Hey guys! Just finished my GMAT journey on Monday, and with everything I've gained from hanging around this community over the last few months, it's time for me to give back. Here's my debrief.Intro
First, a little background. I'm an engineer by trade, been out of school for about four years now. I attended a top non-Ivy for my Bachelor's and Master's, then got a job straight out of grad school that I've been at since then. I'm planning on applying this fall for matriculation in summer/fall 2015 (depending on the program).
I've always been extremely good at standardized tests. I've received 99th percentile scores for as long as I can remember...it's one of those things that you just start to take for granted after a while. (I know, poor me, right?) Never had to prep, never got stressed out during tests, and never had to deal with results that told me I needed to change my ways. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
Well, suffice it to say that college and grad school forced me to reexamine my ways. Engineering programs at top universities have a way of kicking you in the teeth. (I still remember that one day during finals week when I programmed and wrote final papers for 20 hours in a 24-hour period, including one 15-hour coding stretch. Ahh, college...) I realized that I could not afford to rest on my laurels if I wanted to be successful outside of school, especially given the economy around the time I graduated.
So, long story short, I finished undergrad, saw that the economy was horrible, did what every other person seems to do in similar situations and went to grad school, got out, and started working. I started out pretty happy at my job. I was recruited by a fellow alum to be the first hire in a new branch of the company (and who doesn't want to work in R&D as their first job out of school?). I worked there for two or three years without any problems. With recent shakeups at the company, though, including the departure of many higher-ups (my hiring boss among them), I realized about a year ago that I needed a change. After researching my options, I decided that business school was the best path to a new career.GMAT Studying, Year 1
So I did what any rational person would do--I went out and bought fifteen books about the GMAT. (That's not an exaggeration. I'm staring at the pile of books right now. I'll give the full rundown later, but it's all the usuals--MGMAT, Aristotle, OG13, OG Verbal
, OG Quant
, and PowerPrep, among others. Looking at them now, I can't decide if I want to hold onto them for sentimental reasons, sell them all off to recoup my costs, or have a giant bonfire to celebrate being done.) And I went to work on the material. As I alluded to before, I had absolutely HORRIBLE study habits pre-college. I probably studied more in my first year of college than I had in all of my schooling before then combined. (That's engineering weed-out courses for you. Or just weed-out courses in general, I suppose.) After going through college and grad school, my studying habits were top-notch. I started looking at the material in September 2012, but I didn't really pick up the pace until after Christmas. I can still remember sitting down in my parents' kitchen, a few days after Christmas, after everyone else had gone to bed, and deciding then and there that I was going to ace the GMAT.
I made my way through all the relevant material, going from MGMAT quant to advanced MGMAT quant
to critical reasoning and sentence correction, and then back to quant. I knew that I was getting a hang of the material, as I was getting fewer questions wrong and getting to correct answers more quickly with each pass through the material. I took two MGMAT CATs, scoring 740 (Q47/V44) and 710 (Q48/V39). I knew that I still had some work to do, but I was happy with the progress I was making. Despite my progress, I didn't bother to make a GMAT appointment.DON'T DO THIS.
Seriously. No matter how much drive you have, no matter how much you want it, you're going to wear down over time. You're going to look at your MGMAT advanced quant
book and think, "I've already been through that book three times, and it's Friday night. I'm going to grab drinks with friends tonight. I'll get back to studying tomorrow." And you'll slowly but surely start to step away from studying. You'll go from studying every lunch hour, every night before bed, and every weekend, to glancing over a few questions on your lunch hour a couple times a week and reading for a couple hours on Sunday night. It's inevitable. Your brain craves new experiences, and at a certain point, GMAT studying ceases to be a new experience. You'll convince yourself that you're just recharging for a couple days, and then you'll get right back to studying. But you won't. Before you know it, it'll be mid-April, six months before Round 1 applications are due, and you still
haven't scheduled your exam.
How do I know this? Because this is exactly what happened to me.
Yes, I started seriously studying in December, putting in close to 20 hours a week, and by mid-April, I was completely burned out and hadn't made an appointment to take the exam yet. It didn't help that I went through relationship drama starting in mid-March that made me question whether I really wanted to go to school for two years and then work as a consultant away from home for a few years after that. It also didn't help that, from early March on, I was spending much of my free time attempting to found a company with a couple other people. My B-school drive began to waver, and by the end of April, I had essentially stopped studying for the GMAT. I told people that I was pushing my application back a year so that I could work on founding my company, but I honestly didn't know if I would actually apply the following year. The relationship drama had made me really question whether this was the right career path for me. Did I really want to leave everything and everyone I knew for two years, take out $150K in loans (which would be added to my undergrad and grad school loans, which were/are a far cry from being paid down), and gamble on an MBA? I wasn't so sure anymore. Maybe I could just work on my company in my spare time (of which I had plenty, since I wasn't studying for the GMAT anymore), continue to work as an engineer during the day, and see how things played out.
