I've wanted to write this post for almost 2 years now. But I hesitated because well, so many of you are breaking the 750 sound barrier! What do I have to offer? I hope some of you out there will relate to my experience and benefit from it. But bear in mind that this is going to be a long post. You can go to the subsections directly if you want:
A. The ‘What were you thinking?’ prep
B. A long hard look at myself
C. April 09th 2012
D. To re take or not to retake?
E. The final preparation
F. Test day,May 20th, 2012
G. Materials used
H. Lessons learnedA. The ‘What were you thinking?’ prep:
I first started my prep in March 2010. I read up about the GMAT, found a great tutor in Bangalore and signed up for his class. But in less than a month, I was losing interest. My math skills, which were rusty after college, were nonexistent. I couldn’t even do mental Math in my head. Not the fancy pants mental math, I mean stuff like splitting 720 by 2 or adding 50 and 47. And there I was, stranger in a strange land with all these jocks who kept solving problems, minute after minute! I couldn’t keep pace and I lost interest.
Verbal on the other hand was great. CR was tough at first, but I savored it towards the end of the course. There were other problems too. I was having trouble concentrating. I’m used to taking a 30 minute break every hour in the office. This habit is really bad for the GMAT. You have to sit still and concentrate for 75 minutes. Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared and rescheduled my GMAT appointment from June of that year to Dec ember and then March 2011.
And guess what. In March, I cancelled my appointment and booked a new one for June 2011. If you think I was nuts at this point, you’re right. This time I was determined to keep my date with destiny. I took 10 days off work, buckled down and began studying. I used my tutor’s handouts, which were a compilation of problems from OG, Quant review, MGMAT, questions from BTG and the GMAT club. I purchased two MGMAT books
and signed up for their practice tests. I was doing pretty well, starting from 640 to almost 740 in the test. I had managed this in only 10 days of real study? Wow.
The night before the test day, I couldn’t sleep. I was nervous and edgy when I woke up. It was a damp morning and I had no time to calm myself as the exam was at 9. I reached the center: without breakfast and exhausted. After the AWA, I found the Quant section downright tiring. To make matters worse, I kept yawning madly. I kept shouting at myself, ‘Stop that, stop that! Focus focus!’ Ah, it didn’t work. By the middle, I had already given up and was mentally preparing myself for a retake. The score: 540B. A long hard look at myself:
The humiliation of the score brought into full focus the lack of respect I gave to this test and to me. A few hours later at a mall I swore to get a 700+ score or to die trying (overly dramatic, no?
A few weeks later, I began to do some soul searching. I had never seen a test like the GMAT before. I decided to take note of my major stumbling blocks:
- Math was a huge pain. All my life I studied Math only to ace the exam, never bothering to learn the logic behind the formula or why we use it (why bother when you can get the A grade without knowing all that!).
Instead my little rat brain would search for the numbers, pull out a formula from the bag and stuff the numbers in there to make a solution! This was bad Math learning and I had to undo it. The GMAT is all about the logic and mental discipline. No rat brain math.
-I had to learn how to sit still for longer periods and concentrate. Build stamina.
-I had to learn how to control my mortal fear of Math. How to think calmly and work through a problem.
-Finally, I asked myself some hard questions, “Why the heck would I go through so much trouble? Do I know why I am re taking? What I want out of an MBA?’
So I spent 6 months, learning about the value of an MBA, what it can do for my career, where I ought to pursue it and the kind of applicants B schools were looking for. In short, I was doing my B school research. While others prefer to take the GMAT and then worry about school selection, I did all my homework first. The information gave me the burning motivation to take the GMAT again, and to take it well.
