I just completed the exam
I completed the exam a week ago and I need to share my experience to close out this exam. I really appreciated all of the debriefs that others put on this site because those debriefs gave me inspiration on the exam and got me through the frustrating times I experienced during the preparation process. Also, I have some thoughts and advice that I didn’t see on the other debriefs that others posted.
My actual results are as follows: Overall – 730, Q – 48, V – 44, IR – 8, AWA 6.0Practice CATs, in order of completion
CAT 2: 720, Q50, V37Kaplan
CAT 3: 740, Q51, V40Kaplan
CAT 4: 720, Q50, V41Kaplan
CAT 5: 740, Q50, V42
MGMAT CAT 1: 690, Q45, V38
MGMAT CAT 2: 720, Q47, V41
MGMAT CAT 3: 680, Q45, V37
I skipped the Kaplan
CAT 1 because I didn’t want to get diagnosed and by the time I got around to taking my first CAT I had already read most of the Kaplan
book. I also stopped doing the MGMAT CATs because they were making me depressed, as you can imagine. I put two to three weeks between each practice CAT, and I was becoming frustrated by the change in score.Context
Before I launch into the assessment of materials used to prepare for the exam, let me give you some context that is relevant in discussing my results. I’m a CPA and I’m the controller of my current company. The key reason this is relevant to this discussion is that my company just went live in a new ERP system and the implementation has not gone well. In fact, it has gone so badly that no one in my company with whom I have spoken has had a worse experience with an implementation. My advice to anyone preparing for the GMAT is to be smart about the time you choose to start studying for the exam. This was a controllable factor that prevented me from focusing as much as I needed to during preparation. That being said, I’m generally happy with my score; I scored on par with what my average Kaplan
practice indicated and better than what the MGMAT preparation indicated.
One other factor worth mentioning is that I have a Masters in Accountancy (my screen name is MAcc for this reason, well that and I’m clearly unimaginative). The reason I mention this is because I have taken many of the Masters courses that one takes in an MBA program, but I believe there is a lot of benefit to be gained by working in your desired field before seeking an MBA. While I learned a significant amount about business in the MAcc program, the real world work experience opens your eyes in interesting ways, and the real world work experience also leaves you wishing you could remember more of the information that would be really helpful with your company’s current problems.Preparation Materials
Anyway, on to the materials that I used! In preparation for the exam I used five different sources for preparation, which are Kaplan
, OG, Manhattan, LSAT Tests, and GMAT Pill
.Kaplan Premier 2014
I really like this book! I haven’t read many opinions on the forum for Kaplan
, and the opinions I have read have been pretty tepid for the most part; however, this book does a great job of focusing you on the areas that are tested.Kaplan 800
This is a good extension of the Premier book, but I don’t think it added much in the way of new information that I didn’t already pick up from the Kaplan Premier
book. I don’t think I would buy this book now that I have the benefit of hindsight.Official Guide 2013
This is a no brainer, you have to get this book (or the equivalent when the next one comes out). These are questions that have actually appeared on the exam, so of course you have to have these in your arsenal.GMAC Verbal Review 2nd Edition and GMAC Quant Review 2nd Edition
These are also no brainers because who wouldn’t want more of the actual questions that have appeared on the exam?Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction
Awesome! A must have in my opinion. This book does a much more thorough job than the Kaplan
book in explaining the rules of sentence correction, and sentence correction is simply a matter of knowing the rules and identifying the patterns, so a book with thorough explanations is tremendously valuable.Manhattan GMAT Advanced Quant
Not particularly useful. It really isn’t useful because these questions are harder than the hardest questions I saw on any of the CATs or the exam. Further, many of the questions in this book would be extremely difficult to solve in approximately two minutes, which is the amount of time quant questions should generally take. I would have been better served focusing on the basics rather than spending time on some of the most ungodly difficult quant questions that are unlikely to appear on anyone’s exam. This book is more like a collection of brain teasers that someone might want to do in their spare time.Manhattan GMAT Number Properties
There are good parts and bad parts. The good parts are those parts of the book that don’t talk about combinatronics and probability. I saw a total of zero combinatronics and probability questions on the GMAT, and I wasted a lot of time studying these topics because I was not taught these topics in high school. I was surprised as both Kaplan
and Manhattan incorporated a lot of these questions in the CATs. However, understanding the number properties is important not only because it allows you to quickly solve problems that are designed to test number properties, but also it allows you to see patterns and other methods to efficiently solve problems that were probably designed to test another skill set. This book is worth it for the sections that discuss number properties.LSAT Test Books
You read that right. I busted open my old LSAT books, not because I really missed analytical reasoning, but because the reading comprehension sections are much longer than the GMAT sections and MUCH more boring. I know that may be hard to believe after reading some of the GMAT sections, but the LSAT loves to put art history, women’s studies, and African-American studies in there, and frankly, these topics don’t interest me (I do like women, just not in the context of the conflicting theories for perceived inequities in the early 19th century).
