I took the GMAT this morning and scored a 770 (Q51, V44), 6.0 AWA. Below are some of my reflections on the experience and advice to future test takers (sorry in advance for the length).
First off, I am extremely happy and thankful to have achieved this score. But I'm more proud of the hard work I've gone through in the last months to earn it. Obviously, I was thrilled when the score appeared on the screen (around question 38 of verbal I could hear my heart beating in anticipation!), but I wasn't shocked with surprise. During the last 3 months, I have earned that score, one day at a time (~7 points at a time
), using the methods and materials I list below.
One piece of logic that helped me stay positive and rational through my preparation (and on test day) is that the people who develop the exam are among the best in the world at what they do—designing questions that evaluate the proficiency of test takers. From the beginning, I have believed that if the test makers do their job well, then there are no flukes, no gaming, and no luck involved with GMAT performance. Mastery of the material is the only factor that separates one scorer from the next. This idea helped me understand that my GMAT score isn't a result of my performance on test day but of the effort I put into the months leading up to it, and it drove me to push myself harder during preparation. It's also a message for future takers of the GMAT that I won't try to hide: if you are interested in a 700+ score, there are no shortcuts. You really have to dedicate yourself to a serious study plan.
While I acknowledge the importance of a study plan with good materials, I attribute much of my success to the methods
I used during my preparation. The single most important thing that I did was, from the very start, establish a process to time myself and review every answer along with the reason it was correct or incorrect. MGMAT's construct was helpful for me: 1. did I know WHAT they were trying to test? 2. How well did I HANDLE what they were trying to test? and 3. How well did I RECOGNIZE what was going on?. I used this construct for every problem in the official guides, including the separate verbal and quantitative guides, to assess my understanding of each question. I used this same process for MGMAT practice questions and for every problem in the GMATClub practice tests. Based on my findings, I revisited the problems where one of these aspects was weak or missing and attempted it again until the concept was enforced. Granted, this method can be extremely repetitive and isn't always the easiest or the most fun, I can say it was huge contributor to my success.Test-preparation materials
, in descending level of importance (the top 6 were all vital):
1) MGMAT quantitative guides and sentence correction guide. The basic guides were incredibly important during the early stages of my preparation–before I was used to the GMAT-style problems. I found the advanced quantitative guide particularly useful in the mid–late stages of preparation.
2) Practice questions and review of explanations on GMATClub and BeatTheGmat.com. A huge THANK YOU!! to all the experts out there, your help is very much appreciated.
3) OG 12
(+ verbal, quantitative guides) along with a spreadsheet to identify and correct the underlying reasons for mistakes. Do every problem in these guides. They will give you a feel for the actual material you will find on the GMAT CAT, because no matter how hard test prep companies try they will never come up with the uniquely creative and complex problems you'll find directly from the test developer. MGMAT is the only company that even comes close.
4) GMATClub tests
5) GMATPrep CAT exam simulations. I took each exam only once. The second one I did on the day before my exam. This resource is critical for the same reasons as the OG.
6) MGMAT CAT exam simulations. I took the six exams, and then repeated two more. I found that the 7th and 8th were more difficult and more useful since the question pool opens up to all the exams (I think).
7) Powerscore CR
Bible. I didn't spend a lot of time with this book, but it was crucial in helping me identify critical reasoning question types and building an understanding of the scope that can make an answer choice correct or incorrect.
8) GMAT800. I spent very little time with this book because I found a number of questions I considered unrealistic.
Once I advanced through the materials and felt better prepared, I went through every question of the OG using the methods above, and eventually worked practice tests into my studies about a month before the exam, one practice test on each weekend morning. Although the GMATPrep is the only simulation from the official test makers, I found that MGMAT CATs were a great substitution. It's comforting now to see that both GMATPrep and the latest 4 MGMAT practice tests were within 10 points of the official score, and so were relatively accurate predictors of actual test performance in my case. This is counter to my thinking that the practice test scores were inflated because of a smaller pool of questions at the 700+ level. The GMATPrep I took the day before the test actually gave the same raw score as my official test:
MGMAT CAT5: 770 (50,45)
MGMAT CAT6: 780 (51,45)
MGMAT CAT7: 760 (49,45)
MGMAT CAT8: 760 (49,45)
GMATPrep CAT1: 780 (50,48)
GMATPrep CAT2: 770 (51,46) - 10/23/2011
Official GMAT: 770 (51,44) - 10/24/2011General advice:
• First and most importantly, learn to love the GMAT! When I started grasping the concepts and getting more questions right, I found studying increasingly enjoyable. I found myself looking forward to the study sessions I had planned out. Even on test day, I was excited to get to the test center to start the exam because I truly enjoy the material.
