I started studying in early January for a 3/16 GMAT. I just got the official score report last week and would like to share my experience.
Previous Testing/Education History:
I've always been a great standardized test taker in mathematics. With the exception of the Putnam Exam and some other similar, high-level exams, I've received a perfect score on every standardized math test I've ever taken (SAT, AP Calc BC, AP Stat, Math 2 SAT2, Actuarial Exam P, etc. etc.). I've been pretty mediocre on the verbal side of things. I scored a 610 on my verbal SAT, 650 on writing, and didn't take any humanities APs out of fear of getting 2's and 1's. During college, I spent a lot of time improving on these skills and after deciding to do law school in addition to an MBA, I took the LSAT (a very verbal-heavy test). I scored a 169, which is 96th percentile. The LSAT has a section that is very similar the to GMAT's CR question type and a reading comprehension section that makes GMAT RC look like a joke (longer passages, harder questions, less time, etc. etc.). In college (top 30 American National University), I won the departmental award for finance majors and graduated with a 3.76 in 2011. Since, I've worked in financial sector management consulting.
1. Princeton Review 1012
GMAT Practice Questions- This book has tons of errors and some of the questions are poorly worded, but I still think it's a great book for the price and for the wide scope of different question types. It's also only 20 bucks for over 1000 practice problems, so it's a great value.
2. Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction
- THE BEST GMAT BOOK THAT YOU CAN POSSIBLY BUY. And it's only 1 questions type. That's how good it is.
3. Manhattan GMAT
CAT Tests- Comes free with the Sentence Correction book.
4. GMAC Verbal Review- Great book for average test takers, but there aren't many very challenging questions. Contains 300 real GMAT problems.
5. Powerscore Logical Reasoning Bible- I went with an LSAT book for this one. You have other options.
6. Manhattan LSAT Reading Comprehension Guide- Another LSAT book.
7. Various free materials that I found online-Will go into detail about this later. I did some Googling and found some useful stuff.
8. Free GMAT Prep download from GMAC.
For you: I would also suggest that you buy the GMAC Official Guide and the Quant review if you're diagnosing under the 80th percentile on Quant or Verbal.
I completed 3 free online practice tests: Veritas
, Manhattan, and Princeton and scored 750, 730, and 710, respectively. DO NOT DIAGNOSE WITH THE GMAT PREP SOFTWARE. You only get 2 legitimate tests and it's better to use them later on. I think Veritas
is closest to the real thing. Ignore your Princeton and Manhattan scores and focus more on which types of questions you got right and wrong. Identify which question types that you're struggling on. As an FYI, Manhattan's quant section is significantly harder than the real deal. After this stage, I realized my 2 biggest weaknesses were Data Sufficiency and Sentence Correction.
Attacking the question types:
For an average of about an hour to 2 hours a day (some days go heavy and some days go light or take a break), I focused on one specific question type. Here were my strategies:
This was by far my best section. I did a lot of Princeton Review problems with heavy emphasis on Geometry since Geometry has so many rules that you have to memorize for the harder questions on the test. PRINCETON REVIEW QUESTIONS ARE NOT THAT GOOD. There are a lot of questions that will throw you off with really stupid stuff and there are errors that will make you angry. However, there are A LOT of poorly worded quant questions on the GMAT (I'm a mathlete so I'm very picky). Princeton Review will prep you for these odd questions and will teach you the importance of reading the entire question. Misreading the question is really the only way a person strong in math can get thrown off on GMAT problem solving.
This is where most people get tripped up on the quant section. This question type is extremely new to most people and requires logical thinking skills and a process that most mathletes aren't acquainted with. When I used the Princeton Review book, I focused mostly on Data Sufficiency questions. It really comes down to this process:
1. Is item 1 sufficient?
2. Is item 2 sufficient?
If Yes/Yes, then D. If Yes/No, then A. If No/Yes, then B. If No/No, then keep going.
3. Are 1 and 2 sufficient together?
If Yes, then C. If No, then E.
I know this seems easy, but unless you go through this process on EVERY problem, you will not do well. Eyeballing it and attacking these problems without a logical process will trip you up every time. GMAC knows how to get you with stuff like this.
For data sufficiency, I also suggest that you go through the Khan Academy lectures. He goes through the GMAC guide and solves problems. The lectures are free and the guy solving the problems was an MIT undergrad who went to Harvard Business School and got a job at Goldman Sachs before quitting and teaching math and science online for free. He's smart and surprisingly, he gets questions wrong sometimes with THE BOOK AND THE ANSWER KEY IN FRONT OF HIM. It's not because he sucks. I'm pretty sure he got a 51 on quant without trying. It's just that GMAC is really good at tricking you and when you get too comfortable, you will start getting questions wrong.