The GMAT has some boring topics to be sure, but I found myself enthralled in many of the passages (especially the science passages). Thank you GMAT Verbal Review for the passage that explores why corporations acquire companies despite the fact that most prices paid aren’t justified by the performance of the target. Thank you Kaplan Premier
2014 for teaching me about the big bang theory and including discussion about the totally awesome “primordial fireball” that created the universe.
Meanwhile one of the first passages in the first available LSAT reading comprehension
section reads “Critics have long been puzzled by the inner contradictions of major characters in John Webster’s tragedies. In his The Duchess of Malfi…" And boom, your head hits the table because you are bored beyond reason. The LSAT questions are also good because they have been through the rigorous review that is necessary to put them into a standardized test.
The critical reasoning sections are very good, too; however, not all of the question types mirror those of the GMAT, so I skipped the parallel reasoning questions (though on my GMAT exam I got a parallel reasoning question, even though I never saw a single question in any of the GMAT-dedicated practice materials).
One other issue you might run across if you use the official guide and the verbal review is that you will run out of materials quickly. There are just a handful of RC passages in each book and you don’t want to reread those because you will remember some of the material you read before, and that will skew your results. GMAT Pill
I only used GMAT Pill
to have access to sufficient resources for the IR section. Use the GMAT Pill
to prepare for IR, not that IR matters in the overall score, but you don't want your IR score to be incongruent with the actual results, and the GMAT Pill
has a lot of questions of each type to get you good and comfortable. Keep in mind that the IR section on the actual test is presently much easier than anything I encountered in preparation materials. There were several problems in the practice CATs for which I had to extrapolate an increase from a line that I couldn’t tell whether it was on 680 or on 670 and unfortunately answers were available in the drop down that depended one or the other. Also, I didn't see any of the the problems in the practice CATs for which you have perform a calculation for each line in the table to determine the median amount and, oh yeah, you have to go out the hundredths place to actually conclude on the right answer. On the real GMAT there isn’t any of that garbage. The GMAT actually tests if you understand enough about the chart or table to answer the question.Time to Prepare
Okay, there are the materials I used. Obviously I used a lot of materials to prepare the exam, so it should come as no surprise that I took four months to prepare for the exam. Four months was too long! I could have taken this test about a month ago and I honestly believe I would have done better. I reached that point about a month ago where each study session required a great deal of effort to even focus. I had a lot of moments in the last month that I just didn’t bother applying my brain as hard as I should have because I figured I knew how to do the problem and I would just focus better on the actual test. I don’t need to explain to anyone here the importance of developing the habit of getting answers correct. But I had just burned out on the GMAT and I’m sure the craziness at work didn’t help. I just wanted it to be done. Did I mention that four months was too long?
I took the LSAT after two months of studying and performed better on the LSAT than I did on the GMAT. I also passed the CPA exam in the first attempt by studying about one month per section. Four months is too &%$@ long for a standardized test! Maybe not too long for you, but that seemed like an eternity to me.Test Day!
I’m very particular about test days. I took all four parts of the CPA exam and the LSAT observing my rituals that allow me to get in the zone. I’m sure everyone here has a strategy for preparing for a test. One piece of advice here is to pick the time of day that works best for you. I logged all of my answers during practice, and I paid attention to the time of day I achieved those results. I’m a morning person. My RC and CR results were much better in the morning than in the afternoon or evening. My Quant and SC didn’t seem to be affected by the time of day, but RC and CR did. Time of day is probably worth paying attention to in practice to see if you have any similar results.
The first step on the actual test day is to eat at Denny’s. I don’t want to get hungry during a four-hour test and Denny’s is great for this.
