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DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts

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DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 09 Sep 2013, 10:33
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I just got back from the GMAT center with a 690 (Q44, V42). After 6 months of preparation, I am happy beyond belief.
***EDIT AWA 6.0, IR 8.0

I have been trolling these blogs for 6 months and am grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences. I hope you can find something of value in what I am about to write.

My background: To start off, I am a huge believer in staying true to your own strengths. I am a Taiwanese-American female from a small town in New Jersey (native English speaker). I graduated in 2004 from a state school, had a mediocre GPA (but founded and ran several student organizations while there), and was never a good standardized test taker; compounded by pretty weak quantitative abilities. I struggled with math, chemistry, and physics basically throughout my entire life. However, for all the math skills I lacked I was very good at languages (writing, speaking, etc). Playing to those strengths, and a whole lot of DRIVE, have made all the difference: I worked my ass off after graduating, and before the age of 30 (I am now 31), in my professional life I was a financial analyst at a top financial conglomerate, had run a team at a global software company, became a Research Analyst at a top billion dollar technology NYC-based hedge fund, and founded and ran a non-profit organization in Cambodia. Going to a top 20 American b-school has been a dream of mine since I first learned what an MBA was more than 10 years ago. I am a true underdog in every respect, as I am sure many of you reading this or on gmatclub are, and I believe in hitting the pavement and making your dreams come true in a real and tangible ways, whatever they may be. After all, opportunities exist all around us, right?

Anyways, I got laid off from the hedge fund in 2011 and was devastated. I will save you the details of me feeling sorry for myself, but I admit the entire period afterwards was a scary time. I questioned my self-worth. I took a job as a waitress. I decided I had nothing to lose, so I took a practice test and got a 540. It was humbling, to say the least. I decided to put my blood, sweat, and tears into this exam and prove to myself that I was smart. In all fairness, my test prep took on a life of its own. After 5 months of daily prep (6+ hrs per day including a prep course), I got a 640. I was shattered. I took a week to decompress, and picked up studies again for a month. During that month, I focused exclusively on test-taking strategies and took about 6-7 practice tests. When I saw the 700 on the screen, I put my head in my hands (which mind you, were covered in black marker, and all of the self-doubt, sweat, and tears I put into the exam became worth it.

And SO, I hope to impart some of the lessons I learned to help you in your studies; I will try to be as detailed and specific as possible. I am going to skip the usual stuff that everyone recommends (i.e. "exercise and eat nutritiously" because 1) I am assuming you know all these things already and 2) they will probably be of less value to you. So here goes. I hope you find some value in this and good luck to you in your GMAT prep.

RESOURCES REVIEW

1. MANHATTAN GMAT CLASS: I took the 3 month online version and found it to be a great way to build a foundation. However do not come out of this expecting a 750 unless you are a genius. The Number Properties guide, IMO, was the best by far; I went through it a few times after finishing it the first time. Seth Martin and Seb Moopasoor (sorry if I butchered your name) were incredibly understanding and amazing. (By the way, finish your stuff before your deadlines. Don't make excuses. If you need to get it done you will get it done. I also moved to Toronto during this time. I studied in airplanes, in libraries, in cafes, on trains, buses, on my parent's kitchen table, on the floor before I had any furniture, none of it even mattered. I was doing flashcards at my brother's college graduation. I think it is fairly important to engross yourself in this stuff, even though it's painful). Whitney Gartner also helped me with my most amazing post-exam session after I scored a 640. These are good folks who know what they are doing. MGMAT is worth every penny. The Thursdays w/Ron sessions and the evening Advanced Quant sections were helpful.

