It's a little over a week since I got done with the test, but work's been busy and I've only been able to sneak in some time here and there to write this. Anyway, here goes my debrief!Really brief background:
So I pretty much decided back in the spring of 2010 that I was going to go for an MBA instead of a PhD in the life sciences. My reasons are numerous, but perhaps the tiebreaker that favored the MBA path was that I felt that when it came to my career goals of accelerating and aiding the transformation of basic science research into commercial products (tech transfer?) that stand to greatly benefit society (e.g. novel cancer therapy drugs), I was more suited for the business side of the equation than the research side. Study materials:
My first step, then, was to find study material. My method of picking a suitable study guide involved going to Amazon, where I came across the MGMAT set of 8 guides. Upon reading the reviews, I also added on the OG12
I have to say that the MGMAT books
have served me very well for my study plan: as I was a biology major back in my undergrad, I really did not have much need of math, and thus my abilities had slipped quite a bit between high school and my GMAT. The content layout made following the discussion really simple, and it allowed me to quickly re-learn a lot of what I had forgotten. In addition to that, the books also offered little tips that could be used during the actual test to not only shorten the time required to answer a question, but also to verify that what you have selected is the correct answer.
Of course, all of the advice the MGMAT books
could offer would have been useless if I did not have any questions to work on, which was essentially what the OG12
was to me, enough said. I did wish, however, that the questions in this book were more complex so that each question could cover more ground, but that's just me.
These two items were what I started off with; later on in my study plan, I stumbled upon this forum and decided to incorporate its test center questions, which, I must say, are some of the more ridiculous questions I have seen. I won't spoil anything for those who have yet to take the test, but the questions on this forum will get you prepared for the test, or, at the very least, put enough fear into you to give studying some serious thought.
AWA study material (and to some extent, verbal too): New York Times, BBC, Pubmed... basically any type of reading material I could get my hands onto. I especially recommend trying to read a couple of scientific publications if you have never done so, as you might run into a reading comprehension that carries such content. The language in a scientific paper can be very technical and, depending on the author's style, dry (no offense to scientists; I do fall into this category more often than I would want to).The Study plan/strategy:
As I mentioned earlier, I started on the GMAT yellow brick road in spring 2010. My books arrived sometime in late June, and immediately I began my first run through of the MGMAT material. My goals at this time were to refresh my memory, and also to warm up for a more intense studying later on. This entailed studying for about 3-4 hours a day, 4 days a week, usually at night because I am in a full-time position. On average, I would cover 2 chapters of quant and one chapter of verbal, including working on the practice problems. Here, my strategy was to mix things up a little: rather than finish one guide book before moving onto the next, I would pick and read at random, just so my mind would not get too used to one particular type of problem. This first run through took me about 2 months, so by the beginning of September I had covered the entire set.
Then, I did absolutely nothing in the months of September till the end of November. Yes, it's odd, but this is what really did happen. No, I did not suddenly encounter a major life issue that hindered my studying. I was intentionally allowing myself to forget what I had just learned, so that when I hit the books again in December, I can gauge how well my mind was retaining knowledge. I wouldn't recommend this step to everyone, but if you are doing it as well and questioning the rationale behind your thinking, take comfort in knowing there's some other guy out there who does it as well. Oh, I also signed up for the GMAT in mid-October; I randomly chose Feb 24, 2011 as the test date.
So come December, and I take a month off from work – to fly home for vacation, except I brought my study guides along to pore through a second time during the flight back (14 hours is a long time...) and in the evenings. This time round, instead of just reading through and doing the problems, I also began to jot notes down as I went over the chapters. For me, writing stuff down better imprints the information into my memory.
2010 passed and it was now 2011. With less than 2 months to the test, I finally decided to take a practice test (GMATprep). I got a 700. To be honest, I wasn't too happy about that as I was expecting to score higher, especially after all that studying I had done. Slightly upset, I waited a couple of days and took my first MGMAT CAT: 680.
At this point in time, with my mind set on scoring a minimum of 720, and with a inspirational target of 760, I realized that I was going to have to find more resources and step up my game. This was when I went back to Amazon in search of more guides, when I came across a review for the MGMAT set of 8 by this forum. So I joined, and came across the test center and information on the other free exams. I joined January 26, 2010. The test was 28 days away.
