After much worries (test-insecurities-anyone-else-feel-this-way-93380.html
) and superstition (may-success-stories-93929.html
), I took the GMAT today and scored 770 (Q:50, V:46)
. I gasped when I saw the screen. My head is still spinning from both shock and exhaustion, but it feels amazing to see hard work pay off and finally be done with the GMAT! I’ve been more of a lurker here than a poster, so I hope I can finally have one post that will benefit others on the board as much as they have benefited me.
Before I go into any specific prep details, let me emphasis again and again that you need to find a way to LOVE the GMAT
. I know a lot of previous posters have said this too but it’s absolutely true. Everyone has a different way of motivating themselves – you need to find yours. I had a photo of the Harvard Campus on my desktop from day one. This way every time I close my error log
or the GMATPrep software, I see the picture and it makes me go back and redo some missed problems or an additional problem set. You also need to reach a point where you find doing problems ENJOYABLE. This obviously comes with your skills getting better, but trust me it’s there for everyone. I viewed certain problems (esp quant and critical reasoning) as logic puzzles and I get satisfaction from “figuring it out.” My total prep time was only about a month (more on that later) but I was OBSESSED with the test and test materials. I would wake up happy because somehow I thought of a solution to “logic puzzle” that I didn’t think of the day before. Even if you have SOME love, motivation, or obsession before going into your GMAT prep, you’ll see exponential improvement.
I’ve broken my debrief into sections since it’s very very long!
I. Prep Strategy & Schedule
II. Practice CAT Scores
III. Test Day Experience
IV. General Advice, Takeaways, and Anecdotes
V. Detailed Review of Prep MaterialsI. Prep Strategy & Schedule
I took the Knewton course in January because I was attracted by the 50 point guarantee. I scored a 690 (Q:41, V:45) before (more on that in the general advice/anecdotes section and you’ll see why this title isn’t 690 to 770) and was excited at the prospect of a 740. I liked how all the videos were recorded and due to my crazy schedule I wasn’t able to make any live classes so just listened to those videos when I had time. I finished the course mid-Feb (though not all CATs) but didn’t do any additional prep during this time. Overall I felt it was more helpful for verbal than quant (which was my weak area). More on Knewton in the prep materials review.
In March my work picked up significantly and I put my studies to rest. In April I got a new job offer to start at the end of May so I decided to give myself a 4-5 week break and study full time for the GMAT (which I now realize was a very expensive decision!!). So for 3 and half weeks I lived and breathed GMAT – did problems from morning till evening (probably 8+ hours a day). Even when I wasn’t doing problems, GMAT was on my mind almost 100% of the time.Week 1:
All 5 Manhattan GMAT Guides
: Number Properties single handedly increased my quant score from a low 41 to 44. The other 4 guides I just skimmed the concepts and didn’t do the practice questions. I did however, do all the questions from the online question bank because I feel the questions were more representative. Week 2: OG Quant
Workbook and OG 12th
edition (quant only). Also studied Sackman’s GMAT Math Bible.Week 3:
CATs and Reviewed Error Logs (I took a couple of CATs here and there in the first two weeks too – forgot which days).Week 4:
Reviewed Error Logs & Test Day!
I also did 5 GMATClub tests
(can’t remember when) and thought they were helpful. I would have done more but started to burn out and run out of time!II. Practice CAT Scores
For people who are curious about correlation of practice test scores with actual:
Knewton Diagnostic: 570 (Q41, V29) – this is after 5 study sessions! (since I already had baseline score from real GMAT so needless to say I was scared!)
Knewton #1: 730 (Q44, V47)
Knewton #2: 660 (Q40, V40)
Knewton #3: 710 (Q47, V40)
Knewton #4: 740 (Q47, V44)
MGMAT #1: 710 (Q48, V38)
MGMAT #2: 690 (Q48, V36)
MGMAT #3: Q51 (untimed)
Gave up on MGMAT Verbal because I was annoyed by the illogical CR questions
GMAT Prep #1: 760 (Q50, V42)
GMAT Prep #2: 760 (Q50, V42)
GMATPrep #1 Reinstall: 760 (Q50, V42)III. Test Day Experience
I actually moved my test day UP a week (actually have closer to a 5 week break total) after I scored the first 760 on the GMATPrep. Studying for 8-10 hours a day made me feel that I was burning out quickly and I remember the importance of people saying you need to make sure you’re “peaking” when you take the exam.
I’m hopelessly addicted to caffeine but in the days leading up the test (my test is today – Thursday so in days Mon-Wed) I stopped drinking caffeine completely so I could catch up on sleep and so when I drink caffeine again on test day it’ll be more effective.
I scheduled my exam at 8am. It is VERY important to schedule a time when your brain works the best. My brain starts off at peak condition every morning and performance decreases in a linear fashion throughout the day. I woke up at 6:30 this morning, ate a good sized breakfast and chugged a red bull (ah! Caffeine you’re finally back!). I also packed a diet mountain dew and some nuts for the breaks.
