Took the GMAT yesterday morning. Scored a 770, 50 Q 45 V. About me: 31 y/o, working full time, non native speaker but have been residing in the US for 8 years now. I did benefit from other people's experiences posted here and so I wanted to post mine as well. This may get quite long as I will try to give a full account in the hope that others may benefit from it; in the early stages of my prep I was struggling with how to best approach studying for the GMAT, so I am now happy to describe how I arrived at this outcome.
I started in about late August, felt ready to take it in mid-November but had to delay until now for various reasons (chickened out during a time of intense work related stress). Used Kaplan
(not enough material), Kaplan Math Workbook
(too easy but worth plowing through), Kaplan 800
(I did not find the math therein very hard; SC was hard though), Princeton Verbal Workbook (CR coverage there was excellent), Gmat+, Princeton Grammar Smart, and OG. I kept a log of errors but only reviewed it sporadically.
PP1 (some verbal known from OG) 760
PP2 (some verbal known from OG) 760
Princeton online 710
PR 1 740
PR 3 710
PR 4 710
Arco/Cambridge 1, 2, 3 710-750, and 4 660-700
I also took 3 or 4 Crack Gmat and 800score's but since my verbal scores were unrepresentatively low (as explained below) I believe the scores are not meaningful. I was doing quite well in math though, scoring between 46 and 50 on all. Several days before the real test I retook a Kaplan
, a Princeton, and PP2 and scored 780, 750, and 780; I did not recall much in Kaplan
from the previous tests I took however I did remember a few verbal questions in Princeton and PP.
Opinion of prep materials:
Good math, the verbal is not very good (RC); CR's are more difficult than real CR. SC is ok, I found some mistakes (I also found some objectionable problems in math, but overall math was much better than verbal). Some of the RC fragments were completely garbled, with random characters, etc (or maybe my CD is bad). Good verbals or bad though, it is important to practice as many CAT's as possible under strict time constraints. Just don't let the apparent difficulty of the questions affect you.
Good verbal, and the math is easier than Kaplan
; although the math in the real test ended up not being much harder than PR's math, I think it is a good idea to challenge yourself during practice. Still, the program has some errors, does not do a very good job at selecting different questions (I got the same question multiple times during one test, and also some questions were repeated between tests! I know the Roads of the Roman Empire fragment by heart now).
Good math, above Princeton's in terms of difficulty but below Kaplan
's. The verbal is not so good though as Arco uses Roman literal questions in RC and CR (I have never seen those used in the verbal part of the test), and also some of the questions are very vague.
800score's interface is crappy, with really small fonts and a small window for the text; as a computer programmer, I find it annoying that so little effort went into designing the software. As far as the quality of questions, math is so-so, verbal is worthless. CrackGmat's math is challenging; however, this whole product is plagued by bad English. It is not easy to understand what some of the problems are asking for, and the verbal is laughable; there are various degrees of bad verbal prep materials, but this one is off the charts. I scored 14 in verbal on the first CrackGmat I took, and I had never scored below 36 even in Kaplan
. CrackGmat is clearly developed by non native speakers, and, as such, I consider it a waste of time. As an example, one of their verbal questions talked about students 'passing out' an exam. Pass out as in fainting? Distributing something? Huh? After that I stopped taking any more Crack Gmat verbals, and only took some math tests, continuously struggling with the language.
Princeton Hard Math PDF's
The first two are good, the last I found unusable because it has a lot of ??'s instead of <, >, and the like. I am not sure what is the source of these. Some answers are blatantly wrong.
I did not sleep very well the night before and I had a hard time concentrating during the test. I also arrived late at the test center so I was not in my best mood either. Actually this may have helped because during the test my mentality was, 'I bungled this one up already, so let me learn the most I can about the real GMAT now so that I know what to expect next time I take it'. This was different from some of the Kaplan
tests I took and scored well on, where I was completely focused and in control. This time I had no idea how well I was doing, especially in verbal; I did not feel overwhelmed, but I did not spend enough time on any question to feel 100% sure of my answer. As soon as I thought I had figured it out I moved on; had I been better rested I might have been more anal about every single question.
