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Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes

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Joined: 17 Aug 2011
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Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 14 Dec 2011, 12:16
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The entire world came crashing down on me when I saw my score on the screen. I could not believe it! I was doing so well in the practice exams, yet I received a 550! I was confused, so was my family members, who saw me working hard for the exam, for the last three months. I was not sure what went wrong!

I spent the night after the test watching Netflix. I didn’t want to deal with the pain of pondering over the score. For the last couple of day, I started to think about the test and I was able to point out some possible reasons. Let’s start from the beginning.

(You can skip the test and the preparation part. The real problem is in the preparation part though. Nothing unusual happened during the test.)

The Preparation
My GMAT journey begun on September 13, 2011, when I started the Manhattan GMAT class. I managed to finish about 95% of the content, but about 80% of the corresponding OG practice problems, when the class ended on November 15. My cat scores clearly show the progress. First one, 500 q34/v25, taken before the start of the course, second test, 600 q46/v28, one week before the end of the course and the third one, 630 q45/v32, right after the end of the course.

I was targeting the top 5 MBA programs. Although, the initial scores were not good, I believe I have a better than average background. My undergraduate and graduate GPAs are both 3.74. My major is Mechanical Engineering. I have been working as a Software Developer for the last 3.5 years. I also initiated, funded and developed a writers platform, which received a national award in my country.

The point is that, targeting one of the top 5 MBAs did not seem impossible for me. However, I was well aware of the large Indian IT applicant pool. Although I am not an Indian, a Bangladeshi by born, I wanted to score as high as I can. So I targeted 720, the median score in many of the top 5 programs.

Near the end of the MGMAT course I realized that I won’t be able to cross the 700 barrier if I don’t plan correctly. One obvious solution is to take more time to prepare. But if I delay more than 1 month, I will have very little time to apply for the R2 and start the MBA in 2012.

The other solution is to take the test 3 weeks after the course, which is what suggested by MGMAT as well, and then take another test about a month after that. I decided to go with the 3 weeks approach. This was probably my first mistake. Cramming never works!

I scheduled the test on Dec 10, 2011. I took three weeks vacation from work leading to the test and planned to spend the vacation in three parts: reading, practicing, and revising.

I had two weaknesses: timing and verbal. For timing, I started using a handheld stop watch, instead of the iPhone app I was using at that time. For the verbal I decided to cover more materials. Here is the list of all books I used.

MGMAT Books (5 quant, 3 verbal, 2 foundations) - Covered during the course
MGMAT Advanced Quant
Doing Grammar
Aristotle SC Grail
Aristotle SC 100 Collection
Aristotle RC 99
Aristotle CR Set
PowerPrep CR Bible

You can probably see the problem with my approach immediately. My second mistake is that I planned to cover a lot of materials, but included a lot less practice in the plan. For some reason, I thought practicing can be replaced with reading more materials.

During the first week, I finished 4 passages, 5 CR, 20 SC - all from Aristotle books, every morning. In the afternoon I finished a chapter from the Advanced Quant. In the evening, after returning from the gym, I read a chapter from the PowerePrep CR and skimmed thru a chapter from Doing Grammar. Here is the CAT on at the end of first week - 670 q48/v33.

Note that, although I made a lot of improvement in quant (q45 to q48), my verbal did not improve as much as I expected, a mere improvement of 1 point, from v32 to v33. I got frustrated and I posted several posts in different forums. But did not receive any useful direction. However, I realized that I needed more practice rather than just reading a ton of books.

The continuous study without a break also started to take toll on me. I started to disliked the preparation.

I liked the PowerPrep CR so much, that I decided to finish it. At this point my schedule just fell apart. Not readjusting and following a schedule was probably the third mistake. I continued to finish PowerPrep CR and Advanced Quant. I took GMATPrep 1 on Dec 01 - 630. I forgot the quant and verbal numbers, but the verbal was clearly the culprit.

About a week before the test I started doing the OG. I had about 50% covered during the MGMAT course. I was trying to finish the rest of the OG. My fourth mistake was that I did not review OG carefully. I was just concentrating on finishing it.

