This will likely be really long. Other members' debriefs have been invaluable motivators and sources of information for me, and I hope to give the same in return. I've been lurking around this forum for months and am finally ready for my first post, er, 6th, I guess you have to post 5 times to be able to post. I just booked a 710 on my first, and last, GMAT attempt this past Saturday. My journey technically started in May 2010 when I was on, ahem, a brief employment hiatus. I figured I needed some help and enrolled in the Knewton course. At the time it was $590, which was far cheaper than the competition, and the 50 point guarantee made me pull the trigger. I took their diagnostic CAT cold and scored a 500 (Q25, V31/32?) It was easy to spot my weaknesses. I was awful awful awful in quant, like
forgetting to think of the possible negative value in even exponents kinda awful. How would you correct that sentence? ...LIKE can never introduce examples in GMAT land; you must use SUCH AS instead. Anyway, I was also awful in SC. I got most of the RC and CR questions right, but my score was pulled down by missing 80-90% of the SC questions. I'm still pretty terrible in SC, just a little better. I was getting about 80% of OG12
SC questions right toward the end. I'm confident if I could have really figured this area out I could have gotten a 45 in verbal. May, 2010
Knewton 1: 500 (Q25, V31/32?)July, 2010 (after viewing all lessons)
Knewton 2: 540 (don't remember the breakdown)
By August I had gotten a new job and my prep screeched to a halt. I missed the key deadlines for 2011 apps so I put the whole thing on ice for a year. I didn't start up again in earnest until about 2 and a half months ago. Then it was nearly everyday, 3 hours a day on weeknights, 4-8 hours a day on weekends. If you have a significant other they'll be pretty pissed for awhile, but if they support you through this you'll know you've got a winner.
Now to be fair to Knewton I didn't do any of their practice problems or homework, and I only looked at a few of the concepts in their queue. I just watched all the videos. Their instructors are great. They definitely know their stuff and know how to teach, but you just can't cover everything you need to cover in the 6 hours they devote to SC. Maybe they cover it all in the written material, but you can get all that for much less money in other places. I would advise anyone thinking about Knewton or another prep course to save a bunch of money and just use the MGMAT materials. I've also heard Knewton has made a lot of changes lately for the worse, such as not offering unlimited question support. You can supplement the MGMAT materials more as needed, but I'll touch on that later. Prep Materials:
Standard stuff. I used all five of the MGMAT quant books as well as the MGMAT Advanced Strategies and SC book. They've been talked about ad nauseum on this site and for good reason. They teach you all the necessary fundamentals. You can get them much cheaper than retail by buying gently used copies through Amazon. All the books I bought didn't have a single highlight or pen mark. I didn't use anything for CR and RC as these were strong areas for me and I had decided to focus all my energy on SC and quant. You'll also notice that I didn't take very many CATs. To each their own, but I didn't see the value in spending 4 hours of my time just to gauge how I'm doing. Instead I would practice the OG questions in 37 question sets on a 75 minute timer. This allows you to work on your timing as well as work with official material.
MGMAT 1: (verbal only): 40
MGMAT 2: (quant only): 47
GMATPrep 1: 690 (Q43, V41) - 7 days before test, with AWA, 4 stupid math errors
MGMAT 3: (quant only): 40 - 6 days before test
GMATPrep 2 (quant only): Q49 - 5 days before test
MGMAT 4: (quant only): 42 - 4 days before test
GMATPrep 3 (quant only): Q47 - 3 days before test
At this point I was sick of the MGMAT quant tests. I felt like the material was much harder than the GMATPrep tests
, and it is, but that's good. More on that later.
I only saw one repeat in the 3rd GPrep, so I felt the Q47 was still a good indicator. I saw two repeats in the verbal section from GPrep1 that I had seen in OG12
, but I felt good about verbal in general. I knew going into the exam that I was capable of 700+. Having said that, there is simply no substitute for the real thing. Test Day:
It's been said before but I'll repeat. Plan everything you're going to do, everything you're going to put in your body. If cheese has ever given you an upset stomach in your life avoid cheese the morning of. Caffeine is a legal performance enhancing drug. Use it. I drank a 5 hour energy 15 minutes before the test and another in the between the quant and verbal. It might make you jittery, but that's just your brain workin doubletime. There will be noise canceling headphones at your station and they'll offer you cheap earplugs when you walk in. Take the earplugs, because the headphones don't cancel a damn thing. I could still hear people typing away through the headphones and I get easily distracted. I used the earplugs and the headphones. Ahh, silence. You get 4 minutes to go through the 8 to 10 tutorial screens. I would suggest using all that time to write out your AWA template and ABCDE grids (if it helps you) for the verbal section. You can keep your original pad for both sections if you'd like, but if you like to take a lot of notes in verbal you'll want a new pad and you'll lose your ABCDE grids. You have 1 minute during the verbal tutorial screen to write out those grids if you get a new pad. I personally don't write large for math and only take notes for RC, so I knew one pad would be enough for me. Furthermore, buy the pad on Amazon! Eliminate that test day variable and get comfortable with it.
