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blow by blow account (super long post) [#permalink] New post 10 Oct 2004, 01:55
hello everyone, i just wanted to finally take a moment to go over my recent GMAT experiences and provide you all with my insights and opinions on this stressful process. i posted earlier about improving from a 610 to a 730, so for anyone out there that didn't score as well as they thought they should, stay determined and keep hope that the 2nd attempt will be much better. that being said, here goes...

Preparation:

i started my prep around april, reading and working through problems in ARCO and princeton review... but i quickly realized that these books were too easy and not going to be representative of the actual test, so i picked up the OG 10th edition. as often said, this book is an absolute must... if you're a muslim, jew, or christian, this thing is like the koran, torah or bible. its the law man. no ifs, ands, or buts about it. you'll be wise to pick it up. before working through the questions, i took the two powerprep exams to see where i stood... there's alot of advice about when you should take the powerpreps, personally i think its best to take one cold before going through OG, and then one about midway through your OG studies. i did both cold cause i was so anxious to see my score on a program that undoubtedly mirrors the acutal test the best. the results were not impressive PP1- 590 and PP2- 590. my weak points went straight across the board so i knew i had alot of work to do. i started tackling the OG in earnest. basically i did every question in every section, timed in about sets of 20. i kept a error log and also a log of the questions that took me over 2 minutes to complete. i believe its crucial to study in a timed setting so that you get used to battling the clock and the fatigue that comes with answering multiple sets of questions. also the error log is crucial. these mistakes are your weakpoints and need to be addressed. also when reviewing your answers, be sure to review the correct ones as well and compare your method of attack to that of ETS or whatever book you may be using. this reinforces your good instincts and takes away the possibility that you got lucky and just answered them correctly. in any given problem, you should be able to identify what topic, theory, or rule ETS is trying to test and go about attacking the problem. overall, i got about 80-85% right in each section of the OG. by this point, i was feeling fairly confident on my timing and my ability to attack the questions with ETS's mindset.

during this time, i also took the kaplan classroom course, but only because my company paid for it. i found the classroom instruction to be very basic and more geared towards those who are not looking to score in the upper 90th percentile. however, the course was beneficial for grasping critical reasoning methods and certain number properties rules. but in no way worth the $1,300 tuition. in that respect, i dont recommend the classroom course, unless of course, its paid for by someone else. that being said, i did find the kaplan course book and online tutorials, quizzes, workshops and tests to be very very useful. as everyone states, kaplan quantitative is very very difficult, so it basically prepares you for anything the actual GMAT will throw. this only works to your advantage if you don't get too discouraged by missing kaplan questions and scoring poorly on their GMAT cats and losing confidence as a result. otherwise, i found the practise of deciphering kaplan questions beneficial to the process of problem solving. its great practice and there's a ton of questions to practise on if you take the online course, which might be a better alternative to the classroom course. my kaplan scores were as follows: diagnostic-690, CAT1- 620, CAT2- 560, CAT3- 580, CAT4- 680. kaplan online also offered full length practise tests that are not CAT, so they tended to be easier.. i scored between 690-730 on those. again, its practising the full length test, including essays, which is what is important... getting used to being under the gun and the cumulative 3 hours of having to focus.

Test day #1:
scheduled the test at noon and i woke up early but had a hard time relaxing. i was anxious and a bit stressed since i had too much time to think about what was about to happen (note: 2nd test i scheduled at 9am so i didnt have any extra time to think or stress out.) the AWA's were a cinch i felt confident that i would score well (ended up with 5.5)... so i took my break and tried to psyche myself up for quantitative. got the first question, an average problem with an inequality... too easy i thought, though i was still nervous. 2nd question was a ratio problem where you had to figure the percent difference between two variables... easy but for some reason i blanked out and it took me a few minutes to nail it.. not a good start... the following questions started to get very difficult... one on coordinate geometry, and a couple DS and PS on geometry that were near impossible... these early questions really rattled me as i struggled to keep pace at 2 minutes per question. i finished the section on time, but i had to guess at a fair number of questions just to maintain my pace throughout the test. i think that was my big mistake, focusing too much on time, not plowing through solveable problems and being too quick to make a guess just to keep pace. it was like midway through the test, if i saw a problem where i could not recognize a plan of attack immediately, i gave it for guessing.. which is not a good idea. anyways i took my break and tried to stay positive for verbal. started off with a few easy SC and some CR, which was way more difficult than OG... CR had become my bread and butter but that day it failed me... i got one boldface early... and got hit with 4 RC passages... 3 40 liners early on, and one 85 liner at the very end... it was brutal trying to plow through those passages. they were all obscure passages too, the big one was a physical science one, with all sort of bizarre terminology... that killed me. when it was all over, i knew i did poorly, but i had to see my score. i knew that i would probably have to take it again so i just wanted to see what this effort was going to score, so i'd have a better gauge the next time around... hit the button and wham!! 610 (39Q 34V). ouch... i was bummed... disheartened... at a complete loss... all the studying was for nothing. i took a few days off but then hit the books again, and scheduled another test.. i had come too far to not try again. i figured i'd give it one more shot and if i could not score well, then it just wasn't meant to be... really believing in this new attitude totally helped to relieve alot of stress and anxiety. if i cant get into b-school, then no big deal, my family and friends will still love me, i'll still have my job that pays pretty well anyways, and its not gonna be the end of the world... i think we put way too much pressure on ourselves to perform well on this test, that sometimes its better to just try our best and accept the outcome.. let the chips fall where they may and roll with the punches if you will. so i studied for another month, more like just reviewing the error logs and going through the OG in mock tests by randomly picking 37 math questions and 41 verbals... i took 4 of these homemade mock tests to simulate the actual exam. i also reviewed my kaplan materials too. the day before the 2nd test, i took PP2 again and scored a 780... of course i remembered all the problems but it was more for raw confidence than anything else.. after that i put all my GMAT materials away and just relaxed.

