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A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts)

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A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts) [#permalink] New post 28 Apr 2013, 06:46
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I’ve been a long-time lurker on this forum and always dreamed of writing my own debrief of a successful GMAT attempt to give something back to this community that was so helpful over the course of my studies. The time has finally come: here’s my story.

I’m a European non-native English speaker working in consulting. My GMAT preparation started back in 2010 and I have since attempted the GMAT three times. For each attempt I invested approximately 400 hours of self study time. Yes, I really wanted that 720+ score badly as I’m targeting the top 10 U.S. schools and wanted to at least hit the average of those schools.

2013: 740 (Q45 / V47 / AWA 5.5 / IR 7)
2012: 690 (Q45 / V38 / AWA 5.0)
2010: 610 (Q39 / V35 / AWA 5.0)

Looking back it truly was an exhausting experience but I never gave up and it eventually paid off. The following quote by Thomas Edison (which I picked up while browsing these forums) really helped me to keep up my motivation. I printed it out and put it up on my wall:

“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

The GMAT tends to punish those who want it the most. From my personal experience, the beast can best be tamed by one putting equal emphasis on each of the following four aspects:

1. Theory and Concepts (25%)
2. High Quality Practice (25%)
3. Time Management (25%)
4. Coping with Anxiety (25%)


Every individual is different, some people might not have any trouble with anxiety and others might feel the need to put more emphasis on theory and concepts. Nevertheless, I would advise anyone to keep these four aspects in mind throughout his/her preparation and fine-tune whenever needed.

Let me elaborate on each of these aspects and show you the respective approaches that I believe work best, some under the assumption that you have sufficient time to devote to studying (3 months or more if you work full-time).

1. Theory and Concepts


Two words suffice: Manhattan GMAT. Nothing beats the “MGMAT Complete Strategy Guide Set” (10 books) when it comes to theory and concepts. I supplemented this set with “MGMAT Math Foundations”, “MGMAT Advanced GMAT Quant” and “Aristotle SC Grail 3rd Edition”.

In hindsight, I was well prepared for each of my attempts regarding the theory and concepts of the test as I made only slight adjustments to the study materials. I simply went over and over the materials to grasp all the nuances of the test and to not forget anything (don’t stretch your study period out too far!).

2. High Quality Practice

There are tons of sources for practice out there but you should make the most of your study time and therefore focus on the highest quality materials. Official GMAC materials obviously lead the list of sources with high quality questions. For practice questions I would recommend to pick up the following and to maintain an error log:

- Official Guide for GMAT Review 13th Edition
- GMAT Prep Question Pack 1.0 (probably closest to the actual GMAT in both Quant and Verbal)
- GMAT Verbal Review (optional)
- GMAT Quantitative Review (optional)

When it comes to CATs, take them under real testing conditions. If you get easily distracted, take one or two tests in a library in order to get used to the feeling of having people around you while taking the GMAT. I personally believe the following to be the best sources for practice tests:

- GMAT Prep 2.0 (Quant, very similar to actual test / Verbal, a little too easy)
- MGMAT Cats (Quant, more calculation intensive than actual test / Verbal, a little too easy)
- GMAT Club Tests (Quant, brutal but really force you to pay attention to details, don’t put too much emphasis on the score)

3. Time Management

My score increase from 690 to 740 can be mostly attributed to optimized time management. The following approach worked for me: in general, hide the clock but check your timing position every 5 questions. If your timing is off by 3 or more minutes, take action as soon as possible to correct your timing, e.g. an educated guess or a random guess on a weakness question. Memorizing the attached timing table helped me tremendously on test day.

Why is it so crucial to manage your timing on the GMAT properly? The reason is simple: if you fall behind on time you will start to feel rushed. Your brain is usually not able to function with the same level of efficiency and thoroughness when this feeling sets in. The same is true with regard to anxiety, but more on that in the next section.

4. Coping with Anxiety

Many people underestimate this aspect when it comes to the GMAT. I never experienced test anxiety in school or college but I sure did before and during the GMAT, even in my third attempt. For the most part it was my own fault because I put too much meaning on this test. Certainly, going into the third attempt, knowing that my 690 would still give me a shot at good schools relaxed me somewhat, but the best piece of advice came from MGMAT’s GMAT Roadmap: Don’t let outside motivators affect your performance on test day. If you go into the test worrying that you need to score above 700 to get into a great business school or that you really want to tell your friends the good news of a superb score then you lose focus. Pro athletes don’t continuously worry about how their performance during the first game of the season will affect their chances of winning the championship. You have to be in the moment and focus on the question in front of you – nothing else. Drown out that voice in your head.

