Not sure if I already told you guys about my score, but I'm pretty happy about it as you can imagine.
I spent quite a bit of time writing a debrief. I hope this is helpful.
-- My debrief (760, q49 v47) --
Personally, preparing for the GMAT was one of the most intensive things I have done in my life. My goal was 700+, not only because I think that anything less leaves room for doubt when applying to a top-10 school, but also because I have a weak GPA, which I need to compensate. The whole GMAT concept was new to me, but when I first started I thought "how hard can it be", thinking about all the English experience I have and the extensive math I had in high school.
Oh, how wrong was I.
Having glanced through the GMAT book, I decided to do a diagnostic test to see how I would without preparation. I admittedly rushed a bit through the test, but the result was a shocking 580. Right then, I knew I had seriously underestimated this.
I decided I was going to give the GMAT my absolute best effort, and I would let my score determine whether I would apply to a top school or maybe not do an MBA at all. To the very last minute on test day, I kept in the back of my mind that I simply may not reach 700+.
Fortunately, I was wrong again.
I will tell you all about my GMAT saga, about what I think works best and what doesn't.
-- Conviction --
First and foremost, you have to keep reminding yourself that your GMAT score is a direct function of the time and effort you put into preparation. Sure, you need a fair amount of intelligence, but I promise you, there are plenty of people with lower GMAT scores than mine who are more intelligent than I am. I'm a smart guy, but I'm no Einstein, and you don't need to be to get a good score.
Think about it. If you made it your life goal to get a 99th percentile GMAT score, do you think you would ever achieve it? Sure you would, given the right amount of practice. The more I studied, the more I became convinced of this simple fact -- your score is NOT an intelligence gauge, it is a reflection of how well you have prepared for this specific test, how good you've become at answering GMAT questions. It's quite a narrow study area, and it CAN be mastered.
If you don't already have an 800 score, realize that every hour of preparation will improve your ability to score high on the GMAT. Yes, after a while your learning curve will seriously flatten, but it never becomes flat. And this I believe is where the men separate from the boys. It's relatively easy to get your score up from a 600 to a 650, but getting from 700 to 750 is a completely different story. You have to ask yourself if you're willing to go that extra mile and study 4 weeks extra to improve your likely score range with 10 points. If you're not, then fine, but know that this has been YOUR choice. 700+ IS possible, it just takes a fair bit of honest effort.
-- Impact --
This brings me to the impact GMAT preparation can have on your life. About two weeks after I started studying, I got assigned to a big project abroad, which was going to take away a lot of my time. The timing couldn't have been worse. The experience was too valuable to let go, and it would look good on my application resumes, so I decided to do it anyway. I studied for the GMAT at airports, every minute of flights, and of course in the weekends. I limited social activities to short breaks of only a couple of hours only when I would actually need some time off studying. Fortunately, you do need some time off if you do GMAT math for 5 hours straight.
Again, this is a choice you have to make. If you're not willing to sacrifice your Friday night out with your friends partying until 5 am, that's fine, but recognize that you're giving this more priority than your GMAT score. If you want to maximize your score, then consider that a couple of months with little social activity is not going to kill you in the long run. I studied for about 3 or 4 months, the first half of which very intensively, at least two hours a night on weekdays and 5+ hours per day on weekends, and the second half I only studied during weekends. It wasn't easy.
Also consider that, according to an admission officer at a top school, the continuing GMAT score inflation is not a reflection of people getting smarter, but of people putting more time into preparing for the test, as a response to growing competition for top MBA admissions. More study resources are becoming available, and people are increasingly using them and doing everything they can to stand out from the crowd. What this tells you is that to look better than your competitors, you don't have to be more intelligent than they are, you simply have to prepare better than they do.
Alright, enough power talk, on to the prep materials.
-- Popular Prep Books --
The first books I bought were Princeton Review
2006 and Kaplan
2006, which are both decent introductions if you're new to the game. I thought Princeton Review
did a nice job of showing how the different question bins work, and what you can expect from each bin. So let these books give you a nice intro, but don't rely on them for a 700+ score, they simply do not target that audience. You'll see some tough questions, but they alone are not enough to prepare you for a 700+ score.
is a unique beast. Do **NOT** take their CAT scores too seriously. Even if you're setting your standards high and don't want to make assumptions on higher scores, really, do NOT take them seriously. They are NOT realistic. The difference between complexity of questions in the Kaplan
book and those in their CAT is just ridiculous.
