690 (37Q 41V) - GMAT Prep #1 (First Attempt - baseline score)
710 (43Q 39V) - GMAT Prep #2 (First Attempt - after two weeks of studying)
660 (47Q 33V) - MGMAT Free Practice Exam
660 (46Q 38V 3.0AWA) - Princeton Review
Free Practice Exam
640 (48Q 31V) - Kaplan
Free Practice Exam
690 (49Q 35V)- GMAT Prep #1 (Second Attempt- two weeks before exam)
700 (49Q 36V)- GMAT Prep #2 (Second Attempt - one weeks before exam)
750 (49Q 44V 5.5AWA) - Official GMAT Exam (98th %-tile)
Let me start by saying studying the GMAT has been a rollercoaster ride. There has been times when I felt there was no way I could ever achieve the type of score I wanted - but throughout it all: I believed. Believing in myself was the #1 factor that contributed to my success.
Toward the last week before my exam, I looked through this forum constantly. I wanted to know what little tricks gave people the edge in order to achieve GMAT greatness and what pitfalls others fell into. Therefore, I am going to try and make this post as thorough as possible.Brief Personal Background
- Native English speaker, born and raised in the United States.
- Attended public state university and studied Engineering & Supply Chain Management (3.7GPA)
- Working full-time at a public company for just under one (1) year.
I made the New Year's Resolution that I would take the GMAT this year - on January 3rd, 2011, I scheduled my exam 5 months out to May 2011. Why did I schedule my five months in advance? I am the type of person who needs pressure to study - I wanted the exam to be at the back of my mind. I knew that if I waited until I was "ready" to take the exam, I might never feel "ready" and who knows when I would get around to taking it.
"If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin." - Ivan Turgenev
My Main Study Materials:
1. Official GMAT Guide 12th Edition
2. Official GMAT Guide Math Workbook (2nd Edition)
3. Princeton Review
- Cracking the GMATSecondary Study Materials
(These are materials that I borrowed from others to look over but never studied all the way through)
4. Official GMAT Guide Verbal Workbook (both 1st and 2nd Edition)
5. MGMAT Sentence Correction
- This was one of my favorite websites. As the name suggests, it offers up lots of shortcuts to different types of questions in the GMAT. This site was integral to my GMAT strategy and style. Besides the many shortcuts (ones that I definitely used during my actual test), it recommended that I not take too many practice exams beyond the two official ones and the three (3) practice tests listed above. The reason being that practice tests take time, and only official tests accurately gauge one's abilities (which is why I took the official ones twice). These other websites simply mimic the GMAT but their accuracy can be questionable.Habits
Although I did not necessarily plan my study schedule this way, this is how it turned out: Toward the 6 week mark (before my exam that is), I hunkered down and really started to study. What does this mean? It means in six weeks, I only went out with my friends three times total. I had very little social life.
I want to say I studied relentlessly but I did not. I studied in the morning on the train to/from work (30 minutes each way), and I studied at the gym in between sets (Yes, this looks as ridiculous as it sounds. I would do a set of an exercise, then I would quickly go to my GMAT book and do a practice math question - rinse and repeat).
The benefit of studying like this is that it made GMAT studying part of my every day routine, so I would end up studying about an hour each day. I always planned on studying after work to increase my total time of study, but very rarely did (except in the last week before my exam, where I stayed late at work and studied from 6-9pm in the quiet sanctuary of my office) I would end up doing maybe 3 practice problems and spend the rest of the time surfing the internet. I am easily distracted.
Being distracted easily also meant that I could not study at home, which was inconvenient at times. I had to change study locations often so that I would never get too comfortable in one spot (local college library, coffee shop, public library, at work, in the lounge of my apartment, on the train, at the gym, etc.). My problem with getting comfortable is that I end up day dreaming precious study time away.Visiting the Test Center
Visiting the test center two weeks ahead of time was VERY important to me. I did not want to get lost going to the center, and I wanted to be able to see the testing center (at least the lobby, since they didn't let me see the testing rooms) so that it was one less thing to add into my brain right before test time. I knew what the lockers looked like, I asked what the processes were, and I added to my ability to 'visualize' how G-Day was going to go. I highly recommend this activity.
