I just finished taking the exam for the 2nd time. Proud to report that I scored a 750 (49Q, 44V). It was not an easy journey. On my first diagnostic, which was taken after my first month of study, I had scored a 550 using the GMATPrep software. I thought that I would at least score in the 600s, and thinking this was surely a mistake, I retook it again for a similar score. I knew I was in no shape for the exam and studied hard for a good 6 months before taking the exam last month to get a 690 (47Q, 38V). I was disappointed since I was aiming for 700+ (but probably in the low 700s). I knew that this should be a realistic goal because in practice tests my verbal score would usually be around 41, whereas on the actual exam I got a 38. My goal for the 2nd retake was to just hit 700, since I was sooo close the first time.
I haven't been that great at taking standardized exams in the past. When doing practice tests, as well as on the actual exam, I have never finished the exam before time ran out. I am a slow test taker and require a lot of time on exams, or I don't finish. The GMAT is one of those tests that I really had to rush on and still not be able to complete on time. I had to randomly guess on 2 or 3 questions at the end of the exam. Therefore when I saw my score, I was pleasantly surprised. Despite my shortcomings, I will say that I am tenacious and hard working. I studied 5 hours a day after work for 6 months straight. After getting a 690 the first time, I doubled my efforts for the month before the retaking. When I took my 2 week (and expensive) vacation, I spent at least 3/4 the time in a coffee shop studying. Given that I was in a resort town the locals, hotel staff, everyone thought I was insane to waste my hard earned money spending the days studying in the hotel restaurant instead of tanning on the beach. I am a firm believer in hard work, and I know that if I can get a decent score, then almost anyone can do it. I am not a genius or anything by any stretch of the imagination, but I have always squeaked by the finish line with work ethic. So for those of you who are not hitting your desired scores, or feel like giving up, just keep at it, and you WILL get a score you are satisfied with.
Since some of you asked, I wanted to share my feedback with you on the exam. Books used:
- Manhattan GMAT Series
- ALL you need to get a grasp of the fundamentals. As many have mentioned, the Number Properties and Sentence Correction books are especially valuable.
- Official Guide 12
- Very valuable, since these are the actual past GMAT questions. Once you have the foundation from the Manhattan GMAT
material, the best way to prepare is to do problems that are similar to the ones written by the test writers.
- Official Guide 11
- The more actual GMAT questions the better! If you can get a copy of Official Guide 11
(it can be purchased cheap or found at the library), it will have some additional questions that aren't inOG12. The Manhattan GMAT
website shows the difference between the two: http://www.manhattangmat.com/official-guide-12.cfm
. One can use the site to determine where the overlap occurs and work on the questions that aren't repeats for OG12
- Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review - Again, I advocate doing as many official questions as you can get your hands on.
- Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review - Again, I advocate doing as many official questions as you can get your hands on.
- Princeton Review Crack the GMAT - Worthless. Do not buy.Practice tests used
- GMATPrep - This is an extremely valuable resource that can be obtained for free. There are 2 exams, but since the exam generates random questions, I was able to take maybe 5-10 tests and still see new questions each time. The software is also computer adaptive so should give you the most reliable indicator of where you stand. Anyway, enough has been said about the GMATPrep software by other forum members, so I won't talk about it in depth. I scored a 550 the first time I took it, after 1 month of study. Subsequently I scored 590, 640, and 720. Note that each additional time you take the test your score will probably be inflated because you are bound to see some repeat questions from the last couple times you took the tests. However, as I mentioned, you will still see plenty of new questions as well, so it is good to keep taking the GMATPrep in order to exhaust the questions.