More on that later.
Quite some time into my studies, I bought the full Manhattan GMAT series
, driven by all the people who get poetic about their Sentence Correction (SC) book. Yes, their SC book is good. I didn't think it was spectacular, but it is definitely good, and arguably the best book available on GMAT SC. Thinking about it, it's the only book I have seen that seriously addresses the subject, and I remember feeling somewhat frustrated by other books that said that "you might want to consult a book on English grammar". Helpful!
But my real point about the Manhattan GMAT series
is that all their books are good. Really good. If you want a high score you won't get by on stupid guessing techniques or learning AD/BCE techniques, etc. What you need is a thorough understanding of the theory behind each concept and not just the basics, but the advanced stuff as well. This you will find in the Manhattan GMAT books
and it is one of the few materials that takes this advanced approach. If you want 700+, and if you do not believe you have fully mastered all theory yet (are you still making concept errors?), get these books. I wish I had found them much earlier.
I have tried a couple of questions on their CAT, but to my surprise, they were also much harder than those in the book. Seems like they have gone the same way as Kaplan
with this. Do NOT let this undermine your confidence. I put the Manhattan GMAT
CATs aside, just like the Kaplan
-- Prep Courses --
I haven't done any prep course, so I really can't comment on how good they are, but I will say that my score and that of many others prove that it is perfectly possible to do well without them, provided you have enough motivation to impose the right discipline on yourself. And, as someone else put it: if you don't have this motivation, you probably shouldn't be pursuing an MBA in the first place. I guess they will help you to save time in finding good practice resources and more direct help, but this added benefit can cost you some serious money.
-- Practice Strategy --
You really have to find your own way in this, but I will give you my experiences in the hope that this helps you.
First, look for the practice grid on the GMATClub or TestMagic forums. You don't have to use the exact same sheet, but the idea is what matters and it is key to successful preparation. I'll summarize my ideas about it.
With EVERY question or set that you do, you need to monitor your timing, and see whether the errors you make are "concept" errors or "careless" errors.
1. Concept Errors
If you do not know how to approach a certain problem, if you find the answer explanation has a much quicker way of doing this (even if you got the question right!), if you had to guess, if you took 5 minutes to solve the problem, etc., then you know you need to go back to the theory and work on your understanding of the concept or the best approach to a certain question type. Number property problems are notorious for having shortcuts that you may not know.
Make sure you amend your theory sheet (more on that later) with the relevant new concepts to learn by heart. Record the question on your list of failed questions (more on that later) so that you can practice it another time.
I do not recommend doing CATs or long practice sets before you have gone through a comprehensive theory review, and again, I highly recommend the Manhattan GMAT books
to do this.
2. Careless Errors
Slap yourself and take note of what you did wrong. Don't just curse, shrug and move on.
Was it a 3^2=6 error? Then make a note that you need to be extra careful with powers that have low roots and low exponents.
Did you confuse your hastily scribbled 0 for a 6? Tell yourself to write more carefully.
Did you fail to consider statement I combined with statement II in DS? Tell yourself to write down I), II) and I+II) on EACH DS question you do.
Did you find an answer but it was not what was being asked? (one of my weaknesses)? Practice with tough Kaplan
questions. They often explain everything in hours and then ask a question in minutes, or they set you up to confuse a radius with a diameter, etc.
Keep track of the type of careless errors you make so that you expose to yourself what your weaknesses are, and work on improving them.
Careless errors are very tricky to get rid of, and you have to develop a certain amount of rigor in your work without forfeiting too much in speed. More on timing later.
In the final moments of your practice, you will get seriously frustrated by errors, because by now you shouldn't be making them anymore. Keep telling yourself that errors are an opportunity to learn how to improve your performance. If it's a concept error you have the chance to learn something that will allow you to get the same type of question right if you get it on the GMAT. If it's a careless error, you still have a chance to whip yourself into shape to be more careful.
