I. The Play-by-Play
I thought I would write my debrief from the perspective of an individual who generally doesn't look toward the horizon and see GMAT spelled out in the distance*: the college undergrad.
*Actually, many of them only see "B-E-E-R," granted that their insobriety permits them the faculty of spelling.
HBS's 2+2 program was the impetus for me. I'm a 20 year old whippersnapper currently attending Georgia Tech. Preparing for the GMAT was a struggle, to say the least, but my rationale was simple: I'm in the collegiate bubble. I'm in the test-taking mode. Why not? After working for a bit, I probably won't be in the mood to sit down and study.
I started gathering resources, researching the test, and joining forums like this one in late Fall 2009. I decided to invest in the Kaplan Advanced
Online Course over winter break. (If you're a Beta Gamma Sigma member, you get 15% off!) Classes were 2.5 hours each, and the course ended on Valentine's Day. Other than looking at Kaplan
materials, I didn't do too much studying—it was Christmas time, after all! I took their online CATs, and my scores began to slowly, but surely, increase:Kaplan
CAT 1: 670Kaplan
CAT 2: 730Kaplan
CAT 3: 700OG 12
Diagnostic Test (Exceptional in SC, PS, DS; just about average in CR, RC)
I dominated the Quantitative sections (in CATs and in class), but I was frustrated by CR question types. I was also trying to answer ever single question correctly, subsequently derailing my timing.
School started up all too soon, and I decided to put the GMAT on the backburner--I turned my attention to preserving my GPA. Spring Break finally arrived, and I knew that my Verbal score was not up to par. My goal was to break V45 (as per the Kaplan
CATs). At the time, my two biggest weaknesses were CR and RC. I basically spent all week mastering CR fundamentals, and doing a few practice RC sets. Verbal “bootcamp” paid dividends for me, as my overall scores skyrocketed:Kaplan
CAT 4: 760Kaplan
CAT 5: 780Kaplan
CAT 6: 730Kaplan
CAT 7: 700
Access to all of Kaplan
’s materials was to expire in April (which explains the 730 and 700 above), and my test date was set toward the latter half of May. My Kaplan
instructor suggested that I invoke Kaplan
’s “Higher Score Guarantee,” and I am so very glad I did so: I got all of the re-vamped (2010) materials, online course, and CATs FOR FREE. It’s like I got two Kaplan
courses for the price of one! (In fact, I have access to all this material until the tail-end of July!)
In my rush to complete the requisite assignments in order to be eligible for the “Higher Score Guarantee,” I had the opportunity to take a Kaplan
CAT at the testing center. This arrangement (at the time called the Ultimate Practice Test or UPT) allows Kaplan
students to take a practice test on the same machines that administer the real GMAT. A pretty pukka deal, if you ask me.Kaplan
Unfortunately, the complacency bug, in conjunction with Dead Week (what we at Tech call penultimate week of the semester) and Finals, took a drastic toll on my test preparation. Following this two-week GMAT hiatus, I realized that I had little more than a fortnight until “Game Day.” I spent every day, from May 10 through May 25, working out of the OG, doing QuizBank assignments through the Kaplan
portal, and brushing off the rust that had accumulated since early April.
Upon perusing through the experiences of fellow GMATClub members, I realized that the top tier (700+ level) questions for SC were tremendously more difficult than anything I had looked at. In fact, the Word file with the toughest SC extracted from the GMATPrep software rudely awoke me to this reality. I spent the very last week going through the MGMAT SC
guide and doing all of OG11
SC. I also worked a few of the questions found in the “Brutal SC” compilation and in the aforementioned file.
I did 4 CATs over the course of the five days preceding test day. I tried to stick to only official, GMAC licensed material toward the end of my studies (primarily from OG12
and searching the ‘Net for other GMATPrep problems).
