This is my first post in this forum though I've been a silent observer for the past 3 weeks. I wanted to post my debrief primarily to share my experience with other users who might benefit from some aspect of my GMAT journey and also to thank the GMATClub forum for all the help rendered towards my endeavor.
This was my first attempt at GMAT. To give details about my background, I am an engineer from India with about 8 years of experience in the Telecom industry. GMAT was not really in my career plan till about a few months back, when I suddenly decided to give it a shot this year.
I had no background knowledge about this exam and I wasn't really familiar with the pattern or the content being tested. Also I wasn't aware of this forum and despite the plethora of help and advice available online I was reluctant to look into any of them. I decided to go it alone and chart my own strategy in cracking this test. My cousin, who is also preparing for this same exam, gave me some initial tips and also a quick rundown on the general nature of this test's content and the various materials available for helping with the preparation.
After taking my cousin's inputs I decided to get the below 2 items as my prep materials
I had heard a lot about the Manhattan guides, but after having had a glance at them I realized that those were more suited for a 60+ day prep strategy. I was planning on spending only 5 weeks on the entire preparation and the Kaplan Premier
was well suited for this purpose. As for practice CATs, the Kaplan Premier
came with 6 CATs but I wanted variety so I decided to borrow a couple of MGMAT CATs from my cousin.
Since I had exactly 38 days I knew I had to have an extremely well planned strategy and that I had to stick to it with no deviation whatsoever. Some points I considered while deciding on the plan
- I am not a native English speaker but given that I've been a voracious reader since childhood, sometimes reading as many as 15-20 paperbacks in a week, I decided to spend less time on Verbal compared to Quants.
- No spending time on random materials. I decided to keep it simple and straight - use a minimum number of materials, but use them well. This meant only sticking to OG13 and Kaplan Premier. I am a firm believer in the Sherlock Holmes quote "Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones"
- Not to give any test till I had done one round of prep using the above mentioned materials. This included the diagnostic tests on Kaplan and OG13. I saw no point in wasting time by giving a test before starting off the prep. Since the last competitive exam I had given was more than a decade ago I was bound to be rusty in Quants. A diagnostic test wouldn’t tell me the difference between a genuine weakness in an area and a mere lack of familiarity with the topic.
- I decided I could spend a max of 4 hours each day. On weekdays it would usually be at 8-12 at night after coming home from work and on weekends it would be around 12-4 in the afternoon.
- I was only going to take one day off from work - the day before the exam. Since I had decided to spend only 4 hours a day I knew I could manage work and prep and do justice to both.
- Before starting the day's preparation I would revise the previous day's stuff for an hour and then spend the remaining 3 hours on that day's actual preparation. This strategy worked well for me in the past particularly when I was pressed for time and did not have the luxury of going over the entire material twice.
The actual plan I had worked out
- Spend 5 days on Kaplan Premier Verbal section (2 days for CR, 1 day for RC, 2 days for SC)
- Spend 5 days on OG13 Verbal (1 day for CR, 2 days for RC, 1 day for SC, 1 day for revision of the difficult ones encountered in all 3)
- Spend 8 days on Kaplan Quants (there were 9 chapters in total, so on one day I would have to squeeze in 2 chapters)
- Spend 5 days on OG13 Quants (100 questions each day for 4 days and revising the difficult ones on the 5th day)
- Spend 1 day on AWA and IR - IR from Kaplan Premier and AWA from some online forum
- Spend 1 day on the Diagnostic Paper Test in Kaplan
- Spend 1 day on the Diagnostic Paper Test in OG13
- Spend 1 day on the free CAT from GMATClub
- Spend 10 days on 5 CATs (2 Kaplan, 2 MGMAT and 1 GMATPrep) taking each CAT on alternate days with the intervening day spent in cumulatively reviewing the mistakes of all the previous CATs
- Keep the last 2 days before the exam free and decide what to do on those 2 days once I get there.
I stuck to the above plan without any deviation and this discipline stood me in good stead given the regimented nature of this overall strategy.
Performance in Practice tests
By the time I completed Phase I, I was feeling fairly confident about myself. The Kaplan Premier
described the concepts in a clear & crisp manner and my strategy of revising the previous day's material ensured that the material was still fresh in my mind at the end of the Phase. And the OG13 gave me adequate exposure to the type of questions that could be expected in the actual GMAT.
Jul 2/3: Diagnostic Paper Tests in Kaplan and OG13
These were fairly easy and in the OG13 I got an excellent on all sections except PS and SC where I got above average. In the Kaplan
Paper test it gave me a range of 680-730. This was of course vague, but I felt it was a decent start. On reviewing the mistakes I found most of the ones in Quant to be careless errors which I realized could be reduced with more practice. I had timed myself on both these tests and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I finished the Quant section 5 mins before time and Verbal 19 mins ahead of time. At this stage I was feeling extremely confident, and boy, little did I know the nasty surprise in store for me.