-- Timing --
You'll find a time when you're getting questions right but are taking too much time. Certainly, with enough time I'll answer EVERY question correctly! In fact, I have found that the true challenge of the GMAT is not *whether* you can solve a particular problem, but *how quickly* you can do it. You will need to train yourself to see through wordy and concept-stacked GMAT questions quicker and quicker as you progress. Learning to apply the theory is one thing, getting it internalized so well that you can apply it without thinking (like tying your shoe laces) is another.
Secondly, when you have read through and have interpreted the question stem, it is tempting to rush to doing a calculation, but know that you usually have enough time for only ONE calculation approach. If you screw up, decide to re-read the question, and then find out you actually need to calculate something slightly different, you will probably already have blown your 2 minute average for the question. Train yourself for the mindset that you get ONE shot at answering each question, so make sure your question interpretation is right the first time.
Timing is one of the most difficult things to get right, and it is one of the most important things for a good score. If you blow the average of two minutes, you won't have time to think about the next question, which on the test means your getting the answer wrong. Screwing up your timing on the GMAT will without a doubt destroy your score.
Improving your timing is perhaps as time consuming as mastering the underlying theory. Everyone can rush through a math calculation, but can you rush without making mistakes?
To master this, you need to practice, practice, practice. After a while you'll start to recognize common GMAT patterns just as you can name colors -- without thinking.
Also, very important, you need to start to develop a feel for when your two minutes for a question are up without constantly looking at the clock. Learn to make a choice at that point. If you're confident you'll be able to answer the question correctly with one more minute, and you've been doing ok on timing so far, by all means, go for it. If you're still struggling with finding the right approach, if you're stuck, or if you don't have the faintest idea on how to do the question, guess and move on. On the real GMAT I remember seeing a question and having absolutely no idea how to even begin solving it in a time-efficient manner. I took 1 minute to interpret the question and think about an approach, but decided I was not going to get this one right. I guessed, and moved on. Yes, I got easier questions, which implies my score went down a notch, but I had sufficient time to make sure I got them right, and after a couple of them, I felt I was right back in the top bin of questions again.
-- Theory Sheet --
Some people call them flash cards, you can call them whatever you want. I had a couple of sheets of paper that had little remarks about all concepts that I had struggled with at first, lists of numbers I wanted to know by heart, permutation/combination formulas, etc. I recommend making your own sheet rather than using someone else's, as one person's weaknesses are not the same as another's, and there's the old student curse that lets you remember stuff better once you create a cheat sheet for it. There's no substitute for your own sheet. Review this sheet every night before you go to bed, and repeat repeat repeat -- that's the best way to internalize these things.
-- Failed questions --
Some may find this too laborious, but as soon as I felt I had a good grasp over all GMAT concepts, I started to keep record in an MS Word document of EVERY question that I got wrong on practice CATs, on GMATClub challenges
, from the official guide, etc. My final version of this document spanned as much as 42 pages, but it was excellent practice, because after enough questions you won't really remember the first one anymore, and it really ensures you don't keep making the same mistakes over and over again. I greatly recommend it.
-- The CAT is your friend --
There is a notorious myth out there that the first 5 to 8 questions determine 80-90% of your score, and that the rest will just get you floating 10 points above and below your score. I do NOT believe this is true. I remember having serious trouble with the third or fourth question on the real GMAT, and I would be surprised if I guessed it right. Later in the test I got some scaringly easy questions, but then some outrageously difficult ones again, some of which I had no idea even how to begin with! Do NOT get discouraged if you get questions wrong on the real GMAT, even if it's within the first five or ten. If you see questions that look more like the last 1/3 of OG11
rather than the first 1/3, then you can be sure you're doing something right. I truly believe that making an error on the CAT is less fatal than on non-adaptive tests, since the CAT will give you another shot at the same level later on.
Secondly, GMAC is quite specific in OG11
that this theory about the first couple of questions is NOT true, and I believe these people have at least so many ethical values that they would not outright lie about it.