GMATPrep 1: 750 (Q50, V41)
GMATPrep 1 Re-Take: 760 (Q49, V44)
GMATPrep 2: 740 (Q49, V41)Kaplan
CAT 9: 720
GMATPrep 2 Re-Take: 760 (Q50, V42)
At this point I had a firm grasp of my strengths…
Any science RC
Most quantitative PS, DS
SC with splits
+ much more!
Humanities RC (history, law, government…ZZZZzZZZzzzzzZzzzzZZ)
Modulus/Absolute Value PS, DS
Factor/Multiple questions with variables DS
Tough SC with no splits
+ much more!
Before I knew it, the big day had arrived.II. “We're sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice.”
1. Kaplan GMAT Advanced
Online Class + Assignments, Quizzes, WorkshopsKaplan
does a great job of getting you to the 700+ range, but after a certain point, their hardest questions are scripted in a fashion not in line with GMAC. For example, I missed 6 questions out of 130+ in the RC section of OG12
, but this was an area where my hit rate in the Kaplan
CAT setting was only around 70-80%! Their quantitative questions are about on par in terms of difficult.
Their online platform, especially the 2010 update, is spectacular: easy to use, very organized, and copious. I enjoyed my instructor and the other perks of the program are great, especially the private tutoring hours, the UPT, “Higher Score Guarantee,” and the personalized QuizBanks. The new video format for workshops improves the workshop environment ten-fold.
All in all, I am pleased with my decision to purchase this program. The structure provided will surely put you 700-730 territory. I sometimes wonder what a MGMAT course would be like, especially considering many feel Manhattan GMAT
is much more rigorous than Kaplan
’s Advanced program. Perhaps, but I didn’t know that when I made my purchasing decision.
2. MGMAT Sentence Correction
Please use the new, 4th edition. The photocopied version floating around GMAT forums across cyberspace simply won’t cut it anymore. I wish I had more time to fine-tune my SC skill, but alas, I’m sure even 800 scorers share the same sentiment.
3. OG 12
I clocked my time for each and every question. I also made sure to scour the MGMAT forums for Ron Purewal’s explanations.
4. OG 11
5. GMATClub Math Tests (01-04, 25)
Great to master the mechanics, although don’t feel discouraged if your scores are poor: generally, GMATClub forum questions labeled “difficult” are often times too difficult relative to real GMAT questions.
6. GMATClub Question of the Day
Great for staying somewhat fresh throughout the school year. I love the timer feature! No cutting corners!
7. GMATClub Forum
I did random problems from each of the sub-fora, which are stratified by question type. Tried providing a few explanations here and there, and of course, asked questions when I didn’t understand a particular concept. The folks running the Quantitative side of this site are…cunning. Yes, that’s the perfect way to describe their approach to these problems. III. Game Day
9.30 AM: Woke-up after tossing and turning all night. I never sleep well when I have something of this nature the next day.
10.00 AM: After checking email (in which I was trying the synchronize recommenders, due dates, essay reviewers, internship paperwork), I went down to eat breakfast and prepare my GMAT snacks. I remember reading on someone else’s debrief that almonds, bananas, and PowerAde was the way to go, so I emulated this strategy. I also threw in some mint chocolate, because, well, it tastes better than dry almonds. In case you’re curious, breakfast consisted of the following:
1 bowl of Cap’n Crunch, Peanut Butter Crunch (Let me enjoy the vestiges of my childhood, okay?)
2 hardboiled eggs sans yolk
2 slices of peanut butter toast
5-6 slices of an orange
10.30 AM: Did a few practice problems, looked over some math notes/shortcuts, did a few random problems from the GMATClub forums as well as the Question(s) of the Day.
11.00 AM: Decided to go out for a bit. Strolled around my neighborhood.
11.30 AM: Looked over AWA templates, committed a list of useful words to memory (e.g., variegated, dubitable, elucidate, evince, unsubstantiated, abrogate, etc.)
12.00 AM: Time to drive to the test center!
12.30 AM: Arrive at the center, did a few more problems in the parking lot. These problems actually gave me a hard time, but I shrugged them off—at least they weren’t going to show up on the computer screen!
