I took the GMAT on Sept 11th and scored 750(Q49,V42, AWA-5.5,IR-8). This is my first post on GMATClub, although I have lurking around here for months. The forum has played a crucial role in the planning and execution of my GMAT preparation. This my attempt to give something back by sharing my story. Hopefully this debrief will be useful to future test-takers.My Background
I hold a Dual Degree(M.Tech+B.Tech) in Electrical Engg. from IIT. Have been working in core R&D/Product software development roles for the last 7 years. Although I like technology, over the last few years I have found it to be limited in terms of roles,scope of work and (of course)compensation. Moreover, I have hit a brick wall in terms of personal development. It suffices to say that my career has not reached the dizzy heights that the careers of my peer group have. Indeed, some phases have been downright nightmarish and left me bereft of any confidence in my own abilities. Two years ago, the prospect of giving the GMAT and applying to top B-Schools scared the hell out of me. It has been a slow and tortuous path to recovery but I finally mustered up the courage to go after what I really want.Materials and Preparation
As mentioned above, the main obstacles in my path were mental blocks rather than anything else. Still, deep down somewhere I had this faith that my Math and English abilities were sufficient to do well. But then as I started researching the material, the last vestiges of that misplaced faith were banished from my mind. In all these years, I have never prepared for the CAT or the GRE and a lot of test skills engineering students/grads take for granted were thus completely missing from my repertoire. I realized early that I would have to start from scratch and work systematically and hard if I wanted a decent score. This was strangely liberating as I could now be a 'fighter'(hard worker) instead of a 'stud'(a natural). Leaving your ego out of it can sometimes make all the difference.
With a few weeks of frantic searching around the usual MBA forums, I made a list the material that seemed to be universally accepted as the best. These are listed below:Verbal
1. Manhattan SC guide:
Start on this early, as it goes into quite a bit of detail. This book will help you to develop the ability to figure out what the correct sentence should be as you read the question stem. The practice questions are not in the GMAT format, but rather of the 'point-out the error' type.
2. Aristotle SC Grail + Question Bank :
I used the SC Grail as a revision tool. It covers all the rules and idioms very nicely and is best used as a refresher towards the end of one's preparation. I also got the question bank, but IMO the questions here are not that tough. One should target 90%+ hit rates here.
3. The Brutal SC compilation on GMATClub:
A must-do in my book. Attempt these once you have exhausted the other sources and the OG. I found that many of these questions get the GMAT flavor right and you can also benefit from the detailed explanations posted by the other members. If you want to crack the most difficult SC problems, you might find the building-blocks here.
4. PowerScore CR Bible:
For me, this book lives up to its reputation. I liked the detailed explanations and the end-of-chapter questions are really tricky and hit the right notes. Again, this is not a book for those in a hurry. Some of the concepts developed here can help you while doing RC and even AWA.
5. Aristotle RC99:
I did about 5 high-difficulty passages from here before giving up. Did not like the material at all, seemed somewhat non-standard to me. YMMV.
The verbal section in the OG is excellent. I would highly recommend exhausting all the questions here(don't forget the diagnostic test ones) as most of them are quite close to the real thing.Quant
1. MGMAT strategy guides:
This set of 5 guides gives you all you need.The number properties book, as expected, was excellent.Take your time in going through all the concepts and doing the practice problems. One should also try to figure out the various ways in which a particular problem may be approached. MGMAT books
always highlight this aspect, so experiment and decide what works the best for you and when to switch from one method to another.
2. GMATClub Math book:
This was an invaluable compendium for my revision needs.
I just did 15-20 questions from here, as it is widely believed to be too easy. After finishing the MGMAT guides
, I didn't really feel the need to practice OG questions.IR
I primarily did the 50 questions (posted on the Wiley website) that are available with the purchase of the OG13. They are fairly representative of what you'll get on the actual exam and cover all the question types and traps well.AWA
What else? chineseburned's AWA template it was. No need to look any further. I just wrote 2 essays with this format. I would also recommend looking at the GMAC list of AWA topics.