-- Combinations/Permutations/Probability --
Yes, the GMAT has these questions and yes, they can get tricky. From what I've read from other test takers, and from what I've seen on GMATPrep and on the real GMAT, you will see two, maybe three, questions of this type. If has been argued by many that people tend to worry too much about these questions, and my view would be "worry if you want to". If you don't want the absolute maximum of your abilities, then your lack of understanding on some advanced combinatorics questions will probably not harm you too much. Personally I felt very uncomfortable about them and spent a lot of time on understanding the theory and practicing questions. Unfortunately, good material on this, geared specifically toward the GMAT, is rare. You'll find some stuff in the forums, but I thought it was patchy, unclear, and incomplete. Despite negative reviews on Amazon, I bought the Veritas
ProjectGMAT book, which I can tell you, is very good. I had struggled through DeltaCourse, still not really grasping the subject, but with the Veritas
book I truly saw the light. They explain these complicated concepts extremely well, they don't give you quick workarounds, and they give you enough tough practice questions. Some have argued that some questions would never be asked on the GMAT, but I'm not so sure about that because no one seems to really know what the GMAT scope is for these questions, and this book gave me a level of confidence about combs/probs so much that I was actually looking forward to getting these questions on the GMAT, because I felt I could tackle them.
I will say that this was the only point where the Manhattan GMAT books
let me down. They tell you to approach all these problems like anagrams, for which they give you a formula, but that's really a workaround and I got more confused than I already was. I thought it was especially surprising to see such a 'trick' being taught by Manhattan GMAT
, because it's the very approach they try to counter.
On the real GMAT, I saw one counting problem which required permutations and was relatively simple, and one probability question that, as far as I remember, couldn't solve. It was really tough. I also remember not feeling too bad about it, because it was so hard that it must have come out of the top difficulty bin of questions, so I was doing well.
-- Official Guide and GMATPrep --
If you're looking for the most accurate reflection of the Real Thing, these two are as accurate as you will get. All popular prep companies have good practice questions and nice little mock GMATs, but they have more concepts stacked in one question and they have more traps than what you would see on the real GMAT. See them as good practice to improve your speed, rigor, accuracy, and comfort level with difficult questions, but don't be too intimidated by them.
The last third of each section of OG11
is an extremely accurate reflection of top-bin questions in the real GMAT.
If you don't have OG11
, I recommend getting it, because even though OG10
has overlapping content, OG10
does not have questions ordered by difficulty level, and I have personally found the OG10
difficulty matrix that circulates these forums to be inaccurate or at least not applicable to my strengths and weaknesses.
About GMATPrep -- this is, hands down, the absolute best thing for preparing for the GMAT and for gauging your current level. It's a pity you only get two shots, so use them well. (I have read about people re-installing the software, but I'm sure they are getting a lot of overlap and thus unrealistic results).
On the real GMAT, I felt my stress levels going down significantly, because it really felt like I was doing a GMATPrep, which felt slightly comfortable by now.
-- Setbacks and Confidence --
In your preparation you will almost certainly get setbacks that can seriously undermine your confidence. I certainly underestimated what a low prep test score can do to you.
A month or two into my preparation, I took a Kaplan
CAT and scored 600, which absolutely destroyed my confidence. I had read about Kaplan
CATs, but did not want to make assumptions about getting higher scores than those a reputed Prep company would give me after a test. Well, I was wrong. You can read it in various forum posts, and I will say it again -- do NOT take the Kaplan
test scores seriously.
A couple of weeks later, I decided I had enough practice to do the first GMATPrep. 740! Yay!!
Then, a couple of weeks later, my studies had suffered somewhat from my big project at work, so I thought I would do a retired paper test. This only gave me a 700. It was good enough, but this did not exactly leave much room for error. I got worried.
I then decided to schedule my GMAT on the Wednesday of the first week of my summer holiday, which gave me 4 days to finalize my studies when my holiday started.
On Monday, two days before my GMAT, I did another paper test, and scored, no kidding, a 660. This was such a huge blow to my confidence that I even started rethinking the whole MBA idea. The negativity stayed with me but I kept on studying nevertheless, and fortunately, I decided to do the second GMATPrep test on Tuesday, the day before my GMAT. 740 again!
Honestly, 660 one day and 740 on the next, both tests from the official source, I did not know what to think.
