This is a thread where I execute my personal commitment to give back to the GMAT Club community at large, in the most "actionable" way possible.
I had a very challenging journey to GMAT 740 on first attempt in two months, working an average of less than 3hrs/day; this i not to brag but rather to demonstrate that anybody (with adequate highschool background and decent skill level) can do it;
1/4 UNDERSTAND :
The GMAT is a very interesting challenge in that it rewards very well people who take the time to understand the objective of the test, understand who they really are and what they are worth in front the test requirements and understand what they need to do improve.
Through its structure, setup and format, the GMAT is a test that attempts to favor level-headedness over precipitation, critical thinking over robot-like "trial and error", balanced skills over hyper-acute killer instincts in some areas and gaping holes in other areas.
So, as soon as you understood what an MBA could do for you, and most importantly whether you can afford to undertake such a journey (financially, professionally and socially, as you will need the support of your loved ones), you need to understand the GMAT before even taking any engaging step.
0. In my humble opinion, and you will see why in later posts, you absolutely need to download the GMAT Club “Timer” .exe file together with a “good” Error Log
: you decide which one is good, there’s 3-4 formats in GMAT Club alone.
1. You should only buy GMAT resources once you understand all the 5 questions types (PS, DS & CR, RC & SC) and - as importantly - you need to understand how your academic and intellectual “walk of life” plays out in your favor (or against it) for this sort of test taking. GMAT Club has a free sample test, and other resources also do (Kaptest, GMAC's Mba dot com, GMATPill and many many others) choice is more a matter of readability, traceability, ergonomics than content quality (they’re all very good).
So start by reading good explanations (preferably NOT blogs, at this stage, but rather content sellers and training providers) of the GMAT and do a couple of “diagnostic tests”. You will need to keep track of timing, without putting too much pressure on yourself at this stage: taking twice as much time as the generally recommended duration for Verbal/quantitative diagnostic test is ok, taking more means you don’t have the “academic fitness” or the language level, so the problem is not the test itself.
10 years of engineering, non-native but always very good with foreign languages including English, made me very rusty for test taking, but with no major flaw in terms of knowing the fundamentals of equations, probabilities etc...
The biggest challenge for me was the test setup and its computer-adaptive component, as that ends up putting a much bigger focus on time than on correct answers: fellow engineers know this is completely counter-intuitive. The approach might be easier to adapt to for business professionals, which is somewhat the point.
Although I did the mistake of buying books before understanding any of that, I quickly recovered that by NOT diving into them beyond the “What’s the GMAT” and “Diagnostic test” sections.
2. Buy the books/online resources based on an honest , realistic and very thorough appraisal of your performance in the diagnostic test ; It is essential that you do check every answer correction and start filling you error log
: did you get it right but through a lengthy method, or did you rather get it right by dumb luck (that’s where you need to put your ego aside and be very honest with yourself), you also need to identify clearcly where and why did you get it wrong : a silly mistake? a flaw in the thought process? did not know the rule ? did not have the slightest clue what the question was actually asking…
I was appalled at my Quantitative performance, and had an excellent result in the verbal part (although it took me almost twice the recommended time) ; for an engineer, it was quite a mental setback. That's where the idea for an error log
came to my mind, and I wasted quite some days “re-inventing the wheel” before discovering the excellent designs shared by some of the GMAT Club contributors. Which one I ended up doing is totally irrelevant, the important info is that it allowed me to systematically trace my mistakes and categorize them down to the knowledge area (such as : Problem solving/rates and proportions/applied problems)
3. Understand WHO YOU ARE and know your strengths, your nagging weaknesses and your reaction to stress and time pressure will all play out in the journey to a successful GMAT. You need to set clear objectives explicitly lay them out and plan them. If you don’t know how demanding is the task compared to where you are in terms of skills, mental fitness and work/life balance, you’ll take too much time and effort to barely get what you want.
In my humble opinion this should be as explicit as: minimum GMAT score for the school you are aiming at, minimum calendar months to guarantee you work, family obligations and personal issues won’t interfere with you GMAT journey, minimum average hours per day of excellent GMAT preparation work, i.e.: not sleep deprived, with an acceptable level of disturbance, and in fairly good mood.