I put all my GMAT books back on the shelf and went back to my normally scheduled life.GMAT Studying, Year 2
I was content for all of about six months before I started to question my decisions. The relationship drama had come and gone, and I was again starting to think about getting away from everyone for a couple years. The company I founded had been front-and-center in my life for a few months, but full-time commitments among all three founding members were pulling us away from the project. It was decided that we would put it on the back-burner until we all had more time to focus on it, as there was no point half-assing a new business venture. And as I mentioned earlier, the company I worked at during the day was starting to come apart at the seams. Where did that leave me?
My thoughts returned to business school.
It was September 2013. Here I was, one year later, having effectively forgotten everything I had learned for the GMAT. Did I really want to go through all that suffering again, prepping for the exam, giving up my lunch hours, nights, and weekends, just to gamble on business school? How much did I really want it?
I dusted off the books and got back to work.
I had the entire collection of MGMAT guides
, so I started out going through those for quant, including the advanced quant book. I also used OG13, OG Quant
Review, and Jeff Sackmann's Total GMAT Math
. I started working through some of the official problems in OG13, but I found them so easy (getting through more than half of them without missing a question) that I decided there were better ways to spend my time. Later on in my studies, I started focusing on GMAT Club quant CATs, which were among some of the best questions I encountered in terms of mimicking the official GMAT questions. I made it through 9 quant CATs by the end of my journey and scored Q51 on all but one of the tests.
I've always been extremely strong with math, so I knew that it wouldn't be out of the question that I could pull off a Q50 or Q51 on exam day, if I didn't make any stupid mistakes. That's where I've always gotten tripped up--I tend to skip so many steps in my head that small errors could be extremely hard to diagnose. On the upside, I tended to take non-traditional paths toward the answers, so my errors often wouldn't match up with the errors that the test-makers expected people to make; this was a huge benefit for PS questions, as my wrong answers usually weren't found in the answer choices. Obviously, this wasn't the case for DS questions, so I couldn't count on using that as a safety net. But it was a nice added bonus for taking a non-traditional path toward the answer.
As far as verbal goes, I didn't think I had much to worry about. I'm an engineer, but I've never had problems with reading and writing. I worked my way through PowerPrep Critical Reasoning and MGMAT Sentence Correction
and skimmed MGMAT Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. Later in my studies, I also bought Aristotle Sentence Correction, as I had heard so many good things about it on these forums. (I wasn't overly impressed...but at that point, I had spent so much time with MGMAT SC
that I probably didn't need to start working through a new book, anyway.) And obviously I worked through the official problems in OG13 and OG Verbal
Review. By the end of my studies, I had made it through all the critical reasoning questions without any errors, and I was averaging 90-95% correct on sentence correction and reading comprehension.
Three months into my studying, in January 2014, I made the appointment for my official exam. I scheduled it for March 24, 2014. I had a little under three months to finish my prep.
It was time to start taking MGMAT CATs.
I had already taken the first two MGMAT CATs in 2012, scoring 740 and 710. My third and fourth tests resulted in scores of 730 (Q45/V45) and 740 (Q47/V45). At this point, I expected (according to everything that I had read online) to have inflated scores for the remaining tests, as I was running out of 750-level questions. This was confirmed by the results of my last two tests--780 (Q51/V45) and 780 (Q51/V45). I got 6Q and 4V wrong on the first 780, and 4Q and 4V wrong on the second 780. From these results, I expected my actual score to be somewhere between 740 and 780.
One month left.
I purposely left the two GMAT Prep exams for my last month of studying. I wanted to focus on nothing but official questions in my final weeks of prep in order to get a better feel for the test. MGMAT and GMAT Club questions/CATs are amazing for studying and simulating the exam for endurance purposes, but nothing compares to official questions from GMAC. I took the first GMAT Prep exam about four weeks out from the exam, scoring 770 (Q50/V47). Quant was pretty straightforward, but I mismanaged my time near the end of the exam and ended up rushing through the last few questions. Verbal was a lot harder than any MGMAT material I had used, but this fact is not accurately reflected in my overall score--I wasn't overly confident on many of my answers, but I ended up guessing right on the large majority of them. ("Guessing" might be a bad word choice there; on most of the questions that I wasn't sure about, I could narrow the answer down to two choices, I just couldn't seem to eliminate either of the two from contention.) I only ended up getting four verbal questions wrong, and they were pretty evenly distributed throughout the test.