Same goes for GMATClub Challenge Sets. They are wonderful practice, but the guys you're competing with in the percentile calculations are such math wizards it's scary, and you need to be careful that they don't destroy your confidence. The percentile scores on these challenge sets are NOT representative of those on the real GMAT. For reference, I started with Challenge 25, scored 69%, then Challenge 24, 76%, Challenge 23, 78%, challenge 22, 84%. Note the rising trend, which I thought shows I was improving. (Had on average 2 weeks between each Challenge)
First you need to master the theory, that's just step one. Then step two is to become increasingly comfortable with tougher and tougher questions. First you'll panic, then you'll slowly start to get them right, with pathetic timing. Then, slowly, you'll become quicker and more successful. The more you practice, you better you'll get, it's as simple as that.
-- Verbal --
As you may be able to tell, most of my preparation went into math.
A substantial amount of my professional life takes place in English, and this has been a definite advantage for me. On the other hand, you need to get accustomed to written English, and not the quick e-mails your colleagues send you, but Standard Written English. I have read The Economist
the past year, and I feel it has been contributed immensely to my grasp of English, and this has been especially valuable or Reading Comprehension.
Let me give you my views on the verbal sections.
1. RC - Reading Comprehension
I must confess I haven't really gone through the Manhattan GMAT RC
book in great detail. The strategies I have read about are around how you can quickly take logical notes of what you read. I don't do this, and I don't recommend it. You need to be able to do this in your head, as writing it down will lose valuable time. My approach is to say what you would want to write down out loud, without making a sound. So move your lips, but don't let any sound come through. This forces you to verbalize your thoughts (which is better than just thinking -- you'll skip stuff), and if you keep quiet, you can use this approach while taking the real GMAT.
A key point about RC is that -- and this will sound stupid but it is often neglected -- you need to understand the text.
Do NOT skim and scan. You are being tested for comprehension of the text, not your ability to pick details out of paragraphs without really knowing what the full story is. Questions like "what do you think that author would most agree with" can NOT be answered without REALLY understanding what the story is about. With time pressure it will be very tempting to rush to the questions and think you'll read the relevant passage when they ask about it, but I believe this is exactly the trap you want to keep out of.
What I do is I read the first paragraph twice, maybe three times, because it often sets the tone (which you'll be asked about) very quickly. Summarize the first passage -- out loud but quietly -- in very simple laymen terms, if necessary in your own language, as if you're explaining it to a child. The GMAT tests your ability to filter the wordy mumbo-jumbo, awkward sentence constructions, and understand in Sesame Street terms what is being said.
If you come across an important paragraph that gives a new side to a story, read it and make absolutely sure you understand what is being said. Read it twice. Read it three times if necessary. Your body will scream no because that clock is ticking, but if you understand the text well, the questions will mostly be a walk in the park. If you don't, you'll be spending a lot of time trying to get the pieces of the puzzle to fit, and doing what you should have done in the first place -- trying to understand the text.
Do not try to bluff your way through the questions by scanning text fragments for clues or words that correspond to an answer item. Those answers are often traps, and the real answers are often hidden in overly simplistic or overly complicated answers that, if you're bluffing, look like unlikely answers, but, only if you really understand the gist of the story, you can recognize as being correct.
Timing, of course, is still key here. Practice a text and its questions in e.g. OG11
and time how long you took on average for each question. If it's more than 1 3/4 minute per question, you need more practice. But first and foremost, make sure you understand the text. Do not skip to the questions if you don't understand the text, you will be punished for that.
2. CR - Critical Reasoning
This I didn't find terribly difficult once you get used to the question types. Do a hundred of these questions from OG and you'll know the typical question wordings. The advanced stuff is really around recognizing out of scope items, e.g. a conclusion that seems logical but cannot be drawn based just on the information in the fragment, or reasons that make sense but that are never mentioned in the text.
Also look out for the following --
"All answers weaken the argument EXCEPT" is not the same as "which answer strengthens the argument". The right answer will often be irrelevant to the argument, and will neither strengthen NOR weaken the argument, and thus is correct.
3. SC - Sentence Correction
This is notorious among forum contributors and I have a feeling this is because there are a lot of Indians on these forums for whom English is more difficult than for Western Europeans?
I didn't have a great deal of problems with SC, and this I largely contribute to reading publications like WSJ and Economist
, and having had a thorough training in high school on the Dutch language, which can contain the same type of errors, e.g. verb-subject disagreement etc.
