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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