Finally, the fifth mistake I made was by taking another GMATPrep on Dec 06 - 620. Taking CAT test frequently does not improve the score. I just lost my hope at this point. I was aiming simply for a decent 630-650.

The Test
My GMAT was scheduled on Dec 10, three months after I started my preparation.

on the day before the test, I revised a collection of notes that I was preparing all along. I did some practice from OG. I stopped studying at 6PM and hit the gym for half an hour. I watched the movie Meet the Parents with my family. I went to bed at 11 and I think I slept well thru the night.

My test was at 1PM. I woke up at 9, ate light breakfast and got dressed. I did a quick revise from 10 to 11AM. However, I was feeling a little sleepy. So I took a fifteen minute power nap. I went to the test center, signed in and the test started.

I think my analysis of argument was pretty good. But I probably did not have a firm grasp on the issue question. I took the break. Went to the restroom, washed my face, ate a cliff bar, water.

The quant started. I was surprised to find out that there was just one minute to write down the quant timing grid. Soon the problem level started to rise. But for DS, the problem level did not rise as much. I was doing everything on time. However, I had to change the writing pad at one point during the test. I finished the test timely, and took the second break.

The verbal started. I think I was not doing bad. The question level seem to rise just a little bit. But at the middle of the test, I miscalculated the time and thought I don’t have enough time! I rushed. Probably at this point I answered a lot of questions wrong. The rest of test seemed on the very easy side. I finished the test about 2 minutes before the allotted time.

And then I was slammed with the score - 550 q47/v20! The AWA score came yesterday, a 4.5.

Image
Score Graph

Image
Individual Score Graph

The Lessons Learned
1. Do not cram everything in a short period of time. Take the time to build up your skill, slowly and effectively.

2. Do not cover a ton of books. Make a list of good and proven materials and just focus only on those.

3. Always make and follow plan. If you fall out of the plan, readjust. But don’t let it go altogether.

4. Use OG, and review your mistakes. Use OG, use OG, use OG.

5. Do not do CAT exams frequently. CAT exams don’t improve your score, practice does.

6. Take breaks, a day off etc. Do not burn yourself out in the last few days leading to the test.

What Worked Well?
1. My timing sense was near perfect. Although I miscalculated the timing during the verbal, I was always on time. I used a real stop watch and it worked well for me.

2. My quant is solid now. I finished the Advanced Quant - all 150 problems. However, I will probably need more DS practice. But this is not of primary importance.

3. I studied a lot of books. So the theoretical basis is covered.

4. Although, I did not score well the exam execution was good.

Future Plan
1. Need to focus on Verbal. My plan is to do 10 SC, 10 CR and 3 RC from OG everyday for two weeks.

2. Take test on every two weeks.

3. Two hour of DS every weekend.

Questions to You
1. How long do I study before I take the next exam? I shifted my focus to 2012 for application. Also there is a test change coming up in June 2012.

2. Do I need to cover any other material? I know it is an absurd question. But I feel, I could use some more SC coverage.

3. Is there any other course that might be helpful for me? Should I consider taking personal verbal course? For instance, I can take MGMAT personalized verbal course for $185/hr. But it is too costly! :(

4. Do you see any other problem with my preparation?

5. Do you have any other suggestions?
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 14 Dec 2011, 15:04
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Thank you for this post - I salute your effort and helpfulness.

As to the questions you have asked.
  • Your score and your practice scores are not consistent, which tells me you can do better next time even without much prep. (which verbal can do that to you)
  • I would put all effort into the verbal
  • What is your weakest area in Verbal?
  • If you are not yet sick of MGMAT Books, would recommend the GMAT Road Map
  • When are you hoping to apply? This season?

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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 14 Dec 2011, 15:19
Thanks bb for your advice!

I was planning to apply this season. But now, I am not so sure. I would rather take it slowly, get a good score before I rush into applying.

My weakest area is RC. CR and SC comes after that, in this order. I already read your post on Verbal Study Plan [1]. I am planning to do one hour of practice (3RC-30min, 10SC-15 min - 5CR15 min) in the morning just before leaving for work. One hour for the review of morning practice after I return from work and two hour of GMAT fiction reading.



