GMAT Debreif - 610 to 690 (Q45, V41, AWA 6.0 and IR 7)
I know this isn’t one of those super high score debriefs, but over the past couple of years on GMAT Club, I've realized there's some definite reporting bias - the only people willing to talk about their scores are generally those who do best; after all, who wants to relive a "weak" performance in the GMAT?
So in the light of helping those who are not/can not aim as high as a 750, here is my debrief from a 610 (66%tile, Q37 and V36, AWA 6.0) to a 690 (87%tile, Q45, V41, AWA 6.0 and IR 7)
I first took the GMAT in July 2012. I started the test humbly confident and sure that I would hit at least a 680. I was crushed when the 610 flashed on the screen, and at the time, I had no real explanation why my score was so low. With hindsight, I saw a few glaring errors:
1. Subpar raw knowledge, especially with the Quant section
2. Weak timing abilities
3. Mental fatigue beginning at the start of the Verbal, and culminating at “when the hell is this damn test going to end” with around 25 minutes left.
After a couple of months off, I went back to test prep, determined to improve. Here’s how I addressed the above three issues.
1. Subpar raw knowledge
I found the best guides to be the MGMAT Quant guides. Well worded, accessible, good variety of difficulty, I swear by these guides. But since I studied with these for the first test, I knew I had to address them slightly differently. The key was to realize the difference between doing problems mechanically, like a robot, and actually doing problems with thought and analysis and attention.
The trap is that I was just blasting through 30-40 problems in a study session thinking that learning by doing was the best strategy. The second time around, I decided to focus on clarity and quality with my studying, really spend time seeing how the books solve the problems, even the problems I got right. After finishing the books, I had been answering questions that I would have crumbled on during my first attempt at the GMAT. This built confidence, and confidence is good.
I also found a section by Magoosh
that shows that the most frequently tested problems in the OG Guides focused on Number Properties, and questions like Combinations/Permutation were actually quite rare. So I spent more time, proportionally, on those parts of the test.
I also outlined my weaknesses:
a) Rate Problems
b) Number Properties
And spend a good amount of time making sure I understood every aspect.
2. Weak Timing abilities.
I downloaded a stopwatch, and I subscribed to the GMAT Question of the Day (highly recommended). I would let around a set of 7 questions collect in my inbox, and I’d go through them one by one, timing myself with the stopwatch. At first I would do one question, and time how long I would take to answer at my own pace, and from there decide how much more quickly I would need to work. Later on, I would time a bunch of 5 questions, and again analyze my time taking strategy. Pretty soon, the average 2 minutes started to feel natural, and I got to the point where I could predict when I went over time, or when I had more time to work.
Also, I learnt that there are times when you just have to call it quits and move on. Every once in a while, a real tough question would pop up, and I had to get used to the fact that sometimes you have to make an educated guess and click next. Even if you have 40 more seconds to work, those 40 seconds could be more valuable on the next question.
3. Mental Fatigue
I remedied this with two methods. One was just by doing more and more questions, and then tests, and slowly developing more mental resilience and concentrating skills. This is just a product of hard work.
The second strategy was Pepsi. I found that during my practice tests, a well-timed swig of Pepsi would keep me going through the test with no issues whatsoever. Of course, it’s the sugar that is valuable. Decision fatigue is a well-documented part of test taking, and it’s what I fell victim to the first time round. I found that I would start each test well energized, so during the first break, I would drink half a can, and during the second break, the remaining half. This worked perfectly, every single time, and I carried it into the test as well. I know there is the worry of a sugar crash, but I was okay. Again, I did this during every single practice test to make sure it worked.
Speaking of which, I had 8 practice tests, 6 from MGMAT and 2 from OG. I took one per weekend, 8 weekends before the final, and addressed incorrect answers during the week. I structured them as closely as I could to the real thing.
Second Experience: July 2013
Two days before the test, I woke up with a sore throat that got progressively worse. Make sure that you relax the week before the exam, and don’t do anything too physically stressing. You’re at a weak point, nervous, stressed and mentally tired, so take it physically easy.
Test day, I was a little better, but still feeling the pain.
AWA and IR:
Very smooth, no issues here, and the IR is much, much, much easier than in the MGMAT practice tests. Don’t worry about the IR, but do spend some time studying for it.
Took a swig of pepsi
First questions is simple enough. Rings and necklaces valued differently, but adding up to 840. What’s the price of the ring?
So I worked through it smoothly, but none of my answers matched up! I spent around a minute searching for my mistake, and then I found it: instead of 840, I wrote 480 . I may have a slight case of dyslexia, but it may have also been anxiety building up.
This was the lowest part of the test, I felt the pressure build, heart rate rise, palms get sweaty, and stress increase. “That’s it” I thought “I screwed up, first questions and I just spent 4 minutes starting at a 500 level questions like an idiot.” I closed my eyes, took some deep breaths, ignored the seconds that were ticking away, and just focused on myself. Opened my eyes, and finished the rest of the section. Keeping cool and focused is much better then working frantically, so if you needs a few seconds to recalibrate, do it.
Second gulp of pepsi
Very pleased, I could tell I was getting some tough questions right away, and it felt good. I’ve always been good at Verbal, so I was pleased with the performance in this section.
Overall, I got a 690.
Post Test Impressions:
I’m happy with my score overall. A 690 is right in the spot where you’re satisfied, but at the same frustrated that you were only a couple of questions off the coveted “700 Club”. My Quant is also dismally low, at 63%tile, so I’m taking a UCLA online class to offset that, as well as MBA MATH by Professor Regan.
I should also mention that I got accepted by Tepper and waitlisted by Cornell with my 2012 610 score (with a 46%tile Quant!!) so a low GMAT is not the nail in the coffin if the rest of your application is up to par. I chose not to go to Tepper, though its an excellent program, and instead focus on some schools that I’m more passionate about.
I hope this helps, and if you have any questions, please ask