- Manhattan GMAT
- If you buy any of the MGMAT book
, you get 7 practice tests for free. These are good, but much harder than the actual exam. I could honestly never even finish half the quant section before time ran out. Eventually I stopped practicing with the timer on. Instead I took the tests at a leisurely pace just to see if I knew my fundamentals. Note that some of the questions are very tough and test concepts that are not frequently tested on the real exam (see my section below on tough or out of the ordinary questions). Therefore, I wouldn't sweat these exams too much, but just use them as an additional resource for practice. I took the 7 exams throughout my study (with the timer off) and scored the following: 610, 690, 670, 710, 690, 700, and 720.For fundamentals all you need is Manhattan GMAT
As many have mentioned, these books are excellent for getting the proper foundation you need to succeed. In fact, these are the ONLY materials you need to get that foundation, and I wouldn't bother with anything else unless you really don't understand a concept the way MGMAT has explained it and you need supplemental material. I read each of the books from cover to cover, taking notes along the way. I reread some of the books multiple times if necessary, especially the really good ones, such as Sentence Correction and Number Properties. I would also do the questions at the end of each chapter, as this solidifies and confirms your understanding of the fundamentals. If short on time, obviously the most important material to know is the stuff in the first half of the books (the stuff prior to the advance section). If you have the time, I would also review the advance material, though this is far less important. In fact, I only paid a minimal amount of attention to the advance sections in the MGMAT books
. Some of the advanced sections are more useful than others. For example, an advanced section that I thought was not worth the time was the advanced section of the Sentence Correction book. You can do fine in SC without having touched that section, which just fills your head with a lot of other nonsense that is more rarely tested. Ultimately, I recommend going through the advanced sections at least once, and using your judgment as to the usefulness of the material. If you think it is useful, you can go back and spend more time studying it. If not, move on.Focus on Official Questions
I would not bother as much with questions outside of the official questions, such as those from other websites, or designed by test makers/individuals outside of GMAC. The reason is twofold: First, within the Official questions, there should be enough material to keep you busy and develop a good foundation for your test. 2nd, there are often minor, although important, differences between official questions those designed by non-official sources. I'm not saying to not do any questions at all outside of official questions... I'm just saying that it is unnecessary to achieve a 700+ score, and the subtle differences may throw you off from what an actual question should look like. I personally found this especially to be true of the sentence correction questions on various websites. Do as many official problems as you can get your hands on. The same question types tested in the official questions are frequently tested on the actual exam; the test writers are lazy or lack the desire to make significant changes to the problems.Don't focus on extremely tough or out of the ordinary questions
Yes, it is good to gain an understanding of every question type if you have the time and capability to do so. However, I found it unnecessary if your goal is to simply achieve a score of 700+ (as opposed to 770). Like some have mentioned, it is best to focus on the MAJOR fundamentals and questions where you are required to apply these fundamentals. The most important questions to know are the ones where you see the concepts repeatedly in many other OFFICIAL questions. Example would be just know how to do the most extreme basic of combination or permutation questions, not all the various more complicated variations. Any question that you come across that is testing some obscure concept that you never seen tested in any other question is probably not worth your time getting more than a basic understanding of. Again, the bare fundamentals, the concepts that are repeatedly being tested, and the most common methods that they like to use to trick test takers, are the most important areas to focus on. Unique question types or one-off tricks are a waste of your time and it will be a rare chance if you actually get tested on it during the real test. I guess this is my only gripe with the MGMAT books
. Sometimes they cover certain areas in depth even though the chances of occurrence on the actual exam are slim. I guess they just want to have all their bases covered in case some guy wants to score a 780. One offender that I can think of right off the top of my head is the MGMAT chapter on combinations. Waaay too much detail and 75% of it is too complex for the real GMAT. I could explain everything about combinations/permutations required for the GMAT in maybe 5 sentences and 2 or 3 sample question types. It was really unnecessary for them to go into the whole anagram method and such. You cannot possibly prepare for every question type that the exam makers will throw at you. Better to spend most your time studying the most tested concepts or question types rather than spend 80% studying questions that have a 2% chance of occurring. Hardest Challenges, Brutal Questions, etc
