1st Attempt: 10th March 2011 (700; Q47, V39)
2nd Attempt: 14th June 2012 (760; Q50, V44)"The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win." - Bobby Knight
Just took the test today (2nd attempt), and this time I'm ecstatic. As soon as I managed to comprehend the score, I thought of all of the great stories I've read here, and how they inspired me to work hard. I immediately resolved to write here and share my experience with you.
I'm an Egyptian living in Egypt, and my undergrad major was Mechanical Engineering. A few months out of college, I decided to take the GMAT just to get it out of the way (I knew that I'd want to do an MBA sooner or later, and that I'd probably apply in less than 5 years).
So, last year saw my first attempt. At the time, I thought I was studying hard, but in reality I was just solving problems and trying to get through the book(s) as quickly as possible. It's a bit comical when I look back at it now: I only used the official guide, studied for a month overall (the first half a joke, the second half a bit more serious) and only took the 2 GMAT Prep tests and then re-took them. I didn't even know how the Quant and Verbal were individually scored, and I don't remember ever bothering to know. I reasoned that I was already comfortable with both Quantitative and Verbal material by nature, and that my Engineering background further reinforced my strength on the Quant section. My re-taking of the GMAT Prep tests yielded 770 and a 740 respectively; this further cemented my belief that I was ready. Looking back, I think I chose to convince myself that I had improved that much (down from 690 and 700 respectively) in 2 weeks rather than concede that I probably remembered most of the answers, particularly the Quant ones.
My first attempt at the real test was not a complete disaster, but I was definitely disappointed. I remember repeatedly losing track of time during the Quant section, and making several guesses just to keep up with the clock. The Verbal section was better, but I remember deciding to abandon the effort of thinking about at least a couple of CR and a couple of SC problems...simply out of annoyance with the questions themselves. When the score appeared "700", I recall feeling completely numb and convincing myself that at least it's a good score in general.
A year went by, and I was set in my decision to apply for Top 10 B-Schools with my 700 score. I repeatedly reminded myself that my essays would tell an interesting story, and that my application would be worth looking at. Indeed, friends of mine currently doing Top MBA's confirmed and advocated my decision.
But I still felt weary, and a bit careless. I knew that I hadn't invested that much time or effort into the test, and that I just chose the easy way out. It didn't seem right. I also dreaded risking my whole application(s) on the essays and resume. I wanted something to stand out and shine.
Around that same time, a very simple question started establishing itself very strongly in my head: "If you could do better, and you know that, why not DO BETTER?". I didn't want to become one of those bitter people who dismiss challenging tasks as being easy, and casually claim that they could carry them out perfectly at any time if they wanted to, but that they didn't feel like it. So, after several prayers, consulting my parents and some of my close friends, I decided to re-take the GMAT. This decision came on the 1st of April, and I took the test today (14th of June).
And this time I took it to the limit. I used all 8 Manhattan books
, and read/skimmed every single chapter. I would advise you here to only do the exercise questions at the end of each chapter to make sure you understand the content, but not as practice for real exam questions, which I noticed to be different from those in the Manhattan books
. I also brought the Verbal & Quant separate guides (2nd Edition), and solved in them the questions specified by Manhattan.
This whole process took exactly one month. As I just began to feel confident, I started taking the MGMAT tests and boy was I humbled. The Quant scores I was getting were much lower than what I was aiming for (~42 vs. aiming for ~50), and I was a complete idiot at time management. My Verbal scores were consistently in the 40's, so I decided to park the Verbal for a while and concentrate on Quant.
Let me stop here and concede that my decision to focus exclusively on Quant was an extremely hard thing to do, or rather to concede that I had to do. I've always had pride in my Math skills, and have loved Maths since I was a toddler. My decision to focus on Quant tamed that ego, and forced me to discover my weaknesses and address them. With time, extreme focus on the MGMAT question explanations, and continuous practice, I was able to manage my time effectively.
Sometime in the middle of all of this, I decided to take GMAT Prep 1, and scored a 720, with a 48 in Quant which I felt I could have easily surpassed. Also, the Verbal could have been higher had I not made some choices based on pure annoyance with the question rather than self-controlled, reasoned thinking. I continued working, and the day before test day took GMAT Prep 2 and scored a 730. Somehow, I was optimistic. I was aiming for the 99th percentile, but was fine with the 730, and felt that a bit of luck, poise and style were all that separated me from a 760 or above.
I slept my full the day before test day: about 9 hours. I woke up, had some cornflakes, watched some TV and headed to the test center. I remember being much calmer and composed than I was on the day of my first attempt. My mental state was a lot better, and I remember going into the test center with an almost comical fighting spirit. I kept thinking "This will be a piece of cake, this will be the easiest thing that you've ever done!! Go ace this thing!!!"
