I attempted my GMAT on 1st Sept 2010 with a score of 720 (Q50, V39, AWA 5.5). I am slightly disappointed with this as I thought I could touch 750 with my preparation, specially during the last week before the test. I even got a 770 on a fresh GMATPrep test that I did 3 days before my actual test. But looking at the bigger picture, I don’t think I want to re-do it. It is a lot of hassle to fit something like this in specially if you work full-time and I would like to spend as much time as I can on the rest of my application. This was already my 2nd attempt as the last time I did the test about 4 years ago, I ended up with 680 (Q49, V33) and I knew I could improve on it fairly easily.
Below is my attempt to summarize my preparation for the GMAT and hopefully it will help someone with theirs. I think it is important to highlight that everyone has their (SC ERROR: should be his/her as ‘everyone’ is singular) own strengths and weaknesses. So you need to identify the things that suit YOUR style and come up with your OWN plan. The idea here is for you to learn from other examinees experiences rather than wait and find out for yourself once you have done the GMAT (as it might be too late!).
Therefore, I will give you my background first as some of you can relate to it and thus, will be able to make the most of what follows.
I am a NON-NATIVE speaker working in the semiconductor industry as a design engineer for last 4 years. As you can imagine, I am fairly comfortable with maths. What that means is that I can solve “most” of the GMAT PS problems if given infinite time (note I have not included DS)! This is important to note that even though I am comfortable with Maths, I still needed plenty of practice and revision of important concepts to get to a decent score. I would consistently score 48 on Quant but had to work hard to guarantee a 50.
Being a non-native speaker, I struggled with SC and RC. I don’t remember learning the ‘rules’ of English even though I have had all my schooling in English. What this means is that I am very used to the “daily/common” usage of English which is embedded in my brain. Therefore, what GMAT prep did was tell me that what I thought was correct usage of English was actually very wrong. I have never been a big reader (probably read 20 books in the last 20 years!) and definitely not an active one. What I mean by an “active reader” is someone who reads a sentence and understands what it is saying. I struggled as I would misread the sentences quite regularly and thus not get the main points. I could correct this by re-reading the sentence but I was making unnecessary mistakes while reading it the first time. Not that I didn’t know the meaning of the words or phrases. I just didn’t concentrate at identifying the important parts of the sentence. I tried to correct this by reading random articles on Scientific American, The Economist
and Philosophy Express which helped me build my concentration. I would read 3-5 articles a week. Again, if given infinite time, I would easily understand a passage and answer all questions correctly. But this is not the case on the GMAT!
Also, SC was a big pain. I made the mistake of spending too much time reading the explanations in the SC hoping that I would understand what they are saying and this will improve my ability to pick the right answer. This approach is wrong as the explanations in the OG don’t mean much if you don’t know what you are looking for. Doesn’t mean you should not do the OG. It is important to do the OG questions (say first 100) to get an idea of where you stand. Below, I tell you what worked for me at the end.
I did not have many issues with the CR (apart from a few corner cases!). Being an engineer, I am fairly comfortable with analytical analysis of information. I was getting quite a few OG questions right when I first started doing them. But even then, I found a resource during the last 10 days of my prep which would have helped me immensely has I bothered with it earlier!
Ok, enough babble, time for some specifics. Below study plan will be useful for anyone who has 6 weeks to go to the test. Also, I took a week off work before the test which was the best thing I did as it helps you focus on just one thing.
- Register on gmatclub, beatthegmat and Manhattan GMAT
forum. You don’t need to read anything outside of these. If you do, then you are just wasting your time.
- Read Scientific American articles, the Economist
and philosophy express online versions daily. Read a minimum of 1 article on a different topic every day. Before the start of the article, tell yourself this will teach you something new and you are really interested in it. Try and build up your concentration. Even attempt to tell your friends about what you read as it will give you motivation to understand and retain the information better. And it is a good way to impress them!
- Books you will need: OG, Math Review, Verbal Review, Manhattan GMAT SC
, Powerscore CR
Bible, (Manhattan maths books if your maths is not strong!).