My case: I have a knack for planning, and was totally conscious that I got rusty through 10 years of corporate life. Time management had never been a natural strength, and there was NO WAY I could settle down with less than 700, because that would put my application in danger (the equation was: my profile versus the competition function of the schools I was aiming at)
Because I was aiming for a particular intake I had a "calendar challenge" on top of a demanding and very distracting job. It took me 2 weeks just to work out a detailed plan of 122 hours spread over 49 days having understood all of the above. This meant I had to be in super super shape because I was forcing myself to work intensively and in a very very focused way. This also meant that I needed help for everything I could delegate, and that saving myself even 15 minutes a day would make a difference. This went down to delegating copying scratch notes copying my answers into my error log
to my dear wife, to focus on the quality of my comments (why I got it wrong, what type of mistake I made, what type of question tricked me, where to find more of this type…), on re-updating continuously and accurately my plan based on my latest practice results…
You need to organise yourself clear time slots where ALL of the following is catered for :
- Being in good shape, in a time of the day where you can be intellectually productive; I had to resort to split it in an hour and a half at lunch-time, and an hour at the evening. The one and a half hour was for training, practicing and understanding, the hour in the evening was for reading explanations and strategies about how to efficiently undertake each question type, recognise traps or time consuming problems ...
- Very few disturbance or distractions : your office is not an option, you can't pretend to be seriously focused with your kid(s) running around or your loved ones chatting with you...this is not Sudoku
your performance is mainly measured by time to answer correctly most questions you're facing.
- Being surrounded with all your available resources (books, online facilities logged-in, flashcards and question banks from GMAT Club, your own notes) surrounding you, and a clear view of "your menu for the day".
- Any black ink pen (you'll be given a steadler fine point ink pen to write on laminated sheets) and "lined" A4 paper, to emulate the scratch paper you'll be using (please don't waiste good money buying "mock scratch paper", you don't need that) AND NOTHING OTHER than the GMAT timer
up and loaded on your computer screen: no calcs, no watches, no phones, no pencil or erasers...nothing!
- Totally secundary : use a mouse and QUERTY keyboard layout, as I found it completely distracting on D-Day for the AWA, as I always type with a french keyboard layout (azerty, if you must know) and use the laptop pad.
You'd better carry some GMAT reading (as opposed to GMAT practice) for you commute, short breaks : the time component of your performance is key to your progression no matter who you are, so you can't practice answering questions in a distracting environment.
You will need to update your schedule as you go, as you'd be monitoring weak areas, subjects that require additional focus, introducing specific training patterns and routines.
You will need to have at least two major milestones :
- A reality check on your kick-off assumptions vs your actual abilities 1/3 of the way through, to validate that you have no major flaws that would require you get OUT of the GMAT prep and go back to more fundamental work and review: you might realize you're really much worse than expected in Verbal, or just find out that you had complete gaps in your maths knowledge (you never did geometry in school or don't know the slightest about math)
- A projection of your pace and progress 6 weeks before your intended exam date, to decide whether to book a test slot or not
It's better to stop a trainreck early and reassess than throw yourself in a situation that is just going to eat up at your confidence and self esteem : you will NOT progress by killing yourself in "Question Bank drawning" and you won't improve your score just by sitting the exam over and over again.
3/4 WORK HARD
As in every practice and preparation process, you need to build up your "fitness" AND your mental readiness through practice, review and analysis of your performance by focused, targeted exercising. You will also have to monitor and obtain steady and homogeneous progress on both Quantitative AND Verbal regardless of your strengths/weaknesses and refrain from hyper acute practice in one area at the expense of the others.
Indeed, although you might need extra attention, say, on D.S., you should not allow yourself more than one or two session in a raw of pure D.S. work, as THERE IS NO D.S. test on D-Day ; so after a couple of "specialized/focused" sessions of D.S. your have to force yourself to go back to P.S+D.S preparation. Obviously, the same goes for Q vs V work.
