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710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking)

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710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 29 Jun 2013, 16:57
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So I've seen a lot of great debriefs on these boards and I wanted to contribute my own. It's not particularly spectacular, but if you're like me and you want to do everything possible to maximize your chances of getting in to a top program, then maybe you might find a few gems buried in here. If you only read one section of this, I recommend that you check out the end which has a "things I wish I had done differently" section.

Background:
I'm an American, born and raised in the South. I'm a 28 year old white male and am currently working in a finance / sales about 60 hours a week. I'm also taking two part-time classes at a local school to develop an alternative transcript, so spare time was pretty sparse :roll:

First Try: 710 (44q 68% /44v 98%)
To be honest, I definitely didn't study hard enough the first time around. My motivation to take the exam was fear of losing my job: it had been announced that a large number of layoffs were coming, and I desperately wanted a backup, so I was extremely rushed. My thought process was to try to take the GMAT in time for 2013 matriculation, so that if I had been laid off, I wouldn't have had a big gap in work experience for admissions committees to look at. Thankfully, I'm still working (and actually got a raise!) and my department seems pretty secure for now... but the thought of a great MBA had been kindled in me, and I continued to chase the dream even after I felt secure in my job.


What I used to study:
OG 13
Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction
Kaplan's GMAT 800.

Official guide for quantitative review
I also bought Manhattan's GMAT Verbal section, but quickly discovered that I didn't need it.

It's important to note that I scheduled the exam at the same time I began studying, and that I had scheduled the exam only a month out. (again, there was a fire underneath me and I desperately needed a back up!) I took a few preliminary exams, did a few practice problems, and quickly came to the realization that I had forgotten more about this type of math than I had bargained for. I did not time my practice exams, however, and I very much regret that.

When I was still in college, I had studied for and taken the LSAT, which I did pretty well on. I didn't go to law school because I did a legal internship and noticed that every lawyer at that firm had a sort of beaten-down, sullen look to their eyes... not to mention horrible posture, and so I went into finance instead. Anyway, I quickly deep dived on the quant review. I started off by studying the guide in the Official GMAT, which was completely worthless. Then I discovered this site, and started following Bununuel's posts (among others). The GMAT Club Math Book was infinitely more valuable than anything else out there - it really is all you need for math review...

What I didn't realize, however, was that what I actually needed was time management.

If there's one thing you take away from this debrief, it's this:
There is a HUGE difference between being able to answer a quant question correctly, and being able to answer a quant question quickly!

For instance, if you have two squares, and the ratio of the side of one cube to the other is 2:1, and you need to find the ratio of the areas... you could plug in a substitute value for 1, deduce the area, then do the same for the second, and then compare them.... or you could just know ahead of time that the ratio of the area is\sqrt{2} * the ratio of the sides.

Learn stuff like this, as well as everything you can about the 3:4:5 triangle (aka the 6:8:10 triangle) and the 1:1:SQRT2 triangle. It will be invaluable and free up invaluable time.

I neglected the verbal section completely because I did pretty well on those during the assessment exams. I also neglected the data sufficiency exam, because I figured that practicing for the PS section would be just as effective... I later regretted this.

Because I had briefly considered an MBA about two years ago, I actually had a very outdated GMATPrep program on the machine. I used this software from 2009 a week before the test, and took the Test 1 and scored a 720. I was pretty happy. Then, two days before the exam, I took the second test and also scored a 720. I was a bit upset that I hadn't improved at all, but I would've still been happy with a 720, so I went in to the exam pretty confident.

I scored a 710 (44q/44v) which I would normally have been satisfied with... except for two things.
First, I want to continue to work in Finance, but at a much higher level, and I've heard that some firms really want to see a 720 or above
Second, I left 4 questions on the math section and 3 questions on the verbal section unanswered.