Going into the test I was nervous about two areas, integrated reasoning and quant. The AWA section didn’t make me nervous; I actually found it very therapeutic and helpful to focus and to calm my nerves. I have to give the credit to chineseburned, who wrote a terrific article on this site about how to get a 6.0 on the AWA section (link further below). I practiced a few times on the AWA by diving into the middle paragraphs as soon as I finished reading the argument. It takes all of two seconds to see at least one or two things that are grossly wrong with any AWA argument, so I found that diving into the detailed discussion is a quick way to build out those observations and fill up the page. Chineseburned suggests writing ~500 words on the essay, though others have observed a 6.0 can be obtained without that many words. I wish I could have done a word count because I wrote more than I ever wrote during the practice exams, in which I consistently wrote 450 – 500 words.
However, I was concerned about integrated reasoning, even though it doesn’t count toward your overall score. It is just that my practice was so inconsistent that I didn’t know what to expect. In practice I had scores ranging from three to eight. On the first two or three questions I had to double check that I had read the questions correctly because the questions were so much easier than the Kaplan
and MGMAT practice questions. Even though the IR section was easier than any of the practice exams, I’m still glad I did some preparation on the IR section because the practice taught which words in to ignore on questions. That is, you don’t need to read everything that explains what a chart is telling you; the context of the questions will tell if there is some information you need to know from the paragraph.
By the way, there was no break between AWA and IR. I was not prepared for that. I don’t know how I missed that fact during practice, but I think the practice exams I took from both Kaplan
and MGMAT had eight minute breaks between IR and AWA.
I took the break as was suggested by a lot of people on this forum. My heart started pounding and I did some stretches (didn’t want to pull a hammy during quant). By the way, be careful with the breaks. I wasn’t really paying attention to my time during the breaks, so when I returned to the computer the exam was one minute from starting. I thought I had three or four minutes left. Also, the proctor forgot his password twice, so I was nervous I would not be starting the exam on time, even though I did start on time.
I could tell my focus was a little off because I was a little too excited going into quant. On each of the practice exams I had used the whole time, and each time I had too little time on, at a minimum, the last two or three questions. I wish I had improved my time management on quant before going into the exam because I could tell I was off. I had decided before the exam that I would strategically select two questions on which I would not spend more than 20 seconds before selecting and moving on. My reasoning for this is that I believe that quant time management is dependent on accepting that there are questions that will take well in excess of two minutes to solve and not falling into the trap that just because I could solve a problem in five minutes that I should. I wish I had practiced this strategy before the real test!
The verbal section went well for me. I tracked my success on RC and CR from the OG and I had an error rate ranging from four to eight percent (at least that was the rate when I studied in the morning). SC was a breeze and I will tell you how I studied for SC because I think I really learned something, and that something is that you shouldn’t study SC-only sections timed, EVER! For the first month of study I focused a lot on SC because, as far as verbal goes, SC is simply knowing the rules and identifying the patterns, so SC benefits a lot from study. However, I started out using the time pressure, which is completely pointless because SC requires little else than knowing the rules and seeing the patterns. I’ll bet every single person on this forum has looked at an SC question and said “Clearly if I knew XYZ this problem would take no time at all.” I didn’t improve in SC at first, but then I stopped timing myself AND I invested my time to write down my rationale for every SC selection, including my reasons for why or why not on each option. This method revealed mistakes that I was making and why I was making them. More importantly, my timing naturally took care of itself. As I became more aware of the patterns and thought more critically of the rules I was applying, I noticed that I got to a point where SC questions almost always took less than a minute to solve. I didn’t have problems with timing on the verbal section.Parting Thoughts
Pick a time of year when you are not busy (no clue what to tell investment bankers).
Don’t plan on taking too long studying. There really is the possibility of taking too long when it comes to studying high school math that you don’t need to know outside your preparation for the exam.
Don’t be fooled by high quant scores in the Kaplan
Don’t be depressed by low quant scores in the MGMAT CATs.
Avoid or use the study materials and areas I mentioned in my review of the materials above.
I like this article that discusses using the RC and CR sections from the LSAT to support the GMAT.http://www.gmatninja.com/2012/11/12/lsa ... rehension/
Chineseburned gives some really clear advice about getting a 6.0. how-to-get-6-0-awa-my-guide-64327.html