I started my exam at 7:30. Despite telling myself that AWA doesn’t matter and don’t spend more than 10min on each essay in order to save your brain energy, I couldn’t “tank” it on the spot. I took about 20min each for the essays and wrote what I thought were convincing arguments.
I took about a 5 min break (since I’m paranoid about being late for quant). Drank some mountain dew and wanted so much to eat some snacks for energy, but I was mentally tied up that I couldn’t eat at all. About 90% of my time was spent prepping for Quant, and I wanted so much to do well. The section went really well. I think my biggest improvement is that I learned how to think. I know that sounds vague but I really can’t point a specific concept that really helped me. It’s about doing enough problems that you automatically know that you need to test both integers and fractions, both negative and positive numbers, etc. It’s about finding patterns that you didn’t think existed in the ever-changing GMAT questions. And also, I didn’t think the real GMAT was harder than the GMATPrep. And MGMAT quant was definitely harder. In addition, to reemphasize that you shouldn’t “guess” how well you’re doing: question 36 (or somewhere around there) I had a question that literally asked me to simplify fractions…
Feeling good about quant for once, I took another 5 min break – went to bathroom, drank some mountain dew, forced some almonds down my throat and thought I was gonna throw up. Verbal was always been my strong area but I knew I was not well prepared. I didn’t really study verbal except for doing the CATs and skimming through some guides. What was important for me is I needed to keep a clear head and comprehension usually comes. However, this was NOT the case. While reading comprehension went well, I felt the SC and CR were ridiculous. I’m not sure why, but all the answers looked wrong. For at least half of the questions, I felt all the SC’s had some error and the CR’s had such convoluted reasoning. I usually finish verbal sections with about 15min left – this time I had 25min left and was on question 20! The whole time I was regretting not studying verbal. I spent so much time attacking my weakness that I forgot my strength. I was thinking I should have done the verbal sections of the OG – I even bought the verbal workbook by itself but never did any! While regretting, I was also hoping the whole time for a boldfaced question to indicate that I’m doing better than I thought, but those never came. The last 2 questions were CR and SC – my brain was so tired by this time I didn’t think I was comprehending English.
Needless to say, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a score of 46 for verbal. IV. General Advice, Takeaways, and Anecdotes
I already emphasized the importance of love and motivation, so I won’t do it again.1. Don’t Overestimate Your Ability to “Turn it On” On Test Day.
For those of you who always test well, don’t make this mistake. The reason is simple: The GMAT has a tight time and is adaptive in nature. In college, I got away with walking into exams not 100% prepared, but a lot of those were long and you can jump from question to question so a lot of times an answer would just come to me halfway through the exam or even at the end. Because you have to answer a question on the spot to move on in the GMAT, you can’t just expect answers to “come to you.” For those of you that actually read this far (I’m impressed haha) here is why I didn’t post this as going from 690 to 770: there is absolutely nothing to takeaway from my prep the first time. It was horrid. Nothing to learn from. I didn’t know about this forum, or the OG, or even that GMATPrep was a good indicator of your score. I went to my local library and found whatever books were AVAILABLE on the shelf (I think Barron’s and Peterson’s or something) and read through their strategies. I took ONE practice CAT on GMATPrep and got a 610. Even then I thought, I got a 610 but now I understand the structure more. I’m sure I can break 700. I was actually mad I got a 690! My “test taking skills” did NOT help when I had 5 min to do 10 problems on quant.2. Sometimes a Mediocre Score Is a Blessing.
I honestly would NOT have retook the exam if I even got a 700 flat the first time (even with a lopsided score). But with my dream of attending Harvard, I think that might have hurt me. Because that 6 in the front annoyed the hell out of me, I had to tackle the exam again. I know how it feels to be “almost there.” But trust me, it can turn out for the best.3. It IS Possible to Build Stamina.
Just as training for soccer requires you to build overall stamina (i.e. running), you need to build stamina for the GMAT. See that first Knewton diagnostic score I had? My math was probably right at the level where I was, but verbal was a 29. It was because I was “out of shape.” I didn’t even study verbal from 29 to 46 but my stamina improved. I’m sorry that my post hasn’t been helpful for those who need verbal help, but I can say from my personal experience that when you’re required to read, analyze, and comprehend passages, you need a clear mind! And since verbal is the last section, you have to ensure optimal shape. My first 3-4 CATs didn’t show any improvement in stamina so I was almost thinking I’ll always be tired – but you never know when you hit that “breaking point” and suddenly 37 quant questions and 41 verbal seem so little.4. Fundamentals Isn’t Everything.
This is a controversial point. I know many great test takers have said mastering the fundamentals is the way to improve. I agree that if you’re very weak in an area, you should brush up on the fundamentals, however, don’t expect that to increase your score alone. The strategy sections of the MGMAT books
, for example, provide you the fundamental building blocks that you need to learn how to use. It’s like telling you that two negative numbers multiple together to get a positive number but knowing to test fractions, powers, integers, etc to solve a complex equation to determine if the result has to be negative comes with practice. People say don’t mindless do practice problems. I agree. Do them, review them, understand them, and then go do more problems. While problems may seem all over the place, when you do enough, you’ll start to see patterns and certain actions such as writing out multiple equations as soon as you see absolute values will become second nature.5. Review Error Logs CONSTANTLY.
Do NOT do practice questions in Quant in month 1, verbal in month 2, etc and review error logs in month three (or during the last few weeks). You’ll be absolutely overwhelmed and depressed. I reviewed mine (labeled each question review or redo) every week and even then it was extremely frustrating. You’re basically seeing a bunch of hard questions all at once that you didn’t know how to do the first time and most likely won’t recall right away the second time so you feel like you haven’t improved at all. After you review EACH question FIVE OR SIX times however, you can do it with your eyes closed. How do you not burn out doing that? By reviewing often and only few questions at a time. 6. Don’t Forget Your Strengths.
I still think I got lucky in verbal – don’t let this happen to you. Make sure you don’t get caught up in improving your weakness that you have no strengths left.7. Take the GMAT When You’re Most Motivated.
I’m lucky that I had 4 weeks to focus completely on the GMAT. However, I also had over a month to study the first time around. I just graduated college and thought I was making the smartest decision ever but taking it right after school. It was a good idea except grad school seemed so far away and I wanted to hang out with my friends before every leaves for work, etc. that my month of prep was not dedicated at all. Taking the GMAT right after school is still a good idea since you have the extra time, but make sure you’re motivated to do so.V. Detailed Review of Prep MaterialsKnewton:
50-point guarantee is more attractive to those scoring around 670-710 than other ranges I believe. Instructors are very entertaining (esp Bridgette and Chris) and make listening to the videos almost enjoyable. For those weak in quant, I don’t think Knewton is enough to significantly improve your score. Both examples and practice questions are few in number. The MGMAT guides
were much more helpful. However, I really liked their verbal lessons. I know I didn’t put too much focus on verbal, but their lessons made sense, were comprehensive, and easy to understand. I also think they teach reading comprehension (which I think is kind of unteachable) the best that it can be taught. CATs are almost identical to OG which is good or bad depending on how you look at it. No AWAs which can be a drawback.MGMAT Guides:
These saved my quant score! I would rank them in the following order: 1) Number Properties 2) Word Translation 3) Inequalities (not bad but inequalities have always given me problems and this book didn’t exactly give me the ah-ha moment it did for number properties) 4) Geometry – this had bad reviews but I thought it was helpful. 5) Fractions, Decimals, Percentages: very basic – a few pages with nice tricks but in general very fundamentalSackman’s GMAT Math Bible:
Maybe I just have a hard time reading online materials, but it was annoying that it came in an E-book with small font. Focused a lot on concepts and not enough on examples. Perhaps the sets are better. I prefer MGMAT for quant. I did subscribe to their GMATHacks Question of the Day though and did a few of those.GMATClub Tests:
Great resource for those that want to take their Quant to the next level. I really wanted to do all of them but ran out of time! They really challenge you to think logically which is essential to being able to solve questions on the spot.MGMAT SC Bible:
A lot of people swear by this – I thought it was really DENSE to get through. That idioms list is exhaustive. I won’t give this book an opinion because I realize for non-native speakers a comprehensive guide like this may be just what they need (I personally memorized about 3000 vocab words for the SATs and didn’t do anything else so I won’t pass judgment on a guide being “too detailed.”) But I personally found Knewton’s SC lessons to be easier to follow. I didn’t get Powerscore’s SC but judging from their CR guide I seem to like that structure better.Powerscore CR guide:
The guide was easy to read and easy to follow. Breaks down each argument type very well. I didn’t do the practice questions in the back but the ones they had in the examples seemed in line with the actual GMAT. They do a good job of explaining more obscure question types such as resolving the paradox, roles of certain statements, evaluating arguments with numbers of percentages, etc. MGMAT CATs:
Quant is harder than actual and required much more time, so it’s good practice. Don’t let the verbal scare you – I think it’s a bit off. I scored 36 and 38 in those tests and 46 on actual.GMATPrep CATs:
I didn’t exactly have more trouble on the actual quant vs. GMATPrep but I’m not sure they’re similar either. Maybe it’s just me, but I got a lot more number properties and geometry questions on the actual exam than the GMAT Prep. The look and feel is identical to the test though so it helps to familiarize yourself with test day screen.OG Quant:
Pretty basic compared to Official OG and actual GMAT. I would focus on the last few questions only.OG Official (Quant only):
I did all of the questions in PS and DS and thought they were good practice. People also say their explanations are terrible but I found them to be sufficient. Use supplemental guides if they help you, but make sure you’re not overwhelmed with information!
Holy crap I typed this for 2 hours! For those that read this far, thanks for reading and I hope at least some part of this post is helpful. If you take one thing away it’s find a way to motivate yourself. Love the GMAT or even better be obsessed with it!
Thanks to all who shared their experience and materials they used. I couldn’t have done it without this forum. I probably would still be doing problems from whatever is available at my library! Feel free to ask any questions.