[1] study-plan-for-verbal-gmat-98342.html
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 15 Dec 2011, 01:50
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Dude, Your post is much better than 90% of 700+ debriefs I have read here and on the BTG. These threads are either - too short to be informative or long enough but with unnecessary details. I am sure you will hit 700 mark. I am also surprised by your AWA score. Did you manage to follow any template ?
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 15 Dec 2011, 10:51
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Hey, I am in the same boat as you since I am trying to squeeze in the exam this year so I don't have to worry about it the next year. I am also taking the Manhattan GMAT 9 week course and today is the last day of the course. So below are my CAT scores so far -

1st GMAT prep - 530 (Don't remember the split)
1st GMAT - 600 (40Q, 33V) - Analysis: I got really lucky on verbal
2nd GMAT - 590 (43Q, 29V) - Analysis: Not so lucky on verbal
3rd GMAT - 640 (43Q, 34V) - Analysis: Felt I had focused too much on verbal.
4th GMAT - 660 (46Q, 34V) - Analysis: Quantitive went up. Need to focus more on Critical Reasoning.

So since I am no where near my score I have pushed my exam toward the end of January since I want to focus on trying to get over the 700 mark.

The reason I am sharing this with you is that you should not to give up. Keep working on it and let me know if you want to bounce a few things off.

What has really helped me the most is the office hours that the Manhattan GMAT has offered. Few tips that were offered to me on my last session -

1. The quick sacrifice - If you are behind, sacrifice a question.
2. Focus on a few rules such as - ,which rule or :,; rule. pronouns (These are problems for me).

Additionally since you used the Manhattan's GMAT don't they have offer a post exam assessment? The reason I mention this is because the instructors from the class told us that a number of students potentially do bad the first time but then can get anywhere from a 30 to 80 point turnaround with a few fixes here and there.
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 15 Dec 2011, 12:16
AbhiJ,
Thanks for the good words! I followed the MGMAT guideline:
1. C.A.S.T. for argument, For/Against chart for the issue.
2. Intro, Body (3 para), Conclusion.
3. Brainstorm, Outline, Write, Revise.

I read about the Chienese Bound guide after I took the test.
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 15 Dec 2011, 12:24
smoothie2003,
Thanks for inspiring me! I will take the post exam assessment. Also, I will probably talk about the private session.

I will probably tell you to try the PowerScore CR book. This book tells you to read the question AFTER you read the argument, does not mention about the T-diagram, and emphasizes on making a "prephrasing" for the answer.

Also, stick to the OG as much as you can.
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 15 Dec 2011, 12:53
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Hey Udvranto, I really understand how you felt when seeing a 550, because I am a "great similar" example :) i.e. start the gmat journey prettly late (Oct 15) but plan to apply for round 2 this year :lol: so... studied hard, covered a lot of materials, scored pretty well in practice tests, and... bam! knocked down with 550 at my real GMAT on Nov 15. I took a two week break, enjoying clothing shopping to get back confidence (yes, I'm a girl :oops: ). I am now preparing for my second GMAT coming in 6 days (Dec.21) and will see if my score is decent enough to let me apply.

Because there have been a lot of helpful 700+ debriefings already, I won't be trying to repeat those or give you advice, not mention that I'm not one of 700+ scorers yet. Anyway, I first wanted to share my thoughts when reading your retake-study plan:
udvranto wrote:
Future Plan
1. Need to focus on Verbal. My plan is to do 10 SC, 10 CR and 3 RC from OG everyday for two weeks.
...


1. I learned from some great scorers' debriefings that to improve your skill in an area, it's better to allocate a certain amount of time to focus deeply in one area (e.g. doing 40 questions of CR or SC a day) instead of doing a little bit of everything each day. That's to strengthen your skill in a specific area. But in the last two weeks we can practice every section like you planned.

