710 Debrief. Crash and Burn.Month 1, or, How I Got to 710 from Scratch!
Started my prep exactly 2 months ago, on the 16th of Jan. GMAT in 2 months. My aim? I don't know! Crazy! I want to squeeze into R3 of Oxford or R5 of Cambridge this year (and I am still on track for that). Death wish, I know, but that should explain the rush! And, I must say, the past two months have been quite a journey. Though I wish I had a better score, I sure as hell am not going to squander everything I learnt on the way.
Okay, so I started my prep with a very clear idea of how I was going to structure it. Theoretical basics first. Then problem-solving aptitude. And, finally, test-taking skills. And I stuck to this 3-tier structure pretty solidly. Having a structure helps. Don't attempt to swim the English channel if you can't yet make it across the neighborhood puddle!
I followed this 3-tiered structure once on my way up to 710 and then all over again on my climb to up to 760. Theoretical Basics:
Started with Kaplan's Math Workbook
. In retrospect, it is not a great resource except that it starts at a low enough base to make you comfortable with the idea of approaching maths after years of being away from it. Good, but too basic. Use it if that's where you want to start, else chuck it. At the same time, I studied the Princeton Review's GMAT Verbal Workout
. And, seriously, this resource was good! I went through every piece of concept and every problem from this book. Took me a little under a week. Highly recommended! Also, the AWA instructions in this resource are the best I have seen so far. People have said good things about chineseburned's template but unfortunately I didn't have the time to study his posts. Check that out too because a lot of my good friends on this forums have recommended it. Problem-solving aptitude:
After completing these two resources that I felt were sufficient to begin my GMAT prep, I started with Official Guide 12
. And this is when I went into combat mode, heh heh! I started waking up at 4 in the morning and putting in 5 hours of GMAT prep before leaving for work. 5 hours. Everyday. And, at the end of it, I would reward myself with a nice, leisurely smoke before getting ready for office. This 5-hr drill did two things: it let me work on GMAT at a time when I was freshest, and it put a lot of discipline into the process. To build stamina, I did 80 problems at a stretch, untimed of course! Looking back, I think I could solve OG-12 problems fairly well. I remember getting around 10 wrong for every 80 questions. At that stage, it looked like I was doing well.
With the OG-12, I adopted a 3-round approach.
In the first round, I would do 80 questions untimed. In the second round, I would flip to the solutions pages in the OG-12, re-solve the problems with the intention to learn from the solutions. And in the third round, I would go and do only those questions that were excruciatingly hard. I made note of three types of problems - problems that I got wrong for silly errors, problems that took me way more than 2 minutes and problems that I just didn't know how to crack. For some reason, I started calling them Type I, Type II and Type III problems!
- Type I - silly mistakes,
- Type II - too much time,
- Type III - just couldn't do.
OG-12 took me a full month, also because there was a lot of stress at work. But by the end of the month, I could "remember" almost every one of the 800-900 problems in that book! Things were still looking pretty good. I looked like I was on-track!
Yeah, one important thing here. When you sit to prep for GMAT, you are obviously putting in a lot of hard work. My advice to you is this: when you are solving a problem - any problem, tough, easy, whatever - do it several times over. It is possible that the same problem is going to appear in the real exam. Not highly likely but possible. And then you are going to kick yourself for not remembering the problem even though you worked so damn hard!
Official Guide is obviously a great resource for the GMAT but I don't remember seeing any really tough questions. Somebody on the GMAT Club said that the OG has only 650+ level questions. I would agree. It is hardly sufficient if you want to go far beyond 650.
After completing the OG, I had only 4 weeks left for the test. I considered doing the Kaplan 800
. But that book is serious crap. I gave it a couple of days though. Sure, it has a few really tricky CR questions but it has no question banks. And there's definitely nothing '800' about it! It's fine to go through it if you have the time. One plus is that you will see a lot of the questions in the practice CATs that come with the Kaplan Premier
I will say that I loved everything about the CD that came with Kaplan Premier
though. It's practice CATs had questions from both Kaplan Premier
and Kaplan 800
Even though it looks like I was rushing through things, I was not. Yes, I had a hectic schedule but I wasn't rushing. I was paying a lot of attention to soaking things in deeply. I knew time was against me but I also knew that the mind absorbs best through repetition. That's why I solved every problem three times. By the third time, I had soaked in all the finest nuances of the problem. And I was working really hard by then, putting in 5-6 hours a day everyday.
I was also paying a lot of attention to myself - my moods, feelings of fatigue, panic, depression, fear - in these days. When on my smoking breaks, I would ponder. Test-taking skills:
Exactly a month into my prep, I decided that I had given myself enough of a grounding and that it was time to start the practice CATs.