This was my worst section. I sucked at it. Then I bought the Manhattan GMAT Sentence Correction
book and got slightly better. I read the book cover to cover and whenever I got an SC question wrong, I read the corresponding section over again. There really aren't that many rules and learning a rule that you didn't know before can boost your verbal score by 2 points each time. It's the easiest way for you to get better at Verbal. The book will give you access to Manhattan CAT tests and a 25 question test bank of SC questions. I also recommend searching the internet for SC questions. Platinum GMAT has some free questions of varying difficulty that closely resemble actual questions. I also did every SC question in the Princeton Review book. I did all of the Verbal Review SC questions at least twice. There are a lot of stupid ones, but once again, GMAC is infamous for contradicting itself and making mistakes in SC. The Manhattan GMAT SC
book gives several examples of this. If you can limit your SC wrong answers to 1-2 per exam and knock out the easy ones (only 1 rule applied) quickly, you have a great shot at 99th percentile. If you never get good at SC, you will not be able to score well on Verbal.
For this section, I used the Powerscore LSAT Logical Reasoning
Bible. The questions are very similar the the questions on the actual GMAT. I'm sure there is a better GMAT focused book to use, but this book got the job done for me. The 2 hardest question types on CR are the "The answer to which question would provide the most info in evaluating this argument" and "The bolded statements play which of the following roles". Princeton Review actually does an excellent job of telling you how to solve these problems and has some good practice problems. I did all of the Verbal Review problems for CR.
This is the hardest section to improve one, but compared to more verbal-focused tests, GMAT RC is pretty easy. I didn't do any major study guide prep, but I did all of the Verbal Review problems. My advice is to take your time on these questions and make sure you get them right. All of the information that you need is in the passage. I also suggest that you take short notes while reading the passage. Write down the main point in shorthand and after each paragraph write down whether the paragraph supported or undermined the main point and whether there were any examples or author opinions.
AWA and IR:
Actually prepare for these sections. MBA.com has some good info on both. They publish EVERY possible AWA question that they can ask you. Go through about 20 of them and identify 3 weaknesses to each argument. After writing one or 2, don't write out every essay. Just think of the flaws in the argument. A Google search will give you a lot of info on structure. For IR, use the Prep software and MBA.com has a lot of additional published info. This section won't count for another 4-5 years, but it's still important to know what you're doing on this section so that you can be nice and confident going into the important part of the test.
After the diagnostic tests and some question type practice, I took my first GMAT Prep Test and scored a 760 (50q 44v). On quant, I got about 6 questions wrong with 5 being Data Sufficiency and 1 being a misread of a PS question. On verbal I got 5 SC questions wrong, 0 CR wrong, and 1 RC wrong. I was VERY HAPPY with this score. To score a 780, you don't need to score this high on your first test.
For the next month, up to 10 days before the test, I took the remaining 5 Manhattan CAT tests followed by the second Prep Test. I scored 730-710-730-760-730 on the Manhattan CATs. I don't think the scoring is very accurate, but the questions do get much harder as you correctly answer questions, so it's great practice. If you get a lot wrong towards the end of the sections, it takes off way too many points. On one verbal section, I got something like the first 32 questions right and then 4 of the last 9 wrong and it gave me a 39. That would be between a 45 and 47 on the real test. On the second GMAC free test I scored a 770 with the same splits (50q 44v). I got 5-6 Data Sufficiency wrong, was perfect on problem solving, got 2 SC wrong, 2 CR wrong, and 1 RC wrong. I was much happier with this since I felt more confident on SC questions and knew that I rushed through quant and could easily get a 51 on the real thing.
With 10 days until test time, I exhausted my practice tests. I used this time to RESET THE TESTS AND TAKE THEM DESPITE THERE BEING PROBLEMS THAT I ALREADY DID. I was shocked at how many problems I got wrong twice. On my 4 reset Manhattan CATs, I scored between 760 and 780 and on my 3 GMAC resets, I scored 770, 780, and 790. I was SHOCKED at how close they were to my actual score despite the fact that I already saw about half the questions it gave me. I think resetting is a great idea. Getting a question wrong twice helped me better identify what specifically I was struggling with. I spent time after the test studying these specific question sub-types. At this stage, I skipped AWA and IR. Improving on these tiny nit-picky questions allowed me to really improve my performance.
Day before and Day of the test:
The day before the test, I did not take a CAT. I went though some SC questions (many of which I did before) and some Data Sufficiency. My test was scheduled for 4:30 on a Saturday, so I wasn't too concerned with going to be early. I relaxed and slept in.
The day of the test, I woke up around 12:30 and did SEVEN data sufficiency problems to get in the groove. I wore a dress shirt and khakis and wore a watch to the test center. This is a test to get into business school and I wanted to feel like a business school student. As an FYI if you do this, they will make you put the watch in your locker and you will have to roll up your sleeves. I ate Thai food for lunch (probably my only mistake) and took about a 45 minute walk to the test center near Times Square. I got to the test center at about 3:15 and they took me around 3:30.
I filled out all of my demographic info when I registered and was able to click through. I picked Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Northwestern JD/MBA, and Wharton as my schools. I know this is risky, but if I screwed up, they were going to see the bad score anyway. Most of the actual test was honestly a blur and I was done before I knew it. The first 4-5 verbal questions really threw me for a loop and I was not very confident for a big chunk of the section. It took me about a minute to decide that I wanted to see my score.
When I saw the 51/45/780 I was obviously excited. I did 1 point better on each section than I did on my practice tests. I think I could do better on Verbal if I practiced more, but a 780 is good enough and it's much more important for me to direct my focus to other parts of the B-School Application.
Thanks for reading and message me with any questions!!!