When I saw the '760' flash on the screen, I about lost it. I knew I had the ability to break 700, but I never ever considered anything above a 720-730 possible.
Let me give some background first. I've taken the GMAT 5 times since September 2009, never scoring above a 690 until today. I also took a 6 month break from studying between my last attempt (690) and when I began studying for today's attempt (760). Here's my track record:
Here's my long debrief from start to finish. I started with Kaplan
, then went to Manhattan GMAT
, then finally to Knewton. I'll be brief with Kaplan
and Manhattan and describe the final 2 month push to 760 using Knewton in more detail at the bottom.First 2 Attempts - Kaplan
When I started in September 2009, I enrolled in the Kaplan
real-classroom course. I had it stuck in my mind that if I did all of the homework and went to the classes, I would break a 700. I was dead wrong! While the homework and class sessions were a lot of work by themselves, I needed a more rigorous, in-depth, and methodological approach. As far as Kaplan
goes, I had a great teacher, but I found the content in general to lack detail and be too brief. I also found that the algorithm on their CATs was seriously flawed. (though I have heard this has been corrected)3rd & 4th Attempt - Manhattan GMAT
After taking the GMAT twice and scoring a 640 (Q43, V34), I decided that I needed to try something else. So I purchased all of the the MGMT books. As anyone who has used the MGMT books knows, these books are extremely thorough. I studied diligently using these books for the following 3.5 months. I would wake up early every morning (5am) to read and take notes on new content from the books. Then after work each day I would review my notes and do 20-30 OG problems. On the weekend I would spend 6-10hrs each day to study from the books and take MGMT's CATs. All in all, I truly felt that I was making serious progress, especially in regards to the quant section. By the end of my studies, I had learned all of the topics in the books and had mastered a lot of the more complex quant topics (permutation, combinatorics, probability, etc.)
I was feeling very confident in my ability to break 700 given that I was consistently scoring between 720-750 on both the MGMT CATs and the Official GMATPrep CATs (though I had taken both several times).
Once I took the test, I scored a 690 (Q43, V41). My verbal was surprisingly good, and a big improvement at that, but my quant score really frustrated me. Quant was my primary focus during the previous 3.5 months, yet my quant score did not improve at all. If you'll recall, I scored a Q43 the last time I took the GMAT. I attributed my low quant score to test day anxiety and decided to take it again 1 month later. During that month, I did not focus on content. Instead I just did OG problems for an hour each evening and took 1 CAT each weekend.
I went back to take the test and experienced every re-test-taker's biggest fear: I scored lower. This time I got a 680 (Q44, V38). While my quant had improved ever so slightly, my verbal had fallen off a cliff.Final Attempt- Knewton
After the last attempt I was devastated. However, I temporarily came to terms that a 690, combined with my GPA and work experience, was probably good enough for most schools.
But this thinking changed after visiting Kellogg last October and speaking to students and faculty about GMAT scores. I left with the impression that it would greatly improve my chances for acceptance if I could get my score up above 700 (and especially get my quant score above the 70th percentile). I fell in love with Kellogg during my visit, so I made a commitment after that visit to block out 2 months (January and February) to study and take the test again in March. I also made a promise to myself that this would be my final and last attempt at the GMAT. I would take the test again in March, and no matter what my score was, I would never waste time on the GMAT again!
Prior to starting my study regiment, I spent a lot of time putting together a very detailed study plan for those 2 months. I also decided to give Knewton a shot. Partly because of the 50 point guarantee (I absolutely thought that I'd be getting my money back) and partly because I had tried everything else.
My study agenda, which I typed out, carried with me, and put on my bedroom wall consisted of the following:
Monday: 2 Error Logs with the OG (verbal & quant)
Tuesday: Knewton Quant & Verbal Course (on demand)
Wednesday: 1 Error Log
, Knewton Course homework
Thursday: Knewton Quant & Verbal Course
Friday: 1 Error Log
, Knewton Course homework
Saturday: Knewton CAT, 2+ error logs (Q & V), brush up on difficulty areas, do extra Knewton assignments
Sunday: MGMT CAT, 2 error logs (Q & V)
I would spend 30-40 hours each week, in addition to working 60+hr weeks at my job, following this schedule religiously.
In regards to the Knewton course, I found it to be very good. While it covers the fundamental topics with great clarity, it does not go into nearly as much detail as Manhattan GMAT
nor does it offer as many 700+ level quant problems (but for me, this was a not a bad thing!) Further, the video service and the quality of the teachers cannot be matched by any other program imo. Also, while Knewton really did do a great job teaching both
Quant and Verbal, its Verbal material was truly exceptional. I can without a doubt say that it contributed significantly to my 47 verbal score.