I checked in 10 minutes early and was able to start right away. The AWA coming first really does allow you to chill out and settle into your surroundings before it starts to count. Obviously don't blow it off, but don't work yourself into a frenzy over it either. Use the template Chineseburned has posted on this site, and make sure to practice a few essays before test day. Do them during your practice tests like most people here recommend, but I'd avoid doing them in the GMATPrep software. Maybe it's just me but I wasn't able to review my essays after my practice test. Instead use official prompts from mba.com in Word and skip the AWA in the software. Pick prompts you’re not comfortable with either. You can’t choose your prompt on the real thing, so make sure you know how to BS some crap you’re not comfortable with. The computer grader seems to favor word count, so make sure you're hitting 450-500+ words in practice. There's no word counter on the real thing, so you're going to have to get comfortable with what 500 words looks like and gauge for yourself.
The essays went fine. I took the break, went to the bathroom, stretched a little. It was quant time. My nemesis. Question 1, fine. Question 2, fine. QUESTION 3, oh, question 3. I had never seen anything like it in the 1,000+ practice problems I had done. I don't remember reviewing any concept even close to what it was asking. I couldn't eliminate any answer choice, and was forced to press and pray. Remember that silence from the earplugs and headphones? It was now replaced with the incessant thumping in my chest. Now, I don't mean to scare anyone, but you should be scared, because the GMAT quant is wayyy
harder than the GMATPrep software. I had to guess on maybe 1 or 2 questions in GPrep. I had to guess on probably 10 questions during the real thing. Some I could eliminate answer choices, some I could make educated assumptions and feel confident with my answer, but they were still just guesses. I said I would circle back to quant prep materials and here it is. Do more than the MGMAT and OG stuff. I never used the GMATClub tests
, but invest the money and do them. I've heard they are hard, and thus it is likely a better estimation of the difficulty level you're going to see. I didn't use Jeff Sackmann's materials either, but I've heard they're good and you should use it. Like I said, do more, but more accurately, do more challenging questions than OG and GPrep. Like many here have said, don't try to estimate how you are doing. I thought I had bombed the quant section. I had to guess everywhere and I still pulled out a 47. I don't know what the rules are about posting real questions on the web so I'll be vague. Question 38 was a ridiculously easy percentage problem. It would take you 15 seconds at home, but after the essays and 37 math questions their stupid trap answer looked mighty tempting. Lesson 1 is don't fall for traps, lesson 2 is don't estimate how you think you're doing! That was a 300 level question, and I got a 47. I'm gonna throw something out there with absolutely nothing to back it up - they give you easy questions toward the end when you're low on time, frantic, and pressured into falling for their traps.
Finished quant, took the break, and started on verbal. Everything was going great. In my head I had nailed the first 15 questions and was way ahead on time. Then I realized I was way ahead on time. I started taking a little longer on my SC's and CR's. Then I got a killer RC passage, this 73 line sciency monstrosity. If I had to guess I spent 10 minutes on that passage, and probably got 1 or 2 or 3 of the questions wrong. I was now behind on time around question 36. I was done with RC, but I only had ~8 minutes left. I had to rush. I got two of the CR's to 50/50 shots and had to guess. I had 40 seconds left for the last question. Thankfully it was a pretty short and simple SC. Lesson here is pay attention to your pacing throughout the section. Don't get comfortable when you're ahead or you'll soon find yourself behind.
Once you click confirm on the last question you'll be asked a bunch of demographic questions. For whatever ridiculous reason they time you for this! You get 4 minutes. There are like 8 screens of this crap, but luckily if you fill out the profile on mba.com beforehand all your information will be pre-populated. Do that. Then you get 2 minutes to report or cancel your scores. Don't cancel your score. I know how you'll feel. I was sure I was going to be looking straight at a Q40, V40. I can't tell you how pumped I was to see my 710 pop up! I shot my hand up to get the proctors attention and got the hell out of there, triple checked my unofficial score report to make sure it was real and ran out of the test center.
The GMAT was officially the worst 4 hours of my life. You'll be stressed. Your heart will pound through your chest for 3 straight hours (AWA's a breeze). No one should have to voluntarily go through such an ordeal. I read Chasegmat's debrief of him going from a 710 in prep to a 570 on the real thing and thought how easily that could've been me. I can't imagine how I'd feel if I knew I had to study for another month and go through that damn thing again. But if you find yourself in that situation keep your head up. Test center stress is real and it likely got to you. Hopefully the second time around you'll feel more at ease and perform at the level you know you can.
Last piece of advice; use this forum for all it’s worth. You can use it for questions, explanations, or motivation for the GMAT itself, but you can also use it once you have the GMAT behind you and start applying to schools. People are more than willing to share essay tips and interview questions or to listen to your rant about why your application status hasn’t changed. Good luck to all taking the GMAT in the future. I sincerely hope you get what you need on the first try. I’ll check back often to answer any question anyone has.
Wow, very nice debrief!!! Congratulations for all you commitment and dedication!