Take Two:
I was pretty determined to take it again, and this time I was going to focus on timing aspect of it. I took one of the GMAT Prep tests again to see what my areas of weakness were, and I discovered that Data Sufficiency and Sentence Correction were, combined, about 80% of my mistakes despite being only 1/3 of the exam.

The single most valuable resource for me was the question bank at this website. When I'm at work, every once in a while I'll get a block of free time of about 15 minutes, so I would log in and do all the questions that people would post on this message board.

I had previously neglected the verbal side of things, so I focused heavily on SC. I reread the Manhattan GMAT book on sentence correction, which was infinitely more helpful the second (and later on, the third) time around.

After a month of studying, I rescheduled the exam for a month out. I downloaded the new GMATPrep Software, and started taking those exams. I focused heavily on timing strategies, and I got to the point where I was scoring 780 on the practice tests with a few minutes left in each section every time.

IR was a special category though - I ran out of time in IR almost every time that I did it. What I didn't realize until very recently was that you do NOT have to read every word of every IR question before trying to tackle it. Most of the graphs are self explanatory.

After another month of hard studying, I quickly began to notice diminishing returns. If you've ever been to a really crowded bar in the US, you're probably familiar with the "1 in, 1 out" policy in which a new person can only come in if someone currently inside leaves. That's pretty much exactly what was going on in my head, and I began to realize it.

I narrowed down my problem areas to three categories: subjunctive and tense related SC questions, DS questions with inequalities, and 700+ work related problems. The third category included questions that I could easily solve, but it would take me 4-5 minutes, which was unacceptable. I hit these areas hard... but I still struggled with the subjunctive tense.

GMAT Club quant section was extremely helpful. I could not have succeeded without it. The sentence correction section, however, is a great resource for questions, but, unlike the quant section, there is a lot of conflicting answers and, to be quite honest, bad advice on there. In my opinion, if you are a native English speaker, one of the worst things you can do is to take sentence correction advice from someone who is not a native English speaker. It's not that they are wrong, but rather that non-native English speakers have a vastly different approach to SC questions that is much more algorithmic and memorization based than an English speaker's approach. I'm not saying to use your ears if you're a native english speaker, but I'm cautioning you that if you take an approach based on thousands of absolute rules (I.E. can't use the word "being") then the exceptions to those rules will destroy your score. I feel like the sapir-whorf hypothesis might shed more light on this, but I can always tell in the SC section who is a native and who is a non-native by how they frame their answer.

Two days before the exam, I took my final "virgin" GMATPrep test from the new software, and scored a 750. Not as high as I would've liked, but it's more than acceptable.

The Result:
Just took it today!
740! (48Q 78% / 44V 97%)

I'm not particularly happy with it, but it's more than enough to say that I don't have to take it again.

Here's my analysis:

First, the positive: I finished the exam... my timing strategies worked, and it is because of that that I scored higher.

Now for the negative:

By this point, I was forgetting information at the same rate that I was learning new things... You might notice that my first score was a 710 that included a 44v... well, this time around I actually answered all the questions, but still scored the same! That means that my proficiency with verbal went down. (also, a 44 put me in the 97% this time rather than the 98% of last time, which caught me off guard - perhaps the month you take the exam in affects the curve, with smarter people taking it around the standard time of June/July?)

Also, if I scored a 44q and left 4 questions unanswered, but later scored a 48q with no questions unanswered, did my question accuracy even go up? If it did, it probably wasn't by much... although in my mind, I certainly thought that I knew a lot more.

Overall, I'm very excited with the score of 740 because it will open doors for me that the score of 710 would not have... but I could have easily approached this same score in a much more efficient and less time consuming manner by simply mastering the timing strategies the first time around. (For instance, there will always be 1 quant question which I do not know the answer for... usually between question 5 and question 10... so as soon as I realize that I have no idea, I make an educated guess about 30s in and move in... I might not get an 800 by missing one question that early, but it's still easy to get a 780/790 with that strat.