The AWA went fine; I tore apart the argument some business analyst was trying to make. Next came the new Integrated Reasoning section: it was easy enough too. It felt like a compilation of CR, RC and basic graph-reading abilities all put together. There were maybe 2 or 3 questions I wasn't sure about, but I just thought "screw it...arrogant, proud-of-itself new section"
I went into the Quant section in such an aggressive and combative mood that I literally had a warrior face on while staring at the screen. To my surprise, and slight discomfort (for obvious reasons), the Quant section breezed by very smoothly. I reached the last 10 questions expecting to find relatively tough questions, but some of them were extremely simple. The 34th questions was a ridiculously basic Geometry question that I solved in under 20 seconds. I finished the whole Quant section with 5 minutes to spare (for the first time during ANY test I had taken)...and I remember thinking "I must have really %^&#ed this up". Funnily enough, I didn't care as much as I thought I would.
During the break, I kept pacing around the test center, went into the bathroom and started jogging in place and vigorously shaking my head. I was still in that weird "This is SPARTA!" mood, and I didn't want it to go away.
The Verbal section started off with one of the longest RC passages I had ever seen, and I remember being extremely annoyed but resolved to read it till the very end. Things went well enough with all the SC questions, which I felt I did fine on. The CR questions all had similar answers, and in more than one question I had some difficulty in forming any sort of conviction about an answer choice. Every time I finished a CR question that I felt I wasn't sure about, an SC question that was easier for me to solve came after it. During the last 10 questions, I suddenly realized that if I was doing well I should have started seeing at least one CR boldface question. I concentrated as much as I could towards the end, but still no boldface questions came up. I finished the Verbal section with 7 minutes to spare, and thought "This is either very good or very bad".
I then pressed "next", and proceeded to fill in GMAC's nerve-wrecking, worst-timing-of-all survey, and couldn't wait to be done with it.
When the "760" showed up on the screen, it took me maybe a whole minute to fully take it in. I blinked like 12 times, and at last I smiled. I headed out of the test center, in an ecstatic mood, to find that my car wouldn't start because I had accidentally left the flasher on this whole time. I remember thinking "well, the day can't all be roses, but a car battery you can purchase, a good GMAT score...well that's something else!"
Throughout the rest of the day, I mentally compiled all of the pieces of advice I would give to anyone taking this exam and aiming for altitude:
1) Don't just work hard, work strategically and invest your time smartly
2) IDENTIFY your weaknesses by keeping an error log
, and focus on them
3) Make notes of silly mistakes you do, and find some way of disciplining yourself not to do them (I remember preventing myself from eating any dinner one day because I had decided that 2^4 = 8 and not 16
4) Don't redundantly go over areas where you're already strong: Just make sure every once in a while that you're still comfortable with them
5) Use Manhattan books
for understanding, MGMAT tests (which have significantly harder-than-reality Quant sections) for time-management, and OG books for general/random practice
6) Minimize any "random practice" that you do. Localize your day's studying/practice to a certain area...especially if you're not near the exam date
7) Hammer down your ego, especially if you know that you're good at Mathematics and Reasoning, and learn to concede that you, like everyone else, have weaknesses
8) Discipline yourself to keep attempting at a question until you solve it, especially if you know that you have enough time. Don't just decide that this question is way too much of a nuisance, and that, as a matter of concept and not objective reasoning, you won't waste your time with it.
Test day (VERY IMPORTANT):
1) SLEEP WELL: helped me a lot...the fact that I scored 30 points higher than my highest practice test tells me that I had this potential all along, but that I chose wrong timings to solve practice tests (usually after work, rendering me a bit tired and restless)
2) Try to adopt a fighter attitude, and remain calm and laid-back internally. Don't go in with the "Oh God, please let me do well PLEASE!" attitude, but rather go in with a daring, even slightly cocky spirit. It'll help your mental state a-LOT.
3) Motivate yourself thoroughly between breaks.
4) When you feel that the questions are not as difficult as you expected, and that you might thus be doing poorly, DON'T PANIC...I think it's part of their strategy to drop in questions with very obvious answers every now and then just to interrupt your rhythm and see how well you can recover.
5) Don't fret if boldface questions don't show up in the Verbal section...I think the GMAC people probably decided that too many people were on to them, and either stopped introducing the questions altogether or stopped classifying them as high-difficulty questions.
I guess that's that then. Sorry for the long post, but I though it better to describe my whole experience and share with you every part if it.
If there are any questions you have for me I'd be more than happy to answer them. Till then, good luck!!!
Nabil Ahmed Nabil