I completed my GMAT a few days ago. On my third attempt, I managed 710 Q49 V38. My first two scores were 620 Q46 V30 and 640 Q44 V34 respectively. It was a hard fought battle—battle with naysayers, GMAT gurus and myself. I learnt so much from GMATCLUB stories that I hope my story will help other GMAT takers as some stories helped me.
I was first writing this as a story but I figured pointing out strategy is much better than my lengthy chronological story.
I. Prepare and practice. I started preparing GMAT on November 2012. I put up 3 hours every day on average for 10 months. But, that is me; figure out how much you need to prepare. I had to put in many hours because my verbal was terrible—I dreaded SC, CR and RC. I scored in 23 percentile in my GRE verbal and SAT verbal. I avoided writing classes in college. I used to debate with my cousins: is idea important or the language? That pretty much sums up my level in verbal. So, I knew I had to do something about it. For my first test, I practiced problems from Princeton 1080 practice problems, went through all the MGMAT set and practiced some but not all problems from GMAC 13th edition. After preparing for 4 months, I took my first actual test at the end of March 2013 and scored 620 Q46 V30—terrible score. So, I registered my second test for July—gave myself another three months time to prepare. I had issues with everything—SC, CR, RC and DS. For the second test, I practiced GMAC 13th edition and the Quant and Verbal review—blue and green books. Second test I scored 640 Q44 V34—again too low. I registered for the third time. By my third test, I had gone through GMAC 13th ed.—SC at least 4 times, CR at least 3 times and RC at least 2 times. In quant section, I had gone through the difficult problems at least 4-5 times. I practiced GMAC 13th edition over and over. There is no fix number of hours or days that will take you to the next level. Our brain is funny; one day you wake up better at something. That happened to me with sentence correction and data sufficiency. Practice is the key. Study regularly—everyday.
II. Find what works for you. After my first test failure, I realized I needed work on entire verbal section and Data suff. in quant section. So, I went back to the forums looking for tips on preparation books. I found out about Aristotle Sentence correction book. After going through the book twice, I started feeling comfortable with SC questions. However, I still was not very good at 700 level questions. But, before my third test, I had so much practice that I did not have to read the entire sentence or even understand it, I would look for common errors. I got pretty good at it. Aristotle SC correction became my SC bible, I must have gone through it at least 5 times. For CR, I went through the CR Powerscore book. After going over it 3-4 times, I was able to come up with a strategy to tackle most of the CR problems. For quantitative section, I went through MGMAT 5 books again and again until I was comfortable with any kind of problems. For RC, neither MGMAT RC
nor Aristotle RC worked. However, somehow Kaplan
’s strategy made sense to me. Therefore, find what works for you best. You will not know until you try it yourself. Something that works for other people does not guarantee that it will work for you.
III. Do not dwell on difficult problems. Because, I had read that you would not get pass 700 score if you were not good at 700 level questions, as my second test preparation strategy, I bought GMATClub questions and practiced the 700-800 level CR, SC and data suff. questions—those problems are tough. Instead of learning to solve them, I lost confidence. The only thing I learnt from them was that I am not good at 700-800 level questions. During my second test, it stuck with me that “I get 700 question wrong—a lot”. This is not healthy on the test day. This kind of feeling is only good for panic attack. Therefore, for my third test, I didn’t even bother to look at the difficult problems in MGMAT or GMATCLUB. I rather focused on problems from GMAC 13th edition and Kaplan
and made sure I do them right. This helped me build my confidence level. Trust me, on the third test, the quant questions were similar to Kaplan
’s and GMAC ‘s 13th ed.
IV. Know your weakness. Error logs that I kept during my practice might have helped a little but not a whole lot. However, make sure you know the problems that bug you. For example: before my third test, I was pretty sure that my weakest area was combinatory problems. That helped me acknowledge my weak point, not panic during the test when I see them, and decide whether I want to move on. This is how you know when to skip problems and move on. This occurred to me after few practice tests. So, during my third test—when I got a question from combinatory—I acknowledged it as my weakness, did not panic, gave it few minutes and moved on. This is what 'Moving on' concept that every GMAT instructor is emphatic about.
V. Do not worry too much about timing. I have read in so many articles in MGMAT forums that timing is the must. During second test preparation, I practiced with a timer. But, whenever the timer was on, I would take longer to solve problems than I would normally take—especially RC passages and CR problems. The best strategy is not to worry about time and focus on getting the problem right. The timing improves with practice. The more you practice, the lower it takes to solve a problem. Make sure you understand the concepts the problems are testing when you practice; this will help you with time in the future.
VI. Do not let anybody tell you what you can and cannot do. After my second test, my sympathetic good friend told me it was time I should give up my 700 GMAT dream and focus on my applications, since it was already July. The GMAT gurus in the forums had their own OPINION that you can only improve your score by 30 points from what you have. The GMAT statistics was against the third time attempt—on average people do not improve their score in their third attempt. However, I could not give up on the hard work that I had put in. I had already spent almost a year in GMAT preparation. By that time I had gone through seven 150pages notebooks, all prep books (Barrons, MGMAT, Princeton, GMAC review, GMAC verbal review, GMAC quant review) and 3 hours of my time everyday since November 2012. Against all the odds, I decided to take the test for the third time. I never scored 700 in my practice tests. However, I still believed that I could score 700, even though the GMAT gurus said 'No you can't if you do not score consistently in your practice tests'. I stopped reading forums, turned off my cell phone (two weeks before the test day) and stopped thinking about 700. Never underestimate yourself.