2. As for CR: try to practice on "brand-name" questions as much as possible. This means that don't rely too much on non-ETS sources of CR questions. Some people said that GMAC and LSAC have put much more efforts than other prep companies to develop CR questions. Therefore the style and quality of their questions, as well as the scheme of answer choices, are unique and better. Practicing on non-original sources can even weaken your sense to spot wrong answers in real CR questions. I believe so. In fact, on my re-study journey now, I skip all Kaplan and Princeton CR tests, and am only practice on CR questions on OG 12, OG 10, LSAT, and Official Verbal review book.

That's all I wanted to add to your study plan. Actually I am taking practice tests more frequently (2-3 tests/a week) than you are planning to, but I think it's only for my case, because my stamina and timing are horrible (I had psychological meltdown right at the beginning of the Verbal section, and skip upto 10 last questions)

Briefly about my GMAT study: (sorry, I am reluctant to write much about my story in here, your threat, but since I've been in pretty similar case of 550, I hope you would not mind, as people could give us same advice)
1. Materials covered:
- 8 MGMAT books: covered in-depth, made highlights, notes, did all drills and read explanations, etc.
- Powerprep CR Bible: yes, agreed with you that this is a very good book, I found it better than Manhattan CR book (the only book in the MGMAT series that I found not very helpful for me).
- SC notes made by some 800 scorers online (800Bob, etc.)
- Math shortcut notes (made by online users, too)
- OG 12
- Official Verbal and Quant reviews
- Kaplan software (2009 CD)

2. Study schedule:
I made the same mistake as you (if not even worse): I crammed. I have studied for almost 2 months, but full-time, approx. at least 6-7 hours/day (9-10 hours/day in the last week), in almost 7 days/week, over 7 weeks, until the last day before my GMAT test date :)) I already knew it was unhealthy but didn't stop, you'll know why when reading about my psychology weakness.

3. Practice test scores:
- GmatPrep test 1 (2 weeks before the real test): 600 (Q43/V28)
- Kaplan CD test 1: 630 (Q36/V27)
- Kaplan test 2: 600 (don't remember detail scores)
- GMATPrep test 1 second time (saw 3-4 repeat questions/each section): 680 (Q47/V35)
- GMATprep test 2 (4 days before the real test), no repeat question: 740 (Q47/V44).
- Kaplan test 3 (last day before the real test): 590 (Q34/V32). my quant score was low because I ran out of time and couln't even manage to click through the last 4 questions
- Real GMAT: 550 (Q46/V20) - lowest score I've ever had.
Of course I was devastated when the score screen appeared. I could not even cry, but was torn apart. I had to sit down at the lobby outside of the center for 20 mins so that I could recover a bit energy to walk out of the building :-)

4. Weaknesses:
As I have said, although I obviously have a weakness in verbal of which the scores fluctuate over my tests, my biggest weakness I think is stamina and psychology.

Stamina: During all of my practice tests, I did not write the AWA at all, thinking that it's not a very important part. Now after reading Stacey (from ManhattanGMAT)'s articles, I figured out that skipping AWA could have inflated my test scores a lot! Indeed, although my AWA was not bad in my real test (I got 5 without practice), I had to put a lot of energy in thinking, writing and wrapping up those essays in time (I'm not Eng native speaker). Still remember my heart beat crazily fast when I was writing the conclusion of the last essay. Not surprisingly, when starting the Quant section I was already a bit tired. The Quant went ok (I skip the last 5 questions but I have always done so :oops: ). But at early of the Verbal section, I became exhausted and soon at the 10th or 12th question, I shut down like a car running out of gas. Could not think anymore!

Psychology: I am an int' MBA student's wife. I have finished a master degree and worked professionally in the US for the last few years (before my marriage). Just staying at home now due to restrictions of a spouse visa made me stressed and desperate of going back to school in 2012 (This means I need to submit my application in round 2 this year). Consequently, I have put all unnecessary pressures on myself to study like crazy, and going to the test center with the thoughts like "700 or die", or "hell no way I would stay home for another year!" :roll:

6 days to go...
[b]*** Prepare to re-take:
first 2 weeks: no study at all --> had 3 weeks left.
- LSAT sample test (2007 test) and practice tests
- for SC: Revisit Manhattan SC book
- For Quant: Revisit Manhattan word translation and number properties. But I don't study Quant much, because 3 weeks are not much and I wanted to devote 95% for Verbal.
- Take more practice tests to improve stamina and timing skill.