2. OFFICIAL GUIDE: Like everyone says, the OG is super important, however don't treat as the Holy Grail or do the problems more than 2-3x otherwise you will lose your ability to make strategic decisions when faced with new material/problems. ****It appears that GMAC is trying to make the test more "real-world" -- a lot more data interpretation on the exam I took today than I have ever seen from any test prep company**** Also make sure you do all of the problems. A lot of people only like to focus on the ones on the end because they go in order of increasing difficulty but I suggest making sure you can nail the 50% mark and up. I also finished the OFFICIAL GUIDE VERBAL REVIEW and the OFFICIAL GUIDE MATH REVIEW (blue and green books, for sort) and they were incredibly invaluable. For all the q's you get wrong, put a mark next to it with the time it took you to solve the problem so you know which q's to go back to later. Don't take any shortcuts -- you need to master these questions.

3. GMATPREP Software: absolutely critical. Totally recommend this purchase as it trains you to answer questions online. I think if you can get 50% of the Hard questions right, 75% of the M, and 95% of the Easy you are in good shape for the exam. Make sure you review your timing, this is critical. There is a running timer on each question at the lower right hand side of the screen (vs the upper right hand side on the real test). I actually enjoyed using this software the most and think it was my best purchase.

4. BLOGS (primarily GMATClub). I used GMATClub and Urch the most. Urch for motivation and GMATClub because Bunuel is THE MAN. I will say he provides the best and most efficient ways to solve things. However do not rely too much on ANSWERS and EXPLANATIONS because you should figure out how to solve it in the most efficient way for YOU before resorting to looking @ the answer. Bunuel will stretch your brain to think creatively about solving problems.

5. PRACTICE EXAMS: See below

6. Total GMAT Math (Jeff Sackmann). A great refresher on math or if you need more questions. Sackmann focuses on lots of problems. His "Challenge" problems are tough. He is also very good at eliminating the BS and just going straight to the most efficient way to solve things.

7. PAPER TESTS: Good for Verbal practice, Quant not so much. However it is excellent practice for timing and if you are likely to make careless errors. I did all 6 tests just to train myself not to make stupid computation errors. Bear in mind that they are far, far easier than the real test.

8. Flashcards: Useful tool in my first 3 months. Whenever I came across something new or something I got wrong I put it on a flashcard. I had 2 running decks: the problems I got right 3x in a row or those I did not. Do them every 2-3 weeks (more than that and you will just remember how to solve it mechanically like a robot which is not helpful -- maybe the 2nd or 3rd time around you will find a better more creative way to solve it). There were about 300 cards in my deck when I was finished, but my "active" deck never went above say 50-60 cards. I wrote my time in the lower left hand corner of the front of the card each time I got it right.

5. FREE TESTS (Kaplan, Veritas, Princeton, 800Score, etc). In summation I took over 25 practice tests EXCLUDING the paper tests. I don't recommend this to anyone but it worked for me due to my aforementioned poor test-taking and quant skills. The highest score I ever got was a 720 or so on a Manhattan GMAT exam. To me Kaplan and GmatPrep were the closest to the real thing, followed by MGMAT and Princeton. MGMAT quant is much wordier than the real exam but they train you very well to read critically. DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME OR MONEY ON 800SCORE.

6. GMATFOCUS: 20 questions per quant exam, you get 1 exam for $30. Not a bad investment if you need extra quant help, but I looked at is as icing on the cake. Equivalent or SLIGHTLY harder than the real thing.

7. KAPLAN PREMIERE 2013: Didn't use the book at all but used it for the 5 practice CATs. IMO these are the CLOSEST on the market to the real thing. In the month between my 640 and 700, I pretty much ONLY used this. Kaplan folks are also extremely responsive when you email them questions. Just don't put too much weight into your practice test scores. They are guaranteed to be lower than the real thing.

8. 1000 CR/SC/RC: I started on these but they didn't really help me much. Found their verbal logic much wordier and difficult than anything I saw ever on the GMAT. I could only get about 30% of them right at any given time. Useful for logic if you are NOT a native speaker (from what I have heard). Otherwise don't bother. If anyone wants these docs feel free to PM me and I will send them over.