- You can search for Chinese Burned's essay template. Just go through this and remember the structure. You can even use the same wordings for start of sentences and paragraphs as that is the easiest thing to do. The key is to get your ideas across in simple, commonly used words as that is what the “e-rater” marks you on.
- You can find a document with 200 sample essays on Gmat Club. These are decent. Once you read the template above, read a topic of the essay, write down the points you can think of in the set template. Then read the given sample essay to see how close or far your points are. The hardest bit is coming up with the points so focus on that. Don’t have to change the template at all.
- Write at least 5 (each) sample essays and post them on the GMATClub and BeattheGMAT forums for reviews. Any comments you receive will be good.
- Don’t leave this too late. Do this at least 2 weeks before your test. I left mine to 2 days before the test which stressed me out and had an effect on my performance on the test day!
- You don’t need anything else. Trust me, I got 5.5 in 2 days prep!
- Read Manhattan GMAT SC
book and do all the questions at the back and those listed from the OG.
- Make notes from above and you should end up with a list of things that you need to remember by heart. For example, Parallel Markers, Subjunctive mode words, Parallel Idioms, specific examples, singular or plural cases table.
- Make a list of idioms that you need to remember.
- Go through the two above lists (notes) every day so you remember them well. You can’t just learn them before the test. They should be constantly revised and read so they come to you naturally. Also, you want them to help you while you do your practice. It is all about setting your brain to work in a certain way. I got to a stage where I will be identifying parallel markers, idioms, etc. in day to day work of reading emails, articles, news, etc. I even started correcting friends which is always fun!
- Go through the GmatPrep SC questions (198 of them) that can again be found on Gmat Club and attempt 20-30 questions a day.
--- Perfect the split/re-split strategy. This is critical as it stops you from missing the right answer and will increase in usefulness the more you practice.
--- Concentrate on the meaning of the sentence. It is important as with a clear meaning in your head, you can easily re-check the answer you picked.
--- While practicing, reason why you think a certain answer is right and why others are wrong. I used to label each question with say Idiom, PM (parallel marker) or SV. It helps clarify the concepts in your head and remember them at the same time.
--- Put the right answer back in the original sentence to make sure it is correct. Let me explain, sometimes, a SC question has 2-4 errors (parallelism, idiom, S-V agreement, modifier). Now when you read the given sentence, you spot one or more of these mistakes straight away. Hence, you automatically split the answers based on this. Say you split it between (a,b) and (c,d,e). You know the answer lies in (c,d,e) and the minute C looks good, you have the urge to mark that as the right answer and move on (time pressure and the relief that you spotted AN error!). The problem with this is that C might have a subtle idiom answer which can only be spotted if you either split/re-split (c,d,e) further or if you put C back in to the answer and realise there is something wrong. I would do the split/re-split as it is the easiest way to spot this.
--- Read the answers in GPOA and even go to the links if you want further explanations. Ron Purewal is one of the Manhattan GMAT
instructors who normally gives good and correct explanations. You can even compare this against your understanding.
- Do online Manhattan GMAT SC
questions. There are 25 of these as part of your purchase of the Manhattan SC book.
- Do the GMAT Verbal Review SC questions (either in parallel with above or after you finish the above). Do these same as above, 20-30 a day. If you are not happy with a particular explanation of the answer in the OG book then go to the Manhattan Review
forum and search for it. Someone will have an explanation that applies the principles you learnt in the SC book. The OG explanations are often not the easiest to understand, apply and re-use. So try and break every question down in to the different error patters as in the Manhattan GMAT
book. This will help you a lot.
- Re-read the Manhattan GMAT SC
book (start to finish again in 2-3 days) in between your different preparations. Do all the questions at the back again ( you will see the difference that you understand the concept better ). Try and read the book 3-5 times before your test. I read it 3 times in total before mine but then if I had more time, I would have read it a few more times.
- This is an optional step. Read the Manhattan GMAT CR
quickly. It is a good introduction and explains the relationship between premises, conclusion and assumptions. That is the only time you will need to read this.