Practice Test Strategy
Practice tests, to me, are designed to make me feel as comfortable as possible during the real test. They are also supposed to help indicate what score you might get (it did not for me - as much as I tried to pretend there was pressure, there wasn't, which may explain the discrepancy in my final score from the rest of my scores) and help identify your weaknesses. The first weakness I conquered was hunger, I had to find a snack that would help me during the GMAT. I found CLIF bars did the trick - these are organic energy bars you can probably find at the store or online. The second weakness was fatigue. Besides a good night's sleep, I also used 5-hour energy drinks. I was trying to decide whether or not I would actually need these, and ended up going for it. I was always tired after the Quant section that I could barely even focus on the Verbal.
The third weakness I learned (very late in the game, maybe two weeks before my exam) was that my verbal score sucked. On my first practice exam, I scored higher in Verbal than I did Quant; I therefore mistakenly committed myself to study only Quant topics for about 4 weeks.
As you can see from my practice test scores. I eventually plateaued in the high 40's range in Quant. In order for me to score a strong total score, I realized that I would need to boost my Verbal score. I spent the last week of my studying almost exclusively on Sentence Correction (my biggest weakness - I would get 7-10 Sentence Correction questions wrong on each practice test). Two days before my exam, I got my hands on the Official GMAT Verbal Supplement book, which I wish I had gotten earlier. But, I took what I could get and I studied the back half of the sentence correction section (which I borrowed from two different people, hence why I studied both 1st and 2nd edition) for a good 3-hours straight that Thursday night.
Day Before The Exam
I took the day before my exam off from work. I woke up, did some yoga, went to a nearby coffee shop and indulged in some sweet pastries (I usually never eat sugar-filled pastries but I was on "brain vacation"), watched some stand-up comedy on TV, painted a painting (to exercise different brain muscles), cleaned the kitchen, got my hair cut (I got a good chunk of my hair chopped off so that my bangs could not get into my eyes), prepared my wardrobe and snacks for the next day, and watched the Dallas Mavericks and Red Wings playoff games (basketball and hockey, for those unfamiliar with American sport teams). I tried to keep busy the entire day so that I could save my brain energy for the test.
Side note, and I don't recommend this - I also bought and ate 3/4 lbs of bacon for dinner that night. It was delicious.
What I packed
- 2 CLIF BARS
- 2 Five Hour Energy Drinks
- 1 Organic Mint Chocolate Bar
- Water Bottle (they had a water cooler in the testing lobby)
My test was scheduled for 8am (I've always had luck during morning exams, which is why I scheduled it so early). For the past two weeks I had been getting up at 5:50am so that I could adjusted my internal clock. That way I wouldn't be tired during the exam. I tried my best to calm my nerves. The entire week leading up to the exam, I had flashes of failing, I doubted myself, but I pushed through it.
I got to the testing center 15 minutes early and sat in the hall with other eager test takers. I cracked open my first 5 hour energy and drank 1/3 of it. The process was grueling as we were entered into the testing center's system one by one. I got more nervous as time went on. When I finally sat for my test, I tried my best to stay calm.
Thirteen minutes into my Analysis of an Argument, I hit a short writer's block. It felt like an eternity though. I didn't know what I was writing anymore, and I started thinking "well, this is it I guess...". But I forced myself to think that 17 minutes left was plenty of time to finish the essay (and in the end it was).
Analysis of an Issue essay went fairly quickly. I got a lot of help from here
Before you press "submit" in each section, raise your hand for the proctor to come over. That way, as soon they come over (which can take up to a minute), you can submit your test and it won't eat into your break time.
During my 8 minute break, I ate a Chocolate Mint CLIF bar, finished off my first 5 Hour Energy drink, took a swig of water, went to the bathroom, and did some warm-up exercises (the lobbyist looked at me like I was crazy, but I didn't care, I was getting myself "in the zone").