For Verbal my hit rates are equally 80% across 3 sections.
[/b]I have followed great articles by Stacey from ManhattanGMAT on what to do in the last 14 days, and how to manage the time. My timing skill and stamina are getting better but still need to be improved more.
I took a MGMAT test two days ago and got 640 (Q43/V34). Heard that MGMAT tests are fairly accurate indicators so I think I'm just at above 650 now. I still want to get a 700+ score, but if not it's ok, I've become much more decent in my goal now :)

OK guys, just a quick update!

I got 650 on my 2nd GMAT on Dec 21 (Q48/V33/AWA:5). Although it's 100 score difference, I consider this absolutely not an actual improvement, because I had reached this level before my first take (550 - Q47/V20/AWA:5). So this means I didn't improve anything except my stamina. Fair enough, given that I haven't studied effectively during the month between the 2 tests. And one more reason (very silly one): because I had been exhausted in the middle of my 1st test, I was too scared and "over-prepared" for my 2nd one by drinking a 5-hour bottle, eating a banana and an energy bar in the break before the verbal, and when I finished all of them, I was 3 minutes late! :beat I had to finish the Verbal in ~71-72 mins, and blindly clicking on ~ 7 questions, but not consecutively.

anyway I moved on as I planned, spent 10 days for the application from start to finish, submit everything on Jan-4th to a top 10 MBA school, and got interview invitation 2 weeks later! (I think I should not declare the school's name in here because I could hurt their reputation with my mediocre score :oops: )

My interview will be one week from now. I really wanted to wait until I got the result before updating you guys. It would probably be awkward if I don't get admitted after all...

But I need help!!! I want to apply to HBS in round 3. It's ridiculously ambitious and a 650 score obviously won't work in this case. So, I plan to retake the damn GMAT 3rd time, in hopefully 3 weeks. Sorry guys I really got mad every time I use the word "retake"- I hated it :devil !!! I have scored well on standardized tests (toefl and GRE) right at the first time, and never ever had to retake. 2 years ago when my husband was preparing for his GMAT, he came to me anytime he got challenged with a verbal question even though I hadn't studied it at all. He got 760 at his first time. Now I'm talking about my 3rd GMAT. What's wrong to me now??? Is that the aging factor? :cry: :roll:

After my 2nd test, I think my problem is still time management, even though it was improved a bit. So, to improve it, I guess I need to practice more CAT test, in addition to focusing to improve my methodologies on Verbal so that I can crack them more quickly. But I already covered all MGMAT books and the CR Bible. I also practiced the OG12, the 2 Official books (Quant and Verbal), and Kaplan tests so many times that right after I read few words of the questions, I remembered if I did it right or wrong, and why wrong. I tried one Princeton CAT test but not so happy with the quality of the questions. I will try Manhattan tests, but there are only 5-6 tests left. I'll try GmatClub tests also. But only one GmatClub test is free, the others are a bit expensive to me :((

I ran out of good materials!!! What should I do, guys??? I just noticed that Kaplan Premier 2011 has 6 CAT tests (5 online) for $27. Are they different from the 4 tests on CD (2009 version)?

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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 15 Dec 2011, 13:06
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Your experience is probably my nightmare! Most schools allow you to apply without having taken the GMAT. For example Wharton allows you to take the GMAT till 3/1 while their application deadline is somewhere in Feb. Maybe, some of your schools do as well.

However, do not apply if your application is not perfect. Once you get dinged at a school when you reapply you will need to do an essay on "how you have grown in the last year." Realistically speaking ... no one becomes a great candidate from one year to the next... just my two cents.

