Hey guys I took the GMAT on saturday Nov 12 and scored a pretty decent 780 (49q 50v). It was my second attempt after I let my nerves get to me during my first attempt a month ago and bungled the Math section. To start off with a little background info: I am a caucasian male from the US, and I've been living in the Chicagoland area for about a year. I'm planning to apply next year to start business school in 2013. I wanted to get the GMAT out of the way early since I have had a decent amount of free time lately as I only work 9-5 mon-fri. I really developed a plan and started studying hard early July of this year. Study Plan:
To kick off my studies I took a MGMAT practice test to see what my starting point would be. I ended up with a 630 (36q 40v). Overall I was pretty indifferent about this score since I didn't really know what to expect. I was, however, pleased with the verbal score, and in reviewing my mistakes I found that nearly all of my verbal errors came from SC questions. As for quant, the last math class I took was high school calculus in 2003, that class along with a relatively high ACT math score allowed me to opt out of math during college so with 8 years between me and any math class, I had forgotten even basic principles such as order of operations and number properties.
At that point I ordered the foundations of math book and started working through that. It took me about 2 weeks, sepnding about 2 hours each day. I followed it up with my 2nd MGMAT test and scored a 700 (44q, 41v) Seeing that 700 really boosted my confidence and gave me a lot of motivation to set up and follow a structured study plan. My plan was to work through the MGMAT SC
guide followed by the 5 MGMAT quant books. I also figured that I would order the Veritas
work books to give myself more practice problems. My plan also included taking one practice test per week and keeping a detailed log of what I studied each day, how many hours I spent, and how many practice problems I did and the number missed. Through the rest of my study until my first test I averaged 2 hours a day on weekdays and 4 to 5 hours on each weekend day.
I ended up working through the following materials
- MGMAT SC
- MGMAT 5 quant books
- OG 12th
edition, Quant 2nd Edition
- About 10 GMATclub tests
Practice tests used:
- 6 MGMAT tests
- 2 GMATprep tests
- completed twice each
- 2 Veritas Gmat
- Free 800 score test
- Free Princeton review
The week before my test I started to feel VERY restless and antsy and I think I made some poor decisions regarding how I approached the last week. Rather than find methods to relax, I fed my stress by forcing myself to do a practice test each of the three days before my test. By the time test day arrived (Oct 8) I was totally wound up, psyched out, and stressed. Add in the fact that I slept very poorly the few nights leading up to my test, and I think I kinda shot myself in the foot.
My test was at noon, I got there about an hour early, and they let me in around 11:30 to start. I don't remember much about the essays to be honest. I hadn't really prepared for them much - the week before I printed off Chineseburned's templates which I think are very good. Anyway, they went fine, I ended up with a 5.5.
I started the quant section and my mind seemed to close down. My first question was a basic algebraic translation dealing with percentages. In a normal setting its the type of question that would take me 45 seconds or a minute maximum to solve. It took me four minutes, and not only that but I couldn't put the equation down on my pad and ended up having to plug and chug answer choices. The second question, same thing happened. Finally I calmed down a bit and was able to work quickly through the following 5-6 questions. Then I got a string of coordinate geometry questions. This has been one of my weakest areas in Q, and I got 5 coordinate geometry questions in a span of 12 questions. That really threw me off and fueled my nervousness. By the time I finished the section I pretty much knew I hadn't performed well.
I started verbal feeling a bit down, but as usual, it wasn't too bad for me. The one surprise was an RC passage I got. It was longer than anything I had encountered in any of my preparation or practice tests. I believe it was 6 lengthy paragraphs.
I agreed to accept the score. When it popped up my heart sank. 730 (45v 45q). 730 is a respectable score, but mine was very lopsided. 45q is only the 71st percentile and the 45v is the 99th. I went straight home and scheduled a retake. You are required to wait 31 days between sittings, and the 12th of Nov was the first available spot that worked for me. The following month:
After my test I took a week off of studying to gather my thoughts. I decided that I already knew the material, my goal would be to just study enough to keep everything fresh, and at the same time stay relaxed. I spent a couple of days going over coordinate geometry, as that was something that affected me in the first sitting, after that I studied an hour or so each day and that was it. I mainly reviewed the MGMAT quant books, and did various practice problems in the OG Quant
2nd edition. As time went on, I came to terms with the 730 and I got to the point where I knew that I would be ok with my score. With that mindset I was able to go into my second attempt completely relaxed and it was like I was taking a practice test. Second attempt:
I arrived at the testing center early again, this time they didn't allow me to start early. I sat down right at noon but I felt good, I was relaxed. I knew I was capable of the 99th percentile but I no longer felt the pressure I did the first time.