My Advice:
If you got a 700-720 and ran out of time on one or both sections, then I would recommend studying, because mastering the timing can drastically increase your score... but if you're already scoring around there and your timing is sufficient, then it might not be worth it to study.

Another thing that I wish I had done differently is what I did on my last day of preparation. I had read a few debriefs before that say to just relax and take it easy, which is what I did.

While I think that being relaxed and well rested on the day of the exam is absolutely crucial, I would also like to point out that more than a few of the actual questions on the actual exam appear on this site. I recognized at least three sentence correction questions that are currently within the top three pages. When I got to them on the exam, I did a complete double take. I knew that I recognized them, but I couldn't for the life of me remember the correct answer... and my process of deduction seemed to conflict what I "thought" I remembered the correct answer to be. Basically, this made me second guess myself way more than I should have. Perhaps the conflict came from not knowing if what I was remembering was the incorrect answer that I had put, or the correct answer that someone else had put. I recognized a few PS questions that had been turned into DS questions and vice versa, but in this category I wasn't too unnerved by faulty hindsight since I could remember the math.

If I could do it all over again, on the day before the exam I would go through and leisurely do the first two pages of questions on this board (and ignore the comments! Only focus on the OA for sentence correction!). But then again, if I could really go back and do it all, I would've mastered the timing strategies on the first time around.

It's important to note that:
1. On both exams, I scored 10 points lower than my most recent "virgin" GMAT Prep test. The GMAT Prep test retakes shouldn't count, and I highly recommend that if you only have access to two that you keep retaking the first exam a few times before you go anywhere near the second. Ideally, leave both GMAT Prep exams untouched until about two weeks before the exam.

2. Even though sentence correction and data sufficiency were weaknesses that I focused heavily on, I was only able to marginally improve them past a certain point. I wish I had been aware of what those points were. Inside of sentence correction, I knew that my true weakness was when to use the subjunctive... and although I studied it a bunch, I still didn't feel as if I had mastered it (which I'm sure is evident in my writing style haha). I blame this on the fact that I'm currently studying other foreign languages too :P

It's easy to get a good score like a 710 and find out what your weakness are and then think "Hey, if I master these weaknesses, I can get an 800!"

Of course, what I was really doing was just memorizing a ton of really specific rules that only applied to the questions that I studied. On the actual GMAT, I saw curveballs that I hadn't prepared for... and because the specific rules I had been memorizing didn't quite apply, my weaknesses continued to be my weaknesses and I only marginally improved.

One final note: The manhattan CAT tests were ridiculously hard. I took two of them, and not only were they poorly worded compared to the real GMAT, they were significantly more time consuming. This is because if you score well, they keep giving you hard question after hard question, rather than throwing an easy question or two into the mix to spice things up.
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 29 Jun 2013, 18:27
dave785 wrote:
Now for the negative:

By this point, I was forgetting information at the same rate that I was learning new things...


Great Debrief!

What did you do once you figured out you were forgetting information at the same rate you were acquiring it? What would you recommend doing? Thanks.
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GMAT 1: 710 Q44 V44
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 29 Jun 2013, 18:42
lovelaw27 wrote:
dave785 wrote:
Now for the negative:

By this point, I was forgetting information at the same rate that I was learning new things...


Great Debrief!

What did you do once you figured out you were forgetting information at the same rate you were acquiring it? What would you recommend doing? Thanks.


That's a great question.

What I did when I figured out that I was forgetting information at the same rate I was acquiring it was to keep trying to find the areas where I was weak and focus heavily on those.

What I wish I had done, however, is to hit the weak areas some but to also keep a broad, generalized study plan going... there were certain things on the exam that I knew I could've done two months ago, but that made me stare stupidly at the screen because I had forgotten them. In a sense, I missed the forest for the trees.