• Because the GMAT has such a plain raw and percentile scoring system, it is easy to compare yourself to others. Do not do this. In the end it is only you and the test. You are the only one who ultimately determines the score you receive, and you determine that score before you ever step foot in the testing center.
• Find the strategy, study method, materials, everything that works best for you. There are countless pieces of good advice that you can obtain from study materials and from communities such as this, but do not follow them blindly (even those I present here!). If you do not think that a particular strategy is working or will work for you, find a better way. For example, a common piece of advice appears to be the following: think about the GMAT every day, do problems at work, on the train, think about it at the gym, etc.. Some people prefer this mindset, and they do so rightfully because it works for them! I found that keeping my studies focused and isolated worked well for me. In short, be open to picking up pieces of advice from many sources and implementing them slowly into your study plan, but constantly assess their effectiveness and don't hesitate to make changes. After all, your ability to quickly adapt will serve you well on test day.
• Do not only follow the responses of experts on this and other forums, BE an expert! Although I can't thank the GMAT forum experts and other contributing members enough, some of my most meaningful preparation came from explaining difficult solutions to other members. When you teach a concept, you end up solidifying your understanding of that concept three times over.
• Learn the scope of the GMAT exam and be wary of practice questions from unofficial sources. Learn to recognize a realistic GMAT problem from your use of the official guide. Some of the questions and answers I've seen from other sources are highly questionable and can lead you in the wrong direction and waste your precious time. For example, don't ever expect to have to use trigonometry or calculus to solve a problem.
• A small but important comment: use graph paper in your preparation, or buy a GMAT sketch pad and marker from Amazon. I'm left handed so it was an easy choice not to do the latter.
• The fact that trial questions appear in the GMAT should not be relevant factor for you. Even if you suspect that a question is trial and will not be scored, go through the same process that you would for any other question.Quantitative-specific advice:
• A quick overview of my mental thought process for every quantitative question:
When a question appears, identify immediately whether it's problem solving or data sufficiency (unfortunately, this is the easiest step
If PS, read the prompt carefully. Always look at the answer choices
immediately after reading the question prompt since they will often give insight to the level of calculation required. For example, VIC (variable in answer choice) questions require a different process to solve. After reading the answer choices, choose the preferred method of solution (algebra vs. picking numbers vs. "hybrid"), take a quick inventory of the variables involved, and proceed with calculations. I wrote down every step of my calculations in most cases. Do not take shortcuts by doing anything but the simplest calculations in your head. Establish a feel for the (approximate) one minute mark on every question and assess whether your solution method is working. If not, change it and move on quickly.
If DS, read the prompt carefully, and WRITE DOWN the question along with any constraints. I cannot stress enough the importance of constraints! Simplify the question before moving to the statements. Test makers manipulate expressions in question stems to cloud the meaning of the question in the mind of test takers. For example, the question "p + 5m < -3 + p?" simplifies to "m < -3/5?". In the question statements, use the same process of simplification when possible. In tougher problems, test makers rarely give expressions in their simplest forms.
• Familiarize yourself with multiple approaches to solving a quantitative problem. The test makers intentionally build problems either that cannot reasonably be solved with algebra or that must be solved with it. Become good at identifying the proper path to a solution a few seconds after you look at a question for the first time. If you eventually find that you are wrong, make sure you are ready to quickly adapt. Do not be too proud to abandon your thought process if you are not making progress.
• In addition to the above comment, learn how equations and inequalities look in the xy plane. Many problems (even some of the 750+ ones) that take 3 minutes to plug through algebraically can be solved visually quite quickly if you develop this skill.Verbal-specific advice:
• A quick overview of my mental thought process for every verbal question:
When a question appears, identify immediately whether it's reading comprehension, critical reasoning, or sentence correction (again, easiest step
If RC, read the first question stem and commit the basic idea to your memory. Read the passage very carefully and intentionally, paragraph by paragraph. Write a new number—1), 2), 3), etc—for each paragraph and about 7-15 words or two small sentences giving the most important content in that paragraph. Finish your writing for each paragraph before moving to the next, and decide exactly why you believe the author chose to break for a new paragraph at that point. This is often very telling, since it will force you to keep the structure of the passage in mind and tie together the author's ideas. For the first and last paragraph, keep an eye out for the author's conclusion or main point. Try to also keep the first question stem in mind as you advance so that you can formulate a paraphrase of the correct answer choice before you move on to reading them. When you get to the foot of the passage, consider the structure of the passage as a whole and try to assess the author's tone and and what he/she was trying to argue or present.
