Below is a loooong explanation of my strategy for scoring a 730 on the exam (Q48, V42, AWA 6). It's not quite a nutshell-sized summary, which is why I'm calling it my "coco"-nutshell.
I started studying for the GMAT a little under 3 months before my exam date. I considered taking a class, but decided against it for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that it was prohibitively expensive for me. A major reason in addition to the cost was knowing myself. I don't procrastinate and so I knew I would be diligent about following my study plan. Phase I: figuring out my deadline
I studied for about 2 hours every other day for those couple months, but I kicked off my process with an assessment exam from the current version of the GMATprep software that February. Scoring a 650, I was really surprised by how challenging the test was. This exam is artfully made--particularly the quant section. Data sufficiency questions were a completely new beast and I was completely amazed by how many questions each question is really asking (this one by itself, or maybe this one, or maybe both or maybe neither!?). I had no idea how long it would take to improve my score, but I knew that the test was changing on June 5, so I chose to take the exam May 26 before the changes would go into effect. Phase II: getting materials
I then started looking through Amazon
at the different prep books and decided right away on two based on overall feedback. Everyone's favorite bible: the Official Guide (OG), and Kaplan
's GMAT 800
. I did the practice exam in the OG but didn't really get a sense for what I needed to work on. So I just decided to work on everything. I alternated back and forth between these two books based on my interests for that day. If I felt like studying data sufficiency I did that, if sentence correction rocked my world, I rocked its world. I was not strategic and I was not organized. I just did practice problems. It worked for me for awhile.
(Quick aside regarding the books: The OG is a must-have book, whatever current edition is out. The Kaplan
book was ok. It was good for looking at hard questions and building my confidence because I found I could get a lot of them right. For actual learning though, take it or leave it.) Phase III: getting serious
Around late March I signed up for 800score.com deciding I wanted more practice tests. I've heard mixed reviews of the site, but I liked it and in particular thought their treatment of the writing portion to be really good (which you'll see I didn't bother reading until the week of the test).
After 3 weeks of studying I was surprised by how little I had improved in the 40 some hours I'd spent studying--getting a 670 and a 690 in the two weeks of different tests. Sure these scores were decent, but I was learning that all raw scores were NOT created equal. In fact, my Q42 put me at about the 50th percentile! So although on the surface getting a V42 and a Q42 seemed quite balanced to me early on, I now knew it was totally not going to fly with the admissions committee. That's when I decided to get a tutor and when I discovered beatthegmat.com and gmatclub.com. Thank god for these websites and services! It put in perspective how much more movement I could make in quant than verbal; given the percentiles, tons more people are getting a Q46 than a V46 for example. Phase III: doubling down
After realizing that my earlier efforts were probably only helpful in learning time management and diminishing test anxiety, I catalyzed my new strategy and focused in on quant. I used craigslist to track down a GMAT tutor. I chose someone who did not charge me for the first meeting unless I hired him for a second session. I really liked his style and workbook, so we agreed to meet. The most important subjects that we covered together were inequalities, number properties, probability, and rates. These types of questions he (correctly) predicted were taking me way too long to complete, causing me to rush at the end. The other immensely useful piece of advice he gave me was to buy a Manhattan GMAT
book because you get access to 5 online adaptive tests with the purchase. For some $25 this was a great deal! I chose geometry since he said it was the best and not worth covering in tutoring. Phase IV: testing, assessing, practicing, repeat!
After tutoring, I spent May taking practice tests on Manhattan GMAT
, which has awesome tools for evaluating the kinds of questions you're missing--it breaks them down both in terms of question types (e.g. assumptions or strengthening in CR or geometry and probability in quant--DS or Problem solving) and difficulty level (e.g., 600-700 or 700-800). The best part is it tracks the data across multiple tests. I then reviewed questions I got wrong, practiced those types of questions on beatthegmat.com, and took another practice exam. Then I did it all over again. This strategy really worked for me and has surely helped lots of people. Phase V: almost there!
I reviewed final materials this week and took the official GMAT software practice tests and got a 720 and a 740 that week. I was very happy with my scores (Q 46 and V44 and 46 respectively) and felt ready for the test. That week I suddenly remembered: there is an essay portion! I totally didn't even think about studying for it and to be honest didn't look at any materials until three days before the test. I memorized the following formula for "analysis of an issue" section: always say argument is flawed and give a summary of assumptions and premises; then point out assumption problems, premise issues, and ways to strengthen; and finally finish with a conclusion that revisits the intro. Phase VI: done!
SUCCESS! I took the exam after fretting all day about it. I stupidly scheduled the test for 3:30pm. I highly recommend doing it earlier so you don't work yourself up. Indeed, I got into the room and was shaking with anxiety.
I finished the quant section convinced I had bombed it. The questions were way too easy and I was freaking out that I had missed a bunch and failed to get into the 700+ questions. Then while doing the verbal I was surprised at how many curve balls the test was throwing at me. I rapidly finished the demographic information and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my score. I got a full two points higher on my quant than I had ever gotten: Q48! I admit, I was disappointed with my verbal. I had been scoring on average 45, so I thought I could do better, but all my studying in the quant had paid off!
Now that I've had time to get over that, I'm psyched. And hey, two weeks later I found out I'd aced the AWA. So boooya, GMAT.
And there you have it. My coconuts!
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