Next I tackled mental Math in February.I solved questions in the office whenever I got a chance. I did Verbal exercises on my phone. I took one mock test every weekend. I used various GMAT apps on my friend’s Ipod. Whenever I went grocery shopping with my boyfriend, he made me add up all the prices of the items in my head before we reached the checkout counter
This last bit was very useful. I was weaned off my calculator. With each week, my score was improving. I started from 680 and went up to 740. I also made a spreadsheet of all questions I got wrong and went over them every alternate day. I used the same MGMAT test set and downloaded the next gen GMATprep. In the last week, I did mock tests everyday with the AWA section. I could sit for a long duration without fidgeting.C. April 09, 2012:
I had a good night’s sleep this time. My exam was at 3pm. After eating a sensible lunch, I set out for the exam hall. It was very hot and I had to change buses. This made me slightly tired. At the center, I settled down and started with AWAs. They went by easily. Now for the quant. The first question looked like Greek and Latin to me. I struggled on it for a bit, then finally guessed and moved on. This cost me 3 minutes. After the 5th or 6th question, I noticed that they were getting easier but I was unable to solve them. I was panicky. I began to breathe deeply to calm myself. I managed to regain my composure and I did well through the middle of the section, but towards the end, I was running out of time, and I panicked again. I guessed on the last 5 questions and finished with a few seconds to spare.
I ran to the bathroom and splashed some cold water. My mind was spinning. ‘Okay what just happened there? I haven’t done as well as I expected. Maybe I’ll get a 70th percentile. It’s ok. Don’t screw up Verbal. We can still push the score above 700.”
Since I’ve always finished the Verbal section 15-20 minutes ahead of time, I decided to take my time on the harder questions. But then disaster struck. 30 minutes into the section, and my stomach began to ache really badly. I couldn’t focus and some minutes went by. I agonized over taking an unscheduled break or fighting it out. I decided to fight it out. I took deep breaths and ignored my stomach ache. 20 minutes to go and the aching finally stopped. I was running out of time, and I raced through each question. I had to guess on many CR questions. I was very upset.
My hands shook as I asked to report my scores. Out popped the 710. Q44, V42. Quant was a bitter disappointment and Verbal was a surprise. Right then, I knew I would never be happy with that score. I got a 6 in AWA.D. To re take or not to re take?
My friends were ecstatic for me and said I was crazy to consider yet another retake. But I was worried. Could I afford to submit this score? Did I have other evidence of quant ability? I looked at my transcript. I got really bad grades in Math in my first few semesters. Even building an alternate transcript didn’t seem to be the solution. Finally a day after the exam, I found another date in May, well before the new IR section. I’d rather do everything to plug in weaknesses than submit a half baked application and wonder ‘If only’.E. The Final preparation:
Again I noted down my weaknesses:
-Math had improved a lot. I was now in the 600-700 range I’d say. But any question tougher than that level, and I’d crumble.
-My basics were shaky in certain Math topics.
-I was still unable to control my nervousness in the Quant section. Also during Quant, my little voice would say, “Look! An easy question! You must be screwing up! Or look! A hard question. You must be getting better.” This was distracting
-Took an exam date at 5pm on the 20th of May
-Religiously followed the ‘Thursdays with Ron’ series. This guy is awesome. I cleared my basics on Ratios, word problems and rate because of him.
-Bought the GMATprep question pack 1 and GMAT club’s set of tests. This was expensive for me, but it was the best investment I could have ever made. I wish I had known of these before. They were instrumental in raising my quant score.
-Practiced exclusively on GMAT prep and GMAT club tests
. The GMAT club tests
are good for you if you are sub 700 and are trying to break in. But they will make you cry and tear your hair out. The questions are really tough but after 6-8 tests I stopped getting nervous. This is what happens when you are exposed to tough questions all the time. But do not take these tests if you get disheartened easily.F. Test day, May 20th, 2012:
And so here I was, back again. I was not nervous at all since the memory of my last attempt was still fresh. This time, I struggled to find some points on AWA but it still went pretty well. Then came quant. I found the questions tough, but I solved most of them and guessed on 4-5 questions. I had not practiced a lot of verbal for this re take and so the questions were tougher than before. I ended the exam and waited. I was sure I had screwed up.
720. The 10 point jump was annoying. But it was only for a second. When I saw the break up (Q49, V40), I was overjoyed. I never ever expected to do that well on Quant. At one point, it even seemed that I might do worse than in April. But it’s all over now
I got a 6 for the AWA.G. Material used:
Math work book to build solving skills.
-MGMAT Number properties
and Inequalities. I recommend the number properties guide
to everyone. This book is fabulous.