Jul 5: Free CAT from GMATClub (Q33 V24)
This brought me crashing down so hard I was literally in tears when I saw the score. I had not browsed through this forum much at this point so I wasn't aware of the fact that GMATClub’s Quants are supposed to be very difficult and are meant to get your score from the mid 40's to 50/51. My confidence bled out like a deflating balloon and I went about punching the walls to vent my frustration. On reviewing Quant I realized almost all of my mistakes were in questions involving modulus. Out of the 37, around 26 questions were based on the modulus concept in Number Properties. I realized this was a highly disproportionate amount and the actual GMAT wouldn’t be this skewed in favor of this concept, but I knew I had to tighten my grasp of this topic. While Kaplan Premier
gave me a good breadth across all topics it did not give me much depth. I did not review the verbal section, which I planned to do the next day, but unfortunately when I logged in to GMATClub the next day, the review option was not available anymore.
Jul 7: MGMAT CAT1 660(Q44 V35)
This was of course a much better improvement over the GMATClub CAT, but it was still not satisfactory. The Quants had a better distribution across topics but I found it to be too lengthy. In the verbal section I got only 1/3rd of the SCs correct and at this point I decided that with only 12 days to go, if I get over 680 in my actual GMAT that would be good enough for me. With this in mind I decided to get my practice scores to Q48, V37 level.
Jul 9: Kaplan CAT1 750(Q51 V41)
This was a huge surprise and an unbelievable jump in 2 days. Of course at this point I had started to browse through these forums and somebody had mentioned that those who used Kaplan
materials for practice tend to do well in Kaplan
CATs since their questions are geared towards solving using the Kaplan
strategies. With this thought in mind I tempered the implications of this result. I realized that the Quants section was too easy and Verbal was too difficult. At this point though, I was starting to grasp the actual GMAT verbal concepts being tested. Till this time I was relying on my verbal instincts rather than follow a set of rules, but now I slowly started to ingrain these subtle rules into my verbal psyche.
Jul 11: GMATPrep 1 720(Q47 V41)
At this point I decided to take a GMATPrep to gauge my actual level since each test was giving me wildly swinging scores. My verbal scores were above my target level, but I badly messed up my Quants by not pacing myself. On review I found that in Quants my improper pacing hurt me and in verbal I noted down a few more subtle rules that I needed to apply. This gave me adequate confidence that I could breach the 700 level in the actual GMAT if I could tighten the pacing in Quants
Jul 13: MGMAT CAT2 740(Q48 V43)
I wanted to break the 700 level in MGMAT too just to be sure that I could consistently hit the 700 level regardless of the test prep company I used. I realized that MGMAT Quant was too laborious, but it gave me the right kind of practice. I was not too impressed with the Verbal wherein I found MGMAT to be twisting the explanations to certain SCs to suit their answers. And as mentioned by some folks in this forum their SC and CR splits were a bit too easy compared to GMATPrep
Jul 15: Kaplan CAT2 750(Q50 V42)
Since this score was identical to my previous Kaplan
score I was a bit suspicious about the scoring but I was glad that my performance was consistent. This was to be my final practice CAT before the real thing and I wanted to end on a high. I had decided to aim for a Q49, V43 in the real thing.
Test Day Experience
Before the actual day, I had 2 spare days left over from my preparation and I used these days to do 50 Quants (last 25 in PS and last 25 in DS) from the OG Quant
2nd Ed. I didn’t do any verbal prep other than review the rules that I had written down in my verbal review log.I decided to go to bed early and get a good night's rest before D-day - easier said than done. Since the nature of my work is such that I work across different time zones, which tend to vary each day, I don’t have a set sleeping time. My sleeping habits are completely messed up as a result and I have a hard time forcing my body to sleep at predetermined time. In the end I ended up getting around just 30 mins of (very disturbed) sleep but this didn’t worry me much since I was used to managing with very little sleep.
Last minute check
Before leaving for the test center I did 5 DS, 5 PS and 2 CRs (all from the OG Quant
/Verbal 2nd Ed) and this upped my confidence since I realized my mind was still sharp. On reaching the venue, the sterile nature of the environment intimidated me at first, but once I was seated in my cubicle all nerves left me. I filled up the 5 colleges in the list and soon I got ready to begin the game.
AWA and IR
The AWA section was fairly easy. The argument had a ton of holes and I had to struggle to decide which ones to pick. Finally I settled on 4 and threw down chineseburned's template and got to work. Writing essays were never a problem for me and this was no exception. Rather than review the entire essay at the end I normally review each paragraph after I complete it. Following chineseburned's template ensured that the paragraphs were logically distinct, so there was no need to have a complete review at the end anyway. As expected the IR section was quite easy compared to MGMAT (which is ridiculously difficult), Kaplan
or GMATPrep. I got stuck on one 2 part analysis which I ended up guessing in the end, but I ensured that I had enough time for the others.