12.45 PM: AWA time, baby. I killed the argument essay. Those words I mentioned earlier were very useful! The issue response was a bit of a stretch, and unfortunately, the software submitted my response just as my eye caught a typo. Oh, well.
I took my break, splashed cold water on my face, and wolfed down some almonds and half my banana. I topped my nosh off with some tasty mint chocolate and washed everything down with Fruit Punch PowerAde. I got back in the room with 20 seconds left, and luckily, the proctor was very adept with the keyboard: she logged-in just in the nick of time! Let me just say here that the breaks fly by very quickly. It takes time exchanging your board, visiting the restroom, eating, doing the palm-vein schenanigans, and finally getting back to your terminal.
2.00 PM: Quantitative showdown. I began a little rocky, running into problems around question 7. This is the beginning of my downfall. I decided to do battle with all of the difficult questions (sure enough, they were all variable-laden factor/multiple problems and absolute value questions), leaving me with no option but to simply guess on several of them in the 29-33 range. I know if I hadn’t been so hard-headed I could have slid in with a 50 or 51. I think the nerves had something to do with it.
Took another break after this section, trying to shake off a shaky performance. Did the same routine, much like a superstitious batter before he enters the batter’s box.
3.15 PM: Verbal began and quickly made sure that I stayed ahead of pace in the beginning. I seemed to be doing well, but I began noticing that I started getting an inordinate number of bold-faced and fill-in-the-blank inference CRs. In fact, I surmise that I only had 2-3 assumption/strengthen/weaken questions. With my confidence welling, I decided to take some time on some tricky RCs and SCs. This bit me in the ass toward the end. I remember at one point having to do 12 questions with 12 minutes left! I literally skimmed questions and answers toward the end frantically filling in the radio buttons and clicking “Next.”
4.25 PM: I felt awful at this point, knowing that I had thrown away a shot at 770, 780+ just because I poorly managed my time, a by-product of my inability to simply let a few questions go. The optional survey popped up, and I started filling it out. I didn’t realize how long it was, so after a bit I just quit.
The screen asking if I would like to report or cancel my score caused my heart to nearly stop. This was it…
750 (Q49, V42)
Hell, I’ll take it in light of the circus act that just occurred. IV. SportsCenter Top 10
10. Gather your materials early!
9. Self-Study if you’re self-motivated. Those who get the best scores take initiative themselves! Prep programs can only get you so far.
8. Over the course of your studies, try not to take a prolonged break. It’s tough getting back into the saddle.
7. Take the test when you’re in peak condition--not too late, not too early. I think I burned myself out by scheduling the test right after the conclusion of the school year.
6. PowerAde + Splashing Cold Water + Almonds + Mint Chocolate + Banana = Clutch (I’ll need to try this for tests at school, especially after those all-nighters!)
5. Love the studying process. It’s a good feeling when you conquer a practice test or destroy GMATPrep.
4. Prioritize, Conquer, Maintain. Figure out where you’re weak, develop mastery in these areas, then maintain your prowess through daily practice.
3. Seek out answers when you’re confused. Use the plethora of information, literally, at your fingertips: MGMAT forum, GMATClub, TestMagic, BeattheGMAT.com, etc. I also had the luxury of emailing my Kaplan
2. Set a goal at the onset of your GMAT quest. Make it SMART, and physically write it and display it in an area that you spend most of your time (i.e., desk, cubicle, dorm room fridge). POSITIVE THINKING IS CRITICAL, AND VISUALIZE YOUR TARGET SCORE ON THE BLUE-ACCENTED SCREEN IN FRONT OF YOU.
1. Manage your time throughout the test. This separates the men from the boys. I’d like to think I’m a smart kid, but someone who can bite the bullet and let a question or two go will outperform me any day of the week. There were a string of questions that I basically “Christmas tree-ed.” DON’T DO THIS.
Wow. I wish I done a few of these things a little more religiously!
All the best on test day!
My GMAT quest...