From that point on, I devoted 3-4 hours each day, sometime more, to just doing practice questions and reviewing every one of them after I had finished, not only to learn where I went wrong, but also to strengthen my grasp on what I already knew. In addition, I also did one practice test every 2-3 days, including the AWA. When I had time, I would review the study guides to as refresher. Basically, if I could spare time for it, I would study.
I should say a bit more about AWA; I really only started to pay attention to it in my last week, mostly because by then I had run out of fresh questions to practice on for quant and verbal. For this, I primarily focused on applying the five paragraph essay layout to random essay topics in the OG12
; by this, I mean I would read the question and just write a brief skeleton of the essay. Other than that, the only other prep I did was read a lot in my free time, especially editorials and commentaries, not just for their language, but also to mentally pick apart the soundness of the arguments presented in them (sound familiar?)The Test Itself
The night before my test, I swept the snow off my car (I live in Michigan) just so I wouldn't have to do it the next morning, before heading off to sleep early at 11pm. I then proceeded to wake up at 2am, 4am and finally 6am. By then, the stupid weather had put on another couple of inches of snow onto my car, so I had to sweep it off again. Had a quick breakfast and a 5 hour energy drink, and headed off to the test center. I wasn't so much nervous as I was just fed up with the stupid test at this point in time, so my mindset was to just bear with it and get it out of my way for good. I got to the test center early (recommended by the way), waited around for a bit, before I was processed and finally face to face with the test.
AWA went well; the questions I got were relatively straightforward, and I stuck to the 5 paragraph essay format (intro-body 1-body 2-body 3-conclusion). I would say I took about 3 minutes to plan, 25 minutes to write and proof-read simultaneously, and the remainder to do a final read for each essay. I skipped the break, partly because I always had done so during the practice tests, and partly because the 5 hour energy drink had given me something of a roid rage that made me want to tackle math
. This section went by in an hour, I maybe had 2-3 questions that took me longer about 5 minutes each to solve, mostly because I was doubling back a lot on my workings for those questions to make sure I got the calculations right. After the math, I broke from tradition and took the break because the caffeine was starting to mess with my system.
Verbal went by a little jerkier; I had found that my primary issue with verbal during the practice tests was that I tended to gloss over passages and sentences, resulting in me missing out on key information. During the test, I was constantly reminding myself to slow down and read each word carefully, and to answer only when I believed that I had a clear understanding of what was meant or wanted. Nonetheless, this went by in about 50 minutes.
After the basic information stuff and making sure that I had “report/view scores” selected, I hit the send button. Got a 730, Q50, V39. I had very mixed feelings when I saw my score, as I was really hoping for my 760, but then again, I did beat the minimum I had set for myself. After collecting my thoughts for a couple of minutes, I got my stuff and went back to work for the remainder of the day, before calling it quits at 5pm-ish to head on over to a liquor store for some scotch.
In the end, here are all of my test scores, practice and actual, in chronological order. Breakdowns listed where possible.
GMATprep #1 : 700
MGMAT #1 : 680 Q46, V37
Princeton : 640
MGMAT #2 : 690 Q49, V35Knewton
MGMAT #3 : 690 Q48, V36Kaplan
MGMAT #4 : 680 Q48, V35
GMATprep #2 : 750 Q50, V42
MGMAT #5 : 720 Q51, V37
MGMAT #6 : 750 Q51, V41
GMAT : 730 Q50, V39, AWA 6Some advice and tips that helped me a lot:
1) As everyone says: develop a study plan and stick to it. This might take a while, but find something you are comfortable with.
2) Have a target score in mind. If you're not sure what you should be aiming for, just aim high. I find that that motivated me to not settle for a nice score on my practice tests, and it kept me studying more and harder.
3) If you breach your target score on a practice test, set a higher target. See number 2 for why.
4) Don't forget to stay healthy! A 6.5l V12 engine is useless if the rest of the car is not up to the task; eat well, get some exercise, and definitely sleep well.
But most importantly (at least for me): have fun during this whole time, even with studying and taking the test. For example, in my case, I would actually imagine, for the reading comprehensions, that someone famous was reading the text to me. I usually went with Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Ricky Gervais and Rowan Atkinson, because I can remember their voices really well.
With that, I want to say a big thank you to this forum for all the advice and practice material I got from reading the various posts, my girlfriend for tolerating my studying and generally grumpy mood for the past month, my friends for not minding my AWOLness, my colleagues+boss for their encouragement, and the bottle of The Macallan 12yo that prevented me from writing this debrief sooner. All of them made taking on the GMAT a lot easier (except the last item).