Three weeks left.
I continued to prep in my free time, but I started to scale it back a bit. I knew the material like the back of my hand at this point. I had already scored 99th-percentile scores on my last three CATs, including one of the official practice exams. I had already gone through all the MGMAT guides
multiple times this time around, and many more times back in 2012-13. I wasn't picking up anything new. I just needed to make sure that I didn't screw it up at this point.
Two weeks left.
Time for my last GMAT Prep exam. I again felt very confident about my performance on quant, and I again felt that verbal was a lot more difficult than any of the MGMAT or Official Guide material I had prepared with. But I again scored 770 (Q50/V44). My verbal score dropped, but I still managed to miss only four questions. (Three of the four incorrect answers came in the last eight questions of the test, which is probably why my score dropped so much compared to last time.)
One week left.
So here I was, one week out from the GMAT exam. I had taken six CATs over the last two and a half months, and I had never scored lower than 730 on any of them. On the last four CATs, I had scored 780-780-770-770. I could not have done much better than that. I decided to ease up on the studying over the last week to make sure that I didn't burn myself out before the official exam. I continued to look over practice questions from official sources to stay in the groove, but I wasn't going to learn anything new at this point. I just had to not screw up at this point.Test Day
As I mentioned near the beginning of my post, I've always been a good standardized test-taker. I might stress out before the test, but when it's go time, I'm completely focused. This time would be no different. I spent the day before the test going over official questions through the GMAT Prep software, going over my two GMAT Prep CATs to review every question, and taking a little time to focus on the less important parts of the exam (AWA and IR strategy, mostly). I got to bed relatively early (12:30-1) and couldn't believe how easily I fell asleep the night before the test. No tossing and turning for me.
I woke up around 8, and my test was at noon at a test center about 10 minutes away from my apartment. That gave me roughly four hours to finish prepping, shower, buy supplies for my 8-minute breaks, and get over to the Pearson office. I went over my GMAT Prep exams one more time, did about 25 practice questions through the GMAT Prep software, got cleaned up, and headed out. I made it to the office about 45 minutes before the test. I read through the official testing procedures, got my palm veins scanned, snapped a picture, and stashed my stuff in the locker. (I went with Gatorade and M&Ms for a sugar kick during my 8-minute breaks, which worked pretty well. Your mileage may vary.) Exam time.
AWA was up first. I got a pretty odd argument, but I didn't let it throw me. I started typing and just typed until I couldn't type anymore. I felt like I was just restating the same basic argument over and over again, with different hypothetical situations to prove or disprove the premises included in the original argument. By the end, I had a solid five paragraphs, and my writing extended to somewhere around two screen lengths. I felt like I had written more than I had in any of my previous CATs, and I was averaging between 700 and 800 words for those...I wouldn't be surprised if I wrote 1000 words for this one. (Side note: I am so unbelievably grateful that my parents made me learn how to touch type with Mavis Beacon when I was in grade school way back when. Being able to type 120 words per minute makes essays like this a breeze!) For better or worse, it seems like you're partially graded on the lengths of your sentences, so I took full advantage of lengthening techniques. I threw every modifier, and every potential way to join clauses, into the mix--em dashes, semicolons, colons, lengthy adjectives and adverbs, even a set of parentheses. I finished my essay with about two minutes to spare, so I read it over to make sure I didn't make any errors and then took a quick breather before integrated reasoning started.
I felt like integrated reasoning was pretty straightforward. It was certainly easier than MGMAT IR, but it was pretty similar in difficulty to GMAT Prep. I felt pretty confident that I was getting all the questions right, and I made pretty quick work of the first seven or eight questions. I had a moderately difficult multi-source reasoning problem that spanned three or four questions. I slowed down near the end, but I still finished with a few minutes on the clock, so I took another mini-break before raising my hand to get signed out for my first 8-minute break.
Drank Gatorade, had some M&Ms, used the restroom, tossed some cold water on my face, and headed back in. One third of the way there.