-GMAT prep question pack 1 and the GMAT club tests
. I owe my quant jump to these resources. I stopped thinking about the difficulty of the question and instead, worked through it.
-Powerscore for CR. I solved only a couple of questions from this but it’s good for those who struggle with CR.
-Jeff Sackmann’s Total GMAT Math
. This was concise and great to start building my skills. But they don’t go into detail like MGMAT. So you need to know your basics before you try this
-Thursdays with Ron. Solving word problems was a breeze after watching his sessions. He also gives great sessions on Verbal topics too.
-I highly recommend that you start reading the Economist
. This helped a lot. The language is almost the same that is used in the GMAT. I could see RC passages and CR questions in every article. They really prepare you for RC and CR. Anyways you have to read them later on, so do it now!H. Lessons learned:
•Know thy study pattern and work within it:
For example, I can’t keep up a full month of studying. There are highs and lows and I went on full steam for 2 weeks before the test. Consider this and anything else like hectic work days or possible sickness when you schedule your exam
•Always remember that the questions can be solved in approximately 2 minutes. This means that the questions can never be heavy in terms of calculation. Even if they look scary, there has to be a shorter way to solve it. If you find yourself working on a question for more than 3 minutes, you know you’re not doing it right. Be smart. Always avoid lengthy solutions.
•Many of us have recommended material to look into, but I suggest that you shop around and find resources that help you tackle your weak areas. Many of them are free. GMAT club is great that way. They have some wonderful tutorials on speed distance time and work.
•Keep noting down your weak areas and work on them one by one. As you get closer to the exam, you should see that list of weak areas shrinking.
•There are stages in the preparation. First we work on our basics. Then we tackle harder questions. When we’re comfortable with tough questions, we then look at pacing and stamina. Don’t try to time yourself in the early stages of your prep. You’ll stress yourself out.
•Practice guessing and letting go of questions in your mock tests. It may be tempting to hit the stop watch and spend more time, but in the real exam, you can’t do that. If you learn to let go in the mocks, you’ll find that guessing on the harder questions won’t be stressful for you in during the exam.
•Simple things go a long way
. On the advice of another member, I put my drinks and eatables in my jacket and hung it outside my locker. During the break, I didn’t waste time opening the locker. I saved 3 minutes this way.
•During your mock tests, use the same eatables and drinks that you would use in the exam. Don’t try anything new on the exam day. If you’ve never had Red Bull, don’t lug it along to the center. I carried almonds and sunflower seeds and cold green tea to the center. I can’t eat more than that during an exam.
•After you’ve built your skills, take as many mock tests as you can. Adhere to break timings during mocks. Again be wise with what company mock tests to use. Some test prep mocks are not similar to the actual GMAT and you may get too comfortable with that style of questioning. I found GMAT prep question pack 1 to be the best. Some of the types of questions were brand new and similar types appeared in the exam.
•I am not a morning person and yet my first exam was scheduled early in the morning. Absolute no no. Take the test at a time when you are at your best. Do the mocks in the same time frame.
•Remember to breathe deeply. Do it often during the exam and your nervousness will stop.
•Tip for RC. If you find yourself short of time, read the passage very quickly, taking in only the main points of the passage. Pay attention to words like therefore, however. This will help you narrow down the main point of the passage. I managed to solve 2 RC passages plus other questions in fewer than 20 minutes this way.
•The rule of thumb for most people is to spend a maximum of 3 minutes on a question before you move on. But don’t keep looking at the clock every now and then while solving. Again, practice helps. When you work on a question, work on a question. I didn’t bother with the time limit in the beginning, spending up to 3 minutes on some questions. Again this is up to you. Find what suits you best.
•Finally relax! Give the GMAT the respect it deserves. As you progress, you’ll develop an appreciation for the questions and the test makers. Don’t take things too seriously or you’ll stress out. Nothing kills a good performance like stress.
So there you have it. My novella of a debrief. I hope you guys find this stuff useful. Please let me know how your prep goes along. I went from someone who curled into a ball at the sight of a Math question to someone who actively cut through each one. Do let me know if you need any help.
My MBA application journey, one step at a time https://spoonfulofmba.wordpress.com