9. For about $80 or so you get a bunch of GMATCLUB exams. They are very, very hard. I think the general consensus, and I agree, is that they are for people around the 720 mark looking to break 750. I thought they would help me because the problems (written by Bunuel) have multiple layers and involve piecing together several strategies to solve problems. I had a really tough time with solving them under 2 minutes though. I am not sure if they helped me. But they probably were the hardest materials on the market I could find. As previously stated, Bunuel has the best and most efficient ways to solve things and his problem-writing skills show just that.

****** I found a very useful document on GmatClub from someone who compiled all the CR 700+ level questions from GMATPrep or other GMAC materials. There was another one for 700+ quant. These two documents probably helped me get over the 660-ish hump, especially on the verbal side.
Shoot me a message if you want either document



OTHER STUFF

1. ABSOLUTELY PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS. Everyone's goals are different, and whatever yours are, you can achieve them. There are a lot of people who are naturally gifted test takers and can score 750 within several weeks or a month. In my experiences there really are no shortcuts to mastering the GMAT; it is a very difficult test. This is especially true for the areas for which you are weakest. For example, I was weakest in Probability questions so although the entire exam probably only had 1-2 prob questions, I made sure I had a total mastery of anything they could ask me on the topic. I thought about the exam as a game I was playing with the test writers, which made studying more palpable.

As well, the test rewards you more for getting one more 700+ level question right in verbal than it does in quant. This means that if you are strong in verbal than quant like me, don't let it fall by the wayside. Get your verbal to elite level and it will reward you on test day.

2. Invest in recreating the test experience as much as possible. The last thing you want is to waste any mental energy on logistics. I borrowed a monitor that was very much like the real thing and stacked in on a bunch of MGMAT books to mimic the exact height of the computer on test day (which I garnered from watching the test center youtube videos). I never did a problem on paper after my MGMAT class (after first three months) so I could rapidly go from screen to yellow pad. I must have washed my yellow pad thingy enough to kill a small forest (wet wipes to clean, paper towels to dry are best). Also, I STRINGENTLY used only the Staedtler Lumocolor F-width black markers. It is not worth your energy stressing about these things on the real test day.

3. PRACTICE TESTS: It is important to keep in mind that every test-prep company is a little different than the real thing. Even after taking 4 GMATPrep exams I found it different than the real thing. Manhattan GMAT Quant is much harder and wordier but Verbal is easier, Veritas was the reverse, GMATPrep was different in that it incorporated less data-driven problems than the real thing and more simple interest + probability q's, 800score was a waste of time and money, GMATClub exams QUANT was BRUTAL (V pretty good) and only should be used if you already scored high 600's or 700's and want a 750.

4. STAY AS CLOSE TO OFFICIAL MATERIALS AS POSSIBLE, BUT DON'T USE THESE AS THE HOLY GRAIL. The important thing is to train your brain to be creative in the way it solves things and you can do this by exposing yourself to lots of methods and problem types by all kinds of problem-writers. You will find that as you reach the 680+ ish level the Official Guide will be too easy. Remember, the problems go in order of increasing difficulty. The first half of the problem set are good for practicing your timing,

5. On the topic of timing, after you master the material (however long it takes, i.e. 3-6 months), make sure you are timing yourself on every question. I used my iPhone timer. It is absolutely critical that you build an internal clock for yourself for each question.

6. I CANNOT REITERATE ENOUGH THAT MENTAL STAMINA + TEST TAKING STRATEGY (YOUR VERY OWN) ARE AS IMPORTANT (IF NOT MORESO) THAN ACTUAL MASTERY OF THE MATERIAL. If you allow yourself to get stressed, you are throwing away all the wonderful and precious time you spent studying. To go from a 640 to a 700, I basically just practiced test-taking strategies and honed my test-taking abilities. I knew which problems I could never solve in 2 minutes and I should let go. (PS - you must learn to LET GO of problems. For ex. on the test if there is a problem you get stubborn about solving and end up spending 4-5 minutes on it, you are basically screwed for the rest of the exam).

7. OTHER STUFF: Stretching, breathing, Chopin, yoga, and meditation are excellent to do in your 7 minute break between sections. Also it is fairly important to get your family/significant other/friends etc. on board with your goal from the standpoint of moral support and so they know to respect your wishes that you would rather spend Friday evening with your Lumocolors than at a bar.

