Well folks, I did it. I achieved my goal of breaking 700. I've just spent the last 4 weeks studying ~ 60 hrs/wk and at the end of the day I scored 730 Q48 V42 5.5. Words cannot describe the feeling of relief I have now.
I must first give a special thanks to BB! Thank you, thank you, thank you…This website was invaluable to me preparing for the test. I’m very convinced that I would not have scored as well I did without this forum, and in return, I wanted to give something back by posting a few of my Lessons Learned for the benefit of others.
There are several others who I would like to give special thanks to, (whose forums benefitted me during my journey): chineseburned (ofcourse!), risys82, necromonger, KissGMAT, understudy, and many, many more….. I would also like to thank my sponsor MONSTER energy drinks, your sweet goodness gave me the energy to persevere after the 4th, 7th, 8th, and 11th hour of consecutive study each day leading up to the test.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, here is a quick background…..
I’m currently a Masters in Finance student looking to get my PhD in Finance. It seems like 700+ is the magic number. I knew it would be tough, and looking back, I clearly didn’t give myself enough time to study. Here’s a history of my scores
GRE (2007) 1380 Q 740 V 640
OG Paper 25 7/23/11 590 Q 40 V 31
MG CAT 1 7/29/11 650 Q 39 V 39
MG CAT 2 8/5/11 700 Q 46 V 39
GMATPrep1 8/9/11 650 Q 44 V 35
GMATPrep1 8/11/11 690 Q 44 V 40
GMATPrep2 8/15/11 710 Q 49 V 37
GMATACTUAL 8/16/11 730 Q 48 V 42 5.5
After a close evaluation at my scores over the past month, you might have noticed that it’s been a gut-wrenching past few weeks, with highs and lows through the process. After scoring 700 on 8/5/11, yes, I was feeling pretty good about myself. That air of confidence continued all the way up through the end of the GMATPrep1 exam on 8/9/11, at which point I received my practice test results. One week before my actual test, on the software that is supposedly the best indicator of how you will actually perform on test day, I scored 650, nowhere near the 700 I needed. PANIC!!!!!
After diagnosing my problems areas from the first GMATPrep 1, I started addressing some of my biggest problem areas, e.g. running out of time in the quantitative, missing more than half my SC on STUPID errors, arithmetic errors, the list goes on…..
Below is a list of lessons learned from my ordeal. Many of these lessons, opinions, strategies were gathered from other GMAT posts on this website. I think it is important to repost some of the points that are most important. Furthermore, there are a ton of lessons to be learned from the OG, too many to list here. Specifically the ones that contradict popular convention, such as 1) two equations are sufficient to solve for two variables or even that 2) two equations are enough to solve for two variables!!!!! (if that makes any sense). In other words, do and understand every Quant question in the official guide.
Material (that I used) – in order of importance
1. GMATPrep Software
2. OG 12th
3. GMATClub.com Forums (I did not do questions from GMAT club)
4. MG Sentence Correction
5. OG Quantitative
6. OG Verbal
7. MG Number Theory
8. MG Word Translations
9. MG (the rest of the series)
10. MG CAT Tests
My biggest mistake in preparing for the exam was not doing any of the quantitative questions from the OG until a week before the exam. I’ve always been good at “math”. And that’s the problem. The questions in the quantitative section are NOT necessarily “math” questions. They’re logic questions. They are hard to replicate without copywriting, and therefore the only source for questions as close to what you will see on the actual test is the OG.
Furthermore, you can get stuck in the weeds pretty quick. I spent almost three solid days on combinatorics problems (I got pretty good at them I might add), and guess how many I saw on the actual exam…..that’s right….zero! If I could go back, I would have spent that time answering ALL the questions in the OG (even the easy ones). I only had time to answer about half.
I’m convinced that if you can answer and understand each question in the OG’s, you can raise a 550 to a 700. ASSUMING that you study with quality over quantity in mind. That means figure out why you got a question wrong (or even why you got a question right!!!), read and understand the explanations on each Sentence Correction question.