If you have to postpone your MBA dream for a year you can think of it as giving yourself another year to save up for school. :)
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 15 Dec 2011, 17:43
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good luck :)
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 16 Dec 2011, 20:46
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buddy 1 mistake i clearly see from ur point of view is that u r still planning to practice thru a lot of questions without giving much thought for revision....remember GMAT is all about pattern recognition(its a standardized test..bound to be)...rather than practicing so many problems everyday i would suggest that u spend some time a week (may be a day later when u completed the set) just revising the problems...as the right answers would be fresh in ur mind, try working out on why the other ans were wrong...this is immense learning and i have myself experienced that it helps more than going thru a lot of probs everyday....another thing, when u give CATs ,do revise the results looking for patterns(one of many mistakes people make is that they just look at the score, revise a little and just dump it). identify areas that trouble u a lot(very helpful sp.in the verbal section) and practice more questions on that specific area...many have tried this approach and improved their verbal/ quant score by almost 5-10 points....see if the strategy works for u...u 've tried many things....try this one as well....n i would re-emphasize that pattern recognition is the key....
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 19 Dec 2011, 13:54
thucanh80,
You noted two invaluable points!
1. Focus on a subject area and master it.

2. Practice official problems

Your experience relieved me a lot. I wish you a great fight! Post your experience, good or bad, in the forum.
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Concentration: Technology, Entrepreneurship
GMAT 1: 550 Q47 V20
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WE: Information Technology (Computer Software)
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 19 Dec 2011, 14:00
wallstreetbarbie,
That's exactly why I am taking the time to apply.

The saving factor is a funny but interesting point. However, I will also be loosing one year worth of post MBA earning. :(
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Joined: 17 Aug 2011
Posts: 130
Location: United States (IL)
Concentration: Technology, Entrepreneurship
GMAT 1: 550 Q47 V20
GPA: 3.74
WE: Information Technology (Computer Software)
Followers: 5

Kudos [?]: 65 [0], given: 50

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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 19 Dec 2011, 14:00
ashiima,
Thanks buddy!
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Joined: 17 Aug 2011
Posts: 130
Location: United States (IL)
Concentration: Technology, Entrepreneurship
GMAT 1: 550 Q47 V20
GPA: 3.74
WE: Information Technology (Computer Software)
Followers: 5

Kudos [?]: 65 [0], given: 50

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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 19 Dec 2011, 14:08
rahultgsp,
Thanks for your great advice specific to my case! Here are the points you suggested:

1. Practice at a reduced rate. Review more.

2. Practice a set in a given day, but review it on the next day. Work out why your answer was wrong. Look for pattern.

3. Analytically review CAT score and pattern. Try to find the weakest area. Concentrate on that area.

I will incorporate you suggestion in my study plan.

Regards.
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Joined: 17 Aug 2011
Posts: 130
Location: United States (IL)
Concentration: Technology, Entrepreneurship
GMAT 1: 550 Q47 V20
GPA: 3.74
WE: Information Technology (Computer Software)
Followers: 5

Kudos [?]: 65 [0], given: 50

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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 04 Mar 2012, 12:10
thucanh80,
Somehow I missed your update. Please post as a new comment so that we get a email notification.

Congratulation! An advancement of 100 points is great! Try the third time and let us know your score.
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Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes [#permalink] New post 08 Sep 2012, 16:43
udvranto wrote:
thucanh80,
Somehow I missed your update. Please post as a new comment so that we get a email notification.

Congratulation! An advancement of 100 points is great! Try the third time and let us know your score.


I've just taken GMAT the 3rd time and got 690 (Q49, V34), AWA 6 and IR 7/8. For some reason I couldn't improve my Verbal score no matter how much I studied (more than 3/4 of my time) and progressed with CAT tests. The more I studied for Verbal, the more my Quant and AWA scores increased :(

Well, perhaps I should move on and apply with a non-700 score. Really hard to accept it and I hate giving up. But it seems I'd better to spend this month to prepare for my R1 apps. Last year with a 650 score I got into Ross R2 and was dinged after interview at Duke in Round 3. Hopefully Yale, MIT, Wharton and HBS would not just laugh at my apps :cry:

Painful experience!
Re: Devastating 550 and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes   [#permalink] 08 Sep 2012, 16:43
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