You will see once you understand test scores vs percentiles that "progress" is better rewarded in Verbal than in Quant ; don't take my word for it, check it yourself and that the overall population has improved over the past decades in Quant while going backwards in terms of Verbal abilities; again check for yourself, don't take my word for it. While the reason for these facts are totally irrelevant, the opportunity is clear : if you're good as everyone else in Quant, you can make a killing if you diligently work on improving your performance in Verbal, by avoiding silly mistakes and learning to deal with questions efficiently and logically.
Other considerations include the fact that practice CATs are NOT an appropriate way of training an prepping yourself and shall mostly be used to test yourself towards the last third of your preparation calendar. You need non-adaptive BUT CATEGORIZED questions for a structured, efficient practice. My trick is I downloaded the "GMAT Club Guide to..." te books I bought, these downloads doubling up as Error Logs AND questions filters by category.
I cannot recommend GMAT Clubs "X hundreds-level quetions" BUT FOCUS only on your target level, not your CURRENT one only practice the 700-level questions in everything if your aim is a total score of 700
I worked on test-sized number of questions, and did session that were fully representative of the effort on D-Day : 15 D.S +22 P.S. for a 75 min session (with the GMAT Club timer .exe file) and in a completely different work session I would grade my answers and analyse them all, then move on to a 14 RC + 11 CR + 16 SC on a 75 min "Verbal" session. On weekend sessions, I worked in a way that emulated the exam effort (1 representive Q session and 1 representive session of V.)
I only started looking at IR and AWA half-way through my calendar. You will just have to nail those two, plain and simple : the required level for a good mark is easy and the format of the test completely unchallenging, so do not hamper your ambitions by having a bad mark in those (AWA and IR, 3 and 4 respectively).
At all times, keep your morale high : although this is easier said than done, clarity of mind and a capacity to step back and reflect for 10-20 seconds under the pressure of time and fear of failure is essential, as you WILL be in that situation somewhere in the exam: that what puts the "A" in CAT.
Whilst practice CAT are essential in the final part of your preparation, I do not advise your practice too much of them ,and certainly not more than 6 per month in the final two months. They are exhausting, they are not character forging and they will generate a lot of workload as you will have to diligently review all the answers, otherwise its worthless to do them. There is no flaw in your groundwork preparation that the practice CATs will fix, just as you don't train for marathons by running marathon competitions but rather much smaller distances much more frequently.
My case: I had the OG's 13th ed, the Verbal Review 2nd ed, the quant review 2nd ed and Kaplan Premier
2013, as I did not need to work on fundamentals of anything; IN CASE you do, I would see the MGMAT brush books to be a good fit for the fundamentals, but they won't teach you english and won't replace years of arithmetics practice or ease with coordinate geometry. I continuously challenged myself beyond the mere exam requirements : I crafted paper test sessions with only hard questions on each type, even forcing myself to gobble one more question than what the exam asks for (an extra D.S. question for Q, and an extra SC question for V on each session) . I gave myself "30seconds penalty" when I met a question I had seen before...I alternated Kaplan
CATs (notoriously harder) with GMAC's CATs, tried myself (and failed miserably) at all the "insanely hard" questions of GMAT Club...
If you do not have an adequate academic background (if you quit highschool, for example) you'll need to undertake a journey that would give you education credentials, as the GMAT is the least of your problems then.
4/4 GIVE BACK
This is an important part, and one that grew as I neared the exam; Although I still had a lot of anxiety about my performance, I did measure the amount of effort looking back and made no mistake on what I owed the GMAT Club community in terms of time saving Guides, flash cards, organized content and Error logs...I also found very re-assuring to read about how people made it having started at very low scores, and really appreciated the high quality of the general advice and preparation strategies provided in this site.
I would never consider myself to be particularly cognisant just because I was able to reach the score I wanted in due time with minimal investment (I just paid the 4 books around 95 bucks and the exam sitting once) but I do believe I have learned lessons I can pass on for people's considerations.
Hope this helps, as I really drew a lot of benefits from posts, downloads, practice questions and categorization work the GMAT Club community made available to me and others...