I gave 6 practice CATs in a row. After every CAT, timed and taken seriously, I would give a couple of days to analyzing the test. My scores are as follows -
- OG-12 Diagnostic - 70% percent (Doesn't give a score out of 800)
- MGMAT Practice CAT 1 - 730, 97 percentile, Q45, V44
- Practice CAT in Kaplan Premier book - 710, 96 percentile, doesn't give a Q/V breakup
- MGMAT Practice CAT 2 - 700, 93 percentile, Q46, V40
- Practice CAT 1 in Kaplan Premier CD - 700, 95 percentile, no Q/V breakup
- MGMAT Practice CAT 3 - 710, 94 percentile, Q45, V41
It's not often mentioned in the debriefs but giving practice CATs one after the other is really, really painful! Especially, the analysis part! For every test, I took roughly 2 days to analyze every single question.
A big crisis at this point was the plateau I had hit. 710 overall, quant 45 and verbal 42. This was the average of all the practice CATs I had given so far. I just wasn't being able to break out of the plateau I had hit. Everything - my overall score, my quant score and my verbal score - was consistent. But it was not a happy consistent. With only 2 months of prep total, I had grand aspirations of a 760.
It was around this time that I discovered GMAT forums. Okay, sordid confession here: I had no clue they existed! The first forum posts I stumbled across were 2 very well-received posts by Ursula and Twinnsplitter in Urch forums. I signed up on Urch forums for a couple of days but didn't like it much. Just didn't click with me. Then I discovered GMAT Club. Oh, I was really taken by the vibrancy of the place! This place just felt right!
My first post on the forum was to ask for help on how to break the plateau. Got a lot of help from mohater and AbhiJ. I had been working really, really hard by now, with severe stress, fatigue and burnout. At this point, I realized I needed a whole new strategy. If I went on doing what I had been doing, I would go on getting what I had been getting. I realized I needed a whole new strategy.
I also needed medical help!!!Month 2, or How I Got to 760 from 710
With under a month to go for the exam, I had to make a tough choice - do I go on solving harder and harder problems or do I take a big step back to plug all the holes in my concepts and test-taking strategies. In retrospect, I took the right decision. I went back to the basics. To hell with ploughing ahead like a bull.
I created deep error logs of 1 or 2 of the practice CATs I had done. I analyzed both what I was doing wrong as well as what I was doing right. I figured out the specific mistakes I was making again and again. I was dumbfounded at some of the revelations I was making. It felt like it was only now that I was really starting my GMAT prep.
Then came Bunuel.
I once wrote to him that he isn't just helping us with math problems - he is leaving a legacy behind for generations of GMAT test-takers! Come on, isn't that true??!!!
I can't thank that guy enough! What he is doing in this community exhausts superlatives! I studied his Math Book start to finish. I had never, not even in school, gone into the basics so deeply. I think Math Club as a maths textbook is unique in its presentation of the properties commonly tested in problems. I studied these properties over and over again.
After exhausting the Math Club, I attacked the Seven Samurai. Did at least half of Seven Samurai DS (because there are just so many!). If you want to solve maths problems from the forum, this is the place to start.
I recommend that you do as many tough and tricky problems as you can not because they will actually certainly appear in the GMAT but because they will test your knowledge and application of the underlying theoretical properties.
At around the same time, I kept testing myself with the question banks in the Kaplan
CD. Geez! They ask you to solve 20-22 problems in 25 minutes! Impossible! But it really improves your speed. Then there are the question banks in the MGMAT online section. Those were brutal, man! But I could solve.
It was clear to me that I was making serious progress in both theoretical foundation as well as test-taking speed.
On one of my smoking breaks, I remember pondering: "There is no alternative to hard work. If you don't do it now, you will have to do it later. If you didn't need it now, you probably did it earlier. But there is no escaping it."
In quant, I had never focused on the basics and I had to now. In verbal, I had always read good books (Tolkein, Wodehouse, Ayn Rand) and watched shows like Boston Legal and so I had to do less work now.
Finally, I visited a doctor. She diagnosed "severe stress". Haw! Stress is a part of our lives, we can't wish it away! But she recommended some medicines. I added a multivitamin to that lot. And I took the medicines everyday conscientiously for the rest of my prep. My God! It was amazing! My physical endurance actually went up! Whereas earlier I used to feel tired and saturated after 5 hours of GMAT prep and 5 hours of office work by 2pm or 3pm in the afternoon, now I could go on till night. I took 3 pills - one for stress, one multivitamin pill and one fish oil.
I started putting together a unified strategy for myself. A strategy that worked for me, taking my strengths. How I would approach the test, how I would attitudinally orient myself to the pressure, how I would go in and attack that first question in the quant section, how I would build on that momentum, how I would shake off feelings of not having done well in quant and move on to the verbal section, how I would keep track of my choices in verbal with my fingers instead of writing down abcde on paper, how I would read and answer each type of question - everything. A unified test strategy. I had it all scripted meticulously.