Test day #2
got a good nights sleep but i woke up with a sore and stiff neck... and a stomach ache... BUT more importanly, i didn't feel stressed out about the exam.. i had like a "lets take this test and see what happens" attitude... and i was going in feeling carefree and confident... get to the site half hour early and i start joking with testing lady about how i cant write in cursive... what the hell man, why cant we print that ETS statement... we have a good laugh about it and i'm feeling good... again the AWA was a breeze... i finished each with about 5 minutes to spare, which i used to rest my eyes and relax... take a break and i tell myself that i must remain calm for the entire quantitative.. to treat it like a practise test and to trust in myself and my preparations. the first two questions are a joke... simple algebra and an easy DS on coordinate geometry slopes. from here on out, the problems got harder, but suprisingly, they were all solveable.. i mean it wasnt like i was completely at a loss.. so i just plowed through them as best i could. i got one easy combination, one super hard probability, lots of DS on number properties with inequalities and absolute values, one counting problem, a couple average problems... one work/rate problem, two problems that only involved simple conversion of feet to yards and feet to miles or seconds to minutes etc... one DS comparing median and means, one remainder problem, and one find the arc of a circle problem. suprisingly no squares or triangle problems... i have a pretty freaking good memory so i actually have a list of questions from both my exams that i memorized... but we are not allowed to post actual questions on here are we?? anyways, i finish with a minute to spare and only had to make like 3 blind guesses and only a few educated guesses.. the rest i felt pretty darn confident that i got right... take my break and i remind myself that i'm on a roll here and to keep it up... that its almost over and i'm building up to a better score... i tell myself that this is going to be my defining moment not a moment that defines me... i'm ready... hit verbal and wham the first SC is pretty darn hard... i get a boldface eary on and some more SC and CR that are not as easy as i thought they should be... at this point i call a 20 second time out and tell myself to relax. take each question one at a time and knock em out. the first RC is a tough one on mangerial theories... 65 liner... then more SC and CR all much more difficult than OG but solveable if you take your time and reason things out. the 2nd and 3rd RC passages are back to back, but the topics are my favorites ones... one on pesticides and another on womens movement... i nail both cos the reading is actually enjoyable and easy. so i gain my confidence back and start working towards closing in on #41... it feels so great when you know youre almost done... anways, i made up so much time with RC passages 2 and 3, that by the time i get to the 4th one at question 30, i have about 22 minutes left. the 4th passage is a 70 liner on engineering and stress fractures... again, interesting stuff... so i knock that one down even faster and have like 15 minutes left to work on the last 5 questions, which i needed every second for 'cos they were difficult CR and SC. but with all that extra time i was able to figure them all out... whew, finish the test and blow through the questions and report the scores finally... it flashed and it was like how i always envisioned it would play out in my best dreams.... a 730 (47Q 42V). i was so stoked... i was basically doing cartwheels out of the testing center like a little girl...

