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Debrief - from 520 to 700 (Q47 V39) in 3 weeks (full time)

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Debrief - from 520 to 700 (Q47 V39) in 3 weeks (full time) [#permalink] New post 27 Jul 2013, 04:55
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Fellow test takers,

Reading this post might very well mean that you are in the position I was in a few weeks back: pressed for time and aiming for a 700+ score to tick the "Academic Ability" box of the top 10 business schools.
I have been a passive reader of this forum for some time and, having found it most useful, I have decided to give back to the community (for what it's worth...), now that the GMAT hurdle is behind me.
Please note that this debrief is not intended to be used as a precise guide of how to spend each minute of your prep time, but rather as another (ideally) comforting testimonial showing that getting a solid GMAT score of 700+ is possible with short but highly focused prep time.

It is also worth mentioning that this debrief only reflects my personal views, including my take on some of the prep materials and techniques, and that things that did not work for me may very well work for you, so take it with a pinch of salt.

So let's move on to the debrief, but first, I will give you a bit of context behind that journey.

I am a non native English speaker, a management consultant in a former Big 5 and have been out of school for over 10 years now; after I confirmed my decision to go to business school, I had to knock down a few internal barriers in my company, manage an international move, research the schools I wanted to aim for and wrap up a number of loose ends in my job before leaving (i.e. download my brain cells onto a USB stick "Matrix" style, write white papers by the dozen, demonstrate genuine guilt for leaving and show deep appreciation for being allowed to go off without pay).
The whole process was rather time consuming and ultimately left me with little time to prepare for the GMAT: 3 weeks.

Now to be honest, I was aiming for over 700 and was very confident that I would get at least 750, partly because I know that self-confidence is a very important part of test taking strategies but also because I was getting stellar results in practice tests, and I will tell you more on that below.

Now on to the debrief:

1. (Day 0) Take a GMAT Club free practice test online.
Though you should already have a pretty good idea of your general sills in Quant and Verbal by reflecting on your time at school and your recent years at work, taking a proper test that simulates the live GMAT conditions is essential to focus your prep time. Now the reason why I am advising to take the GMAT Club test rather than one of the 2 GMAT prep ones is that GMAT prep will give you the most accurate prediction of your final performance, is much better than any other test out there and therefore should be left for later in your prep schedule.
I remembered scoring very highly on IQ tests when I was younger and I therefore I felt that any Quant test that only requires basic math skills would be a piece of cake: I was totally wrong. The GMAT is supposed to be a great predictor of your performance in business school, it will test much more than your tacit knowledge and all the written test taking strategies in the world will never replace your experience in actually taking a practice test. Now do not waste a GMAT prep test as an assessment, you will get much better results once you have refreshed your skills for a few days and it won't give you the illusion that you require a huge stretch to get to 700+.
I have found the GMAT club free practice tests to be very close to the actual test (they seem to use screenshots of older versions of the official test). I would advise to go through as many questions as possible and use this as your initial assessment.
I scored 520 on this one, generally taking far too long on Quant questions.

2. The most important thing: build a plan.
Now unless you can deeply relate to the Good Will Hunting or you were a consultant on the set of "A beautiful mind" and can hallucinate equations and answers to problems in micro seconds, you are likely to get a much lower score at the actual test if you don't prepare for it. And by preparing, I mostly mean train your brain to process new (or long forgotten) concepts and practice answering problems in timed conditions. This is the essence of the plan I built.
Based on the results of the Manhattan GMAT practice test, I had a good idea of what I found the most difficult on the GMAT and therefore needed to spend extra time on.
The plan I followed is illustrated in the rest of this post.

3. First 10 days: Integrated preparation (<>12hrs/day)
OK, I have to admit that I was a teen in the 80's and a big fan of Rocky's training sessions...and I never said it was going to be a relaxed pace :-)
Based on the assessment and my plan, this is what the prep looked like.
What I used need: The first 5 Manhattan GMAT books (Number Qualities, Fractions-Decimals-Percent, Equations-Inequalities&VICs, Word-Translation, Geometry). These are gold, they have everything you need for the GMAT.
- 8am: Wake up, eat, go to my favorite place to study
- 9am: Get a coffee and read a specialised paper/magazine. Personally, I chose "The Economist", it is well written, covers a variety of topics and helped me wake up before studying... This is the only Verbal prep I have done. What I think it can do for you is:
- Get you used to reading grammatically correct and well formulated sentences (which will sink into your subconscious and help with Sentence Correction questions)
- Cover interesting and boring topics as well, enabling you to prepare for Reading Comprehension questions that could be about anything
- Train you to read a lot of content in an hour per day (you should aim to read 1 or 2 issues in the 1st 10 days)
- Keep you up to speed with what is going on in the world during your time in isolation...
The only piece of advice I would give on the Verbal prep is that you train yourself to engage with each article (convince yourself that you are passionate about it and that you will have to tell your friends about what you have read).
- 10am: Manhattan GMAT Quant books
- Went through each topic in each book in order, wrote formulas and concepts I wished to remember on a piece of paper. I used 12 sides of A4 for the 5 books and it served me as a trigger to review concepts in the evening.
- Practice the questions after each chapter: This was the most important thing for me, I went through those compulsively. What I think was important was to time myself (I gave myself 1.5 mins per question, deliberately less than in the real exam) and then checked my answers. I went through all answers I did not get right in details.
- 12am: Lunch (20 mins)
- 12h20 to 7pm: carried on with a 10-15 mins break every 2 hours (pace and momentum is important), meditate/relax.
- 7pm: run/cycle. This cleared my head
- 8pm: dinner (30 mins)
- 8:30 to 9:30pm - read my notes over and over
- 22:00 - went to sleep