VIII. Build confidence. From my second test failure, I realized I had to work on my confidence level. The reason you do not score 700 in the test is not because you screw up 700 level questions, but because you screw up the 600 level questions. I was so hung up on the 700 level questions that I missed 600 levels in both quant and verbal. This is why I scored low in my second test. All my practice tests were from MGMAT; the tests are good practice; however, they are not good for your confidence level. Therefore, for my third test, I decided to go with Kaplan
. It helped me with my confidence level. As I mentioned before, good preparation helps you build your confidence as well. I put up 100 hours in two weeks before my third test just to boost my confidence level. I did not go through any GMATCLUB questions or MGMAT practice problem. For my third test, I only practiced problems from GMAT Review 13th edition and the other two review books from GMAC and from Kaplan
IX. Understand GMAT. GMAT tests two things—critical reasoning and paraphrasing. That is because as a leader, you should be able to think critically and paraphrase others input, data or facts. If you look carefully, that is what you are doing in all the problems in GMAT, let it be verbal or quant. For example: data sufficiency is all about paraphrasing. Always paraphrase the questions; you will improve your DS substantially. Paraphrase all the CR problems and RC paragraphs. Don't worry about anything else. Paraphrasing is nothing but understanding in your own words. Practice doing that and I assure you, you will see the difference in your score. My data sufficiency improved. I felt comfortable with my CR and RC. When you read RC passage, read it as you read newspaper—add curiosity to it. While reading, remove the thought that you will have to answer questions later.
AWA and IR, I did not worry too much. For AWA, I used Chineseburned. I did not bother to practice IR except for in the practice tests. By the time I took my third test, I was doing ok in the IR timing.
X. Day before the test, relax and treat yourself. Review your strategies. If studying helps you, study but make sure to let your brain take rest. Well-rested brain works better while solving quant problems and comprehending boring verbal texts.
XI. On the test day, feel good about yourself, control your anxiety, and keep your attitude up. Exercise, or meditate. Eat light and sleep well. Increase your testosterone and decrease your serotonin level. However, on my second test day, I did not focus on any of those. I tried to get a good night sleep but that did not work for various reasons—hot food and hotel room. My hands were all sweaty before the test. On top of that, I was stressed out about not scoring 700 in my practice tests. Guess what! I screwed the test; my quant score 44 was even lower than that of my first test. I could not comprehend any of the RC (I think it was because of the sleep deprivation the night before). The test anxiety had taken over me during my second test. The thought—what would happen if I do not score 700—screwed me up. On the contrary, on the morning of the third test day: I went running for an hour, reviewed my strategy and ate well. This time I stayed home even though I had to drive 2 hours to the test center on the test day. Instead, when I drove to the test center, I listened to the classical music—Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Beethoven's Symphony No.5. The music helped me keep my attitude up. All of these things helped me keep calm. My attitude towards the GMAT was to destroy it. I literally boxed between breaks in the restroom giving few hard punches in the air whispering 'Common GMAT!!! I will destroy you'. Last two tests my snacks for the breaks were snickers and Gatorade, but for the third test I took 3-Chobani yogurts w/ chocolate chip; almonds; and raspberry. I wore clothes that made me feel good about myself. Do anything and everything that makes YOU feel good.
XII. Practice test score is not your actual test score. If you score low in practice tests, that does not mean you will score low in the actual test. It can go either way. However, you will be able to tell yourself where you stand. As you can see, I never scored 700 in my practice tests for various reasons, but I was able to cross that mark in my third test. So, do not let the practice test score bring you down. Trust me, you know where you stand!
Here is my list of practice tests and actual test results:
Practice Test and Actual Test:
1st Phase Prep: November 2012-March 2013
1. Princeton free test: 610
2. GMAT Prep 1: 620
3. GMAT Prep 2: 610
4. MGMAT Test 1: 590
5. MGMAT Test 2: 610
6. Actual Test 1: 620 Q46 V30—March 30, 2013
2nd Phase Prep: Mid April 2013-mid July 2013
1. MGMAT Test 3: 610
2. MGMAT Test 4: 620
3. MGMAT Test 5: 610
4. MGMAT Test 6: 590
’s free test: 680
6. Actual Test 2: 640 Q44 V34—July 13, 2013
3rd Phase Prep August 2013-Sept 09 2013
Test 2: 690 Q51 V20 (don’t know how Kaplan
calculates its score)
Test 3: 680 Q50 V24
Test 4: DNC Q50 (I did not take the verbal section)
Test 5: 660 Q49 V31
5. Actual Test 3: 710 Q49 V38—September 09, 2013
As I conclude my 2000 word experience, few things I would like you to take away—Practice, learn to paraphrase and believe in yourself. I would like to end this debrief with a quote—People who urge you to be realistic generally want you to accept their version of reality.
1. Barrons GMAT
2. Princeton Practice Question bank
3. MGMAT set (5 books on Mathematics are the best)
4. Aristotle SC correction (This book worked for me for SC)
5. Aristotle RC
6. Powerscore CR
(This book worked from me for CR)
2014 (RC strategy hit me!)