To drill the above point into your heads, I also ask you guys not to waste time on those brutal questions, hardest impossible challenges, or whatever else they manifest themselves as if you want to study efficiently (unless you are a nerd genius who won't settle for any less than a 770+). One perfect example is the Brutal SC questions, which I have seen making its rounds through this forum. This is the biggest waste of time imaginable. At best it will waste a few hours of your valuable study time. At worse, it could be detrimental to your score, as you will be carefully studying questions that are not even from official GMAC sources and may be questionably written. I didn't go through all of the Brutal SC questions as I quickly identified this as non-value added study time, but for the questions I did do, I probably scored no more than 20%, and I did these Brutal SCs just 1 week before my actual test. In other words, I would score just as well if I just randomly picked "C" for all my answers. Keep in mind that I was able to score 97% in verbal on the actual exam.Identifying odd or overly difficult questions
I mention above to not focus on overly difficult questions. So how do you apply the above? Well, this one kind of comes with experience, once you have already spent some considerable time studying. Some have asked whether I simply ignored the tough questions (i.e. the ones at the end) in the OG books. The answer is no. First of all, I did every question in OG 11
and 12 on my first run through the book. By the time I was had gone through all the questions, as well as reviewed MGMAT sample questions, I kind of had an idea which concepts were frequently tested. Therefore, I ignored any advanced questions that appeared to be odd. When you see such a question, you have to ask yourself, have I seen this concept(s) tested in other official questions before. If you cannot think of seeing the odd concept tested in at least one other question during your studies then I would potentially ignore the question in future study sessions (i.e. don't bother wasting your time putting it on your error log
, or whatever other method used, for future review). Chances are you've sunk enough time into that question already and it is not worth it. Also noting that advanced questions usually test multiple concepts, you have to ask whether there is a mix of good foundational concepts, and maybe one concept that is an oddity, making the question advanced and difficult. If this is the case, I would not bother focusing on the odd concept, but still note the other concepts tested. I don't remember the exact number, but I think I deemed about 10%-20% of the OG "hard" questions as testing odd concepts that would not be worth putting in the error log
for later review.You do not need to get every question correct to get a good score, not even close
This point kind of follows my point above that one should not focus on studying really tough or out of the ordinary questions. If you see a question on the test that you simply don't know how to do or never seen before, don't bother wasting time spinning your head on it. Chances are likely that you will waste a considerable amount of time thinking about it or freaking out about it, and then end up guessing or working it through just to get it wrong anyway. Better to just skip the question and save the time for something you CAN do. I had skipped about 3 or 4 questions in quant knowing that I didn't have a chance of figuring it out, and still didn't finish the exam on time. I also know that I didn't answer every other question correctly, as I had to do plenty of guessing on other questions as well. I still got a 49 in quant, which I think is pretty decent, and a 750 overall. Proof that you can afford to skip questions and still get a 700+ on the exam. NEVER EVER waste time on questions you don't know how to tackle. Try to eliminate some of the choices is possible, and then take an educated guess, and move on.Error Log was a waste of time (but maybe not for you)
This is going to sound like blasphemy to a lot of people because so many successful GMAT scorers attribute their success to using an error log
, however I found it to be an absolute waste of time. I guess everyone has their own study methods. I did start using one initially as well, hearing how critical it is to one's success, but stopped after a while. I found that I spent too much time inputting questions and all the other info (e.g. source, question type, topic tested, etc) into the error log
when I could have been using that time to actually do questions. That is not to say I didn't have a way to keep track of problem areas or questions. What I found most useful for myself was to simply circle questions that I missed in the official guide, so that I could review them later. I would circle the question, and assign a 1, 2, or 3 to it depending on difficulty, with 1 essentially meaning I just wanted to review the question later to make sure the fundamental concept was still in my head later (I forget stuff over time), and a 3 meaning that I didn't know how to do the problem at all the first time through. This was much quicker than inputting a bunch of information into an excel spreadsheet. I also kept in a word file the areas that I was having problems with where I needed to review the problems (e.g. triangles, combinations, etc). Then I would simply go back to the MGMAT books
or other sources to solidify my understanding of the fundamentals. Ultimately my point is that I agree that tracking mistakes and going back to certain questions is a key for success. However, using one of the pre-made error logs on this or other sites may not be most efficient for everyone.If you are a native English speaker, don't waste a lot of time with idioms