3. Next 5 days: Reinforcement (<>12hrs/day)
First of all, I took a GMAT prep practice test - this gave me a great estimate of the gap I needed to close.
I scored 680 (39Q 45V) on that one and it gave me a big confidence boost.
The next 5 days were meant for me to go through the concepts I struggled with in the first 5 books and in my 1st GMAT prep test.
Here is the agenda.
- 8am: Wake up, eat, go to my favorite place to study
- 9am: Get a coffee and carry on with "The Economist", with a slight twist:
- Take a piece of scrap paper and note the key points of the articles I have read
- Give myself a time limit (3 mins) for each article
- 10am: Manhattan GMAT Advanced Quant and specialised websites
- Read the first 10 pages of the Manhattan GMAT Advanced Quant book (tried the problems) and skimmed through the rest of the book. The point of this book to me was to practice solving problems that are more difficult than in the actual GMAT.
- When my brain was overheating, I paused for 5 mins and then looked for additional practice questions on the internet on the topics I struggled with. In my view, it does not have to be in GMAT format, mostly because the point of the GMAT is to surprise you with new questions and new spins on concepts you already know. Dealing with a variety of formats was useful for me to expect the unexpected. I kept timing myself when answering those too. Because of the Manhattan Advanced Quant book, I found that the problems on the internet were a walk in the park... I personally struggled with mixture problems, RTDs and Combinatorics and found fantastic websites (by googling "Mixture Practice Problems" for example) with lots of free practice questions.
- 12am: Lunch (20 mins)
- 12h20 to 7pm: carry on with a 10-15 mins break every 2 hours (pace and momentum is important), meditate/relax.
- 7pm: run/cycle. This cleared my head
- 8pm: dinner (30 mins)
- 8:30 to 9:30pm - read my notes over and over
- 22:00 - went to sleep

4. Last 6 days: Rest and Practice (<>12hrs/day)
I took the second GMAT prep test and watched the miracle: I scored 740 (Q43 V49).
I then went on to take a day off to relax and bought the extra questions pack for the GMAT prep test.
In the last 5 days the agenda was:
- Early morning: Wake up, eat, coffee, "The Economist" and read AWA questions from the Official Guide (I just read them all quickly and reflected 2-3 mins on each, knowing that the one I was going to get was on the list...)
- Morning: Reset the GMAT prep test and take it
- Lunch
- Afternoon: Google the quant questions I could not answer and went through the detailed explanations
- Evening: Read my notes, meditate
I scored 760, 780, 790 at those (however, I was getting many Quant questions I had already seen, though the test was supposed to shuffle...)

5.Test Day and Final Debrief
First of all I went to bed at 9pm to get a good night's sleep. I made sure I was around the test center way before the test and got a coffee (and guess what I read...).
I had a good breakfast and ate some plain chicken for lunch.
I went through the test and..fast forward...700 (Q47 V39).
Here is the final brain dump on the lessons learned:
- AWA: Again, the AWA question you will get is on the Official Guide; I would advise to read the template response, read all the topics once and think 2-3 mins about those. During the actual test, just write down your template intro and conclusion and then focus on writing 2-3 good paragraphs in between (though most schools ignore this part of the test, I would still aim for the best score you can get to cover all angles...)
- Integrated Reasoning: I think the quant and verbal practice + the practice tests give all the training required for this section. Some schools ignore this score as there is not yet enough data to compare test takers; other schools will ask, so again I would aim for the best score.
- Quant: I think the questions were easier than the ones in the practice test. What got me is that I spent too much time on 1 question that I thought I really needed to answer and then rushed through the last 4 questions to make up for the time lost...basic mistake but hey...
- Verbal: The passages I had were even more boring than on the practice test...though I was typically scoring 99% on most Verbal tests I took towards the end, I got tired and maybe a bit too comfortable half way through the real GMAT, so watch out for that, this led me to score 39 (I was disappointed but then moved on...).
- Scrap paper and pen: I used very similar pens and scrap paper during my 3 weeks prep, I asked for a change at the optional break.

This is it..though I was a bit disappointed and was expecting more like 740+, I figured I had obtained a competitive score and I needed to move on with the rest of my application now that the box was ticked.

I hope the story will be useful and good luck with your practice and tests!
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Re: Debrief - from 520 to 700 (Q47 V39) in 3 weeks (full time) [#permalink] New post 19 Oct 2013, 17:35
Thanks for sharing. Definitely hard work and perseverance all in 3 weeks. Great job.
Re: Debrief - from 520 to 700 (Q47 V39) in 3 weeks (full time)   [#permalink] 19 Oct 2013, 17:35
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