Quant started off well. I flew through the first ten or fifteen questions without any issues at all. At that point, I started getting some pretty convoluted geometry problems thrown at me. Geometry has always been one of my weak areas (I'm not "weak" per se, just weaker than other areas), so I tried to take my time to get through them correctly. I used up all the extra time that I had picked up in earlier questions and ended up guessing on one particularly difficult question before finding my groove again. The last ten questions or so were again pretty straightforward, though not exactly easy. I finished with a minute or two left on the clock. I double- and triple-checked my answer, then rested for a minute before submitting my answer. Overall, I felt like I had knocked it out of the park. I fully expected to see a Q50 or Q51 at the end of the test.
Second break. More Gatorade, more M&Ms, another trip to the restroom and cold water on my face, and then back to the testing room. One section left.
I started off verbal a little shaky. I had a pretty easy sentence correction question to start, then a little more difficult critical reasoning question, and then a few difficult sentence correction questions in a row. These were unlike a lot of other SC questions I had prepped with. Most of the time when I was prepping, I would be able to narrow it down to two answers fairly quickly, then take another thirty seconds or so to decide between them. I was almost always confident in my answer selection, and I hardly missed any questions in later CATs (maybe one incorrect answer a test, if that). But these were different. None of the answers sounded particularly good. I could point to parts of each answer that could
be considered incorrect...ambiguous pronoun usage was something that really annoyed me on some of these. There just isn't a great way to determine whether a pronoun can only refer to a specific earlier noun, as it comes down to how much personification can be correctly applied to certain objects/organizations/other non-people; for instance, can an organization made up of people take actions that are normally performed by said people? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. On a lot of these, it seemed to be a bit of a crapshoot, in that it often came down to me trying to figure out what the test-makers were trying to test, and acting accordingly. Chances are I screwed up on a few of them.
I got a couple long reading comprehension passages about a third of the way into the section. They were complicated passages, but they weren't nearly as dense/uninteresting as some of the ones I got through GMAT Prep. I think RC is often more luck-based than other sections, as you are better able to absorb material concerning subjects you're interested in. Luckily, I got a couple science/tech passages throughout the exam, making for pretty easy reading.
I was flying through most of the questions by midway through the section. I hit a lot of hard sentence correction and critical reasoning questions near the end, including a bold-faced CR in the last five or so; I've always thought this question type is among the easier question types for verbal, so seeing one late in the test and knowing that they're generally known to be difficult questions gave me a pretty good feeling about my chances.
I got to the last verbal question with about four minutes left. It was a sentence correction question testing modifiers, something that I've never had real issues with. I picked the answer, checked it three times, and submitted with a few minutes left on the clock. After filling out my official contact information for MBA.com and choosing that I wanted to submit my scores to the schools I had chosen at the beginning of the test, I hit Next
for the last time and saw my scores.
IR: 8, 93rd percentile.
Quantitative: 50, 89th percentile.
Verbal: 41, 93rd percentile.
Total: 750, 98th percentile.
I breathed a sigh of relief, walked out of the testing room, scanned my palm one final time, and headed out, high-fiving the woman at the front desk as she handed me my unofficial score report. (She had a huge smile on her face when she handed me my paper, and she told me that she knew I'd do well. I couldn't help but smile myself.)Conclusion
So there you have it. I received my official score report yesterday, confirming my earlier scores along with a 6.0 for AWA (currently 91st percentile). I confirmed that my scores were sent to Kellogg, Kellogg MMM, MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, and HBS. I guess that's about all I need to do in terms of the GMAT.
As moronic as it might sound, I couldn't help but feel a bit down about scoring 750 immediately after the test. After scoring in the 99th percentile on the last four CATs, I was expecting that, as long as I didn't screw anything up too badly, I would be able to score the same on the official test. But it wasn't meant to be; and four days after the test, I'm perfectly fine with my score now. It would have been nice to hit 760+, but at the end of the day, a 760+ wouldn't have gotten me in anywhere that a 750 wouldn't. If there's one thing that I've realized over the last week, it's that the GMAT is ultimately a means to an end.
As long as I get in at one of the schools I apply to, I'll be well on my way to achieving everything that I've been working toward for the last two years. And that's all I'm focused on now.
It's extremely easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the GMAT and lose sight of the bigger picture. If you take one thing from this post, let it be this: prepare for the GMAT, score well enough to get in where you want to go, and forget about it. It's a means to an end, and nothing more. The second you start attaching more meaning to it than this, you'll start to forget why you began studying in the first place. A three-digit score based on 78 questions cannot possibly define you. Do as well as you can on the exam--retake if you must--and then move on to more important aspects of your applications. No matter what happens, remember that it's just a test. And it's a test that you can
conquer, if you want it badly enough.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and best of luck with your own GMAT experiences!