I started on the material in May to by mid-July I had covered most of it. For RC I didn't do much as I have been a voracious reader since childhood and pretty much read any topic with great interest.As I was studying, I started doing questions based on the topics I had finished. One strategy that I can recommend is doing a block of 10-15 questions while timing yourself. I used to do this for verbal questions everyday. I finished all the SC and about half the RC and CR questions in the OG in this manner, sometimes doing a mixture of different types. Once I had finished I would go over the answer explanations and see what I had done wrong. I did not maintain a proper error log
, but made mental notes if a particular type of error was cropping up often. In hindsight, I should have done the same for quant questions. A failure to do so proved costly for me in the end.Mock Tests
With this preparation, I downloaded GMATPrep and gave my first mock in the first week of August. From the beginning itself, I took mocks under strict timing and breaks rules, with IR included.
1. GMATPrep 1: 720(Q49,V39)
The test was an absolute disaster. I messed up my timing so bad that I just randomly marked the last 10-12 questions in Quant and last 7 questions in the verbal section. Moreover, I got a 4 or a 5 on IR(doing about 6 questions) and had allowed the failures of the previous section to mess up the following section. Don't let the score fool you, I just got lucky with my error patterns and could easily have gotten a sub-700 score.To my horror, I found that I SUCKED at doing math/IR under time pressure. Too many silly mistakes and oversights, spread over all topics.I sat and formulated a timing strategy for my next test and decided to calm myself more effectively during the breaks. Of course, there were also a few topics where I needed some revision and I brushed up on these.
2. GMATPrep 2: 750(Q48,V44)
Much better score and time management(maybe the repeated IR questions helped) but I made even more silly errors in Quant- basic stuff like not reading the question properly, marking the wrong choice and doing calculation mistakes.This time my error patterns proved costly and my Q score took a hit. I thought my Verbal was all set and my math would improve over time. Still I felt I needed another 3 weeks and so I booked my GMAT for Sept 11th.
3. MGMAT1: 740(Q48,V45)
Found the math and IR to be much tougher and could not finish these sections. I did not gel with the Math material as it was heavy on calculations/ substituting values. But the worrying pattern of oversights/silly mistakes was raring its ugly head again.I noticed that I was always losing track of time during the 10th-25th questions in my Quant section. Still, I wasn't too worried at this point.
4. MGMAT2:700, MGMAT3:690, MGMAT4:670
10 days before D-day, I got a major jolt as my scores inexplicably plummeted to new depths. My Quant settled at around 45 and Verbal dropped all the way down to 36. The errors had no rhyme or reason. I was mismanaging time in both sections and randomly guessing around 7-10 questions. I was getting seriously fatigued by the IR section itself. Even though I knew where I was going slow, I somehow contrived to do the same mistake every time in the Quant section and this was affecting my Verbal as well.
I had that familiar sinking feeling that I was about to blow up under pressure and that my GMAT dreams might be all over. The failures of my past started to haunt me. As if sensing my weakness, the pressure at my workplace cranked up a couple of notches and my last few days were very hectic. I needed to arrest my slide and decided to take 4 days off to salvage my prep(giving me a total of 5 days before the test).
