Here’s my GMAT journey:Background:
I am a non-native English speaker lawyer, with very little quant background. I used to be good in maths in high school, but that was a long time ago.
I work in the public sector and I do a lot of work (both written and spoken) in English so I’d say my language skills are pretty good.Preparation I.
OGs + Manhattan GMAT guides
+ GMATclub tests
To start off I went through MGMAT’s Foundations of GMAT Math
book. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who - like myself - did not do any quant work or did not study any math for a long time. It’s a really good refresher of the basic math skills, focused on those aspects that you’ll actually need for the GMAT.
Then I started working through the MGMAT 8-set guide. I loved these books, they’re very clear and concise and I believe they’re more than adequate for getting to the promised land - the 700 club.
Before my first exam, I studied about 6-7 weeks. The last 2 weeks very quite intensive, and I took 4 days off from work before the exam to do more practice tests.
I used MGMAT’s adaptive tests and the GMATprep tests
, taking a total of six tests. In the two weeks before the exam, my average score was in the 720-730 range, once I hit a 750 on the GMATprep.
Disclaimer: Since I’m a lawyer and I work a lot with English cases, I was scoring in the 90+ percentile in the verbal section in practice tests without even touching any of the verbal books. I’m not boasting, I’m just telling you that I can not really give you any advice about verbal preparation because this section was a natural strength for me. Test day I.
(end of May, “old” GMAT)
Since I had a couple of days off before the exam, one morning I got up early to check how much time would it take to drive to the test center in the morning traffic (I scheduled a 9 am exam). I familiarized myself with the surroundings, possible parking locations etc.
On the test day, I had breakfast, packed my bags with chocolate and cereal bars and refreshments and drove to the test center. I got there quite early, I had to wait about until 8:40 for the administrator to arrive. The test center seated 4 people and we had a full house that day, with people coming over from neighbouring countries as well because their local test centers were already fully booked - a big rush a few days before the new GMAT kicked in.
I started off well with the AWA, as a lawyer I didn’t fret much about this part anyway. One of my points in the analyze an argument essay was a bit awkward, I guess that’s where I lost my 0.5 points.
I took the break, ate a cereal bar, washed my face and dived into quant. I started off pretty well, however, in the middle of the section my biggest mistake punished me: I had breakfast, but apparently not enough, and my stomach started groaning loudly. I was really distracted by this and lost my concentration for about a 10 minute period. It calmed down afterwards and I managed to get going again at the end of the quant section, but the damage was already done.
During the next break I quickly devoured 2 cereal bars and went back into the room trying to salvage something in the verbal section which I knew was my biggest strength. Things went smoothly here, the last 10 question were really-really difficult so I knew I was doing good.
At the end, before I even clicked to see my score, I knew it would be worse than I am actually capable of. Nevertheless I wanted to see what a performance like this is enough for, so I chose to report my scores.The result:
700 (Q44, V41, 5.5 AWA)
I was pleased that I could get a 700 on my first try, especially since I’m coming from a traditional “quant-dumb” background. However, I also knew that I could do better by 20-30 points, and that my score was really unbalanced with a relatively weak Quant result, hence by the time I got home from the test center I was already thinking about when to take the test again. Lessons learned:
1. Eat a breakfast
that you are 100% sure will last until the end of the exam.
2. DO NOT, under any circumstance, take a practice test or study on the day before the exam.
I felt I needed some extra work and did so, and by the time I finished the actual test my brain was completely fried and naturally that had a negative impact on my performance.Preparation II.
First I took some time off, and then scheduled my next test for early August. At the start of my preparations (about 4 week before the exam) I took a practice test and was pleased to see that even after my break I was able to score in the 700 range.
I followed up by doing a lot of the GMATclub tests
, carefully analyzing my mistakes and trying to highlight my areas of weaknesses in quant. I continued my doing even more GMATclub tests
while also reviewing the sections in the MGMAT guides
referring to these areas of weaknesses.
I grabbed the Kindle version of the MGMAT guide on IR, which had some useful advice for this new section, but I don’t think anyone should be too worried about it: it’s basically testing the same quant and verbal skills, just asked in a different way.
This time, I took a full week off from work before the exam, and started re-building my endurance with practice tests. I did a total of four, constantly scoring in the 720-30 range. On the day before the exam, I carefully avoided any studying. I went for a walk, watched the Olympics and relaxed a lot.Test day II.
(early August, “new” GMAT)
I had a HUGE breakfast, I wanted to make sure my stomach stays quiet this time.
Ate a banana, got my Powerade and drove to the test center. This time around I was all alone up until I started my verbal section, when a guy came in to do the AWA & IR.
I started off with the AWA, no problems here. For the IR, I was given a small calculator as the administrator explained that there were a lot of complains about the calculator in the GMAT software, so GMAC now gives you a “normal” desktop calculator for the IR.
My IR went fairly well, although I spent a lot of time at one question doing all sorts of calculations, only to realize that it was completely unnecessary. Remember, the IR gives you a lot of unnecessary info, so always read carefully what the questions ask for. The question was actually pretty simple to answer, but I misinterpreted it on my first read and spent some 2 minutes doing all sorts of calculations.
During the break, I ate half of a banana, drank more Powerade, washed my face and went back to take the quant pretty condifently.
The first few questions were a breeze. Then things started to get a bit more difficult, and through the middle part of quant, I had a few questions where I was taking educated guesses and my confidence started wavering and then almost half of the last 10 questions were quite simple. Adding to my worries was the fact that because I did not want to lose much time on those questions in the middle and because I got simple questions afterwards, I finished with almost 10 minutes to spare. I went into my second break thinking: did I just screw up again on quant?
I quickly cleared my head, ate the other half of the banana, drank more Powerade, and went back to do the verbal section.
The verbal went just like the last time around, I was quite confident I was doing well, but curiously the really hard questions only came up again during the last 10-15 questions. I finished very fast, with more than 10 minutes to spare.The moment of truth:
720 (Q47, V41, no AWA&IR score yet)
I exhaled. My verbal score remained exactly the same (makes sense, didn’t study for it at all apart from the practice tests), and I managed to improve my Quant points to get a more balanced score. I knew that I didn’t hit the magical 80th percentile in Quant, but now I’m confident to go forward with this score in my applications this fall.Lessons learned:
1. Do not panic if you feel your quant questions are easy.
If you practice with difficult questions (MGMAT, GMATclub) it might distort your evaluation of actually how difficult the actual test questions really are. If you feel you are seeing easy questions, interpret it this way: they feel easy because your skills are really good and not because you’re doing badly.
2. Again, I must emphasize: do not take any practice tests or study on the day before the exam.
This time I rested the whole day and I felt much fresher while doing the test, which is a far more significant benefit than anything that doing another practice test or an additional day of studying can bring you.
Feel free to ask any questions if you have any.