I never imagined myself posting a debrief thread but here I am. I suppose I decided to actually do it because of my unorthodox preparation and in hope that my approach might give people in similar circumstances the extra nudge to actually go through with sitting the GMAT despite everyone saying it takes months to prepare etc. Don't get me wrong, the GMAT is no walk in the park - in fact it is possibly the most stressful studying I have had to do.
Background: I think that some background information is required in order for my choices to actually make sense. I've just finished my penultimate year of an electrical engineering degree. I always saw myself as a design engineer in the future going on to eventually head a design team (hopefully) and imagined I would probably get a PhD rather than take a job straight from uni. It was only in mid-April that I suddenly realized that my goals will be better served by a deferred entry MBA program. I did my researched and it was a straightforward conclusion to decide that I am well behind schedule but I decided to give it my best anyway. However, I still had my examination diet to study for (finishing 17th May) and I was supposed to start a pretty intensive placement on the 3rd of June. Therefore, if I were to sit the GMAT, I had 2 weeks of study time to do my best with. It may sound arrogant but I was always pretty good in maths (I had scored 800 in the SAT subject tests) and I figured the GMAT Quant was the same (IT IS NOT!) so I could probably try and prepare Verbal in 2 weeks. Thus I booked an appointment for the 10th of June so that there was no getting out of it (I actually wanted to sit it just before I would start work i.e. on May 31st but 10th was the first available date and I knew I wouldn't be able to study while working so 10th it was!).
Preparation Strategy: I did my research and the final conclusion was that I don't have the time to go through every single concept the way I would've liked to. I also didn't have a large budget for prep as I support myself and booking the appointment was already a great strain. Thus I decided that the best way to learn in my circumstances would be by doing lots and lots of problems in a controlled environment and learn from mistakes - after all there's only a limited number of question types that can pop up and if I did a sufficient number of tests I am bound to try a few hard ones of each. I knew I would have 2 GMAT Prep tests to save for the very late days before the exam but that wasn't nearly enough. After 5 minutes in Amazon I targeted the Kaplan
book (coming with 5 CATs and 1 paper test) and one of the Manhattan books
(all of them come with 6 tests but which one to pick?). I sat the Princeton Review test without timing it so that I can actually identify areas of conceptual weaknesses. I did fairly well on the Quant so my assumption was correct (IT WAS NOT!) and performed adequately in RC and CR. However, I only got 11 out of 17 in SC (I have no idea how I ended up getting so many SC questions but it was a very good thing indeed). So I bought the Kaplan
and Manhattan SC books. Only later did I find out that most people, while unimpressed with the CR and RC books, claimed that the SC book was awesome (IT IS!) - an absolute fluke!
Actual Preparation: On May 18th my exams were now over and I could focus on actual GMAT preparation. All that I did on that first day of preparation is do the Kaplan
paper test. I didn't do too well on it (not that it is not a CAT so some questions were actually easier than I would end up getting on the actual test) - 680 according to its bizarre grading table. I had missed 8 quant questions. While this was quite a surprise, I read over the solutions, I could see what I had done wrong, and I just attributed all my mistakes to distractions and figured this would never actually happen (DON"T ASSUME THAT). However, I had only missed 5 questions on the Verbal. This was actually better than I anticipated so I was feeling optimistic neglecting the fact I had got some very easy questions. Alarmingly though, all of those 5 were CR! I was now regretting getting the SC book rather than the CR but figured okay, I will just read the section on CR in the Kaplan
book - it can't be too bad.
May 19-20th: I read the Kaplan
CR section, did every single exercise and made sure I understood it all. I've not read any other CR books but I figure the Kaplan
book did a pretty good job. It didn't have too much theory but had a sufficient number of practice questions covering every CR type. It must have been an okay book since, surprisingly, CR ended up becoming my strongest topic - I would hardly miss a CR question in the final CATs and I didn't miss one across both GMAT Prep tests.
I was feeling a little better about the CR, I had done well in SC on the Kaplan
paper test, I was ready to try and properly assess my quant. I decided to start with the Kaplan
tests because I had read the MGMAT were better and I decided I would be best served by saving those for later.
May 21: I spent the morning and afternoon going over the CR questions I had already done, especially the ones I had done wrong. In the evening, I took Kaplan
CAT #1. I skipped the AWA, did the IR (I was massively overtime on the IR for the vast majority of my prep), did the Quant, did the first 8 questions of Verbal but by this time it was 1AM and I was incredibly tired to just decided to end my exam and see how I had done in quant. I was told I did better than 92% (no score reported) but at the same time I only had 68% correct answers! Just a note here, to this day I can't figure out how Kaplan
grade their tests - the test in question was weird not because the suspiciously high percentile for the number of wrong questions but because I had missed quite a few questions in the beginning and throughout the test (I would later assess it to realize that the question difficulty had not gone up a lot). On the positive side, I had answered all of the 8 verbal questions I attempted correctly.
