Today I finished worrying about the GMAT. In short - quant score is one point lower than expected, the verbal score however kicks ass, so I'm happy.
Let me just say that this forum helped me a lot and you guys rule. Even though my post count is a bit low, I have been browsing the boards nearly every day for the past 2 months or so.
Hopefully tomorrow I'll find the time and turn this post into a real debrief. The use of 'hopefully' is intentional. Take that, GMAC :D
EDIT: The following debrief is copy/pasted from my blog.
Here is the full GMAT debrief, complete with random advice and observations.Background
I am a financial guy, but definitely not a quant jock. Before the GMAT entered my life, my idea of doing quantitative work was opening an Excel file with calculations prepared by someone else. Learning (or rather, re-learning) how to add, multiply and subtract (dare I say divide!) without Excel/calculator, was the hardest part of the preparation and the one major source of wrong answers on the practice tests. Even now I cannot claim to have mastered this arcane art. Verbal on the other hand seemed easy - I have always been a quick reader, even in English, which is not my native language. This is the part where the nerd background helps. With the exception of some obscure grammar rules, sentence correction felt natural, too.
I started buying books and access to websites sometime in June, and in July the real preparation started. There is not much to tell here, because everything that happened since July has been duly recorded in this blog.Test Day Preparation
The day before the test I browsed through some AWA templates before noon and then tried to calm down – went to the gym, did a very, very light workout with sauna and massage afterwards, watched a movie.
On test day, the plan was to sleep until 10:30 – 11 AM, but that didn’t happen. I got all nervous before 9 AM and could not get back to sleep at all. The GMAT appointment was for 1:30 PM, so I had lots of time to get to the test centre, explore the neighbourhood, wash my car, eat lunch, drink coffee. I arrived at the test centre still a bit nervous. Got my fingerprint and picture taken, then freaked out when they wanted me to reproduce the same signature that is on my ID card. (the card is like ten years old, I don’t have the same handwriting style anymore, nor do I write with the same hand). Somehow I got through this and started the AWA.AWA
The first essay went well, although I was painfully aware I was writing pure BS. Nevertheless, it was logical, organised, grammatically correct BS. The second essay got me though. It was a broadly formulated, vaguely political/philosophical topic and I was definitely not in the mood for tackling such heavy issues. The time went on, so I started typing stupid stuff organised into paragraphs until the stupid stuff was about 350 words or so and left it at that. The result was an awkward, embarrassing abomination of an essay that is best forgotten; I hope INSEAD won’t read this too carefully.Quant
I was rather shaken by that second essay and started to panic slightly. The whole quant section is now a blur in my head, 75 minutes felt like 5. I could not tell whether it was going good or bad. I remember some insanely difficult questions, as well as some easy ones. One good thing though – my timing was tight and I managed to finish about 2 minutes before the time was up. Hard work does pay after all. As to question content, number properties galore, some coordinate geometry, some plain old geometry, mixtures, sets, only one combinatorics question, no probabilities. This supports my theory that learning combinatorics/probability is useless, unless you are shooting for 50-51 in quant.Verbal
The Verbal section felt pretty comfortable all the way through. I took my time, never had to hurry or guess an answer, and finished the section with 8-10 minutes to spare. Contrary to other people’s experience, the hardest questions were sentence correction. I had to really think on most of the SCs, especially after the 20th question. On the other hand, CR and RC did not present anything more difficult than OG11
or the OGVerbal guide. In most of the critical reasoning questions I actually saw where the test was trying to trick me, besides there was enough time to check all five answers. Reading comprehension was OK – got one social science/minorities passage, one hardcore science passage, the rest I don’t remember. I am not able to give meaningful advice on RC, because I’ve always thought the science passages were interesting and the social science ones boring but easy. In summary, my quick reading skills gave me time to carefully consider each tricky question, be it SC, RC or CR.Prep Materials Used
