I’m not sure it made a difference in how I prepared compared to other people with similar scores, but as I stated in the title, I scored this the first time around and I live in Spain. I’m not saying I started from a scratch in English, I learned English at home with my mother, but I have a lot of gaps in my vocabulary and we have a tendency to speak Spanglish at home. I sometimes work in English, but mostly with non-natives. I never went to a bilingual school, and my entire college experience was in Spanish. What I’m trying to say is you can nail the verbal part with less than perfect English
A couple of years ago I finished my masters in architecture. Since I knew I might want to do an MBA, and finding a job wasn't easy in construction in Spain, I thought about combining my job search with my GMAT prep. I got some second hand books (Kaplan
) and... that was it, I barely opened them.
I started working in strategy consulting and this allowed me to see many people prep for the test. But as many people around here know, consulting is a time consuming job. A year and a half after I still hadn't touched those books. So my New Year's resolution was to get it done and to make sure I signed up to take the test in March and set myself a three month plan.
I guess everybody wants a great GMAT, but I don't think it is a deciding factor in most applications, as long as it is decent you are fine. My GPA wasn't great, but I had passed everything the first time around and in the Spanish public system this is quite a feat. To put my application at everybody else’s level I needed my GMAT to reflect that, to have a fairly good first grade.
One thing I noticed is that this is not a test you study for, you have to train for it, a little bit each day, every day. I set myself a training schedule
15 minutes a day Monday through Friday. As many exercises as I could manage. I could only skip this rule if it meant sleeping less than 4 hours that day
2 hour in a row on weekends. About half a mock test. Based on whatever I has studied that week
4 hour in a row once a month. To take a mock test
I dedicated the first 4 hours to really understand everything that was included in the test. I immediately saw two potential problem areas: statistics and sentence correction. The little I knew about statistics, probability and permutations I had studied over a decade before. And although I could easily communicate and understand English, I had no idea about grammar rules.
I took a week to review the different math formulas and grammar rules. After that I just started to do different exercises, keeping a very simple error log
in a notebook. Sometimes I found time to study at a desk, other times I studied on flights, the bus, or while waiting for feedback on a document. I think managing to shut everything out not only helped me find time to study, but also to control my nerves during the test.
My learning curve for math was very good. After a week I would make very few errors. I never watched the clock, and I just went getting faster. Until the exam day it was always my better score. Someone lent me Math Kevin Armstrong that had many of the more difficult problems to solve, and I just followed the same dynamics.
For the sentence correction, I took the same approach as with math. I trained, I did exercises and I kept an error log
. In the beginning the log was exploding, but it helped me see a pattern, it was easy to identify the errors I kept repeating and learn the rules to the game. And that is it; it is not really about learning English but about learning a set of rules that keep coming up. This learning curve was very slow, but as I went mastering some of the more common rules my error log
significantly thinned. I had to be very patient and constant.
After a month I took the first mock test
. I didn't manage to finish but I still scored a 710. All I remember is that as usual my quantitative was better than my verbal. I also noticed I had to start working on my other verbal sections, not only sentence correction.
My problem with verbal was that although I could understand texts I didn't really see where the questions where going. But as with the rest of the test, if you do enough exercises (not a marathon but a bit each day) you can start to see a pattern. It doesn't really test your English but your GMAT abilities.
I kept working with the same schedule and a month later I took my second mock test
. This time I managed to finish with a 750. And as usual my quantitative was better than my verbal. Since this is true with most people, increasing your verbal score has a higher impact on your global percentile. So for the last month I really focused on all of the verbal sections. I still did math at least an hour a week, to make sure I kept it sharp.
The weekend before the test I had a race near the test center, so I walked there to see where it was and what was the shortest way to the subway.
On the test day
, I must have been in a haze, because I can't remember if I ended up taking the subway or somebody was kind enough to drive me there. I got there early and the only other girl in the center when they opened had already taken the test before because they knew her. When I sat at the computer I read through all of the non-timed screens, I already knew all of the information, but it helped me calm down. At half time I got up and went to the bathroom to splash some water onto my face. I had taken a snack but I was still too nervous to eat anything. For the verbal section I followed my “no second guessing” rule, I decided I had done this so many times that when in doubt my reflex answer must be the correct one. And I finished with a lot of spare time and a score of 50 in this section. This was the first time I scored higher in the verbal than in the quantitative section (here I did worse than other times).
When I got to the score screen, in the beginning I only saw the 80. So I thought I had a 680 and would have to retake the test. Then I saw my 780, at first I couldn't believe it so I was actually scared to tell anybody about it. I was actually still nervous when I asked my boyfriend (who had suffered me taking my GMAT books on every weekend trip) to read it out loud before it finally sunk in.
I have seen many people take a week off to study for the GMAT, but final sprints never seem to have the desired effect. So I decided to take a week off after my GMAT, to have a prize to look forward to. I would take the test again if it means another scuba diving cruise in the red sea.