EDIT: Updated with mock scores, last week strategy, test day experience and other general advice
I took my GMAT on 5 November, 2013 and scored a 760 (Q50; V44; IR 7; AWA 6.0)
Needless to say, I am pretty happy
and satisfied with my score(though I still feel I could have scored higher(more on that later))
I have been a silent lurker on the GMAT club and have learned a lot from this wonderful community: the best preparation materials, how to tackle my weakness, the amazing GMAT club tests
, the invaluable contributions of all the members and experts contributed immensely to my success in GMAT. I can’t stress enough the significance of going through GMATClub forums and learning from the experience of other test takers.
I have loved reading debriefs of other GMATClub members and have learnt a lot from them. Through this debrief, I hope I will be able to give something back to this wonderful community.1. Background:
I am an Indian engineer by graduation. I have 4+ years of work experience in management consulting/analytics industry. The thought of doing an MBA never crossed my mind after graduation. Till recently, I was pretty satisfied with my job and the fat paycheck deposited in my bank account each month. However, a few of my “MBA” friends coaxed me and helped me get out of my comfort zone. On further research, I realized that doing an MBA is probably going to pay off in the long run and, hence, I decided to write the GMAT.2. Preparation Time:
My total preparation time spanned around 3 and half “INTENSE” months. After around a week of studying (during which I brushed up my basic math), I scored a 700(q49, v35). So it took me around 350+ hours to improve from 700 to my final score of 760. Maybe, I could have achieved the score within a lesser time frame, but I am a fanatic, and whatever, I do I want to be perfect in it. While, the difference may seem only 60 points, GMAT makes you sweat for every incremental point. Picture this, you start playing tennis and are practicing against a ball machine. As soon as you get comfortable hitting the ball at a particular speed, your coach increases the machine speed, making you scramble and sweat again.
The GMAT works in a similar way. Due to the adaptive nature of the exam, every point increase will be achieved after bucket-loads of hard-work and pain. While I have read many debriefs about people scoring 750+ after 3 weeks of prep, most of them fail to mention the starting point at the beginning of the GMAT preparation. Many have already prepared for similar competitive exams such as LSAT, and hence, already have a very good base.3. Preparation Material:
• Official Guide 12
, Official Guide 13
• Verbal Review 2
• Manhattan Quant Strategy Guides 1-5
• GMATClub Maths Tests
• Manhattan SC
SC Online course
• GMATPrep Question Pack 1
• GMAT Exam Pack 1
• LSAT CR and LSAT RC (for training at an altitude)
• Chineseburned's AWA template4. GMAT Journey and Advice:Quant:
I have a pretty strong quant background. I spent less than 25% of my preparation time on quant. Do go through all the Manhattan Strategy guides for Maths. These books are gold standard for GMAT quant. I didn’t encounter a single question on GMAT where a concept not covered in these guides was tested.
If you want to push your score beyond 48-49, go through all the GMATClub tests
. These tests are immense. Probably, the only regret I will have is that I couldn’t go through all the tests. My accuracy in PS was close to 100%. However, DS was a problematic area and the accuracy was pretty low initially. Hence, I mostly concentrated on solving DS and in the last 2 GMAT Exam pack mocks, my accuracy had shot up to 100%, thanks mainly to the grueling GMAT Club tests
. If you have time, go through and solve each and every question in these tests.
Geometry was my weak suit and hence, I concentrated more on this area. It is very important to diagnose your weak areas during the initial phase as this will allow you to isolate and attack them. If you want to score above 750, YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO HAVE ANY BLIND SPOTS, else it will end up being a game of luck.Sentence Correction:
I had planned to give GMAT a year back, but couldn’t appear due to various reasons. From the last time I realized SC was my weakest area. I had gone through Manhattan SC and Aristotle Grail multiple times, but still was way short on confidence. Hence, I decided to seek further help in SC.
While browsing through the forums, I stumbled across e-gmat
course. I took their free lessons and immediately fell in love with the explanations. I purchased the SC online course and went through it in two weeks. The USP of e-gmat
is that they have designed their course for non-natives and, the lessons flow like a story. Their emphasis on meaning is brilliant. Though, I have a lot of gripes with their customer service, nonetheless, I will recommend e-gmat
to anyone who is struggling with SC. However, the course alone will not take you beyond 40. After getting through the concepts, I solved OG with around 88% accuracy. However, I was shocked when in the next mock I still struggled a lot with SC and my verbal score remained stagnant at 35. I realized timing was still a huge issue for me. Hence, I got Verbal Review 2 and started solving around 20 questions each day in a timed manner. I also started laying more emphasis on meaning based approach to solving SC questions, and I gained significantly.