The biggest mistake of my entire test came during the first essay. I had written the entire thing and was going back through doing some minor edits, but I wasn't paying enough attention to the clock. I started to add in one last sentence on the end of my third paragraph, got about 3 or 4 words down and noticed time was down to 2 seconds. I quickly tried to delete it, but was unable to. I have no idea what this will do to my essay score. Hopefully it won't affect it much. The second essay went fine, I'll update when I know my AWA score.
Before the math section started I wrote down the timing - 10 minutes off the clock for every 5 questions. As the math started, the initial questions were quite easy and I was able to get about 5 minutes ahead of schedule. Question 12 was my first somewhat difficult/strange question. It was a DS question with a graph that described a certain period of time. It then gave me a function for another period of time, and asked for a relationship. It ended up being quite simple once I figured out what was going on, but it was something I had never seen before. I got 1 combinatorics, a few geometry, some rate and work problems, and a surprising number of venn diagram type questions. Overall the majority of the questions weren't too bad, there were two that I really felt challenged on and had to guess. The last question ended up being one that was calculation intensive, but I was down to 1:30 on the clock and was able to whittle it down to two choices but ended up having to guess between the two before time ran out. Overall I felt satisfied with how it had gone.
Verbal started with some obvious SC questions. For RC I ended up getting 4 passages. Three were short - about 2 paragraphs, and one was medium length - I think 4 paragraphs. I didn't get any that compared to the length of that one from my first test. From the entire verbal section, I only remember one question in particular that I wasn't quite sure about. It was a CR question, I was able to narrow it down to two answer choices, spent a bit of extra time on it, and finally just picked the answer that I felt made more sense. By question 20 I still had 50 minutes left so I really tried to slow down for the second half of the verbal, I still ended up finishing 18 minutes early, but I was quite confident in my answers.
As I clicked through the final screens I was confident that I had performed at a 760 level. When the score popped up with 780 - 49q 50v my jaw dropped. I was astounded because the best score I had attained in practice was 770. Anyway it is a great feeling, and even now I still look back at my print out here and there to make sure I'm seeing it right.
Edit: UPDATE: I have been getting a number of requests for my specific strategies for Quant and Verbal so I will try to give a few meager thoughts.Verbal Strategy:
To be honest, verbal has never been too much of an issue for me. I'm a native speaker and I've always read a lot of books, plus I naturally read very quickly so that is a huge benefit for RC. If my wife and I are reading the same page I can finish it in about half the time she does. CR and RC always just kind of clicked for me, I was simply able to see through the arguments and easily make inferences. So I'm not sure how helpful my explanations will be, but hopefully I can give some sort of useful feedback. I guess the best way to do this will be to go through each question type and talk about how I approach it.
- Sentence Correction: Sentence correction was originally my weakest area in verbal. Since people generally speak and write with incorrect grammar, it was difficult for me to try and hear the correct answer. Fortunately there aren't really that many rules to learn that are tested on the GMAT, less now that idioms have been removed.
For study material, the MGMAT SC
guide is the only thing I have experience with but I highly recommend it, as it provides adequate overview of all of the major parts of grammar tested. I would also suggest doing the SC questions from the OG in the order they are presented in the OG rather than doing them by error type as you would by following the MGMAT end of chapter OG problem sets. This forces you to look for every possible error type, rather than just looking for a specific issue that you just read a chapter on. I read through the SC guide within the first couple weeks of studying and found that just by doing a few random SC practice problems every day or two I never really had to revisit the guide, and by the time I finished the SC questions from the OG, I was able to pick out errors very quickly. If you can get your average time for SC questions down to 45 seconds or a minute that will allow you to have more time for RC.
When facing SC questions I always cut out the excess from the sentence so all that is left is the very fundamental part of the sentence. That makes it quite a bit easier to see if there are errors with verb/subject, dangling modifiers, correct tense, parallelism etc. Also it is common on low and mid level questions that multiple answer choices will have the same error, so you can often eliminate 2 or sometimes even 3 answer choices by finding a single error - on harder questions that isn't the usually the case. Make sure you have A-E written on your pad so you can eliminate error choices as soon as you find errors.
- Reading Comprehension: As I mentioned before I benefit from being a native speaker and a quick reader. In my practice tests I consistently finished the verbal section 15-20 minutes early so I always tried to spend extra time taking notes on the RC passages and making sure I really understood the main points, as well as how the points are connected. When I come across a a portion of the passage that I don't quite grasp I read it over 2 or 3 times until I understand how it fits in. For passages that are difficult and hard/impossible to really understand - like the technical science passages that crop up from time to time - don't get bogged down with the technical terms. For example if it starts talking about how a disease functions on the cellular level just give the technical term an initial or shorthand name and see how it connects to other things in the passage. This takes some practice because the point is to try to understand the context without really knowing what it actually means.