I did not bother studying idioms at all and near the end of my test prep I was scoring in the 99 percentile on verbal consistently. There are just too many idioms to bother memorizing them all. Like I said, my verbal skills are not excellent, but it was NOT required to mention all the idiom listings. If anything, there are many 3-5 idioms that are more commonly tested than others, which might be worth knowing, but you will come across these in the official guide questions anyway. Again, your yardstick for determining whether or not something is worth memorizing is whether you see the specific concept (or idiom) being tested more than once in official questions. Some important ones I can think of off the top of my head are "because of" vs. "due to" or "if" vs. "whether". Reading Comprehension
I was lucky enough that I am a native English speaker, although I had to work in order to develop my skills over time. However, I do enjoy reading (but maybe not how you think... keep reading and I will explain), so the reading comprehension portion was never a major concern to me (this is not to say that this section is a walk in the park for native English speakers because it certainly isn't). Nonetheless, I do have some advice and comments to make about this section for those who need to work on their scores in this area. I have read in various parts of the forum where other GMATClub members have recommended reading novels (e.g. Mark Twain) and other similar literature to improve reading comprehension skills. Although I don't argue that any amount of reading is bound to improve your comprehension at least a little bit, I feel that that this would be a waste of time, since it is not the most efficient way to improve reading comprehension for GMAT type questions. If you really want to improve reading comprehension for the GMAT, I would advocate reading the newspaper, or magazines such as Newsweek, Businessweek, etc. I would also recommend reading research journals, at least the executive summary and conclusion. When reading, don't just read news or articles that you are interested in. Also read those that you have no interest in, since your reading comprehension is obviously better when you have an interest in the topic. However, for the boring topics, pretend that you are interested while reading them.. you will be amazed by how much more attention to detail you will pay, and how much your reading comprehension will improve, when when you trick yourself into thinking you like these boring topics. Read for comprehension, and then afterwards try to summarize what the main points of the article were. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy reading. However, I absolutely hate reading literature, especially fiction. In fact, the last time I read a work of fiction was probably over a decade ago, in high school. However, I love to read newspapers, magazines such as the publications mentioned above, etc. Therefore, I did not have many problems with the reading comprehension section. This should be proof enough that you don't need to read Huck Finn to prepare for the RC section of the GMAT... instead, read Newsweek or a scientific journal.Exam anxiety
For those who have it, this can affect your performance on test day if you let it. Just take some deep slow breathes prior to the exam. Sometimes I'll do a few jumping jacks or pushups to let out some stress. Either way, you need to make sure you're in the right state of mind PRIOR to the exam. Be confident and tell yourself that it's just a test; it's really not the end of the world. Retakes are always available if needed. If stuck on a question, don't panic. As I've mentioned above, you do not even need to get close to getting every question right to get a decent score. Just skip the question and move on unless you think you will able to figure it out.From 690 to 750
As I've said, I was able to raise my score from 690 to 750 in one month. Some have asked for exactly what I did during the one month to achieve the increase. To be honest, I didn't really do anything significantly different from my 690 to 750. My 690 on the first exam consisted of 47Q and 38V. The 47Q was about on par with what I was getting on my practice tests, so I was satisfied with that score. However, on most of my practice tests I was starting to see that my verbal score was more in the vicinity of 40 or 41. As such, I knew off the bat that I had underperformed the first time I took the test and I should probably have been in the low 700 range. Since my verbal score was lower than expected, I decided to dedicate some more time to sentence correction, reading comprehension, and critical reasoning. I knew I wouldn't be able to raise my quantitative score significantly since I had already put in a ton of study there, and felt I had just about reached my limit. That is not to say I ignored quantitative during my one month study. I simply continued to do the same thing, more in order to prevent myself from forgetting concepts and strategies than anything. I did the same questions over again, and re-reviewed the MGMAT books
. On test day, my verbal improved from 38 to 44 and even my quantitative went up from 47 to 49 points, I guess from the additional month of study.
I hope this is helpful to at least some people out there. If anyone has any other questions, ask, and I will be more than happy to provide my feedback.
I will also attempt to update this initial post based on what kind of questions I receive.