Also, I DID NOT learn any idioms. Maybe 20 or so of the most common ones, especially the ones use in parallelism e.g. Not Only.. But Also.., Either... Or, etc. You don't need to learn tons of idioms to succeed on GMAT SC. Take my word for it. Also, I skipped the last 3 "Advanced Chapters" in Manhattan SC. While the advanced section in Maths Strategy guides are really useful, I found the last 3 chapters to be redundant and something which will add to the confusion. Again make your own choice. If you feel the chapters will help, do go through them. But if you thoroughly drilled OG questions, you will recognize the patterns and realize that the chapters don't teach you anything new.
Takeaway: Don’t worry about timing during the initial phase. GMAT SC is purely a game of pattern recognition, and with enough practice your speed and accuracy will improve.Critical Reasoning:
You don’t need to look beyond PowerScore CR
for basics and theory. This is an excellent resource and I can’t stress enough the importance of going through it multiple times. With every pass, you will learn something new. I started off OG CR with an accuracy of close to 90%. However, I soon realized that most of the questions in OG won’t train me to a sufficient extent if I need to go beyond 750. Hence, even though my accuracy in OG was high, I was very skeptical.
I started researching on more high quality questions I could solve to take my CR skills to the next level. I tried sample SC and CR questions from some testprep companies, but soon realized that they don’t even come close to the intricate questions created by the GMAT. Most of the questions are very sketchy, and these questions can do you more harm than good. This is when I came across the following excellent article by David on Beat the Gmat:http://www.beatthegmat.com/lsat-to-stud ... 69915.html
I had been researching a lot on how to use the LSAT materials, but this article was the game changer for me. I believe in training at an altitude to improve my skills. I attribute my ~100% accuracy during the final days to solving LSAT CR questions. In total, I think I solved more than 800 LSAT CR questions. Like SC, CR to a large extent is a game of pattern recognition. Once, you have solved brain racking 500 LSAT CR questions or so, you will clearly start seeing all the traps laid out to lure the test takers.
I have pretty strong views on pre-thinking in CR. It does work on the easier question, but as the question difficulty increases it will end up wasting your time rather than helping you to solve question. As the question difficulty increases, the range of plausible answers increases and the chances will be very minute that your pre-phrase will match one of the answer choices. It is better to follow the method of elimination and quickly eliminate all incorrect choices. You should be able to narrow down to 2-3 choices by using this method. Focus on the CONCLUSION. I came across an article on Veritas
blog which included the following quote - "CONCLUSION IS KING". Couldn't be more true. Almost all the correct answer choices on GMAT will invariably impact conclusion. The only exception I can think of in this regard is "MUST BE TRUE" question stems, which don't contain any conclusion, but ask you to derive an answer based on the various facts provided in the stimulus.Reading Comprehension:
I have been a voracious reader since a young age; hence, I was very comfortable with RC. I read a few random articles on the types of traps and strategies to use on RC.
My recommendation on RC would be to go through the passage and understand it completely and, then attack the questions. My timing in RC was really good. I can read and understand the most complex passages on GMAT in less than three and a half minutes. I averaged below 2 minutes on RC questions, and this afforded me the luxury of spending more time on difficult CR questions during the exam.
Again, I solved a lot of RC passages from LSAT, since I had already bought this book for CR. The LSAT passages and questions are tougher than GMAT's, but these really conditioned my brain for the tougher GMAT passages. Again, if you, like me, believe in training at altitude, go and solve as many LSAT questions as you have. This is the closest high quality material you will get. And don’t worry too much about the accuracy in initial stages. These questions will promise you bucket loads of tears and endless nightmares, but you will improve gradually. However, before skipping onto LSAT make sure you have thoroughly exhausted OG.Problems Drill Down:
I can’t stress enough on the importance of this. During my initial days, at times, I spent more than an hour to analyze each and every OG SC and CR problem. This may seem like overkill, but I didn’t let a problem go until I had completely nailed it and understood each and every concept tested by it. The more you do this exercise, the more accurate you will get and the sooner you will start recognizing GMAT patterns.
I did keep an error log
as per the recommendations, but due to my extensive drilling during the initial phase, the error log
ended up being useless for me. I didn’t review any of the error logs during the final days as I already had a lot left to get to. However, one advantage of keeping error log
and recording every error was that the approach and the mistakes I was making got cemented in my mind. However, if I were to go back in time and prepare again, I probably won’t keep an error log
, but again in my case the need to keep an error log
was rendered useless due to my intensive drilling.