I will say though that some of the tough example questions from non-official sources often contain awkwardly structured sentences that would NEVER appear on the real GMAT. I believe 800Bob has also made remarks about this earlier. You will NOT find unnecessarily awkward answers that correct spelling errors from less wordy and better flowing sentences on the real GMAT. "Awkward" and "wordy" sentences are just as wrong as confusing plural with singular.
1. Long-term exposure to high quality publications such as WSJ, Economist
, FT, etc. Most time consuming but there's no substitute for real-life English.
2. Manhattan GMAT SC
guide. If you want or need to learn by theory, this is arguably the best resource
3. Look for Spidey's notes on GMATClub / TestMagic forums, and possible also other people's SC notes. To me they contained a lot of open doors, but I guess they can very valuable to some people.
-- On-line Resources --
GMATClub -- great forum and great advanced math challenge
TestMagic -- great forum
Both forums have a LOT of math wizards and GMAT gurus participating on them. Don't get intimidated by their expertise (I know I was!), but see them as a resource, not as competition.
DeltaCourse -- ok for practice but not the best for explanations, and not the most comprehensive resource. I recommend Veritas
GMATClub Challenge Sets -- more advanced than what you will see on the GMAT, but great to build confidence and speed into attacking difficult questions. Highly recommended.
-- Books --
I have already mentioned a couple of them.
2006 / Princeton Review
2006 - good intro and good practice
- good for practice, but definitely NOT just highest bin questions, and not even the most difficult ones around. I liked the GMATClub Challenge Sets very much.
Official Guide (OG) 10 - good, but obsolete now. Get OG 11
Official Guide (OG) 11 - the closest you can get to the real thing, but not enough top-level practice questions. Only the last 1/4 or 1/3 is really relevant for people aiming at 700+.
Manhattan GMAT series
- most comprehensive theory review, including advanced topics and underlying theory
ProjectGMAT - clearest and most comprehensive book on prob/combs
Arco Real Answers to the AWA Essay Questions -- you can't completely ignore your AWA, and I think the best practice is to read example essays that would score a 6. I don't know my AWA score yet, but I'm assuming it's 5+.
-- My GMAT Day Experience --
Got to the test center an hour early. Friendly woman at reception asked whether I wanted to start right away. Hmm let's see, biting my nails for an hour, or getting this thing over and done with, tough choice... I signed the form, put my stuff in a locker, and went into the airconditioned room. I got signed in, and I think it took 5 minutes before the screen "please wait, loading content" changed into the actual content. It felt like 50 minutes!! Don't know what happens there, maybe the program downloads an updated random test or something, but it surely took way too long...!
AWA is a nice start, I must say. It's not too hard, you get enough time, and it doesn't really matter a great deal anyway...
Then the first hour has passed, and you get your first break. I went outside, drank some Aquarius and a little cruesli bar, and sat next to another guy in the waiting area who was looking at his GMAT form, and I chatted a bit with him. He got unexpectedly accepted at a university in Holland one week earlier, and they asked him to do a GMAT within two weeks. He hadn't really studied for the test.... Poor bastard. But on the other hand, if you're already accepted, why worry...
Then Math. It was tough, but I guess that's good. Another break. Pee, drink, eat, stretch, breathe, and go back in.
Verbal. RCs not too long, some really tough CRs, and SCs were ok.
As the end was approaching, I felt confident, and the whole thing felt like taking a GMATPrep -- another reason why you should definitely practice with that software, as it will make you feel more comfortable on test day. I wanted to get through the last verbal questions, started to get some concentration problems, but pinched myself in the face to bring back my focus. And then.... It was over...
Had to click through that stupid questionnaire (really guys, it's kind of sadistic to do this between your last question and seeing your score....), and then the Big Question appeared -- do you want to see your score.
I was VERY careful not to accidentally click something else, and I clicked Yes.
And I will never forget the moment the 760 appeared on my screen. I couldn't make noise as others were taking tests as well, but I wrote down my scores on my hand, closed down, and went outside to get the printout. Oh, was I happy.
The lady at reception printed the score and while she was back at the printer and out of my sight I heard her say "Oh wow!". Both the guy signing me out as well as the lady at reception said they had never seen such a high score before.
That just made my day. I stepped outside, into my car, shut my door, and shouted like a madman. The GMAT was over. I won. Mission completed. What a rush.
Good luck. Keep faith. If I can do it, you can too.
Feel free to ask me questions.