I’m going to cut to the conclusion right away. I got a 680 and signed up to retake the test in a month. While I realize that 680 can be a part of a competitive application, I am disappointed in, but not surprised by, my score.
Here was my method for preparing over the past two months:
1. Took one of the official CAT tests to gauge my ground zero. I got a 670. I was happy with my starting point. I have to admit now, however, that I did the test over the course of full day. This removed the pressure of the clock and the issue of stamina.
2. Read Kaplan 800
and completed all questions. I picked almost randomly at the bookstore. I should have started with the OG.
3. Took the 2nd official CAT test and scored a 670. No improvement, but the clock and stamina were factors.
4. Read OG11
and completed all questions
5. Took a Kaplan
GMAT CAT from a CD out of the back of one their books that I didn't read. Got a 710.
6. Took a 2nd Kaplan
GMAT CAT and got a 720.
7. Read the Manhattan Sentence Correction
book and reworked OG Sentence Correction problems.
8. Took a 3rd Kaplan
GMAT CAT and got a 720.
9. Read Peterson's Writing Skills for the GRE & GMAT Test. I wasn't worried about my AWA score, but I was worried that an unknown at the start of the test would stress me out. I was contemplating taking a 0 or a No Response on the essay portion but instead decided to learn the basics. I didn't practice at all. I only read the strategies and several example essays.
10. Completed a Vstudy paper test. I don't know how to convert the raw results from a paper test into a score that makes sense to me. These tests used to be available on a Korean website, but I can't find them anymore. They were likely stolen test materials.
Next: Test day. Jan 10, 2008. 8:00 AM
I was way too nervous. I took the test in Gardena, California at the VUE testing center. The employees were rude, it was a super sterile environment, and the other test takers around me were extremely nervous. It felt like a waiting room at the ICU or something. I hadn't been that nervous since high school. I think that the environment and the culmination of the time that I spent studying created something that brought me completely out of my element. The writing tablet thing and working with ear plugs in – the testing center provides them – added to the newness of the testing scenario.
My AWA started with an Argument. The quote isn't in the official bank of essay questions. I didn't know that that was possible. It was about a grocery store that was currently seeing an increase in sales but a decrease in profits. In order to cut costs, they were going to lay people off, remove displays, and eliminate free samples. To increase their customer base, the store was going to make room for a coffee bar in a partnership with some luxury brand coffee cafe. The logic was loaded with flaws and unsubstantiated assumptions. I didn't do a good job watching the clock or limiting my argument. I noticed that I had 37 seconds left and I hadn't done a lot of my formatting and transitional sentences. I raced to get these done, but I don't think I made all of the changes that were needed for a well formulated essay.
This time crunch definitely added to my stress. It shouldn't have mattered to me. I had made a good argument against the logic and I don't care if I get a 5 or a 6 or whatever. I was there to get a 720, not a 6.
The issue started right away. Its subject was something about how the primary responsibility of a nation's citizens is to follow the laws of the nation. I argued that the laws represented the minimum responsibility of the people and that the primary responsibility should be to improve the lives of others. It wasn't too difficult to write a well formed essay based on this notion. I finished with 6 minutes remaining, but now I was super nervous about the quantitative section that was coming up after my 10 minute break.
I raced through the quantitative section without too much awareness of the types of problems or the general difficulty. I recall that there were some difficult geometric problems and a few rate problems that took a few minutes to solve. There were no real surprises. I tried too hard to get through the difficult problems quickly and I completely spaced on the formula for the time of two machines working together: 1/TimeX + 1/TimeY = 1/TimeTogether.
I finished the quantitative section with three or four minutes to spare. On my practice tests I usually finished with just enough time to spare. I was sure that I had made some hasty decisions. I calmed down considerably half-way through this section. I took my 10 minute break and felt ready for the verbal section.
The verbal section seemed a bit different from my practice tests. I am usually weak in sentence correction, I miss a few in reading comprehension, and I miss very few in the critical reasoning section. On the test, the sentence correction seemed less complicated, the reading comprehension was comparable to the practice tests, and the critical reasoning was a lot more difficult. There were at least three critical reasoning questions that I found confusing. All-in-all, I was comfortable with the way that the verbal section had played out.
After clicking through several pages of my personal information that they already had from my registration of the test, I got to my score. 680. F*&$%! My verbal score matched my last three practice results exactly: 38 / 84%. My quantitative score was lower than I had experienced in a while: 45 / 77%.
There is just no way to prepare for the environment and test taking conditions. I think that a second pass in the same testing center will help considerably. Having this experience under my belt should help greatly next month.
I’m going to stay fresh by taking a practice test a week, but it’s time to shift focus back to my admissions essays. A 680 in the back pocket is good enough for now.
Thanks for reading. I hope my experiences help.
Do your best to simulate the testing environment.