Moreover, don’t tell anyone your test date and if possible, stop by the testing center a couple of days before the actual test to familiarize yourself with the location. This will help to take some pressure off your back.

Concluding Remarks

Don’t let the GMAT become a daunting experience. You have to enjoy at least some parts of the journey, otherwise you won’t be able to keep up your motivation. Make sure that you continue to do things that you enjoy throughout your studies such as working out or meeting with friends.

Furthermore, browsing through these forums, one could easily get the impression that pretty much everyone strolls into this test and scores a 720+ on the first attempt. Sure, some people do, but fact is that most don’t. I was always more inspired by people who first got beat by the GMAT but who then worked relentlessly until they reached their goal.

When that 740 showed up on the screen, I knew that it was all worth it.

Time to move on to the next steps in the journey.
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Re: A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts) [#permalink] New post 28 Apr 2013, 10:48
Congratulation on a great score. Thank you for the advices! Can you post your mock test scores?

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Last edited by Samwong on 28 Apr 2013, 11:56, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts) [#permalink] New post 28 Apr 2013, 11:07
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Congrats GShine, in particular you had a very impressive climb in your verbal score! Good job sticking with it, a lot of people would have said "good enough" and moved on.

I also really liked your conclusion about how the impression may be that people stroll in and get 700+. Let's keep in mind that the average for this exam is still ~530, meaning that half the people score under that! If you think your 580 or 600 isn't good because you see posts about 740 or 760, keep in mind that perseverance can take you where you want to go.

Best of luck!
-Ron
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Re: A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts) [#permalink] New post 29 Apr 2013, 13:00
Thanks to both of you!

The large increase in my Verbal score in my last attempt was mainly due to keeping my composure. I always had very high Verbal scores in my mocks but because of increased stress during the actual test, fatigue set in halfway through the Verbal section in my earlier attempts.

Over the course of my studies I took a ton of mock tests and had pretty much used up all good resources by the end of my second attempt. Here are my mock scores from the last attempt. I had a couple of repeated questions on each of these tests though:

MGMAT CAT 1, 670 Q43/V38 (without any practice)
GMAT Prep 1 (1st), 770 Q49/V48
GMAT Prep 2 (1st), 770 Q50/V46
GMAT Prep 1 (2nd), 760 Q49/V45
GMAT Prep 2 (2nd), 770 Q50/V45

I also took quite a few GMAT Club Quant tests.
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Re: A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts) [#permalink] New post 29 Apr 2013, 13:26
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Re: A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts) [#permalink] New post 02 May 2013, 17:17
GShine wrote:
3. Time Management (25%)
4. Coping with Anxiety (25%)[/b]

Every individual is different, some people might not have any trouble with anxiety and others might feel the need to put more emphasis on theory and concepts. Nevertheless, I would advise anyone to keep these four aspects in mind throughout his/her preparation and fine-tune whenever needed.


Hey GShine, can't agree more about the importance of Time and Anxiety management ,both of these aspects are usually neglected by most test takers. I struggled with the Timing aspect myself and have been able to considerably improve my mock scores by just avoiding the temptation to spend extra time on questions in order to get them ALL correct. Most of us who do well during practice mocks but fail to replicate that on test day have Timing and/or Anxiety issues and this explains the big drop in the score on the Gday.Great you pointed it out. Congrats of the great score and good luck with the applications.
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Re: A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts) [#permalink] New post 10 May 2013, 06:38
dentobizz wrote:
GShine wrote:
3. Time Management (25%)
4. Coping with Anxiety (25%)[/b]

Every individual is different, some people might not have any trouble with anxiety and others might feel the need to put more emphasis on theory and concepts. Nevertheless, I would advise anyone to keep these four aspects in mind throughout his/her preparation and fine-tune whenever needed.


Hey GShine, can't agree more about the importance of Time and Anxiety management ,both of these aspects are usually neglected by most test takers. I struggled with the Timing aspect myself and have been able to considerably improve my mock scores by just avoiding the temptation to spend extra time on questions in order to get them ALL correct. Most of us who do well during practice mocks but fail to replicate that on test day have Timing and/or Anxiety issues and this explains the big drop in the score on the Gday.Great you pointed it out. Congrats of the great score and good luck with the applications.


I have almost the same story (2009,2010 and 2011 finally). I would like to add here that it is equally important not to be ahead of the time on the test as it is to be behind the time on the test. If you finish the sections say 10 minutes earlier you loose points as well because you end up making some careless mistakes. So it is extremely important to finish each section (Q,V) with 2 to 3 minutes remaining. Not more than that.
Re: A Story of Persistence - 740 (3 Years and 3 Attempts)   [#permalink] 10 May 2013, 06:38
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