My reflections:

it is completely true that the GMAT tests your ability to handle stress more than it does anything else. in retrospect, looking back at all the problems i encountered, most of them were very much like OG and only a few were darn near impossible to answer. if given time, each question was solvable. GMAT wants you to be stressed going into the exam so that a few difficult questions here and there will completely throw you off your pace and rattle you. when that happens, GMAT has got you and you are most likely not going to recover. thats what happened to me in the first test... pre exam jitters... a couple of hard problems, and then a spiral downwards as i lost hope and trust in my abilities. theres no one easy way to relieve the stress... each person is different, but do what you can do, to limit any stress before and during the exam. you are guaranteed to peform so much better. i also realized that there's a huge component of luck in the GMAT... despite it being computer adaptive, the computer does not know what areas we favor... in the 2nd exam, i got all my favorite types of problems... i.e. DS number properties, testing positive and negative properties, work and rate problems, absolute values, ratios, plug and play problems, gross profit problems, and to top it all off, they were all in a form that i was familiar with... in verbal, i got 3 RC passages that suited me perfectly. without those specific passages, i would not have done as well as i did. so luck is a definite factor as well.

My top tips:

1. work on as many OG problems as you possibly can. keep that error log and review it religiously. when solving the problems, try and figure out what OG is asking for and what approach is the best. review correct and incorrect answers.
2. replicate test conditions at all times. that means timing all your problems, using only pencils and limited scratch paper, re-drawing all figures, and working at least in 60 minutes blocks to ensure that your endurance is built up.
3. do at least a few full length practice tests before taking the real one. you must also do the AWA portion as it will contribute to mental fatigue to a certain degree.
4. the day before the test, do a final powerprep exam to build your confidence and then try to relax and get a good nights rest.
5. on test day, trust in yourself and your preparation. stay calm at all times, and never, under any circumstance panic.
6. be aware of your pace, but don't obsess over time to the point that you can't focus on the problem at hand. this will only rush your answers and cloud your natural reasoning. give each question a good honest effort and don't completely give up on any question if you think you can solve it with a little more time. this is a difficult balancing act, as you dont want to spend too much time on any given question, but those few questions that you are close to solving may make the difference between a high and low score. this is especially true in the first 15 questions i think. therefore, adjust your pace to allow less time for questions 16-37. what i found was that once the CAT levels out, you start getting pretty easy questions from 25 onward that you can knock out in a less time. for example, i answered the last 10 questions in less than 15 minutes. plus the experimental ones are likely to be clumped in the middle of test.
7. stay focused only on the question in front of you. dont worry about previous questions or trying to judge how you're doing by the difficulty of the questions.
8. take all your 5 minute breaks and use that time to clear your head and to psyche yourself up for the next section. this test is really mind over matter. if you're confident and prepared well, you should score well.
9. if you feel yourself straying towards the end of the test, take a short mental break, or otherwise dig deep for the those last reserves to pull you through. its no time to be throwing in the towel when you're so close to the finish.
10. realize that your final score is NOT a reflection of your intelligence. a low score does not make you a loser or anything less than you actually are. the GMAT is not life or death. its one test of many "tests" that you'll encounter in life. but do be honest with yourself. if you feel that you can really do better as reflected in your practise exams, then definitely give the test another honest shot. nerves play a critical role, but are less of a factor the second time around.

thats about it... best of luck to everyone. i hope this super long post helps at least somebody out. i know it was posts like this that i enjoyed reading and got the most inspiration from, so i wanted to give back something. ill be checking this site periodically, more for asking about apps and programs that i might want to apply to, so if anyone has any questions, ill be happy to respond.

tvc15
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 [#permalink] New post 21 Oct 2004, 05:37
Hi tvconefive,

That was a wonderful post - I feel beaten to a pulp by the GMAT I took today - only got a 650 and I'm feeling just like how you were feeling - 'bummed, disheartened and at a complete loss'. After a decent AWA, I got hit around the sixth question or so in quant - as you rightly pointed out - it was enough to rattle me (though at the time I didn't feel rattled, in retrospect I feel my thinking shut down). Found myself guessing on a number of quants - to maintain my time schedule. Verbal was too cool for comfort - was walking through it - it was really easy - somehow didn't reflect in the scores.

I think I also lost out a bit because I was overconfident when I walked in - thought I could take the GMAT by the horns.

I don't know whether I should take it again. It's expensive (in rupees) and besides I might just land up with a lower score. Still thinking..... :shock:

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 [#permalink] New post 21 Oct 2004, 19:33
hey conal... if this was your first go around, i would definitely advise you to take it again. if you were feeling confident the first time, the second time around youll be way more comfortable. you know exactly what to expect and what pitfalls to avoid. im pretty sure you can get your score up to your target. i know the test is expensive but youve got to think about it in terms of a long term investment in yourself. of course it all depends on what schools youre targeting.. a 650 will probably not be as competitive for your profile at most of the top 20 schools. take a break, regroup and hit the books hard again, and give it another shot. $225 is alot of money but hey, im budgeting around $2-3K for apps and plane fares for interviews if im invited. its all an investment man... just believe in yourself, thats the most important thing!!
  [#permalink] 21 Oct 2004, 19:33
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