And don’t touch a single question on OG until you have got all your concepts cleared on the particular topic. I have seen far too many people jump into solving questions/OG without an adequate base. Do not fall into this trap. You will end up wasting a lot of questions, and when you will really need to test your skills, you won’t have any sources left.
Also, I made detailed notes on every section, be it Maths, SC, CR or RC. I noted that down each and every point which I came across and which I knew will help me during the final days. While a lot of very good consolidated notes are available throughout the GMATClub, I strongly recommend you to make your own notes. No one can understand you and your needs better than YOURSELF. The note making practice played a big role in success. While I spent double the time initially than I would have I hadn’t created notes, it helped me immensely during the final days.5. Mocks:
For mocks I stuck with tried and tested. I got 6 Manhattan tests(attempted only 2), 2 free GMAT Prep mocks and 2 additional GMAT Exam Pack mocks.
It is really important to start attacking mocks only after you have your basics covered. I took 1 GMAT Prep mock after around 2 weeks of prep to check my standing. The rest I reserved for the last few weeks. I attempted the full sections ( with AWA and IR) only for the last 2 mocks. However, for all the other mocks I replicated exact exam conditions. Instead of 8, I restricted my breaks to 5 mins. I got ear plugs and Manhattan Simulation marker for the experience to be as close to real GMAT as possible. There are a lot of factors which are beyond your control on a test day, but do control what you can. You will probably end up spending thousands of dollars on getting your MBA; hence, additional investment of $20 or so won't really burn a huge hole in your packet. Use the mocks to fine-tune your timing, track your progress and identify your weak areas. I spent almost the entire day after each mock in analyzing my timing woes, my weak areas and modifying my study plan to accommodate more time for the weak areas. Giving mocks won't improve you, analyzing them definitely will!!
Here are my mock scores in ascending order of progression.
1. GMATPrep 1 (around 2 months before the GMAT) - 700 (q49, v35) -13 on quant; -15 on verbal
2. Manhattan Mock 1 (12 Oct) - 680 (q47, v35) -> -15 on quant; -15 on verbal
I was shocked to see my verbal score stagnant even though I was very confident on verbal by now. Quant on Manhattan is way tougher than the real GMAT so it really didn't bother me. I used Manhattan analytics and realized that i was at 90%ile by 35th question, but my percentile dropped after that as I had no time left and had to guess on the last 6 questions (got all of them wrong). Equipped with this data, I set about working on my timing woes in the coming week.
3. Manhattan Mock 2 (19 Oct) - 730 (q45, v45) -> -16 on quant; -11 on verbal
I was happy to see the verbal score jump to 45. However, I knew this result had to be taken with a pinch of salt as I still had 11 mistakes on verbal. I was able to complete the section comfortably within time, mainly because I didn't spend an inordinate time on any of the questions during this mock.
Again quant score really didn't bother me, as the Manhattan mocks quant are calculation intensive and very unlike GMAT. However, I do believe they provide you with very good practice.
4. GMATPrep 2 (26 Oct) - 760 (q50, v42) -> -8 on quant; -8 on verbal
This mock reinforced my belief that I don't really need to worry about Maths. Also, I was happy to see my verbal score shoot up to 42 on the official GMATPrep. This was more in line with my expectations on my current level and accuracy. However, I didn't get super excited by this result, as I knew that I still had a lot of gray areas I need to work on, and that this score could have easily gone down to 730 on another day.
5. GMATPrep Exam Pack 1 (29 Oct) - 740 (q49, v41) -> -9 on quant; -8 on verbal
I was really sleepy during this test as I couldn't get any sleep the previous night. Also, on quant I spent around 8 mins on a Geometry question (appeared in the first to questions) and still got it wrong. And I ended up screwing my timing. I had to guess on the last 5 questions or so, as I was short on time. I made a resolution - no matter where a question appears in the GMAT, if I feel I can't solve it in 3 mins, I will let it go. I was dead by the end of verbal and rushed through the section and finished with 5 mins to spare. The verbal score was lower than my expectations, but I knew I had made significant progress in the past week and would have performed much better with a little more sleep the previous night.
6. GMATPrep Exam Pack 2 (2 Nov) - 760 (q50, v44) -> -3 on quant; -3 on verbal
This result was more in line with my expectations. I had substantially improved my accuracy in the past days, and this result reinforced my belief. By now, I was confident that I am on my way to 750+ on the real GMAT.
