
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This is in 2 parts, the first being the story of my first test and the second being my retake 6 months later and why I decided to do that. Hope it's helpful or interesting to someone, enjoy and more importantly GOOD LUCK with your own test and story!!!!


Well, it's over. 3 months of studying ended yesterday. I walked out of the testing center with a 720 and some mixed feelings. Here's how it happened.

This starts 3 months ago with my first Manhattan GMAT practice test. Wide-eyed, I clicked through this thing and got absolutely destroyed. I didn't even need to get the 540 score at the end, I knew I had been whipped. After a day or two of the "I bombed this test, is business school really for me" questions, I doubled down and got into studying. I put together a pretty rigorous plan, utilizing the following:

Manhattan GMAT:
If you are just starting your studying, go to a bookstore and buy a Manhattan GMAT book today, if for no other reason than the book comes with free access to 6 CAT tests online as well as a few other resources. I obtained and read through all of the MGMAT books in the series, and all of their CAT tests twice (they will recycle them for you once they are all taken, but you WILL recognize the questions, so be warned - don't waste them the first time around). MGMAT was the foundation for my studying, and I found their books, tests, and online materials (like flashcards) to be top-notch across the board. If you are just going to buy one or two books I would recommend the Number Properties book if you are working on quant because the principles there can be applied to so much stuff and they come up often on the test, and the Critical Reasoning book for verbal. A lot of people recommend the Sentence Correction book, so that is solid too, but for me I got more out of the CR.
I signed up for this because I was in a position where I really needed online content, and this was cheap. Well, you get what you pay for. If you are looking to actually learn, don't use bellcurves. Their explanations are very weak and hard to understand at times, and often their methodology just seems like it's flat out wrong. If you just want access to practice content, though, this is a pretty good resource. They have a ton of timed quizzes and homework, and there are 6 CAT tests (they skewed a little high on the scoring but were generally pretty decent). The quality isn't sterling, but it's not terrible, and it's only like $30 a month for unlimited access, so I thought it was worth it for that price.

Veritas - Free Question Bank:
I found this through some article I read. Basically it's exactly what it sounds like. There are a couple of nice things about this question bank. First it allows you to select the type of problems you want, i.e. CR, DS, SC..... This was really useful to me when I first started my studying because I was having a lot of trouble with DS problems so I started taking 10-15 question quizzes out of the question bank once or twice a day until I got more comfortable. The other nice thing is that the question bank produces metrics for you based on your performance. I'm not sure how useful they are, really, but it at least had the appearance of being insightful, especially the time-per-question metric. Small disclaimer: this question bank is basically a test platform for Veritas for questions for their own CAT tests, so occasionally you will find a question that is poorly worded, or has an error in it. They typically weed these out pretty quickly, and it's only a minor, and rare, nuissance.

This site it awesome. The daily questions emailed to you, the member support, reading other people's experiences - all has been great. I used the thread on Best CAT tests coming down the home stretch, and that bought me into 4-5 free CAT tests which got me over the hump. I also got into which has a lot of similar content and services. And P&Q is good too just for MBA interest-type stuff

In my last week leading up to the test date, I took a CAT test everyday for 5 days, and these were my scores, in the order that I took the tests

Kaplan: 740
Princeton Review: 730
Veritas: 700
GMAT Official test1: 750
GMAT Official test2: 760
Actual GMAT: 720

After going 750, 760 on the official GMAT practice tests (which were taken 1 and 2 days before the actual test, respectively) I was feeling pretty damn good about myself, to the point where I was actually disappointed with the 720 that I actually got on test day. I feel like it's kind of snobby or rude to act like a 720 isn't high enough, but I honestly do think I could have done better (maybe). I'm really, really grateful for the 720, though.

To walk you through the day, the AWA started off great. I thought I had some really good analysis, and after sketching out my response the whole thing just seemed to come together really well for me. Note: I didn't study AWA at all until the day before test day when I read this: That was enough for me, and I recommend everyone at least reading through this before test day, just to get an idea of what a well structured response looks like.