You DO need a foundation/refresher of math skills, which the OG does a poor job on. If you are deficient or rusty in math, consider Kaplans GMAT Math Workbook, or Kaplans Math Foundations (or perhaps the MG books mentioned above will be sufficient).
If you have several months to prepare, a thorough run through of the MG books will give you a good repertoire of tactics to approach the questions. They taught me some good charting tools to use on overlapping sets, work/rate problems, number theory problems, etc. But a word of caution – the MG books alone are not sufficient to prepare you for the exam. You MUST study the OG’s as well (a lesson I learned too late). One more note about MG – do not worry about the advanced sections in each book. Review to become familiar, but do not get bogged down.Quantitative – General
1) DO NOT WASTE TIME ON PROBLEMS YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO SOLVE
• I literally guessed on at least 3 problems on the actual exam (Granted I didn’t score a 49 or 50, I’ve read that others in that bracket have guessed on questions as well)
• You MUST answer ever question on the exam.
2) Try not to miss too many questions in a row.
• If you have to guess on one, try to solve the next one.
• Do not leave questions at the end unanswered.
3) Take 30 seconds to look at the Big Picture
• Do not go into the problem like gang bangers and start frantically plugging in numbers trying to solve given the time constraints
• This is a logic test, not a math test. Most of the problems require finesse to solve, not brute force. Often times I would find myself going back over the questions I missed and comfortably solving them well below two minutes after calmly thinking about the question from a birds eye view. Hence, stay calm, look at the big picture.
4) Rephrase and Substitute
• You can learn more about this in the MG books. It is a reoccurring theme on the GMAT and well worth your time understanding and incorporating into your test strategy.
5) Careless Errors
• If you are reading this post, you probably have already taken a practice test and hopefully have reviewed the questions you got wrong. And most likely, I’m willing to wager, that a third of your mistakes were careless errors – not reading the question, adding wrong, answering the wrong question, etc…… In motocross there is a saying, “sometime you have to slow down to go faster”, on the GMAT I had to slow down to get better. I had to WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN, including all my calculations, the overall logic behind the question, and even 2 or 3 words for the question.
6) One Probability Tip
• If the question states “at least one” => subtract the chances of the complement from 1 (before you ask me to elaborate, check out the MG Word Translations Book)Data Sufficiency
1) Write everything down (in addition to all the general quantitative techniques stated above
• It’s pretty easy to get convoluted in your thought process in DS questions. I battled this issue with writing everything down. On Yes/No questions, I also would literally ask myself “Could it be true, MUST it be true”. This may be of help to you as well.Guessing on Quantitative
1) The lone wolf –search this forum for the lone wolf, which appears to be a pretty effective guessing strategy based upon my experiences.
2) Guess on DS questions – you can usually quickly narrow it down to 2/3 pretty efficiently
3) On difficult DS problems, avoid guessing C or E
• The theory behind this is test makers want the question to look too difficult to solve or like you need both to solve. (I know this is a weak tactic, but when guessing, I chose to use this over randomly guessing).Verbal – General
• Though this seems like a pretty general guessing strategy, one that the test makers have probably already accounted for, I still feel more comfortable guessing A, B or D on difficult DS questions
1) Every Word Counts
• I noticed that verbal questions changed around the 650-700 mark. At this point, you can often narrow it down to two choices, at which point you will have a 50/50 chance of getting it correct. I think the test makers write a correct answer and then change ONE WORD to make it incorrect. This could mean the inclusion of an extreme work like “clearly” or “only”, or it could be a shade of meaning between two words. At this point I wish I had a good example to demonstrate, but I don’t want to turn this into a textbook. Furthermore, I have to start doing research for applications Just keep this lesson in mind while you’re going over incorrect answers and I think you’ll see what I mean.