After the IR section I took the break and unlike most people I did not want to eat or drink anything, though I took a couple of sips of H2O. I used this break to completely banish the thoughts of the IR section and focus on the upcoming Quants. Since pacing was my major worry, I decided to write down my timing strategy in my scratchpad and did a couple of number property theorems in my mind to warm up.
The section started with a moderately engaging question involving weighted averages which took about 2.5 mins. I realized that my nerves were starting to act up, but I quickly forced these thoughts out and got down to business. I found the questions to be too easy and I realized that my pace was picking up quite a bit. For a moment I was worried that I was getting too many wrong, but then it passed quickly and I was just focused on the question at hand. After doing all my practice CATs I had realized that it was very important to get the last 7 questions correct and finish strong so I had set myself a hard time limit of finishing the 30th question with at least 20 mins at hand. I worked with this schedule in mind but I found that in general I was able to keep up the pace without any issues whatsoever. I got a couple of number properties DS questions involving modulus and thanks to the GMATClub CAT I was able to solve those in 20 seconds flat. At the 28th question involving proportions I got stuck and it took me 4 mins when I realized that I was about to overshoot my 20 min deadline for the last 7. I made a quick guess and moved on. When I finally entered into the 31st Q I had 19 mins left. Luckily the last 7 had 4 questions involving Probability and Permutations/Combinations. Since this was my strong suit I managed to reach the 37th Q with 5 and a half minutes left. The last question was again a number property DS and I took my time in solving this one. When I finished I had exactly 3 minutes left.
When I took the break I initially castigated myself for ending the section with 3 spare minutes which I could have used for my 28th Q, but there was no point in crying over spilt milk. Over all I found the entire section too easy. Even in the GMATPrep I had to guess at least 5 Qs to hurry my pace and there were a couple of Qs where even though I got the correct answer I had gotten stuck initially and had spent around 4 mins. But on this actual test except for the first one where I got mildly stuck and the 28th one there were no problems whatsoever. Anyway I decided to banish the thoughts of Quant from my mind and started preparing for the verbal. Even though I didnt need to go, I went to the loo just so I could pump my fists in front of the mirror to psyche myself up for this section. I mentally reviewed the verbal rules I had noted down in my log and taking a few sips of water I settled down for the final frontier.
The first SC question was moderately tricky, but I soon got into the flow. The CR questions in general, were too easy. Even if the stimulus was a bit complicated and no apparent flaws leapt out before reading the options, the options themselves were so far apart that the correct answer screamed itself out of the screen. The pacing was pretty good and I had a feeling I would complete this section almost 15 mins ahead. The first 2 RC passages and the associated Qs were relatively easy and after this I noticed that the SCs were taking more time than the CRs. I was finishing the CRs in around a minute and the SCs were taking more than 2 mins, but I was still comfortable with the time remaining. The final RC was diabolical. Even though the passage as a whole was OK, the 3rd paragraph was bewitching. I read it 5 times to make sense of it. Given my extensive reading habit I was quite comfortable with RCs and I spent no more than 2 and half minutes even for the most convoluted passage. But this one paragraph completely stumped me. Even after repeated re-reading I was not certain I was grasping it completely. Finally I went to the questions and 3 out of the 4 Qs were from that nasty paragraph! Realizing that time was running away I had to make an educated guess on 2 of those Qs and I had around 8 mins for the last 5. 3 of those were tricky SCs which took around 5 mins and I had 3 mins left for the last 2 Qs which luckily were CRs and I was able to complete them both with 20 seconds left.
Except for that last RC I was fairly confident about this section and I could see that my verbal log helped me a great deal with the SCs. With a trembling hand I selected the Report scores option, read through the whole section to confirm I was selecting the correct option and when I reached the score page I let a quiet WOW escape my lips. Q50
I was mildly disappointed that I couldnt reach my target 43 in Verbal but the extra point in Quants made up for this disappointment.
Advice and Tips
Everyone has their own strategy and what suits one may not be right for another. But I'd still go ahead and list out a few tips I found useful and may in fact help people who are in my category - having to prep for the GMAT in less than 40 days
1. Kaplan Premier is very useful:
Though it did not give any sort of depth in most of the Quant topics, it gave breadth which was very important for a guy like me. Despite being an engineer and having a general aptitude towards mathematics, I was away from high school math for a decade and a half. I needed some material that quickly helped me brush up the basic concepts, giving wide enough coverage and at the same time not being too voluminous, since I needed to cover it in 8 days. Kaplan Premier
was tailor made for me. The CR strategies were very useful since this was a new topic for me and the SC section covered the entire gamut. The RC section was the least useful for me since Kaplan
insisted on making a passage map. I initially attempted this strategy on OG13 but I found it was taking too much time and I was spending almost 5-6 mins per passage and I wasn't even using this passage map for answering the Qs. This might be useful for people not used to heavy reading, but for me I found this method distracting and eventually I abandoned it and relied on my traditional reading skills.