- Critical Reasoning: CR has typically been my best question type. Like RC, I never really had problems with CR so I never bothered to study it at all so I can't comment on any materials. A few high level questions such as boldface, and those that ask which argument best mirrors the original argument were in my opinion the hardest types and often required a little extra time to think about to make sure I got them right.
The biggest step for me in CR was recognizing the scope of prompt. Answer choices may make sense, but if they are outside the scope of the prompt then they are still wrong. Quant Strategy:
As I mentioned above I had a lot of ground to make up with quant as I hadn't taken a math class in years so about 95% of my study time was dedicated to quant. I think I am definately in the minority on GMATclub in that regard, as many people here are quant jocks. But for anyone in a situation like mine I highly recommend the foundations of math guide by MGMAT as a starting point. This really helped me get a grasp on the very fundamental principles of math such as order of operations, number properties, as well as algebraic techniques.
Once I had that book under my belt I moved on to the other 5 MGMAT quant guides and worked through them in order. First I read through them skipping the advanced sections. Later I read them again, reviewing each book and really studying the advanced sections. I definately recommend these guides as well. The math is very GMAT specific and you learn a lot of tricks about how to approach GMAT problems.
The Veritas guides
are ok. I think they would have been more useful if I had worked through them when I was just starting out, because the problems are VERY easy throughout until the combinatorics/probability guide and the Advanced quant guide. Also don't buy them expecting a guide book packed with strategies like MGMAT. On average they have maybe 10-12 pages of explanations, and then the rest of the pages are practice problems - 1 problem per page. I do recommend the Combinatorics and Probability guide to anyone who wants to learn those concepts.
- Problem Solving: I'm going to give a couple thoughts that I gave to someone else on another thread. My thought is that pretty much all of the questions you will find on the GMAT can easily be solved in 2 minutes, or max 2.5 minutes - but that is once you realize HOW to solve it. The tricksy thing with advanced level questions is that they are written in a more devious manner. For example they might incorporate multiple topics or subject matters, they will have more traps, and word problems will be harder to 'decode' so to speak. The actual calculations are generally no more difficult than lower level questions, but figuring out how to solve the problem and separating out the different parts of the problem is what makes them tougher. The main thing is that you have to be learn to just wing it when you see a problem that doesn't look familiar, and that takes practice - especially for someone like me who doesn't have a strong quantitative background.
By wing it, I mean don't always rely on pure traditional math. For example don't be afraid to plug in answer choices if a problem looks too time consuming, or confusing to try to solve in a traditional method. Also make estimates or round numbers to simplify equations and eliminate answer choices. Also learn good guessing techniques, many of the traps that the GMAT uses are quite common.
The other key thing is that you have to be very effective in managing your time. I said all problems can be solved in around 2 minutes, but it is VERY easy to sit there going in circles around a problem you don't understand. Its natural to want to get every question right, but in a case like that you HAVE to make a guess. Take a stab or two at the question, if you still don't get it, eliminate any answer choices you can and make a guess. So if after about a minute, you aren't sure that you're on track to come up with the right answer, move on because it isn't worth it to waste more time at the risk of missing questions you do know how to answer, or running out of time.
Getting behind always killed me. As soon as I felt like I was behind on time I would try to race through problems to catch back up and make stupid errors. The best thing for timing is to stay on top of it, and manage it throughout the entire test. I may have mentioned this elsewhere but I wrote the following on my every other page of my pad:
5 - 65
10 - 55
15 - 45
20 - 35
25 - 25
30 - 15
35 - 5
The first column is the question number, and the second column is how many minutes you should have left.
- Data Sufficiency: DS is tricky because of its unique format, but once you get the hang of them, they are pretty much the same as PS, and can be approached in a similar manner. The difference is that sometimes you can do them quicker because you don't have to do the calculations. On the other hand, I think its easier to fall into DS traps because you often don't work the problem through to completion.
My main suggestion is to use the AD BCE thing to keep straight what answer choices have been eliminated. Also, and this is probably obvious, make sure you memorize the answer choices so you don't have to think twice about looking at them or reading them in a testing situation.
Other than that, practice and dedication to your study plan is what will help the most, it takes a lot of work, a lot of hours, and thousands of practice problems, but it really feels like a great accomplishment when its over.