May 22: I got a good sleep, woke up, wasted a bit of time and got started on my first real CAT - Kaplan
CAT#2. I got a 740 (supposedly 98 percentile in quant with again 60ish% correct answers). I got slightly suspicious but didn't give it too much thought as I was encouraged about my incredible results. My strategy was sure to work. I had also done moderately well on the verbal with 74 percentile.
May 23: Kaplan
CAT#3. Got a 680. I still had a suspiciously high quant score, especially considering that I had never even finished the section in those 3 tests. However, what grabbed my attention was that I had missed half the verbal questions! SC RED ALERT!
May 24-May 25: I read the Manhattan SC book. Surprisingly, it was an easy while comprehensive read. Again, I've not read any other books, but the Manhattan SC is surely one of the best out there. I coupled my theory readings with lots of questions helpfully structured in pdf files. What's good about SC is that it is the bit that's easiest to improve. If SC is you weak area, consider yourself lucky - I certainly was.
May 26: I did a bit of SC prep in the morning and in the evening I decided to finally try those famous MGMAT CATs. I got 680 (Quant 46 Verbal 35) on MGMAT 1. That, I felt, was probably an accurate result. Again I had went overtime on the quant (now I knew I would probably have to address this but I also knew that MGMAT 1&2 were supposed to be harder than the real thing to scare people into studying harder so I wasn't too concerned) and I had done moderately well on the Verbal (reviewing it, there were answers I could swear I hadn't chosen- attributed those to tiredness).
May 27th: MGMAT CAT #2. I got 720 (Quant 44, Verbal 43). Know I knew I definitely had to address my quant as I was already hitting my target on the Verbal while I was massively under performing in quant. I spent the rest of the day on the GMAT Club quant forum just trying to do as many difficult quant problems as possible. At this point I would like to thank Brunel, who probably doesn't know I exist but whose solutions were probably the best resource I used in my prep. Even on questions I could do, I read Brunel's solutions. I would just approach every problem analytically based on my background in engineering. I never aspired to remember formulas but rather to be able to understand their meaning so that I could derive them if need be. Thus I ended up always trying to derive formulas for everything and I wasted precious time. There certainly is a middle ground there, not having to remember formulas but not deriving on on every question either.
May 28th: I continued with my quant prep just doing as many questions as I possibly could. At this point I found the GMAT Club tests
. By some freak of an accident, they were all free so I did as many as I possibly could in one day. I also did a bunch of high difficulty quizzes. On the next day I would find out they were free only for the day because it had been Memorial Day. Anyway, they are an incredible resource. I am confident that this one day of doing those hard tests made all the difference in the world. I swear, if I could afford it, I would buy a subscription to them just out of appreciation for the good they did me - maybe I still will some day.
May 29th: Back to the Kaplan
CATs - #4. I got 710 on this one. I suppose this was somewhat accurate of my level at this point, maybe even a bit on the underachievement side. I had only missed 2 quant questions but I had slightly failed at Verbal questions. Some odd RC questions coupled with me not practicing for a few days so I wasn't overly concerned.
May 30th: MGMAT #3. Got a 720 (Quant 50, Verbal 37). Quant was no satisfactory and I was sure that Verbal would again improve with practice (this was a very distinct trend I noticed - Verbal was very sensitive to practice for me. If you notice a similar trend, I would advise you come up with a schedule to ensure that you get the Verbal practice you need).
May 31th: MGMAT #4. Got a 730 (Q45, V45). Verbal was back to its good behavior. I got obsessed with one particular question and spent a whooping 12 minutes on it (another bad engineering habit as far as the GMAT is concerned). Thus I had to rush the remaining questions and also went overtime. This quant score was not particularly frightening but I had to address it anyway. It got me into the habit of looking at the clock as I start every question and not go over 4.5 minutes (this is a bit on the high side but I knew I would likely be able to make up for it in the other questions as I had gotten quite efficient).
June 1st: MGMAT #5 - 750 (Q50, V45). That was more like it. I was now concerned about keeping up my good results as the exam was still somewhat far away and I knew I would not be able to study much once I started work. I still had 4 CATs to do so I saved decided to save the final MGMAT and the 2 GMAT Preps for the weekend just before my exam on Monday.
June 2nd: Thus I took the final Kaplan
test - CAT#5. I got a respectable 94% quant questions correctly and only missed 5 in the verbal. The scoring was still weird but I was satisfied with my performance.
June 3rd-June 7th: The week I was dreading as far as my preparation was concerned. I would leave home at 8AM and come back home at 6:30PM an absolute wreck. I forced myself to study for the AWA I had completely ignored during my prep up to this point while trying to do all the questions I would see on GMAT Club in varied topics. This is about the time the new Brunel project focusing on specific problems was started, kudos for that as well - another unbelievably helpful resource. I had a hard time finding high difficulty SC questions I had not done though.