2. It is possible to crack the 99%ile in GMAT in 35 days - Prepare Smart:
After having browsed through this forum I realize that this is not new, since there are many people who have performed much better than I have and with even less prep time. But I feel those people are either naturally talented or have worked extremely hard every day of their prep. I belong to neither category. I am neither naturally talented nor did I slog extremely hard. I spent a total of 4 hours each day but even in this 4 hour time, I took a lot of breaks and got distracted very frequently, ending with around 2.5 hours of total daily prep time. The key to my prep was not volume or the right material or talent. It was smart planning. Plan your strategy very well and stick to it religiously and rewards will definitely come your way.
3. More volume may not always be the only way:
Due to my time constraints I could not use more material for my prep. On browsing through this forum I see most people have used the MGMAT strategy guides, the SC and CR bibles and a host of other online resources. When I planned my strategy I was not aware of this forum (or any other forum) so I was not aware of these resources. Eventually when I became aware of these materials and the preponderance of folks using them and eventually succeeding, I was worried that my prep was grossly undercooked. I even contemplated postponing the exam by a month, but I finally decided to trust my instincts and go ahead as per my plan. After all there is more than one route to success.
4. Do not set your target too low:
I made this mistake after seeing the low scores in the GMATClub CAT and MGMAT CAT1. Even though this forum educated me on the fact that both these tests are much tougher than the real thing and are primarily meant to get you over the final plateau I still could not shake the feeling that I would be unable to breach the 700 barrier. And seeing the practice test scoring pattern of many folks here I could see that it was very difficult to get a substantial jump in practice scores within 10 days. Consequently I resigned myself to being satisfied if I could breach the 680 barrier in the first attempt and mentally prepared myself for a retake if it fell below 680. It was only after the GMATPrep 1 that the self belief started to creep in and I believed I could aim higher.
5. Set yourself a stretch goal:
I realized this pretty late in the game, but this is something I apply in all my targets at work and I was surprised that I didn’t do this for one of the most important exams in my life. After the GMATPrep 1 I decided to set myself a stretch goal of Q49,V43 and even though I didn’t meet it in V, the fact that I exceeded it in Q reaffirmed the truth that this strategy does work in all aspects of life.
6. Do not work on any test prep companies Questions the last 2 days:
After going through this forum and based on my prep experience till this point I decided not to work on any of the test prep companies Questions in the last 2 days. The reason is that even though some of these companies material might be tougher than the real thing and give you good practice they are not like the actual GMAT questions. The last 2 days should not be used for giving yourself extremely challenging workouts. All these should be done before this point. At this stage you need to get yourself re-acquainted with the actual GMAT type questions. Even though they may not be hard questions that is not the point. Your mental processes need to be attuned to the GMAT questions during this period. So save some actual GMAT questions either from the OG books or the GMATPrep question banks for these 2 days as well as for the day of the exam.
7. Try to understand the basic concept behind many oft stated rules:
I observed this when I was doing the MGMAT CATs. In the explanation for some of the Quants answers, they had stated a few rules such as "For any set of consecutive integers with an odd number of terms, the sum of the integers is always a multiple of the number of terms. For any set of consecutive integers with an even number of terms, the sum of the integers is never a multiple of the number of terms."
Rather than accept this rule at face value try to work out and understand the basic principle or the derivation behind this rule. This will help indirectly in some other problem which has a slight variation.
8. Review your mistakes in the practise CATs cumulatively:
This was something that helped me enormously. After every CAT not only did I review that particular one's errors but also all those of the previous CATs. I did this after every one of the CATs. I still believe that this was what gave me that jump from my initial low scores to my final score in just 10 days.
Thanks to the below folks
- All folks at GMATClub for the invaluable advice in my last 10 days of prep. Even though I was a silent participant the answers to most of my questions were already archived. The free GMATClub CAT, even though it was diabolical, helped keep me grounded and made me practise the modulus concept, my Achilles heel. Eventually this saved the day on the actual GMAT. My engineering instinct was always against the picking numbers strategy, but this forum made me realize that for some questions you just cannot get the answer quickly enough by any other method.
- chineseburned for the awesome AWA template. Even though I am pretty comfortable in essay writing, it helped saved me valuable time for practising the more important sections.
- Kaplan folks for the Kaplan Premier which was right up my alley in terms of prep material. Except for the useless RC section the rest of it were enormously helpful. I still feel the Kaplan CAT scoring is a bit dodgy, but it was nevertheless a keystone of my preparation.
- My family for all the support they have given me during these 5 weeks and their constant reinforcing words of encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without them.