- Once you have read the above, read the GMAT CR Bible.. all 300 pages! DO NOT SKIP PAGES. Do all the questions at the back of the chapters. These questions give you very good focused practice. This will save you a lot of time and is better than just doing random questions from say 1000 CR or any other CR question bank. I read the book first time averaging 2 chapters a day. Obviously, you mix it with your other preps like SC, PS and DS.
- Make notes and remember key indicator words (conclusion, premises, counter-premise indicators).
- Do the CR questions in Official Review after you have finished the book above. You can do 30-40 a day. These should take less time than SC.
- Read the CR bible again if you want to. Normally, if you have read it properly first time and understood all the concepts then all you need to do later is read the Summary pages at the end of each chapter. There isn’t much point doing the questions again as they will be fresh in your mind already.
- I made the mistake of NOT reading this book till about 10 days before my test. In hindsight, I should have read it at the start of my prep as it builds a lot of confidence.
- Do RC passages in OG after you have finished the CR book above.
- Tell yourself that you want to learn something new from the passage and you are very interested in it. Read a passage carefully, read sentences twice if you don’t understand them first time. Don’t worry about time straight away. But towards the end, time yourself on each passage and answering all the questions. It should take 5-7 minutes each. I used a simple technique of starting the stopwatch on my mobile before I read the passage and stopping it after I have answered all the questions related to it. It was a good indication. On the actual test, if you get a hard passage and it takes slightly longer, do not panic as you can always save time on the CR and SC.
- Practice ONLY from the OG and verbal review. It is a lot easier when reading from a book so also practice RC on a computer screen using either Manhattan GMAT
/ GMAT Club Forum or Gmat Prep.
- READ THE QUESTION CAREFULLY. 80% of mistakes can be eliminated by reading the question carefully. Watch out for words such as “x is an INTEGER” or “for all INTEGERS” or “all POSITIVE INTEGERS” or “all EVEN numbers (this includes 0!)” or “all POSITIVE EVEN INTEGERS (this does not include 0!). These words restrict your answer choices and help you identify if the information is enough or not. You will realise the importance of this when you analyse your mistakes when doing DS questions.
- Always simplify the question stem straight away. Then simplify (a) and (b). It will make life easy. Again, remember that I was comfortable with maths and simplifying the given information was almost natural for me. So always see what works best for you.
- Read the GMAT CLUB Math Book and take the formulae and tips that you need so you can apply them to different questions when you practice. It is very hard, I would say even stupid (bit like me) to try and read or learn from this 1 week before the test!. Do it early so you know what it gives you and you can apply the learning. Not everything is useful, but most of it is. I made notes on things that I found hard to remember or things that would save me useful time on the test. For example, I remember the bits on “properties of perfect square”, “evenly spaced sets” & “standard deviation”. If you remember these well, on the test you won’t spend too much time double checking your derivation or doubting yourself.
- Do the practice questions from the Quant Review book. Give yourself 1 minute and 30 seconds on each. This will push you to think and evaluate quicker. For example, try and do 30 questions in 45 minutes every time you sit down. If you strictly stick to the time then it will allow you to get in to the habit to GUESS if a question is too hard. You can always do the questions properly when you see that your guess is wrong. Just good practice I think. Guessing is important as for some of us who feel confident about maths, sometime it is very hard to let go of a question. Maybe it is an ego thing.
- Write down your common mistakes or new information you learn (for example, properties of quadrilaterals, 0 is even, 0 is neither +ve or –ve, “consider decimals when plugging numbers”).
- Get to the stage where you see a question and know whether you need to simplify and work an answer or just plug in numbers. Make a table of what numbers you plug in and what each stage evaluates to ([stem], [a], [b]) on a piece of paper. You want to do this on the test too. Always be thorough on paper when you evaluate each as it is easy to jump to conclusions or make a mistake in your number plugging calculation (again time pressure.. your brain sub-consciously forces you to move on!).
