So I took my GMAT this morning in London, England (Holborn test centre). Here's how it went:Test day experience
My appointment was scheduled for 08.30, I arrived at 7.55 and they hadn't opened the centre yet. Waited about 5-10 mins and they let us in. There was a slightly nervous moment when they couldn't find my name on the list, before I pointed out that they were looking at yesterday's list!
I went through their Bond-style security, deposited all my stuff, drank far too much water from not wanting to get dehydrated, and went and got started.
The centre itself is pretty low key, which in a sense helped me lose a few nerves. It felt a bit like registering with a recruitment agency and doing all their Excel and Word tests. It took a bit of getting used to the laminated notepads but in the end it wasn't really an issue. I was glad to have the AWA to trial this out. The earplugs they gave me were pretty ineffective, didn't matter too much to me but maybe worth bearing in mind.
was fine, pretty typical really. Almost ran out of time on the first one but thought I did a solid second one. Will let you know how it goes when I get the score.
was the one I was nervous about, so I took the break and tried to psych myself up a bit and ate an apple/had more water (more on this later!). Got back just in time (8 mins isn't long). It went reasonably smoothly, I felt like I'd managed the time okay, the questions were no tougher than normal and I came to the last 5 questions with about 12 and a half minutes left and an unusual question in front of me. At this point I was really needing to use the bathroom and, although I could obviously have waited, I felt it was distracting me and the cost of the 2-minute break might be worth it. So I took the break and lost that spare 2.5 minutes.
Of course, I was thinking about the question all that time, and I did come up with the means to crack it immediately when I sat down, so I felt pretty pleased with myself at that point. The only problem being I then made a silly error completing the problem (I went over it again in my head later and realised). Still, the last 4 questions weren't too bad so I think all in all it was possibly the right call, even though it might sound odd. There were two combinatorics questions I think, and I don't remember any speed/time/distance or rate/time/work problems coming up at all. Lots of algebra.
The next break I spent going over the errors from quant in my head, as much as I tried not to. I really wasn't sufficiently scared of verbal, and I think this was a symptom of that.
I approached verbal
feeling quite relaxed as it had gone so well in my two GMAT Prep tests. I tried not to be complacent of course, but in the end I think on some subconscious level I must have been. I really struggled to focus on the content of the questions and was re-reading things several times with my mind wandering to other thoughts, including what my final score might be (talk about jumping the gun!). I managed to re-focus eventually but this cost me some time and possibly some errors, although I felt confident in my answers as I went along. There were a few tricky SCs in there but otherwise the level seemed normal. The RCs were short and not unusually complex. The one complicated one I thought I had quite a strong grip on. I finished with about 2 mins to spare (compared to about 10 mins normally), having again taken a break of about 2 mins in the middle (this time I think it was the wrong call, but I felt like I could afford it and it might help me refocus my mind). With all that in mind, I'm still struggling to see where I lost enough points to drop to 44. It must have been down to the lack of focus early on and then some sloppy errors due to time pressure, which I'm not used to having at all in verbal.
Then I clicked through, eagerly anticipating... only to find that the research for future GMAT questions that I'd agreed to take part in would come before I received my score. Argh! So I had to sit through another half hour of new-fangled GMAT questions, which may have been interesting at another time but really I couldn't have been less interested at that point. I tried my best to answer them properly and slowly got into the swing. In the end I clicked through and... trying to be honest here... my initial reaction was slight disappointment. I knew when I got 770 and 790 on the GMAT Preps that the only way was down, and tried to do all I could to guard against complacency and make sure I was sharp on the day. In the end I don't think it worked 100% and I feel like I left 10-20-30 points behind somewhere by not quite getting it right on the day. I'm happy to have got the quant up to 48, I would certainly have taken that if offered this morning, but having got 82 verbal questions right in a row on GMAT Prep CATs (two 51s) I can't pretend to be happy with a 44 there. But still, now the dust has settled I'm very content with the overall score. I would certainly have taken that when I started the prep.
I should add that I think in my urge not to be complacent and to be 'in the zone' on the day, I overdid it a bit. I was trying to eat the right foods the day before and get an unusually early night in the few days before, and I think in the end it didn't help any and may have hindered by subconsciously making it out to be a big important thing (these actions were telling myself 'this is worth going out your the way for'). I think I just needed to do/eat/drink my normal things, get an early night the night before, and just integrate it into my week in a normal way. Might have made me a bit calmer in some ways, and I wouldn't have drunk so much water! Anyway, it's all speculation.Here's what I did for prep:
Having just re-read some of this I think I should put in a caveat. I tried to approach this test with the attitude of 'why not get every single question right?' If that's not what you're aiming for then you may find some bits of this irrelevant. But I'd rather give an honest perspective from the only perspective I can give than give than try to second guess what will be useful for others. There are plenty of other debriefs out there for people with all different kinds of approach and aspiration.