When I started the Quantitative section, there was one minute to read the instructions. I just sat back, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply for about 30 seconds. The first question somehow stumped me - I was really nervous getting into the "meat" of the GMAT - I tried to work the question into an equation, but I failed. I ended up plugging in the number (only had to do it twice) in order to find the answer. At this point, I know I had wasted some time, so I went into overdrive. By the 50 minute mark, I was already to question 17. Here, I noted that I was blazing through the exam. I slowed down a little bit because the questions were getting harder and I had time on my side. I'm very happy that did the initial questions quickly, because having the feeling of "I have plenty of time to think about this question" took a lot of the pressure off. Occasionally, I would get an easy question but I attributed it to being an experimental question
(this definitely helped with my mindset). Overall, I thought I did pretty well on the Quant section, no glaring mistakes - although I did flat out guess on one of the questions - it was geometry based and after two attempts, I just clicked a random answer and continued. I had not narrowed down the answer at all and the rule of thumb was: you generally won't know how to do every single question, it's okay to guess sometimes.
Break #2, I was much more efficient. So much so, that I came back 2 minutes early. You have to start the test as soon as you walk in, so I actually requested the proctor to take me out of the testing room after she had escorted me in. I breathed deep, and stared out the window. After a few moments, I collected myself and went back in. The proctor was very kind and understanding of my actions.
The Verbal section had always been my bane. Besides my baseline practice exam, I consistently scored low in the verbal section. I think a mixture of my last week of cramming and my test-taking luck helped me attain my 44V (97th percentile). I also attribute some success to my last minute epiphany in determining my approach to sentence correction questions. (This might sound too much like common sense but I've spent the last two hours trying to figure out a way to fix my problem. I kind of mix both my old and new strategies - I will read the clause and try and mentally fill in the blanks. 30-40% of the time the answer I thought of will part of the options. I really try and let my intuition take the wheel here because when I focus too much I grammar I lose sight on how sentences are actually supposed to sound. Listing things like "past participle" identifying the "antecedents" gets confusing.
Midway through this section, I (as though inevitably) fell into the same trap that I always fall into: finishing the section with too much time at the end (which usually meant I wasn't paying enough attention the the previous questions). Towards the end I had 8 questions left with over 30 minutes to go! At this point, I thought to myself "yup, you screwed yourself again by going too fast..." At this same point, nature was calling, and I figured I had some time to spare, so I raised my hand, got escorted out, and literally sprinted to the bathroom and back. When I got back, I did a breathing exercise, and moved forth with my Verbal section. I knew that the only way I could salvage my score (which at this point I thought was about a 650) was to get all 8 of the last questions correct in this section. I slowed my pace, answered each question methodically, and spent twice as much time as I usually would on each question. I finished with 3 minutes to spare after staring at the last sentence correction question for 5 minutes (I just bit the bullet and picked one of the two I was on the fence about).
The demographics section was somewhat disheartening - I saw the "cancel my score" button and for a half second considered it, but thought to myself "hey, you can always take it again if you didn't get over 700 this time." Seeing the 750 flash across the screen gave me a feeling I have difficulty describing. All I can say is I struggled to contain my smile as I awkwardly gestured my hand toward the proctor. When the lobbyist printed out my score, she looked shocked by my score. I don't think she thought I was as crazy as I seemed anymore...
1. Positive visualization. Oftentimes I would doubt myself, and thought about how bad I would feel if I got an unsatisfactory score (this score is different for everyone), so I focused on how GOOD it would feel to get a 760 on the GMAT. I would imagine smiling, getting excited, and jumping around. Two weeks before my exam, I even made this
(it was kind of cocky in hindsight, especially given my score history, but I believed it was all part of the visualization process). Let me tell you, when the 750 flashed on the screen, I had the exact feeling that I had been visualizing all along - except the dream was real!
2. The day before my exam, I watched two of my favorite sport teams in the playoffs. They both beat their opponent, I took this as a good sign and it boosted my confidence a little.
3. I was 8th in line, I got locker #8, and I was seated in station #8 (I specifically requested this seat). 8 happens to be one of my lucky numbers.
4. When I wrote 760 as my target score, I did it almost as a joke. I thought that if I aimed high enough, maybe my real score would end up being higher.
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly."