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770 (Q49, V47) - Fell Down, Got Back Up Again

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770 (Q49, V47) - Fell Down, Got Back Up Again [#permalink] New post 06 Nov 2006, 11:30
I'd like to share my experience in detail as thanks for the lessons learned from the GMAT Club community. I didn't participate in the threads as much as I should have, partly because I discovered this site halfway through my study plan and partly because I was too nervously focused on the exam.

Though I'm pleased with the final result, I actually took the test twice and had a terrible go of it the first time. The first time I took the test was in the end of September, where I actually cancelled the exam halfway through. I was on the quantitative section at about the 29th/30th question, and looking at the timer saw that I had only 7-8 minutes left for the remaining questions. Though I felt good about the AWA section, I didn't like my chances guessing on a significant chunk of the exam. Rather than get a suboptimal score, I kicked myself for being too slow and forced myself to cancel the exam. After spending the majority of my free summer time indoors (which is actually a good thing in 38 degree humid weather), this was the last thing I expected to happen.

I was so distraught after the exam that I walked all the way home. It gave me time to push enough of the disappointment to the back of my mind so that I could restrategize my study plan. I went home and rebooked the exam for the next earliest possible date, which I believe is a minimum of 30 days from the last time one took the exam.

So in hindsight, had I known a few months ago what I know now, I would have streamlined my study plan - reducing the time spent on marginal materials, working on my timing every step of the way, and increasing my participation on this site .

My study path is comprised of a mix of sheer brute study poring over whatever prep material was at hand (in the beginning) and a more focused but still scattered approach that relied on content that more closely resembled that of the actual exam. Though what I have to say is basically a mish-mash of advice from many of the good contributors of this site, I hope (I was going to write "hopefully", but GMAT disapproves ;) that my experience can provide a useful tip or two.

Background
I have an undergraduate degree in finance and am a CFA charterholder, but don't do much calculation or much writing at work, so I don't have the calculating prowess of an engineer or the verbal fluency of an ad writer, and am something more in between. When I began studying for the GMAT, a lot of the DS and CR questions would take me way over two minutes to complete.

Study Material - Part I

ARCO - GMAT CAT
ARCO - GMAT CAT Supercourse
ARCO - Unofficial Guide to the GMAT CAT
KAPLAN - GMAT 2006 Edition
KAPLAN - GRE & GMAT Exams Math Workbook
KAPLAN - Home Study Book (from KAPLAN course)
KAPLAN - GMAT Lesson Book (from KAPLAN course)
OG 10th Edition
The Princeton Review - GMAT Math Workout
The Princeton Review - GMAT Verbal Workout

GMATPrep
Powerprep

As you can see, the content is semi-redundant and perhaps not the most optimized, particularly when half the books are 5-6 years old. I just pored over every book my brother left behind from his preparation and bought a couple of my own. Had I read the reviews on the site and been more familiar with the structure and tone of the actual GMAT exam, I would have cut out most of the ARCO stuff (I couldn't see eye-to-eye with some of their verbal stuff) and a little of the KAPLAN.

I do think, though, that for those who are in the starting phase of their study plan, brushing up on the fundamentals for the first few weeks through KAPLAN and Princeton Review is a good idea. As the exam date gets closer, I would then focus on harder and more relevant material (though the posts on this site, the GMAT Club Challenge, MGMAT, latter parts of the OG, Powerprep). Reviewing material that differed significantly in structure from the questions in the actual exam was, for me, counterproductive and actually set me back a bit.

Study Tips

Some people mentioned that they like to use notecards. A habit I found useful was using the Notepad program to jot down mathematical and grammatical principles (eg. dimensions of 30/60/90 and 45/45/90 degree triangles, personal idiom list, etc.), questions I had answered wrong with my initial answer and the right answer, and questions whose principles I thought were "GMAT-representative".

Exam Day - One
My exam was booked for 5:45 pm, the only time slot that was available. At any rate, this fit me well, as I'm not a morning person and liked the idea that the outside world was winding down as the time I took the test (less pressue this way?).

I arrived at the examination centre early, at around 5:00 pm. Put all my belongings in my locker. I had a raging bout of sinusitis since the beginning of the month, and though I took some tylenol in the afternoon to ease my symptoms, wanted to bring some tissues with me into the exam room. The proctor said that nothing extraneous was allowed inside the examination room, and though she would let me bring in some tissue for my runny nose, would have to record that I did do this. I doubted that this would affect how schools would see my results, but to be paranoically safe than sorry decided to just unclog my sinuses during the breaks.

I belatedly realized that I didn't have to begin the exam exactly at the appointed time and could've started earlier. I would've appreciated it if one of the proctors actually bothered to mention it to me, but oh well, it's the first year with Pearson Vue, maybe they'll get better with time.

The proctor was brisk and businesslike - not something one wants to come across when already in a nervous state, but those are the breaks. Only one felt pen and one writing board were allowed in at one time, along with a set of ear plugs, per test taker, though I hear this varies from place to place.

The initial part of the exam went all right. The AWA topics, I had not really thought much about prior to the exam, but was able to write five clean, complete paragraphs for each just before time expired. I dislike writing essays, especially during practice occasions where I have no objective way of knowing how good they are or where they can be improved, but like many here have said, I would in hindsight write them as part of taking practice exams so my mind would be mentally prepared to weather four hours of continual concentration. Another thing is that, if you feel you wrote two decent essays, you'll go into the break and then the quantitative section with some confidence and a positive mind. At the very least, you'll have less doubt and can better focus on the task ahead.