AWA was ok, I am not sure who really pays too much attention to it. Math was never really difficult. No probability questions, no rate or work; some easy combinatorics, some medium geometry, but geometry has always been a favorite of mine so I did those problems very quickly; apart from that, a lot of < > and divisibility. I had time to double check my answers on every problem, and also had enough time to redo a problem where I made a calculation mistake. I was only slightly confused by two problems where I could not figure out the equations at first (both were divisibility problems), so I probably spent 4-5 minutes on each of those, and I figured both of them out in the end. Obviously I made a couple of mistakes along the way, but I felt that every single problem was approachable and this surprised me as there are some really difficult questions even in the OG that would have given me trouble on the GMAT, but nothing like this ever came up. There were no problems involving lots of calculations, multiple steps, or anything like that. Finished 3 minutes before the time was up.
Verbal wasn't bad either, had 4 passages, but only one was really long and quite confusing. I may have missed an inference question there because it involved scanning through 3 paragraphs and I picked whatever seemed right and moved on. I took notes on all passages, and was able to answer the questions without even referring to the paragraphs or my notes most of the time. CR's were easy, most choices were POE-able because they were out of scope, and at most there were 2 worthy candidates to choose between. I may have missed one question there, it was not difficult but it was towards the end and I was worried about time, so I just picked one answer that seemed right without analyzing it logically in depth; had I been better rested, this would have been an easy, 100% confidence, picking. SC was more challenging, although the questions were not long. 'due/because', 'which/where', some really easy verb times agreement, things like that. Given my score, I must have missed several questions here. I finished 4 minutes early. An interesting note about verbal, during most practice tests I took, I was usually able to understand the text (esp.CR and RC). This time, probably because I was lacking rest, this wasn't the case; now I can't even remember what the passages were about. All I saw during the test were keywords and paragraph structure, and answering a question was basically matching keywords in the question to keywords in the paragraph. It's kind of difficult to explain I'm afraid. Anyway, it seems to have worked, so I guess if you train your brain enough, it will work on its own in a situation like this.
A few prep tips for verbal, which a lot of people seem to worry about: for grammar I suggest some online resources (http://www.bartleby.com
is good, also webster.comnet.edu/grammar is very useful; Grammar Smart and all the prep books only skim the surface of what you need to know in grammar, these two sites will give you much more information that will put things in context).
In RC, there are 2 key things: #1 understanding the text - which means not only understanding the words but also how the different actors relate to each other; this is arguably more difficult in the case of non native speakers, and for native speakers, where dense science passages are involved; #2 understanding the questions - here, badly written questions (as in many of the non-ETS prep packages) will do you in regardless of your success in dealing with #1. Fortunately, ETS's questions, tricky or difficult as they may be, are anything but poorly written and once you find the answer there are no doubts that it is the right one.
In CR, I found that reviewing logic concepts (a if a then b means.... a only if b means.... etc) helped me understand some arguments' structure better. Apart from that, there are some really tricky questions (such as the one in OG about larvae) where such logic cannot be applied; in this case, POE is your weapon of choice. This distinction between direct reasoning and POE helped me a great deal because the strategies are different - in the first, you look for the most fitting conclusion, in the second, you eliminate the least fitting ones and keep the one that harms the argument the least. It is important to know what you are looking for and I am quite surprised that no prep books go over this difference in more detail.
Bottom line - I think that if you have decent math skills and reading abilities you can score well on the GMAT - but you do need to practice a lot to get your timing right and to be able to work accurately under pressure; delivering on 78 questions you read off a computer screen in 2 1/2 hours is a painfully acquired skill. You should not get too hung up on missing individual questions, what matters is getting most of the questions right most of the time.
Good luck everyone, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have, if I can.