One week before the exam, I felt ready. Very nervous but ready to take on the GMAT Prep tests from mba.com. I took the first test.
750! Q48, V44!
I jumped when I saw that score! I went down for a smoke and pondered long and hard on it. It was a validation of my strategy. And of all the small tactics in that strategy. I felt really good, but I needed to give one more test to be sure. I spent a couple of days to analyze the test and I also solved the question banks in the same software.
Work, meanwhile, was piling on furiously. My manager was dangling carrots of making me team lead if I worked on her pet projects. Sadly, I want the team lead position real bad. So I jumped through her hoops. I couldn't come back to the second GMAT Prep test until a day before the exam. I was very apprehensive about giving a full-length test a day before the exam but I still needed to be sure.
I gave the second GMAT Prep test one day before the exam.
760! Q50, V44!
It felt unreal. It felt amazing. I took the day off and drove home. Two consecutive GMAT Prep tests, a 750 in one and a 760 in the other! No, this wasn't a fluke. This was for real. I sent to heaven a thousand thanks for Bunuel and everyone else in the GMAT Club who selflessly offer help and counsel to others like me. I was 100% ready for the GMAT.
There was still a lingering doubt at the back of my mind on the effect that this test would have on my stamina tomorrow but I didn't dwell on it. Test-day. Crash and burn.
I woke up early. Had a Red Bull in slow sips on the 1-hr taxi ride to the test center. Everything seemed fine. I felt ready. No issues at all at the centre. Everything went butter smooth.
There was this one guy who hadn't brought his passport for identification and had to miss his test. I tried not to think of anything demeaning about him but I was really surprised how he could screw up like this. No palm-scan issues for me, no issues at all.
AWA. Easy stuff. I went in, put a structure, made 3 clear, concise points and came out. Next AWA. Again, made some clear, concise points and came out. (Found out a week later from PearsonVUE that I got 5.5 in the AWAs.) Went to my locker, had a sip of Red Bull and came back for Quant. In my mind, I sensed something amiss though. There wasn't that burning urgency I had felt during my GMAT Preps or any other CATs. I felt cool ... too cool. I couldn't summon the intensity or urgency. I shrugged it off and started my Quant. Towards the middle, I remember sensing that the questions were too easy. Something was wrong. They should not be easy. I dread Quant getting comfortable because it means I am operating at a lower level. My brows furrowed up . I got very tense. Why are the damn questions so easy? Quant got over and I remember feeling terrible.
Verbal. I decided that Quant is over and I am going to make things alright in Verbal. I approached Verbal with an urgency. Verbal was satisfyingly brutal, unlike Quant. Quant had not been satisfyingly brutal. It had been discomfortingly easy. I finished Verbal and hurried through the blah-blah demographic questions and finally hit Next for the result screen.
710. Q44, V44.
I remember the exact sensation I felt when I saw the score. It is the sensation you get when you are pickpocketed. That is the exact sensation I felt. No, not the trauma of devastating failure, no. Nor the anguish of a life reduced to nothingness, no. Pickpocketed. That's it. I don't know why but that's exactly what I felt. Verbal 44 was exactly what my GMAT Preps had told me I would get. Verbal 44 is fantastic, I know. But Quant 44? What had happened. Quant 44 is 60-something percentile. It is terrible. Terrible. It was inexplicable. From 50 to 44?! How? Did I burnout? Did I lose the urgency and fire? What happened?
The taxi ride back home was long and heavy. I couldn't understand it at all. What the hell happened? Where did I go wrong? Some friends from this forum tried to cheer me up. I was severely depressed for a few hours but I later accepted the situation. What else do you expect from a guy who chose the avatar that he did! I feel bitter even now, 3 days after the exam, but I have reconciled to it. And now, I am running with this score as far as I can go.
6 days after the exam, I have now read through scores of stories that tell me 710 can also be lethal, provided I blow the socks of the adcom in the essays and recommendations. Just as I was living and breathing the GMAT in the two months that I prepped for it, so I am lost deep in my essays now. My GMAT is now only a happy memory from the far, distant past. My mind is now once again tunnel-visioned and I can think of only one thing - the essays and recommendations package. Oxford's R3 deadline and Cambridge's R5 deadline are both in exactly a month. I had my two months of GMAT prep. Now it is time for one month of essay writing.
I feel very happy when fellow Clubbers write in to say that they found my debrief useful. Yes, I want you to use my learnings and outperform your own self. In the end, this is a competition to achieve our own private potential, not a fight against the next guy.
(I have started a blog elsewhere to track my thoughts as I put together the MBA applications package. Hopefully, I will get through to my dream b-school!)
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"There is no alternative to hard work. If you don't do it now, you'll probably have to do it later. If you didn't need it now, you probably did it earlier. But there is no escaping it."
710 Debrief. Crash and Burn