The Integrated Reasoning went pretty well too. I don't know my score yet, of course, but I felt like I breezed through it pretty much. I DID think that the IR started to maybe wear down my focus just a bit, because by the time I finished I felt like I needed a break. I think part of this is that in my practice tests I didn't really take the AWA and IR that seriously, so on test day when I actually knuckled down and had to devote legitimate brain power to those it wore me out more than usual. I just found it difficult in my practices to stay focused on the AWA and IR because I was so eager to get into the real sections. Word to the wise: take those seriously in your studies, as you will see how it caused me to hiccup rolling into the quant.

Quant was almost a wrap for me on the very first question. I can't remember anything about the its content, but it was VERY solvable, like probably a 500-600 level question, but I just could NOT get an answer out of this thing, and the fact that it seemd so simple caused me to keep going back. When I looked up and saw my clock at 70 minutes and realized that I had spent almost 5 minutes on the question I almost died. All my prep work for 3 months on pacing, not getting hung up on questions, educating guessing, all right out the window. I had a moment of panic, threw up a guess and moved. It took me a few questions to shake that one off, and for the next 4-5 questions I felt like I was rushing pretty badly just to try to get myself back on pace. I bet once I see my score report that I pretty much tanked my whole quant section in the first 10 questions; I'm thinking like 5-6 misses. I hit my stride in the early teens (since the difficulty level was probably in the cellar by then) and pretty much cruised through the rest of the section, getting to the last question with 3 minutes left on my clock. I took my break feeling decent, but when I started to consider some of the finer points of my quant run I started to get worried. First, I felt like I had ended the section on a string of easy questions, so that made me think that I was probably skimming the bottom of the barrel. Then I realized I hadn't seen ANY probability questions, ZERO, ZIP, and that's after putting in massive amounts of time learning those strategies. I also couldn't remember seeing any combinatorics or mixture problems, and I know these are all common hard problem types, so that made me really nervous as to my eventual score.

I put my quant apprehensions behind me and settled in post-break for the Verbal and the home stretch, and honestly I don't remember much of that section other than that it seemed pretty easy and I really only was left to pause at 3-5 questions. I really felt like I demolished it. Then I got my score: Quant 47 (73%) Verbal 42 (96%) total 720 (94%). Didn't exactly demolish anything, but I didn't get wrecked either.

I was a little bit deflated because, like I said, I allowed myself to get my heart set on a 750, but in the end I guess I'm happy with where I ended up considering where I started. I HOPE 30 points on a GMAT isn't going to be a difference maker for me, but I also know how competitive it is, and it seems like there are a never-ending string of 700+ applicants, so I guess only time will tell. I might retake, but only if I feel like I have a really strong app everywhere else adding GMAT points is literally the only thing left I could do.

Hope this is of some value to someone out there becausue lord knows I owe a lot to this forum. Best of luck to all on their own tests and apps!

***Retake Update --> 720-770, a debrief

As the OP for this debrief last year, I just wanted to update anyone who may be reading this by saying that I did end up re-taking the GMAT and was able to improve my score considerably. I'm not going to go into as great of detail as I did with the first post, because I don't think my situation is necessarily going to translate to a lot of people, but anyway here's why I decided to retake the test and how I went from a 720 to a 770.

My scores the second time around actually tell the tale pretty well: Q48 - V48 - IR 8 - AWA 5.5
So as you can see, the majority of my improvement came in the Verbal section of the test, which was actually intentional. From my original post you can probably tell that I felt that I had left some points on the table the first time around. I was never quite able to shake that nagging feeling that I could have done better, and based on the persistence of that I decided that I needed to retake the test just to silence that voice. The time lapse between taking the test the first time and that decision was about 3 months. In that time I continued to work the daily problems that GMAT club sends out, so I still felt like a lot of the strategy stuff was still fresh in my mind as I got back into hardcore prepwork. ** First piece of advice, if you think you might retake, maintain a little bit of prep (for me just doing the 1 quant and 1 verbal question that GMATclub emails every day was enough)

I started my second effort with a CAT test to re-center where I was at. I can't remember the score exactly, but I remember having the revelation that maybe my assumption that the greatest potential for overall improvement was with my quant score was wrong. My thought process up until that point was, "well, my quant is ~70%ile and my verbal is ~95%ile, so obviously I should study quant." What I realized was that maybe I am actually just a ~70%ile quant guy, but maybe I am also a 99%ile verbal guy. I came to this conclusion by actually going through question by question and seeing what I was missing. I started to realize that my reaction to most of my quant misses was "well, I'm never going to get that right in 2 minutes" while my reaction to most of the verbal miscues was "God, I knew that!! How stupid!" I'm not sure why this didn't dawn on me earlier, but at any rate this realization was a pretty profound moment for me and really guided the way that I prepped the second time around.