Although this doesn't really count as prep per se, I started off a long time ago by just flicking through an old edition of the Kaplan
GMAT800 book. I was doing it more for my own personal amusement than from any sense that I would eventually apply for an MBA. Still, I got through the whole thing over a very long period of time and that probably gave me a basic grounding in the way it works and got me revisiting a few old maths concepts. Still, that was several years before I got serious about it.
Fast forward to this year (!) and I booked my test on Sep 20th, so that's when the preparation started in earnest. So in total I probably did about two months of 2/3 evenings a week (never more than about 2-3 hours per evening) plus probably one day at the weekend where I'd do 4-5 hours. If I had to put a number on it I'd probably guess I did about 100-120 hours of proper prep.
I should say too that at the beginning I was finding it tough just to remember the different question types (RC, SC, CR, DS, PS) and to understand all the acronyms relating to prep materials. It wasn't until near the end that I began to get a handle on the different kinds of question in each category, and there's still a lot I don't know on that front.Quant:
Like many others I grossly over-estimated my quant ability at the start. I did A-level (age 16-18) maths about 12 years ago, and in my head this qualified me not to have to learn any of the concepts properly. WRONG! My strategy was initially to just plug away at questions, reviewing wrong answers until the concepts just came back to me naturally or through the explanations provided by the books. To an extent that probably saved me some time, in the sense that it was very focused on the relevant material and meant that I didn't learn anything unnecessarily that wasn't coming up regularly in the questions. And probably 4 out of 5 of the concepts did come back to me that way, even if I could have learnt them more thoroughly another way. Ultimately though it wasn't sufficiently structured or systematic to start me on the way to the top few percentile quant score that I still feel I'm capable of.
I don't think there's any quant problem that can't be solved in two minutes if you know the concepts well enough and have a solid, systematic approach to answering the questions, with back-up procedures for when your initial approach doesn't work. But you need to find out early enough in the process where your weak spots are, and to make sure that you can do the basics and many of the not-so-basics very quickly as second nature to buy you time for when you will inevitably occasionally have to sit and conceptualise your way through a problem. You should be spotting algebra patterns (e.g. factorising x squared minus y squared and vice-versa) easily, knowing your basic methods for each question type inside-out (tables, venn diagrams, method for combinatorics), be able to spot fairly quickly when it's quickest or easiest to pick numbers and what numbers to choose. Only if you have all that down will you have the freedom to give more time to the trickier stuff. And of course, if like me you realise from your analysis that 80-90% of your errors come from carelessness rather than concepts, you need to pay a lot of attention to detail and be very calm and precise on the day. I got more than half way there, but probably needed another month of prep really to nail it.
Anyway, I was too slow in taking a diagnostic, having worked through the OG12
questions from the beginning and been deceived into thinking I more or less had it down. The first 100 or so questions in those quant sections are more or less pointless for anyone aiming for well over 700, except for giving you a feel for the language, presentation and topics covered. That has a value, but don't be led like I was into thinking that your success rate on these questions is any indicator of how you'll do on the really tough questions that you're going to have to answer in a high concentration to get a really high score. So, it wasn't until I took the first MGMAT CAT 3 weeks or so into my prep that I realised how much more I had to do.
At that point I bought MGMAT Number Properties
and Word Translations, having identified those as weak areas. Number Properties was great, it really gave me confidence in that area. Word Translations was ok, but I'm not sure how much it paid off in the end. It did give me some confidence but it may not have been the best use of all that time, as I worked all the way through it rather than just doing the advanced sections. I didn't do the practice 'translate data sufficiency' questions, which I think in hindsight was a bad idea. Towards the end I also looked at Kaplan
for tips on strategy for quant, which I think was very useful and reminded me of the importance of picking numbers. It really can save a huge amount of time. I used the Kaplan
CD to do 2 or 3 half-CATs, only doing the quant section, in the last couple of weeks leading up to the exam. I felt this was necessary to improve my timing and know when to guess and move on. I more or less focused entirely on quant at the end as it was so clearly the weaker area.Verbal
I didn't do as much for verbal. Here the strategy of just doing question after question was much more effective, as I knew most of the tested grammar rules and had solid critical reasoning / reading comprehension skills from my undergraduate degree. It was more about learning what they are looking for and the ways they try to trick you. By the end I really thought I had this down, but evidently I didn't have it quite to the level I thought. I'm still slightly at a loss to explain this.