As you can see my real score is an exact match with my last GMAT mock score. Do purchase the additional Exam Pack 1 recently released by GMAC. There are no better mocks than the ones released by GMAT and these are an invaluable addition in the arsenal of any test-taker.6. Last Week Strategy:
I reserved GMATPrep question pack 1 for the last week. I took the entire last week before GMAT off from work. Since my quant was pretty strong, I skipped the easy quant questions in the pack. Every morning I stimulated mini GMAT mocks using the GMATPrep Question Pack 1. For maths I created sets of 37 medium and high difficulty questions. For verbal I created a set of 33 SC and CR questions. For RC, there is a bug in GMATPrep question pack1 and hence, unfortunately I could not include it in my mini mocks. If someone is interested, I used the following settings:
Easy Medium Hard
PS 0 7 11
DS 0 11 8
SC 5 8 4
CR 3 7 6
These questions are the highest quality GMAT questions I have come across. The difficulty level is very close to the real GMAT. I treated each set as a mini mock and this helped me enormously in improving my accuracy and fine-tuning my timing strategies. You can check the time spent on each individual question. Using the data I realized that I need more than 2 minutes to answer hard CR questions. However, my average timing on RC was below 2 mins per question on long passages and below 1:50 on short passages. Hence, I had the luxury of spending additional time on the tough CR questions and I designed my strategy accordingly.7. Test Day Experience:
I was very confident, yet super nervous before the GMAT. I had my exam scheduled at 9:00 AM in the morning. I watched Cinderella Man (Mr. Crowe is my favourite actor
) for the umpteenth time to help me relax and take my mind off but to no avail. I went off to sleep at 9 AM. However, the nervousness and the sounds of crackers bursting ( I gave my exam just after the biggest festival in India - Diwali) kept me awake till 11:30. At this time of point I realized that I am better off taking med and going off to sleep, lest I end up screwing my exam the next day. I got up, took the med and fell asleep within the next 5 mins. I woke up prematurely around 5 AM in the morning; tried to sleep again, but to no avail. I finally got up at around 6:30 AM, took bath, got ready and took off for the test center.
I left pretty early in the morning so avoided the traffic rush and reached the center at around 8 AM. I parked my car, sat there for another half an hour and did 2 PS, 2 DS, 2 CR and 2 SC questions to warm up. I went inside at 8:30, completed the requisite formalities and went in to the testing room. I have to admit I was mighty impressed by the test center. The test center was totally sound proof and the temperature was optimal.
My hands were trembling at the start of AWA, but I calmed down midway through the section. The AWA stimulus was pretty straightforward. I followed ChineseBurned's AWA template. The IR section was pretty rough. The only practice I had done for IR was during my last 2 mocks. Apart from that, I didn't do anything else. I fell short on time and couldn't even attempt the last 3 questions. Hence, I was shocked to see a 7 on my final scorecard (was expecting much less).
The quant section started off really well. I was a little nervous and hence, went slowly during the initial questions and then picked up my speed as I got into the groove. The quant difficulty was pretty close to GMAT Exam Pack 1. However, I was disappointed as I didn't get a single question on P&C or probability, as both of these are my strongest areas. In general, the quant seemed pretty easy and I had to guess on only one question. I was pretty sure about rest of the questions and hence, still can't fathom where I lost the 1 point in quant.
After quant, I calmed myself down. I knew I have performed pretty well on quant and if I can stay calm on verbal, I will achieve my target score. Again, I froze in the beginning of the section and started off pretty slow. However, I knew I would make up on time in RC passages. I couldn't have been more wrong. Midway during the verbal section, I got a difficult RC passage. I went through it at a good pace. However, I got 4 very difficult inference questions in a row on this passage. This completely threw off my timing strategy. I didn't panic though, and went about calmly solving the problems. I took a guess on one CR question and solved another CR question very quickly without carefully analyzing all the answer choices to make up for lost time. In the end, I finished the section comfortably with around 30 seconds to compare. One thing to note is that i got 3 Assumption questions in CR (which is a pretty high number considering you only get around 10-11 CR questions in total), and a lot of inference questions on RC.
After finishing off the verbal, and quickly finishing off the demographics section, I went to Report Scores section. I had nightmares that I will end up clicking the wrong option or that 2 minutes will elapse, or that the computer will freeze. Thankfully, nothing of that sort happened.
. I clicked the Report your scores option, checked it atleast 5 times and clicked confirm. And voila, the score came up 760 q50 v44. This is the exact same score and the exact breakup I got in my last mock. Though I was a tad disappointed that I didn't touch 51 in quant, as I felt I performed pretty well in the section(No, I don’t want to sound greedy
While the GMAT battle has been won, the battle for getting into an MBA college of my choice has just begun.
Shoot away if you have any questions. I will be happy to help to the best of my abilities.
Please Kudos if you found my post useful
My Debrief: http://gmatclub.com/forum/760-q50-v44-3-months-of-prep-and-advice-162812.html#p1289527