June 8th: My plan for the day was to do the GMATPrep 1, rest for a bit and then do MGMAT #6. I did GMAT Prep 1 and got a whooping 780 (Q50, V47). While it should be noted that I had seen quite a few of the questions before, it was still an incredible result. The quant questions I had got wrong were all due to technical errors but I figured I would be more careful in the actual exam as I now had plenty of time. The 3 verbal questions I got wrong were all SC! This was slightly frustrating but I was too happy with my overall performance not to care too much. I was so happy I actually ended up spending the rest of the day playing Foosball with my flatmates whom I had ignored for the better part of 3 weeks.
June 9th: Final stretch. Did GMATPrep 2 and got 760. Still very satisfied with myself, still errors primarily in SC. I didn't find going through questions I had already done particularly useful as I somehow always remembered the answer before doing any analysis. SC, supposedly easiest, was a slight concern for me just before the exam. MGMAT#6, absolutely identical results, identical trend. I just figured I would force myself to spend a little longer on SC in an attempt to reverse the trend.
EXAM DAY, June 10th: I had scheduled my exam for 12pm so that I could get a good sleep and be well rested. I woke up very nervous and with severe indigestion (probably a causation rather than correlation relationship there!). However, everything was smooth sailing bar the many visits to the restroom while still at home and at the test center just before the exam. Went through the whole tedious procedure of having my palms scanned, the massive cavity search for cheats etc.
Got an AWA topic that I found interesting so that was okay even though I didn't quite like my work when proof reading it. I was slightly dreading the IR as I had a tendency to go overtime on it but all was well as far as timing was concerned. I realized two mistakes just as I confirmed two of my answers. Frustrating but I used my break to try and focus so that I can ignore it.
During my break I had a banana and some orange juice (my advice on snacks is to get whatever you find refreshing not whatever you find tasty!), splashed some water on my face and went back to the test admin. Had a somewhat difficult time with the palm scanner but went in on the 4th attempt. I was breezing through the quant and found myself being 10 minutes ahead of schedule by question 15. Tried to slow myself down, double check answers etc. By question 25 I was growing concerned I was doing badly as for some reason I just kept on getting questions I thought were 600-700 level rather than 700. This was all remedied after question 30 when I wasted a bit of time on 3 questions in a roll. I still ended up finishing 5 minutes ahead of time. I would be very interested to see what questions I have got wrong to get 50 and whether my guess that I was doing badly around the half way point was correct.
Anyway, I went for my second break feeling the massive indigestion rising up again. I rushed to the toilet, naturally didn't go grab my watch from my locker, so I ended up counting seconds - it was all like a very bad comedy, fortunately noone walked in on me (That would have been an AWKWARD moment). Anyway, seems to me I timed myself well and went back on time. Naturally, the palm scanner was not to be my friend. Me and the test admin spent a minute and a half trying to find a suitable position until the thing finally worked. However, it stalled me more than enough and I was a minute overtime, naturally deducted from my verbal time. Decided not to sweat it too much and try and bring it up with the test admin and potentially loose more time. Verbal was pretty much alright. I was a little slow at the start and was 3-4minutes behind schedule by the 10th question mark (there were some weird RC questions and one SC question, I suspect, was being tested as I could find no answer that placed the "which" modifier correctly). Fortunately I managed to make it up and finished 3 minutes before time.
Skimmed through admin stuff and requested that my scores be reported. And BOOM! 770 99 percentile ( Q50 90 percentile, V46 99 percentile)! Everybody asks couldn't I have done any better and I was no exception but it's not something worth dwelling on when you got 770, well over my initial optimistic target of 750.
My advice on the GMAT and preparation for it:
While I would not normally choose the prep path I did, if you find yourself in similar circumstances don't hesitate, that will just loose you precious time, and just go for it. There are certainly ways to compensate for any weaknesses but one must be realistic about himself. Initially, my ego just kept telling me "no self respecting engineer will go practice quant, certainly not you" but there is no doubt in my mind that I would have lost anywhere from 5 to 10 points in my quant score for little or no benefit to my Verbal score.
Some great resources:
-Manhattan SC book
Book for the free tests (while the scoring is a bit dodgy, the question are certainly representative of the GMAT and on par with MGMAT)
-The sample AWA essay on the mba website! Surprisingly, of all the essays I read on prep agencies websites, in the Kaplan
book and on this forum, the sample on the official site was the one I liked best. I just didn't like all the other templates I found and I just made my own (although very similar to common templates) based on the essay on the sample on the official GMAT website. While am still to receive my AWA score, I feel my essays were fairly good in general.
Good luck to anyone who is yet to sit the GMAT! It is not the scary monster it is made out to be. Doing research before you start your prep is all good but sometimes a person has to be arrogant and just ignore what everyone is saying and trust in his own (realistic!) abilities.
Ps This ended up being way longer than anticipated so please ignore any grammar/spelling mistakes - I have had enough of proofreading. This is me being rebellious and posting without a care in the world (well...)!