Analyzing my drop, I figured that I just didn't gel with MGMAT's test material and would have to accept that I was bad at their tests. However, I had not done too badly on GMAC material. I then decided to do something out of character- I set my sights on a 770 score. Instead of tempering my expectations, I chose to raise the bar. In a way, I forbade myself to accept anything less than this. I was hoping that I could trick my brain with positive thinking(something I didn't really believe in). I spent the next two days revising my notes and concepts. The verbal/SC Flash Cards/checklists by Whiplash proved to be extremely useful for revisions. I then re-took the GMATPrep test and scored 740(Q48, V44) and 770(Q50, V47). The tests were easier because of repeated questions and a by-now memorized IR section. Still, I kept telling myself that Q50 and V45 were well within my reach. On the day before the exam, I relaxed and watched some movies/TV, with a bit of revision thrown in. I was in the zone and raring to go. Thankfully I was able to sleep for 8 hours.Test Day
My test was scheduled for 12:45PM. I woke up at my regular time(7.30AM) and did a final revision of my notes. I also solved a few easy PS+DS problems from the GMATPrep software to warm-up. Then I got ready, ate a big,late breakfast and set off, arriving at the test center 40 minutes ahead of time. I met up with the 2 guys who were taking the test with me. I was extremely nervous but as the 3 of us started chatting I was distracted and calmed down a bit. In no time, the proctor was ushering us through to our desks one-by-one and the test started.
The AWA section went by without much trouble. I just stuck to my template and tried to write as much as possible, stopping when 5 minutes were left. I revised my essay and submitted it with a minute to go. The IR section was definitely a bit trickier than I had expected. The MSR and TPR stimuli were a bit convoluted but the questions seemed doable. I had targeted around 10 questions(given my history of slow performances) but managed to finish 11. I was about to guess the 12th when the timer went off. Took my break, rushed to restroom and then sipped some Gatorade and had a banana.
The Quant section started off with an easy PS question followed by another easy one. I breezed through the first 5-10 questions just about maintaining time. Then I started getting some really weird questions - one involving geometry with combinatorics, another on volumes and one vague CS-style graph question where I couldn't find an answer choice matching my guess! I thought I might be doing well, as the questions definitely looked tricky. Then I saw the time and froze - I had done it again. I was 6 minutes behind at the 25 question mark. I tried to speed up but again went into question-solving-machine mode, with the result that I had 11 minutes left for the last 7 questions. I really sped up at that point, struggling with my calculations and somehow finished with a minute to spare. In hindsight, I probably made too many silly errors due to my usual lapse during questions 10-25. However, at that time, I felt I had done well and not guessed on any question except one. All in all, the section wasn't easy by any means and definitely threw up some curveballs.
I took the second break and pretty much followed the same routine as the first one. I still told myself that a 770 was possible, just needed to do well on Verbal and this was my comfort zone anyway. The section started with a couple of SCs on which I took my time. The test followed the usual pattern but the questions were definitely tricky. The SCs typically had complicated sentence structures and I sometimes required multiple readings to get the meaning.CRs were also tricky, with several assumption and evaluate the argument type questions where the answer choices were fairly alike. I was happy to see a bold-faced and an analogy question, thinking that I must be doing well.Even the RCs weren't a cakewalk. I didn't really keep a tab on time till the last 10 questions arrived. I just had 16 minutes left and again somehow managed to rush and finish the section with a minute to spare.
I rushed through the rest of the screens with shaky fingers and then paused for a split second before clicking 'Report my score'. I still believed I would see a 760/770 and so was slightly disappointed to see a 750. When saw my breakup, I realized that my habitual quant mistakes had done the damage again and how close I had come to actually achieving my target score. Still, it wasn't too shabby. The mind games had worked and I was done with the GMAT forever!Final Words of Wisdom
1. Get your mindset right. Leave both your ego and fears behind when you embark on this journey.
2. Giving a timed test and mastering the concepts are two different things. Only when you get both spot-on will you perform well on the GMAT
3. Always read the question stems carefully. Even if you are under severe time pressure,understand the question and then quickly answer rather than skimming the question and struggling when you don't find the answer.
4. Don't overdo mock tests. If fatigue/non-standard nature of the material starts to affect your test scores, take a break and work on your concepts.
5. Take the test when you feel completely ready. A difference of just 2 weeks might be crucial in achieving your dream score.
6. Spend the last few days revising and maybe re-taking GMATPreps. Stay away from non-GMAC material at this time.
7. Stay positive in the last few days and aim for the stars. Visualize your success and don't make failure an option.