I am sure there is more that I am leaving out but I am exhausted at this point and I am going to celebrate.
The key takeaways if any are 1) PERSEVERANCE is THE ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT TO CONQUERING THIS EXAM -- if you think you can do it, you can. 2) FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS. 3) BE POSITIVE -- There will be times where things just don't go your way (you bomb a practice exam, get a problem 10x wrong, have other stuff going on in your life)... the ends will justify the means.

It is a tough and grueling process but also an enlightening one.

Good luck on your journey, you'll do fine.

T

Last edited by tricialin on 25 Aug 2014, 14:47, edited 11 times in total.
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Re: DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 10 Sep 2013, 02:35
Congratulations on this great achievement. 690 is a great score. Hope you will get into your dream school. God bless.
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Re: DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 11 Sep 2013, 00:04
Thanks for the debrief. Please check your PM. Thanks.

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Re: DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 11 Sep 2013, 23:41
Congrats for the debrief...+1
The best part of your analysis is
"I studied in airplanes, in libraries, in cafes, on trains, buses, on my parent's kitchen table, on the floor before I had any furniture, none of it even mattered. I think it is fairly important to engross yourself in this stuff, even though it's painful"
This is called time management....

Just let me know how do i get command over RC. I took normally few mins more than actual required time but still wont make >> 50-60% correct answer. I am reading online magazines daily 30 min -.1.00 hr.But still dread with RC question....

Rgds
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Re: DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 18 Sep 2013, 05:36
Cosmos - thanks and Sam, responded to your PM.

Prasannajeet,

I think you are doing the right thing by reading online magazines. Which ones are you reading? Scientific Journal is my favorite, along with Foreign Policy magazine. I would suggest timing yourself while reading it and training yourself to read it in 3 minutes OR LESS. THIS IS CRITICAL! If you don't understand the main gist of the passage within 3 minutes, it will be very hard to answer any of the questions correctly. So a few things to ask yourself when you are reading the passage is: what is the main point of this? (what is the author's opinion?) What is the TONE (very important)? and remember where the details are listed so you can go back and look for them if you get a DETAIL question.

I'm happy to provide more thoughts over email -- feel free to email me at tricia.lin@gmail.com and best of luck to you!

Tricia





Just let me know how do i get command over RC. I took normally few mins more than actual required time but still wont make >> 50-60% correct answer. I am reading online magazines daily 30 min -.1.00 hr.But still dread with RC question....

Rgds
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Re: DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 18 Sep 2013, 15:03
Thank you so much for replying to my questions. Good luck on you application. :-D
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DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 18 Sep 2013, 17:58
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Last edited by UFmark on 26 Aug 2014, 19:17, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts [#permalink] New post 20 Sep 2013, 05:46
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UFMark,

Thanks for reading my debrief. No apologies necessary, I love the honesty! I have to chuckle a little bit at the OCD comment as I do think I became a little unnecessarily obsessed with this exam (trust me, if I could have found a way to condense those extra months into one, I would have done anything...boy did I try). However I think the comment is a little unfair given the fact that OCD is a truly real and debilitating anxiety disorder that many people suffer from; clearly you do not know me, and I do not know you, so why don't we keep this discussion (and all threads on this blog) positive and uplifting? There are a lot of people here who need inspiration, and comments like yours aren't additive or constructive.

As well, if you read closely, I never said I am smart. I am anything but. I said I was hard-working and had some verbal skills. I still had to work, and very hard at that. As I'm sure you are well aware, the GMAT is one part of the total package, and my other accomplishments (garnered by sheer hunger and determination), IMO, paint a compelling overall story and a roadmap to my longer-term career goals.

I'm not sure what your story is, but I appreciate your thoughts and wish you the best of luck in the pursuit of all of your goals, whatever they may be.

:wink:
Tricia
Re: DEBRIEF: 540 to 690. Perseverance counts   [#permalink] 20 Sep 2013, 05:46
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