Just got my written score in the mail today so I thought I’d post my debrief here. I haven’t really ever posted anything here before, (hope I’m formatting everything correctly) but this site was very useful for me so I thought I’d return the favor.
I just completed my undergraduate degree this past May and will be starting work at a Big-3 consulting firm in a few weeks. I’m not 100% sure that I want to go get an MBA but I’m certainly considering it. At the very least, I wanted to keep my options open down the road. I took the GMAT now because I had a lot of free time in between graduating and starting work. I figured that once I started work, I would have much less free time to prep for the test, and consequently just decided to get it out of the way.
I started my prep in late June by just reading up on the GMAT. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the test, how the scoring worked, etc before I actually started doing prep work. This really only took a day or two of light reading, after which I went out and purchased the Kaplan Premier
2012 book and began my prep. The book comes with a CD and some online material (mostly just a syllabus, some videos, and practice problems/tests). I began going through the book and got through it in 10-12 days. Nevertheless, I realized that I still was not comfortable with all the problem types.
At this point I took the two GMAT prep tests provided and scored a 770 and a 740 on the first and second respectively. I certainly felt very good and thought that I would be in a good position to take the test in a few weeks. I think at this point I may have even been a little overconfident.However, after taking these two tests, I decided to take a Kaplan
practice test (I really believe that this single test was the most influential one that I’ve taken) and completely bombed it (compared to how I had done on the GMAT prep tests) and scored a 610. I did not know that Kaplan
tests are scored much lower than other tests. I took a second Kaplan
practice test and scored a 630, which really brought me down even more. I had to take a couple of days off and try to regather myself.
I had a couple of close friends who had just scored 730 and 770 respectively so I knew it was definitely possible for me to score well. I began to dig down to figure out what I was weakest at and really try to improve in those specific areas. Math has never been too difficult for me, and I was scoring well, but I didn’t want to get complacent so I started working on that section first. I did a lot of practice problems but fortunately I didn’t need to review too many concepts. My verbal section was in much poorer shape, so I knew I’d need to do a lot more work on it.
I signed up for a Kaplan course
online that I felt was useful, though not great. The company I will be working for provides money that has to be used for test-prep (the company doesn’t give you the money to pocket if you don’t use it, so I figured I might as well take the class). The best part of the online class was the fact that it gave me access to so many more practice tests and practice problems. I also bought the mgmat books
on sentence correction, reading comp, and critical reasoning and began going through them very closely. After a few days of critical reasoning, I began to realize that the problems seemed almost like logic puzzles. The prompts were easy enough to understand; the difficult part was figuring which answer choice solved the ‘puzzle.’ After doing enough practice problems these problems became much more clear and small patterns began emerging, which made the questions much easier. For sentence correction, my issue was just not knowing the rules well enough. I went through the sentence correction guide twice and took notes the second time around. I was able to use these notes later to review the various rules. For reading comprehension, my biggest issue was just confidence. The passages can certainly be difficult, but going into each passage with a positive mindset really helped. I knew that I’d miss some questions on the test, but if I minimized my mistakes elsewhere, I’d be ok.
After I had review everything, I still had about a month and a half before my scheduled test date, so I began doing practice tests to see where I stood. The scores were coming out around where I wanted, so I just kept chugging along. About two weeks before the test, I went through the original guide and did all the practice problems for all the sections. This was a good way to prep exactly for what the test problems were going to feel like. I also took the GMAT prep tests again during this time and scored a 770 and 780. My scores didn’t change too much after all my prep but I definitely felt a lot more confident.
Books and Materials:
The only books I used were the Original Guide, Kaplan Premier
2012, and Manhattan SC, RC, and CR. The OG was very useful for practice problems, but other than that it didn’t provide too much. The Kaplan
book was useful for learning about the each type of question on the test and it did provide some instruction on how to improve on the problems, but it wasn’t very detailed (there are so many things that the book has to cover that it doesn’t go in depth on any of them). The mgmat books
were all very useful in learning the material necessary to do well on the problems. If you’re unsure about your verbal abilities, I would definitely recommend going through these.
