Long time lurker and over the last month I visited the share your experience forum at least every other day so I am here to give what I can back to this community. I ended my GMAT journey yesterday in Budapest with a 740 Q49 V42 AWA 6.0, while not the score I was shooting for, a 740 is representative of my effort and I am satisfied with my performance.
I decided to retake the exam after a poor result last year (670) and rushed applications that resulted in 2 dings without interviews followed by some serious contemplation about my real desire to attend business school. Don't worry, I didn't study for a year straight after my 670 flub. I thought I was ready to break 700 last year, my prep was solid and my GMATPrep scores of 710 and 730 had given me a false sense of security coming up to the exam, in the end I was a victim of poor timing and while my fundamentals were strong, the mental approach to taking my official CAT was off. I let the clock kill me which led to answering 10 questions in Quant and 15 in Verbal with 7 and 10 minutes to go respectively. In retrospect my desire to perform well made me latch onto questions, double check answers and move through the exam with hesitation as opposed to driving through with confidence (this is crucial).
Given the number of comprehensive posts in this forum I am going to keep this relatively short and provide what I can regarding advice or things that helped me most rolling up to the exam.
Given that I took the test last year ie: Solved all the questions in the official guide twice, Manhattan SC guide and took a local GMAT course. This time around I gave myself 2 months to get back into form and locked in my test date. The next day I took my first Manhattan GMAT
CAT (yes they are worth the money and were a crucial part of my preparation).
CAT #1 - 600 and a huge oh S%^t moment
What could have happened, was I over confident in my ability. It was apparent that I wasn't in GMAT shape... this exam comes down to conditioning and preparing yourself to be good at everything (so yes, if you expect to go 700+ and aren't a natural test taker you will be doing serious mental exercise for a few weeks+)
The next 5 weeks consisted of a full CAT on Saturday or Sunday and casual review of the Manhattan guides or a 20 question question bank on weeknights when I finished work. If you regularly read through the experience posts here you will see a trend of people consistently working on
and this is crucial
to make sure you are strong across the board on test day. Don't go nuts and do 100 questions a night, be familiar with the exam and where your weak spots are and touch on them daily. Iphone/pad apps are a nice bonus, public transport rides etc. were eventually filled with 4/5 questions from the free Veritas
and Grockit apps etc. There are enough free apps to fill your dead time with that I wouldn't recommend dropping cash here.
If you are weak in a particular area of quant invest some time. Take a day or two to relearn topics and then drill so you are comfortable with the subject enough to take an educated guess. The exam sniffs out where you are weak. My strategy was to practice my bluff so the GMAT never found the kinks in my armor. Effective VIC, back solving strategies and the process of elimination (if done quickly without hesitation) will help you break into the mid-700's; in short, destroy the questions you know and save yourself the time and stress on questions you know will give you trouble. In the end those extra 30 seconds turn into a minute or two late in the exam where you need to shine on the high level questions that play to your strengths. I guessed on 1 question in quant and 2 in Verbal (both 50/50s - for me atleast). There were 3 more quant questions that I would have liked to take more time on that i back solved to be sure I would finish. Play with the exam a bit and see what give's you the best result.
From my score its apparent that I missed a lot more than 4 in quant and 2 in Verbal but the thing to remember is that its VERY rare for a couple of questions to not squeak by (especially when it is a test of questions you have never seen). You would be amazed how quickly your scores jump on GMAT prep the second time around just because you are familiar with a couple of questions. Taking numerous "new" CATs will help you be strong in all of the areas tested.
Every exam is different and you never know what can pop up, if you focus on your weak areas too much and they don't come up on the exam you have wasted your time (especially if that effort put into probability/comb/stat/etc. meant you lost some of your speed/edge in mixture or number property questions).
3 weeks b4 the test I started taking another CAT on Weds/Thursday without the essay.
Final week full exam with essay if I could muster it after work or at least a written outline on paper of what I would be writing during the real deal. This is big in my opinion, you are basically conditioning your brain for the exam. I sit, i write, i take a break, i sit, i do math, i take a break, i sit, i do verbal and then i'm done..... ALWAYS go over all questions, check the answers for those you missed and those you got right. Even the night before my exam I was picking up on how i could cut corners and answer more efficiently. More importantly, for verbal, you start to get this weird 6th sense that helps you sniff out which answers are wrong. By analyzing the questions you got right you actually start speeding up the process of elimination that is crucial for successfully completing the verbal section.
The essay section of the real GMAT should be a push over but cannot be avoided during your preparation. A 5 paragraph 700 word essay edited within 24 minutes leaving time to test pens, breathe deep and get used to your surroundings is realistic if you work with a computer regularly. A computer grades this part of the exam and doesn't really care how creative you are nor how you feel about the topic. There are some great templates here, learn one, know how you want to structure your essays, read the prompt take 2-3 mins to write the topics for your 3 paragraphs and cough it up. open, list your points, p1, p2, p3 and close it. don't waste any time or energy nor get stressed out over this portion of the test, use it as a mental warm-up for the real deal.
For verbal it came down to reading between the lines for CR questions and practicing SC as much as possible. For RC after you get through 15 passages or so with 3/4 questions a piece you should understand where you are weak and what works and doesn't work for you regarding note taking and navigating the passages. Manhattan is great for SC, I never ended up touching their CR and RC guides. Even though I'm a native speaker my grammar is horrible and I was never able to make it through verbal without flubbing a couple of SC questions. You will know when you are ready for Verbal. In the end things start to click and you can sniff out CR answers with ease and vertical reading of SC answer choices will be second nature. On exam day I felt like I knew exactly what they could or would ask for regarding the RC passages, only after q30 did CR get nuts and there were a some bold face and odd rephrase the argument questions that had 2 right answers (or atleast that's how they looked when i knew i had to move on).
I know sentence correction and 2 CR problems killed my verbal score, and I missed the last two questions in quant as well (making it extremely hard to get that section out of my head before rolling into verbal) but in the end I finished each section with 3/4 seconds on the clock so I'm not going to complain. We all can find the right answers when we are relaxed. In the heat of the moment you need to lean on the fact that you are going to have to let a few fall by the way side. My first experience with the GMAT I learned it the hard way. Trust me knowing you tanked on Quant because you are in the heavy hitter questions but don't have the time to answer any of them correctly is excruciating.
For those testing before the change to the new format GOOOOOD LUCK and STAY CALM!!! and for those testing next year, i hope this helps a bit. It's a marathon so PACE yourself.
"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" Darwin