Well, I did feel fairly confident starting the quantitative section, but was not prepared for the consistency of difficulty of each question. I did come across similarly difficult questions during my preparation, but not all lined up in a row as I did now. I think I was able to answer most of them with accuracy but averaged 3-4 minutes on each one and increasingly fell behind to the point that I had about a minute left for each of the last 8-9 questions. (Can't recall most of the specifics, but there were more exponential and division/remainder-type questions than I expected.)

That was basically the end of it. I didn't want a subpar score that clearly
didn't reflect what I thought I could achieve, so cancelled the exam, walked all the way home, and gave GMAC another US$250 so I could repeat the whole ordeal in another month's time.

Looking back, I should have at least gone through the rest of the exam to get a better feel of real exam conditions. But then I wasn't thinking too clearly at that point.

Study Material - Part II
By booking my second exam for the first week of November, I was giving myself four weeks and change to fix my timing and familiarize myself with more advanced-level questions.

During these four weeks, I tackled the following:

-GMAT Club Challenges
I went through all 25 archived exams, essentially averaging one a day with an odd day off when I felt too tired after work. These exams really helped me on my sense of timing (relying on mostly printed material for studying for the first exam, I wound up underestimating the importance of this aspect) and forced me to limit myself to at most 3-4 minutes on a particularly hard question, even if I had to put it to a guess.

My average on these exams ranged all over the place, from 70-something to 98. The difficulty level of many of the questions ratcheted up my reaction time. And a good chunk of the questions serve as good preparation for the actual exam.

To be fair, though, I do think that the math questions in the actual GMAT have evolved in the past couple years, the wording and structure of which you won't see in the Challenges. Also, the explanations are sometimes a bit too sparse for my understanding.

-1000 CR/SC/DS/PS
These can be downloaded somewhere in the forums. For those who have already been studying a while and/or have been surfing these forums, there will be a lot of redundancy in the questions, which are an amalgamation from various publishers. However, the questions are close to the ones on the exam and the sheer volume gives you a source for routine practice.

While there are no explanations provided in the answer key, I found that most of the questions have been discussed in the forums and as such use the forums as reference for the questions I scratch my head on.

-Various GMAT Club questions
The explanations and insights that many posters have included with their answers have been invaluable, though browsing for new questions becomes harder after a few weeks. I bookmarked the questions that particularly stumped me and regularly looked through them until I could grasp the concepts down pat.

Exam Day - Two
I booked the exam for the same time as the previous one, 5:45 pm. I was feeling nervous because of my previous experience, my still lingering sinusitis, and a persistent phleghmful cough. I woke up late that day, close to noon, skipped breakfast, and pushed lunch to around 2:30 pm so I wouldn't feel hungry during the exam. I also did some light exercise to get the blood running and my breathing in sync.

The exam procedures were no different than those during the first time around. I said to myself that I couldn't be any more prepared that I was at that day and decided to give it my best shot with a do-or-die attitude.

This time around, I managed to finish each section in time. The AWA topics, I didn't hold any particular personal relevance to, so spent a three-four too many minutes trying to brainstorm, but was able to finish up before time expired. I will post my AWA scores once I receive them.

During the quantitative section, I came across some algebra on the third question that no matter how hard I tried could not derive the answer to. I definitely got that wrong and from there, the questions were no harder - there were a couple tricky X-Y coordinate DS questions, but the rest were manageable average/mean/median or combination or number sequence-type questions. I shouldn't be disappointed, but I was hoping to get a 50 or so here, after going focusing on so much math in the previous math and taking all the GMAT Club Challenges, but I think getting the 3rd and another early question wrong did me in and limited my max to 49. On the other hand, I don't want to discourage anyone - even if you get a few wrong in the early stages, you can still get a decent Q score.

I tried to make the best use of my breaks. Went to the bathroom even though I didn't really have to. Also washed my face with cold water to get nerves reacting again. Had a fruit bar and a can of red bull (I don't drink caffeinated beverages often, so I could feel my heart constantly pumping during the remainder of the exam - don't really know if this was a good thing).

The verbal section (like the quantitative) was very similar to that in the Powerprep software. The RCs were not unfamiliar - a couple business ones (finance/economics), a science one, and a social science (feminism?) one. I encountered a couple tricky CRs, including a boldface one with two very similar answers. But the SCs made me thankful that I went through a quarter of the SC1000s for practice. I was able to answer the final question with a few minutes remaining.

---

I do recommend taking the Powerprep for practice more than twice - because it closely simulates the real exam. Someone here recommended removing the log files of past results from the folders in order to retake the exams fresh, and I think this is a great idea. I took the last practice the day before my actual exam at about the same time in the evening, and I think this helped my rhythm a bit.

To sum up, I'm quite happy with my results and am now focused on the even bigger challenge of figuring out what schools would consider me (my work experience is not stellar). I'll maybe see some of you in the B-School Application forums. I'm sorry for the long-winded synopsis, but really do hope someone can get something useful out of it.
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770 (Q49, V47) - Fell Down, Got Back Up Again   [#permalink] 06 Nov 2006, 11:30
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