Practice Test Scores:
Practice test scores are below. I don’t have my scores for the gmat practice tests that I took in June at the beginning of my prep, but the scores were 770 and 740. The gmat prep scores from the second time around are below.
• Actual GMAT: 790 (Q51, V49)
• Manhattan GMAT
- CAT 1: 7/30 - 780 (Q51, V45)
- CAT 2: 8/02 - 770 (Q51, V44)
- CAT 3: 8/15 - 760 (Q49, V45)
- CAT 4: 8/25 - 770 (Q50, V45)
- Diagnostic: 7/18 - 760
- CAT 3 - 7/29 - 730
- CAT 4 - 8/04 - 760
- CAT 5 - 8/11 - 730
- CAT 6 - 8/12 - 760
- CAT 7 - 8/14 - 760
- CAT 8 - 8/17 - 760
- CAT 9 - 8/24 - 730
• GMAT Prep
- CAT 1 - 8/16 - 770 (Q50, V44)
- CAT 2 - 8/27 - 780 (Q51, V45)
• Princeton Review
- CAT 1: 7/24 - 730 (Q49, V41)
Quality of Tests:
The GMAT prep tests were definitely the most accurate (as everyone else has said) in terms of questions type and scoring algorithm. To some degree other tests makers (ie Kaplan
, Mgmat, Princeton Review) can mimic the question types, but it is very difficult for them to mimic the scoring. While they are certainly in the correct range, I wouldn’t necessarily put a ton of stock in your exact practice test scores. Kaplan
questions were similar but the scoring was definitely off. The mgmat tests had better scoring, but worse questions. (verbal questions were generally similar, but math questions were much harder and required on average more steps to solve). I only took one Princeton so I can’t really make any general claims about it.
Test Day Experience:
My test day went pretty smoothly. My test was scheduled for 8 am, but I knew that the test center would open at 7:30 and start letting people register and start taking tests before 8. I got to the center around 7:15ish and sat in the car for 15 minutes just listening to some relaxing music. I went in and registered quickly and began writing the essays. My first essay was on a topic that I had seen in the OG, which helped me quickly get into a good comfort zone. The second essay went well too. I debated not taking a break after the essays, but ultimately decided to step out and drink a little Gatorade. I went back and did the math section, which also went well. On the practice tests I usually ended math with 10-15 minutes left so I took my time on the problems. I almost went too slow and felt pressured around the end. There was one weird absolute question that I probably spent too much time on but everything still worked out. On the verbal I felt comfortable throughout and ended with about 5 minutes left. I clicked through the information/data stuff and was elated to see my score!
Words of Advice:
• Do lots of practice problems, you’ll not only begin to figure out the questions types that you are weakest at, but you will also begin to see trends in figuring out the correct answers
• Practice tests are very useful, I would recommend doing as many as you can. While the scoring that practice tests provide is only useful to a limited degree, there is no other way to simulate the stress and pressure that you’ll feel on test day.
• Do a few practice essays, but don’t go overboard. Put together a framework for each type of essay that you’ll use on test day and write a couple of practice essays to get timing down, but reading through the sample prompts in the OG is more useful after that
• Stay confidence. I truly believe that confidence plays a huge role in how well you perform. Even if you aren’t good at a specific type of problem, go in with a positive mindset and do what you can.
• Try to stay consistent with your schedule. I had the flexibility to study in the mornings and hang out with friends in the afternoon, but this may not be the case for most. I think it’s important to just keep chugging along and slowly making progress. My studying was generally about 3-4 hours of studying per day in the morning for almost a full month and a half. Putting in this amount of time not only helps you learn the material, but it helps you improve your confidence as well.
• The GMAT doesn’t determine who you are. I know it’s easy for me to say since I scored well, but doing well on the GMAT (or doing poorly) doesn’t make you a good (or bad) person. Just keep in mind that this is just another standardized test.