Hearing others experiences during their GMAT study period was a lot of motivation for me. I thought I would write my own debrief. However, I wanted to focus more on the approach, well improper approach, and less on my practice test scores. Here’s my short, 2 year story of the GMAT!My Background:
I am an electrical engineer but I have worked mostly in project management, with 5 years of experience. As such, my education and work experience has brought me good math and language skills, or so I thought!
My Gmat History
About 2 years ago I made my decision to try for an MBA at a top school. I knew I would have to have a high GMAT score to get into any top school, so I set my sights on the test. I registered for a prep course with Manhattan GMAT
. It was fantastic and the study guides are extremely good, but the best books are the sentence correction, number properties and word translation. I would recommend the course and especially the study guides.
Trying to never underestimate anything, I gave myself 2 months after the course to study before writing the test. I focused on my weaknesses, sentence correction and number properties. Feeling ready, I registered for the exam and spent a final 2 weeks cramming before the test. Prior to the exam I knew I didn’t know everything but felt confident that I could get a good mark, greater than 680 and hopefully greater than 700. I have always performed well under pressure and my practice exams were always around 680-700. Went in, wrote the exam and BAM!, 610 (Q48 V24). I was so shocked and devastated I walked out of the test center and immediately threw out my score paper.First exam reflections:
Obviously my verbal was terrible, I could always figure out answers and after an incorrect answer I would look at the explanation and always say, “Oh yeah I get that”. Thinking that next time I would realize my mistake. Additionally, I never wrote a practice exam in true exam setting, 4 hours with only two eight minute breaks. I was mentally exhausted half way through the verbal section. Also, I underestimated timing and overestimated my ability to figure things out on the go, something that just doesn’t work on the GMAT.
Not expecting that result I knew I had to refocus and take a new approach. Shortly after the exam got a great promotion at work and started to rethink my MBA desire. I waited a year before I even looked at a GMAT book. As my career progressed, I realized more and more that an MBA is what I want. I knew that meant redoing the test that kicked my butt! So I started from scratch and relearned everything! My approach was better but I was squeezing my time to try to hit final round deadlines for September 2013 entry. I knew I wasn’t 100% but was doing much better in practice tests and my knowledge was solid. I wrote the test again, 580 (Q40 V 29)! Once again, I was heart broken. I couldn’t actually believe it. Second exam reflection:
This was my own fault. I knew I wasn’t prepared and repeated the same mistake as 1.5 years ago. I knew I could do better but I would have to be more honest with myself. Forget every approach that worked in University because it just doesn't work on the GMAT. You need to make things natural and confident.
However, this time I was not going to hesitate. I followed the old quote, " I can do better, I will do better and I must do better." I immediately started studying again. Once again, refocused and one and a half more months of studying I felt prepared. I booked my test, lowered my expectations (I will be happy with a 660 to 680) and tried to be more confident. I wrote my exam and before the mark appeared I thought I struggled with the math but did well on the verbal. Nope! 610 (49Q 25V)! I’ve never had something where I tried this hard and did so poorly! I questioned my desire to go to business school and if I could even get a top mark no matter how hard I tried.
After much pondering I decided that I would try ONE MORE TIME. BUT I would not even book the test until I could write multiple practice tests above 700. Three more months and a few vacations later I truly felt like I knew the content, approaches and timing. At this point I realized my errors and was confident on every question type. I forced myself to take a step back on every question and reflect.
One last chance. I booked my test and went. Self-doubt was in my head but I tried to stay confident. I was extremely confident in Math having already scored a 49 and only improved my knowledge, however I haven’t even cracked the 30 level in Verbal. I set my standards a little higher but still realistic; I would be happy with a 680, wanted a 700 and thought I could get a 710. I went in and wrote the test. I surprisingly felt calmer due to the fact that there were no questions that I was scared of. Mentally, I tried to be excited for every each question for the chance to prove my knowledge. When the screen came-up to accept or cancel the score my hands started to shake. I’ve never had this happen! I clicked accept and my score came up. 730 (Q50 V40)! Immediately stood up and started to walk away from the computer and immediately after that I went back to my computer to actually exit the exam and wait for the exam center personnel. I looked at the screen several times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.
After years of on and off torment I finally beat the GMAT! Never have I been more defeated with a test and never has a final victory felt so good. The old adage that if you want it bad enough you’ll get there held true. It also confirmed to me that really do want to go back for an MBA. If I did not, I would have stopped after two tries. Anyone struggling like I did know that it is possible to improve. Now time for applications…
- No matter how much you want to just write the test and see what happens, make sure you are ACTUALLY ready. If you want a top mark you can only get it by knowing the content without thinking and know all the subject areas extremely well. This will allow you to focus on the logic of the question and not the equation of a permutation.
- Timing! Instructors and students always say it but it is truer than I ever thought. Timing is what makes the GMAT really hard. Many people can get most questions if they had unlimited time but answering the hard questions in less than 2 minutes requires more than smarts, you need to train!
- When you feel like you’re ready, give yourself a few more weeks to let content settle into your head and become more natural. I am a great crammer but the GMAT is not a content exam, you must understand. You don’t want to try to remember formulas or approaches; you need to just know them instinctively and immediately. This is the key.
- Don't give up. It took four attempts for me to get a great mark; I planned on writing it once. I hope that four times writing the test will not be a disadvantage in my application but either way, I can say I did it.
A few very helpful tips that I haven’t heard:
- I started to try and make my own questions for each subject area. They will never be true GMAT questions but the process gets you thinking about ways to really test the theories. It also forces you to take a step back and see how much you really know.
- Redo a practice test that you have already done in the distant past. Many people say not to do this because if you know the answers then it’s too easy. However, if you truly know how to do each question type then you will get perfect! You’ll be surprised how many answers you struggle with and how many questions you still get wrong! This is a great wake-up call and really calls to attention your weaknesses. Just don’t use this strategy to practice timing.