However, I do want to point out that the Knewton CAT algorithm is definitely flawed. I fluctuated between 680 and 710 on all 6 of the CATs, and on the final CAT I scored a 45 on the quant but only missed 3 problems. Given my performance on the GMATPrep tests
and the actual GMAT, I can assure you that their algorithm is wrong (for instance, I missed 11 on the GMAT Prep quant section and still scored a 48).
In sum, I think that there were a few things in particular that allowed me to make the jump from 690 to 760.First
, I started using error logs. While I had used the OG for practice problems in the past, it was not until this last attempt that I began using error logs extensively. For each error log
, I would do 40 quant questions (20DS, 20PS) or 45 verbal questions (20SC, 20CR, 5RC) all within a strict 60 minute time frame. This not only helped me to improve my timing, but it also helped me to learn from my mistakes. I also found it IMPERATIVE to review any mistakes or uncertainties in-depth after completing an error log
. At times, I would spend as much time reviewing the error log
as I would doing the problems in the error log
. Also, every 2-3 weeks I would go back through my old error logs and do an error log
that consisted only of problems I had trouble with before.Second
, when I used MGMT during my 3rd & 4th attempt, I spent a ton of time mastering the more complex portions of the GMAT (probability, combinatorics, etc). I always thought that these difficult concepts were keeping me back from a 700. However, I am confident that my attention to these topics actually prevented me from mastering some of the more fundamental and easy-to-medium type questions. To put into perspective, prior to my 3rd & 4th GMAT attempt, I could have probably done any 700+ probability problem out there, but I would likely slip up on a 600 level ratio problem.Finally
, during my last attempt at studying, I stopped trying to "memorize." During my previous attempts I used an ever-increasing stack of flash cards (over 200) that contained everything from the formula of a trapezoid to every idiom that I had difficultly with. I would spend at least an hour every day going through these flash cards to make sure that I could repeat the stuff verbatim. This last go-around, I changed my frame of mind. I realized that it was more important to learn the formulas by practice and application (by doing thousands of practice problems) than by rote memorization.Test Day
My exam was scheduled for Friday morning at 8am. I took off from work the day before in order to catch up on rest and do a quick review. I spent the day before watching the final Knewton Quant and Verbal review videos, which provide a nice overview of all the main GMAT concepts. I did terrible on the review problems in the video, so I started getting pretty nervous. I went for a run to clear my head. I convinced myself that I had done all I could do and that tomorrow I would need to stop thinking and start acting. There was no point in thinking about past CAT scores or my upcoming GMAT score, instead I only needed to focus on the single question in front of me. I shoved the test to the back of my mind and was finally relieved.
So finally the day came. I woke up at 5:30am, drank a couple cups of coffee, did 10 practice quant problems, ate a big breakfast, and left for the test center. When I arrived I went through the normal routine and began on the AWA portion. I'm usually very strong in the AWA portion, but I found both the argument and issue questions to be particularly challenging. After I finished AWA I took a quick break and started on the quant portion. First quant question was fine, but I got tripped up and spent about 3-4 minutes on the third question; I ended up having to guess. It was frustrating because I knew it was a simple 'group' question, but for some reason I couldn't formulate any solution in the answer choices. After that, I started nailing the questions, but I was also aware that I was averaging slightly more than 2min per question. I made up most of the time until I got to the last two questions. #36 was a weighted average question and #37 was a number property question, both of which I consider to be strong points of mine. I was pressed on time and ended up having to make educated guesses on each of the questions. During the subsequent break I realized that I got both of the last two questions wrong after hitting submit. Given my struggle with managing my time, along with my errors in the last 2 questions, I predicted that my quant score was lower than I would have like. I figured that I needed to destroy the verbal section to break 700.
During the verbal section I felt amazing from question #1. After 10-15 questions I started getting some really difficult CR & RC questions that were taking me longer than normal to answer. However, despite their difficulty, I knew that I was demolishing every question. I was truly in the 'zone!' Around question #30, I knew that my verbal score was going to be massive, I just had no idea how massive it was going to be!
Right before I selected 'Submit My Score,' I was expecting my score to be between 690 and 720 (Q44-45 V42). Therefore, when I saw 760 (Q47 V47), my heart just about skipped a beat. My quant score was higher than I expected and on par with what I was seeking. The 47 in verbal was a HUGE surprise. Out of all the practice CATs I have ever taken, I never received above a 44 on verbal. And even with the Official GMATPrep CATS, the highest I received was a 42. It's difficult to explain with words how overwhelmingly happy I am with my score and it feels amazing to be able to put this part of my life behind me!
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