I immediately started focusing in hard on verbal, especially my weakest area, sentence correction. I re-read the Manhattan GMAT book that I had on sentence correction, and looking back I totally see now why people recommend that book so consistently. It's legitimately great.

I pretty much just spent 2 months taking CAT tests and watching my Verbal score continuously improve, so that gave me the confidence to keep working my strategy. My quant improved as well I think just based on my comfort level and pacing getting better as I took more and more tests, but the real improvement was on the other side. I capped my efforts like I did the first time by taking the Official GMAT practice tests, and this time I think I went like 770-780, so again I felt pretty confident on test day.

The day of the test actually went really badly I thought. I started by feeling like I "bombed" my AWA. I was rambling, felt like I wasn't making good points, and ran out of time as I was frantically trying to edit my word vomit. I ultimately got a 5.5 so I guess it wasn't that bad, but it definitely shook me up. Unlike my first test, though, the IR actually helped me out. Whereas IR wore me out during the first test, this time around IR was the perfect way for me to get back onto the horse going into the real sections. Quant and Verbal were both uneventful, and this time I felt like I really breezed. Scores confirmed, like I said - 48Q 48V 8IR

Anyway, my 2 pieces of advice are these:

#1 If you are unsure about whether to retake the GMAT, listen to that inner-voice. Do you REALLY feel strongly that you can do better? Is that feeling not going away? If so and if you have the time to study, I would tell you to GO FOR IT! My thing was that I didn't want to feel like I was leaving anything on the table in terms of giving myself the best chance for admission.

#2 Pay attention to your incremental results and be honest with yourself about what you are missing. For me, I had to accept getting to a point where I kind of knew deep down that I had reached a ceiling with my quant. Even though I could have done better numerically with my quant score, I knew that my abilities weren't going to cooperate. Conversely, I felt like Verbal still had room to move. These feelings guided my retake strategy.

The bottom line is this: Be honest with yourself. Studying and prep can only take you so far, and you're not going to fundamentally change your abilities by hitting the books for three months. Try to focus on the areas where you feel like your abilities are still not matching up with your results, and you will be pleased with your results!!

Good luck guys and gals!!

Last edited by dustwun on 28 Sep 2014, 21:51, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: 540 to 720 to 770, long debrief [#permalink] New post 12 Jun 2013, 11:07
You have got a great score. Thank you for the debrief.

Last edited by onion253 on 13 Jun 2013, 07:39, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 540 to 720 to 770, long debrief [#permalink] New post 12 Jun 2013, 11:22
Though I am not an expert on GMAT, I will suggest not to retake the Test with a 720 score at hand . You never know what you might end up with . Anything 700+ should be good enough score for not taking the test again.

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Re: 540 to 720 to 770, long debrief [#permalink] New post 13 Jun 2013, 01:11
Congrats on the great score! How would you rate the princeton review CAT's?

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Joined: 11 Apr 2013
Posts: 41
GMAT 1: 720 Q47 V42
GMAT 2: 770 Q48 V48
GPA: 3.49
WE: Military Officer (Military & Defense)
Followers: 0

Kudos [?]: 8 [0], given: 4

Re: 540 to 720 to 770, long debrief [#permalink] New post 13 Jun 2013, 06:55
fozzzy wrote:
Congrats on the great score! How would you rate the princeton review CAT's?

I only took Princeton's free CAT, so I can't speak on the entirety of their content, but I found the test that I took to be on par with the other large prep outfits (MGMAT, Kaplan...). Looking back at my CAT scores vs actual, the princeton CAT actually turned out to be the most accurate predictor (730 v 720), so there might be something to that as well
Re: 540 to 720 to 770, long debrief   [#permalink] 13 Jun 2013, 06:55
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