• I would like to point out, this theme, or lesson, is applicable to NOT ONLY each of the verbal sections, BUT ALSO all the quantitative questions. – EVERY WORD COUNTS
2) Allocate more time to the RC section
• While the scoring algorithm on the GMAT is still a mystery, I tend to agree with those who believe the RC questions are weighted more heavily. Anytime I missed more than 3-4 RC questions my V score took a huge dive.Sentence Correction
• Furthermore, you can use the same investment of time reading the passage on several questions, so it only follows that the better you understand the passage, the better you will do on several questions in a row.
• Also, you may notice, that on difficult SC questions, the law of diminishing returns sets in after about 45 seconds. Meaning, after you’ve spent about 45 seconds on a SC question, your chances of getting it right do not significantly improve. Solidify an answer and move on, thereby allocating more time to RC.
1) By now (after going through the MG SC book) – you can probably easily narrow the question down to 2-3 answer choices. Here are a few tactics to help you with the rest….
2) Pick the answer that sounds the best - At about the 650 level, I was trying to answer the questions simply using tactics simply from the MG books and not actually reading the sentences for meaning and disregarding the answer that sounded the best. If you are scoring at 34 or greater on Verbal, gone through MG SC, and still struggling with this section, considering going with the answer that sounds the best, unless there is SUFFICIENT evidence to prove otherwise. I started doing this and my scores increased.
3) References in the NON underlined portion - A little tactic I picked up late in the game, often times there will be some reference in the non-underlined portion of the sentence that makes a pronoun reference to a singular or plural noun, thereby eliminating some answer choices.
4) Cut the Crap Out - In the OG, when explaining idioms, the testmakers will use X and Y. After I started using X and Y and cutting out the rest of the crap in the sentence (prepositional phrases etc) I did a better job of choosing the correct idiom and my performance on SC increased.Critical Reasoning
1) No good tactics for this section, I ran out of time to improve. Although everyone says to read the prompt first, I never could implement this habit. Others said to break the logic down (actually writing down a few words for the argument) to If________________ -> ___________________ Once again, I did not use this tactic, although it does look promising.Reading Comprehension
1) Reading Slowly vs. Taking Notes…
• The single most important tactic which improved my overall verbal performance was READ THE PASSAGE SLOWLY.
• Try to understand every sentence of the passage. Read each sentence several times until comprehension before you move on to the next. You may be saying to yourself that you don’t have time to spend on the RC passages, but you must make the time. This made a huge impact (positive that is) on my Verbal Score.
2) Pretend you’re interested in the passage – yes, it’s a little corny and sounds a little too much like pop-psychology, but I think it’s a tactic that has some merit. Of course I’m interested in opposing views on post civil war autobiographies by black sharecroppers, or criticisms of the gender ideology during the 1920’s and its effects on women’s roles in the labor unions. I love that kind of stuff and enjoy reading about it. Get the idea…Guessing Strategies on Verbal
1) Do NOT guess on RC
2) Guess on Long CR questions
3) Guess on SC – after quickly narrowing down to 2/3Test Day
1) Keep the glucose levels up – have a peanut butter/jelly sandwich or whatever – glucose is food for the brain
2) Check your pens before you startTiming Chart
I tried using a few of the timing charts suggested elsewhere on the website, however, due to my anxiety, or OCD’s, or whatever, I needed a chart that was a little more thorough, something that gave me five minute intervals instead of 15, and was just a hair ahead of schedule (See the attached timing chart).
Well, that’s about it. This turned out to be a little longer than I anticipated, but to be honest, I could probably keep going!!!!! Once again, thanks to everyone who has posted their stories (or should it be his/her stories….haha, guess what….I don’t care anymore!!!) Good luck everyone about to take the test. (Remember, understand all 300 or so quant questions in the OG inside and out – Refer to MG for techniques on how to solve if you have time, but let the OG truly be your “Guide”).