Some may not prefer to physically write notes during an RC problem, and that's fine. For me, taking notes was most useful not so that I could review my notes later to answer the questions, but in order to better commit the passages important ideas to my mind. Writing something on paper helps me do that.
If CR, read the question stem BEFORE reading the passage. Write an initial for the question type (must be true, assumption, strengthen, weaken, evaluate the argument, resolve the paradox, etc..) next to that line on your grid (see below in verbal timing strategies). Read the passage very carefully, keeping in mind the question type as you do so. Make sure that you completely understand the passage, even if you have to read it a second or third time, then formulate one or two possible answer choices in your head before reviewing the actual ones.
For critical reasoning strategy, I recommend the Powerscore CR
bible. It will help you understand the kinds of information that you can use for different question types, and how to evaluate certain common forms of correct and incorrect answer choices. For example, in inference or "must be true" questions, a correct answer will rarely make even the slightest stretch. For assumption questions, the conclusion usually has to rely on this assumption, so it's useful to see how the conclusion is affected when you negate that statement.
If SC, read the whole sentence very carefully, from first word to last. Read over a second or even third time and formulate an idea of the most gramatically correct and concise answer choice you believe possible. Next, proceed to the answer choices, but do not read them fully. Simply evaluate the differences between the answer choices and start ruling as many as you can based on the rules you know. Once you have it narrowed down to one or two answer choices, read them into the original sentence before you confirm the answer. In my mind, there is really no substitute for experience in sentence correction (even for native english speakers!) so your hard work will pay off huge here.
For sentence correction strategy, I recommend using MGMAT's guide to nail down your understanding of grammar and supplementing with other texts if necessary. Do volumes of problems—the more the better—but use a tracking process to discover why you made errors and proceed to correct them. SC problems test a very limited range of concepts, so get in the habit of relating new problems to a previous problem for which you remember the right answer. If you get enough practice (400–500 or so problems), the answers just jump out at you, sometimes even for the more difficult problems.Timing strategy:
• Quantitative: After every 5-8 questions, calculate your pace against an average of two minutes per question. In order to calculate your pace, look at the current question number, subtract that number from 37 and add 1. Multiply the result by two and compare it to the remaining time on the test screen. After a few practice tests, this process will come like second nature. I have always attempted to spend less time (but sufficient enough to check over calculations once) on the easier questions in order to gain a ~4 minute advantage around the 40–45-minute mark. That way, you will have extra time for the more difficult questions when they appear.
• Verbal: Number down the grid on the pad from 1–41 before the section starts. Mark a line and add the number of minutes that should be remaining at the following problems: 9 (60 minutes), 20 (40 minutes), 31 (20 minutes), 36 (10 minutes). Of course, reading comprehension complicates the verbal timing, but it helps to have some idea of how you are progressing. Sentence correction can also become key to verbal timing. Once you do enough problems, you can pick often pick the correct answer in less than a minute, saving precious time for tough reading comprehension passages.AWA Stategy:
• In my opinion, your time is better spent focusing on the officially scored sections of the exam. I found that reading the topics on this forum for 6.0 AWA strategies and restricting my AWA practice exclusively to practice exams was sufficient preparation. In the end, I felt prepared enough to write two 5.5 or 6.0 essays.Test-day advice:
• Get plenty of sleep, and make sure you eat well and are well hydrated the night before. Drinking too much water during the morning can be problematic since there are limited breaks.
• Take all the optional breaks. You get one after the AWA and another after quant. In each instance, you will transfer from using two extremely different thought processes–verbal and quantitative–so it helps to change the scenery and reset your mind. If you are left handed, you will need to wash your hand once it gets covered in black marker 3 minutes into the test
• Maintain a positive attitude and look forward to your test-day experience. Remember, the GMAT is one of the most rigorous tests in the world. Your score was determined before you even stepped into the room!