One other technique that might seem random, but that I swear by, is "stacking" creatine beginning a week before and going through the exam. Creatine is a very legal bodybuilding supplement that increases something or other in your muscles. I don't know the exact science, but apparently it has a similar effect on your brain. The average individual taking creatine who suffers a concussion will only have a third of the damage of an average individual who doesn't take creatine.. More importantly, however, the average individual can remember seven digits at once, while the average individual taking creatine can remember 8.2. Google "creatine's effects on the brain" for more information on this. Needless to say, it's a huge advantage for CR and RC questions that require you to juggle multiple facts and trains of thought at the same time. It's possible that it's a placebo effect, but I swear that I can think more clearly during the complex CR and RC questions when I'm taking creatine. The downside of creatine is that you will have to pee very frequently haha.
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 07 Jul 2013, 06:49
dave785 wrote:
lovelaw27 wrote:
dave785 wrote:
Now for the negative:

By this point, I was forgetting information at the same rate that I was learning new things...


Great Debrief!

What did you do once you figured out you were forgetting information at the same rate you were acquiring it? What would you recommend doing? Thanks.


That's a great question.

What I did when I figured out that I was forgetting information at the same rate I was acquiring it was to keep trying to find the areas where I was weak and focus heavily on those.

What I wish I had done, however, is to hit the weak areas some but to also keep a broad, generalized study plan going... there were certain things on the exam that I knew I could've done two months ago, but that made me stare stupidly at the screen because I had forgotten them. In a sense, I missed the forest for the trees.


One other technique that might seem random, but that I swear by, is "stacking" creatine beginning a week before and going through the exam. Creatine is a very legal bodybuilding supplement that increases something or other in your muscles. I don't know the exact science, but apparently it has a similar effect on your brain. The average individual taking creatine who suffers a concussion will only have a third of the damage of an average individual who doesn't take creatine.. More importantly, however, the average individual can remember seven digits at once, while the average individual taking creatine can remember 8.2. Google "creatine's effects on the brain" for more information on this. Needless to say, it's a huge advantage for CR and RC questions that require you to juggle multiple facts and trains of thought at the same time. It's possible that it's a placebo effect, but I swear that I can think more clearly during the complex CR and RC questions when I'm taking creatine. The downside of creatine is that you will have to pee very frequently haha.


Hi Dave

How did you prepare for IR?
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 07 Jul 2013, 13:00
deliverance wrote:
Hi Dave

How did you prepare for IR?


OG13 has a link to a whole bunch of practice IR questions. I highly recommend that you use that, and make sure to time yourself while you're doing them. I had the mindset that if I can't finish the question in 3 minutes, it means I got it wrong, so when I was reviewing questions I would go back and look to see how I could've done it faster.
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 11 Jul 2013, 22:48
Great result, Dave!
Good luck with your application.

I'm in the same boat now - currently studying to improve form my 710. Though some people say that there is no big difference between 710 and 740, from my experience 740 is much more attractive for BS than is 710.
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 12 Jul 2013, 10:02
I agree

With the 710, I wasn't getting solicited by schools. Now, with my 740, my inbox is blowing up with school brochures and pamphlets.. I just got one from Booth saying that I should apply!
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 12 Jul 2013, 10:06
dave785 wrote:
I agree

With the 710, I wasn't getting solicited by schools. Now, with my 740, my inbox is blowing up with school brochures and pamphlets.. I just got one from Booth saying that I should apply!



Thanks for your input. It will help me to stay motivated.
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 14 Jul 2013, 08:29
Hey ,
Congrats on ur score first. Can you tell us the score which you took in MANHATTAN practice tests?
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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking) [#permalink] New post 14 Jul 2013, 11:33
I only took the first one. I scored a 43q/43v... I went extremely fast and still ran out of time. I took it at the height of my preparations, right before I scored a 750 on my final untouched GMAT Prep

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Re: 710 GMAT to 740 GMAT Debrief (critique on retaking)   [#permalink] 14 Jul 2013, 11:33
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