- Do the DS questions on Gmat Club DS Forum. I extracted these from the GMAT CLUB DS forum for additional practice. You can find the answers on the GMAT club DS forum. This will take time but will be very useful. Most of these questions are very hard but they will help you in thinking in a certain way. Do as many questions as you want. You certainly don’t want to do all. These are largely to give you additional confidence.
- Do the GMAT Hard prep questions. I will send an excel sheet separately, that classifies OG questions as hard, medium and easy. I would do all the hard questions now during your general practice. But you can do these say 1-2 weeks before your test. Don’t have to do them straight away. Just concentrate on 1-6 above.
- Read the GMAT CLUB Math Book and take the formulae and tips that you need so you can apply them to different questions when you practice. Not everything is useful, but most of it is. I made notes on things that I found hard to remember or it would save me useful time on the test. For example, I remember the bits on “properties of perfect square” “even spaced sets” “standard deviation”. If you remember these well, on the test you won’t spend too much time double checking your derivation or doubting yourself.
- Revise your old Probability and Permutations and Combinations so you can solve majority of the questions you see in practice. You need to be clear about the concepts so you derive the answer first time. I made notes on certain aspects and questions as it is easy to classify them. But don’t lose too much sleep over them specially right before the test! I panicked the night before which didn’t help and it turned out that I got 1 easy question on P&C and 0 on probability. All that stress for nothing.
- You can find a document on Work Rate problems on Gmat Club. Do the work rate problems and solve them neatly in a book. Note down any important questions that you would want to review before your test. But this will help you clarify and firm your understanding.
- Do GMAT Club tests
and always note down important questions with full answers.
- Do GMAT Prep straight away to see where you are. Make a note of your marks and how they split. Make a note of how many SC, RC, CR, PS and DS you got wrong. Review what you got wrong and note them down too. If you find an interesting question then note it down with complete answer for review nearer to your test.
- With 4 weeks to your test, start on the Manhattan GMAT
tests. Some of them are a lot harder than the real thing and don’t worry if you get 10-12 wrong on the Quant and 14-15 wrong on the Verbal. The overall score you get at the end is a good indicator so make a note of it same as above. Aim to do all 5 tests. I got 720, 720, 730 and 750 on the 4 I took. Also, try and answer the Essay questions by just writing down the template and putting down the important points. It will help you simulate the process the brain goes through on the real test and make the test longer which is good for stamina building.
- Do the GMAT Club maths test… 1 a day.. there are 25 in total.. do the verbal ones if you think you need additional ‘timing’ practice. Say you are struggling to finish the verbal section on the actual test and you want to improve your time management. I don’t know how ‘real’ or good these tests are but they can’t be bad.
- Do the GMAT prep test that you did in (1) again. Review it as before. See if your score has improved and what are your mistakes.
- Leave a fresh final GMAT Prep test for 3-4 days before your actual test.
- That is it. Focus on the above and before the verbal section on practice tests, tell yourself that this is the sections where you can really make a big difference to your score by concentrating hard.
- Make a list of the schools you want to send your scores to. Don’t leave this to the day before your test as this is unnecessary stress. Do it a week before and forget about it till on the test day.
- Get good night’s sleep before the test day. Don’t do anything that will stress you about the test a day or 2 before it. Don’t try and revise all of your probability again the night before the test as I did as it will only make things worse! Be confident in the practice that you have put in the last few weeks.
- Get to the test centre in plenty of time so you don’t get any unnecessary stress.
- Take some energy stuff (sugary drinks or chocolates) to keep your energy levels up.
- Remember there will more noise elements at the test centre than when you practice at home. For example, the guy next to you in the cubicle typing away on his keyboard, someone on the driving test listening to a video on headphones. So you might want to consider doing some practice tests in a library or a public place so it doesn’t affect you much on the test day.
- Before the verbal, tell yourself that this is the last bit and the one that can help you improve your score the most (assuming your Maths is already strong). A balanced Verbal and Quant score normally gives you a higher score than doing extremely well in just one!
Good luck to everyone and feel free to ask questions.