I bought MGMAT Sentence Correction
and briefly looked through parts of it, but didn't really use it in the end. I read some advice on the forums about approaches to different types of verbal question but never developed a 'system' of any kind. The two most useful things I read or learned were to practice clearly identifying the conclusion in all CR passages and to compare SC answers in a structural way to isolate differences and rules, rather than to read each one through the sentence and see which 'sounds' right.
I think SC particularly is eminently beatable if you just learn all the rules and then apply a structured approach to evaluating the options. There's no magic to it, but it is hard work learning the rules if English isn't your first language. It's just effort though, not skill. CR, I don't know, I've not read any strategy materials so can't comment on that. I think the tip about tone is a good one, if the tone is very strong it's unlikely to be the right choice. RC, I would imagine that doing things like reading complex science and nature articles may help if it's done regularly enough, but again I haven't identified any good strategies, I've just been going by instinct. If I'd had more time I'd have looked more deeply into it, but it was my strongest area all the way through the practice so I couldn't justify giving it any time.Here's a summary of the results of the practice questions I did, with dates:OG 12
hit rates: PS: 90%; RC: 95%; CR: 98%; SC: 93%; DS: 96% (first 77Qs only) - mostly done before 7th Nov.
MGMAT CAT#1: 710 Q48 V39
__94% Q86% V89% __Q22/37 V26/41 (12th October)
MGMAT CAT#2: 740 Q46 V45
__98% Q79% V99% __Q20/37 V31/41 (14th October)
MGMAT CAT#3: 730 Q45 V45
__97% Q77% V99% __Q20/37 V34/41 (21st October)
GMATPrep CAT#1: 770 Q48 V51
__99% Q85% V99%__Q27/37 V41/41 (7th November)
(after this point I focused almost exclusively on quant)
MGMAT CAT#4: 730 Q45 V45
__97% Q77% V99% __Q20/37 V38/41 (12th November)
GMATPrep CAT#2: 790 Q51 V51
__99% Q99% V99%__Q34/37 V41/41 (21st November)
(790 two days before the test - couldn't believe it and knew immediately that there was a risk it would make me too casual)
GMAT: 750 Q48 V44 Q__98% Q82% V97%
(I don't really understand how is V44 is 97th percentile, but that's what it says)Last thoughts
Alright, there we have it. Hope my experience was useful for someone. My main take-home points would be:
- Give yourself as much time as possible to prepare. Obvious, but true. Obviously don't burn out, but I think extra time is very useful in letting it all sink in slowly.
- Know your basic concepts inside-out. Especially on quant this is essential for time-management.
- Identify weaknesses early on. Then hammer them. Then if you have time, re-identify and re-hammer! If you don't, then don't worry about it.
- Remember the GMAT is not the be-all and end-all. Approach it seriously but not fanatically.
- Be realistic. If you did an arts degree at undergrad you'll need to work hard on the maths, regardless of how numerate you think you are. You're competing with engineers and people who've been working in finance for several years - you just won't have the same level of familiarity with numerical concepts, no matter how 'naturally capable' you are. I suspect that the converse is also true - if you did a mathematical degree someone like me who spent a lot of time analysing dense text and picking apart complex arguments is likely to have a head start on the verbal. I think that's pretty much common sense, and just needs to be recognised when putting together a plan.
- Don't be seduced by prep scores. Take it all with a pinch of salt, whether it's a low score or a high score. They're indicative of something, but you can't take the scores in with you.
- Of the materials I used, I'd recommend MGMAT number properties
, both for the book and the access to a bunch of CATs. I'd definitely recommend doing a few of their full tests, as the maths is quite tough in my opinion. I never used the maths tests on this site but have heard they're tougher and therefore might be useful for stretching yourself, then the GMAT problems will seem easier.
I'll add to these if anything comes to mind, but right now I've written too much and need to go grab a celebratory drink or three!
Good luck all!
Update: I got 6.0AWA - all I can say here is use the post on this forum entitled 'how to get a 6.0' or something like that, it really works!