- Official Guide 11th edition (the OG)
- Official Guide Verbal and Quantitative
- GMATPrep – each test three times
CATs (did not use the book)
- MGMAT Cats (just the online tests, did not buy any of their ‘bibles’)
- GMATClub Forum – excellent for solving random problems while at work
- I had a ton of books/tests/guides available that I did not use: Kaplan 800
, Barron’s, 800score.com (though I browsed through their guide and it was helpful), McGraw Hill.Practice Test Scores - in chronological order
GMATPrep 1 740 49 42
GMATPrep 2 770 49 48
MGMAT CAT 1 700 44 41
GMATPrep 1 750 47 46
MGMAT CAT 2 700 44 41Kaplan
CAT 1 630 37 38Kaplan
CAT 2 580 36 35
MGMAT CAT 3 710 42 45
MGMAT CAT 4 730 48 41Kaplan
CAT 3 640 38 39Kaplan
CAT 4 640 39 38
MGMAT CAT 5 770 50 45
MGMAT CAT 6 750 48 45
GMATPrep 2 780 49 50
GMATPrep 1 760 50 45
GMATPrep 2 780 50 48
If you use the MGMAT CATs and get great results, bear in mind that it begins to run out of 700-800 level questions by the fifth, or fourth test. This means that in the sixth test you never get to see a high difficulty question, thus inflating the score. Kaplan
does that, too, and warns you explicitly with a dialog box before the fourth test.Preparation for Quantitative
Number theory is extremely important for the Quantitative section. Not only are there many questions in that area, but also better knowledge of number properties will help with most other types of questions. Remember, you cannot use a calculator on the GMAT – so if you know how to ‘dissect’ an integer into prime factors it will make all sorts of calculations easier. Finally, number theory questions are by far the hardest type of problem – my practice tests showed that they are my weakest spot, despite the fact that I concentrated mostly on them.
Combinatorics is overrated. I have the feeling that MGMAT, for example, has much more complex and weird combinatorics problems that the real test, making test takers learn unnecessary theory. Just take a look at such questions in the OG11
and GMATPrep. The ones from the official prep materials are still tough, but somehow smart, meaning that one can solve them with minimum knowledge of formulas and quickly at that. Mastering combinatorics (and probability) is only needed if you are shooting for Q50 - 51, in my humble opinion.
The rest – coordinate geometry, rate/time/distance/work problems, mixtures, overlapping sets, algebra – can be mastered quite quickly, unlike number theory and combinatorics.Preparation for Verbal
In Verbal, focusing only on sentence correction is bad. Don’t do it. This section tests quite different abilities from the ones tested by the Quant one. Therefore, different type of preparation is needed. What I did was the following - I practised Verbal questions always after work, or after completing a whole Quantsection, and almost always with a timer. In other words, I made a point to practice this section when exhausted and under stress. Anyone can master CR and RC in a comfortable setting and with plenty of time, but the real test does not give you this luxury.Random Advice
- An excellent verbal section is better than an excellent quant section, at least in terms of overall score in GMAT. Apparently this is because excellent quant results are much more common. So, don’t forget Verbal and definitely do not concentrate only on SC, as many people seem to be doing. The OG 11th edition, the OG Verbal
guides, and GMATPrep are the only prep materials I can recommend there. Note: I cannot comment on MGMAT’s SC bible, or the frequently mentioned ‘CR Bible’.
- It doesn’t matter much whether English is your native language or not. The Verbal section deals with a lot more than pure language ability.
- Every preparation book/website/CAT is good for quant, as long as it makes you practice the same basic principles as the real test does. This is not the same for Verbal, however. If the verbal questions do not have the same ‘feel’ as the official ones, you’re wasting your time. My advice – try to solve any math problem in sight, but be picky with the verbal practice. About a week before the test, practice from the OG only.
- Try to take AWAseriously – it will boost your confidence for the Quantitative section. In other words, do as I say, not as I do.
is actually good for quant. I’d go out on a limb here and venture that Kaplan
has questions that are closer to the real thing than MGMAT. Just don’t trust their scoring on the CAT’s.