I am 33 year old, married with a 2-year old kid. I thought that my GMAT story could be useful to people in similar stages in their life.Our scores:
Myself: 720/6; My wife: 710/5.5Objective:
My wife and I decided to pursue higher studies roughly a year ago. Both of us are MBA degree holders and we wanted to do a 2nd MBA. And we wanted to do it in a US or European university, and preferably in one of the top 10s.Constraints:
Time constraints and lack of discipline to make use of the available time.
[We have a fairly busy career [I'm in product management; my wife is in sales]. We have 2-year old son , who’s in the prime age of experimenting with everything around him and we live in a typical Indian-style joint family with parents and sisters.]
We had several starts to a regular, disciplined preparation for the GMAT. They all petered out because of the fore mentioned constraints. The basic constraint was that we did not have a quiet place to study. As time ran out, we became anxious and frustrated. But frustration is a good thing to have, if it can be channelized to a productive work.Study Plan:
Have the date in mind: We were in May'10. We decided that we need to have a deadline which will force us to study, hook or crook. Therefore, we went ahead and registered for the GMAT exam. We could get dates only in early July. We had about 2 months for the preparation. This deadline drove us hard to have a disciplined, rigorous study plan which ultimately.
Find the place: It is a best practice to have a good, organized place to study. Do not change your place of study often.
We sought a place where we will have 3 hours of quiet time and we wanted it to be close enough to our home so that we can return back in time to feed and put our son to bed. We found a playschool nearby and asked the owner to let us use the space in the evenings.
Study Plan: We devised a simple plan which comprised of the following basic tenets:
1) Devotedly spend 3 hours daily for the next 40-50 days.
2) Identify problem areas early on where we need to put in more effort - for e.g. areas such as absolute values coupled with inequalities, sentence corrections etc.
3) Work on practice tests and keep a tab of time regularly.Most common problem areas and how we tackled them:
There are several tips available in GMAT Club and in other MBA forums on how to approach the GMAT. Hence, let me focus on those two areas which I feel are important:
1) Weak subject areas: Be aware of your weak areas. You should either master them to a decent level or you should be able to quickly move away from them [at the risk of getting them wrong] during the actual test. This will also help you to avoid panic attacks when you see a problem which you think you will not be able to solve.
How to identify weak areas: We started with the OG. The questions in OG are good samples of the problems that you will face on the exam day [after all, all OG questions are real GMAT questions]. This gave us an initial idea of where we made the most frequent problems. Knowing these weaker areas early on, helped us to put more effort on those areas.
How to improve on weak areas: The best way to work on weak areas is to work on more and more problems. This rigor helped us to spot patterns in questions, evolve some regular and quicker approaches to solving them etc.
How to get more problems on a particular area: Quite easy and inexpensive. For e.g. if you think absolute values is an area where you want to work more, select an appropriate forum in GMAT club. Every question in GMAT club is usefully tagged with key words and subject areas. Click on an appropriate tag [for e.g. inequalities] and you get a complete list of questions on that subject area. Work through them.
Learn from Experts: Even if you can get to the answer look at the approaches followed by others - there could be more effective and easier ways to solving a problem. You will easily spot some experts who repeatedly post some fantastic ways of solving or approaching a problem. As you progress, focus on the answers proposed by such key and trusted members [you can also choose a member whose approach you find easier to follow]. Sometimes, it so happens that different users propose different approaches [it’s sometimes awesome that there are several ways of solving a problem] to the same problem. You might not have the time to follow each answer. In such cases, it is helpful to look at the answers of your expert user.
Another forum, which we found very useful was Manhattan GMAT
's. We especially, followed the approaches and suggestions of two instructors - Ron Purewal and Stacey Koprince. It’s our opinion that these two offer the most elegant and practical approaches to a problem [sometimes the approach could be just pure rhetoric testing with no.s]. In fact, I will go to the extent of saying, that we feel our heartfelt gratitude to these instructors for thrashing a problem beautifully [Btw, I'm not paid for by Manhattan!].
2) Time Management: This is extremely essential and I suspect that the main reason of why someone doesn't get those really high scores is that they fail to manage time properly [includes me as well].
In the initial days, one can focus on polishing their techniques, understanding and learning the subject areas. But as the exam approaches [at least 4 weeks before] one should start paying attention to his/ her timings. Here are some practices, which we found effective.
1) Right from the beginning of your studies, keep a timer whenever you start with a series of questions. You don't have to adhere to the timelines seriously, but keep a watch on how much time you take. Check if you are gradually reducing your time.
2) Take a bundle of 10 or 20 questions. Check your timing with a benchmark of approx. 2 minutes per question. [In the exam, you might take less than a minute for some questions and you might take more than 2 for tougher questions. But it is always good to adhere to the 2-minute benchmark].
3) Follow this Manhattan strategy: Practice the point 2 strategy but with really strict adherence to the 2-min. schedule. You should force yourself to answer each question within 2 minutes, whether or not you have worked out the solution.
4) As you approach the test day, start practicing with full tests. At least, take 2 or 3 practice tests fully and continuously – work right from the essays till the verbal. This will bring you closer to your experience on the actual test day. Because, mental fatigue is one big factor that affects your thinking abilities on the test day.On the test day:
1) Have a good night’s sleep the day before. Force yourself to shut your books around 9 PM or so. Take time to deviate your mind – watch TV, read something [not GMAT-related], talk to friends. Get a warm glass of milk and hit the bed by 10.
2) Wake up at an adequate time. Reach the test center early enough. If allowed, talk to people around. Keep yourself cheerful.
3) Get something to drink and eat. GMAT is a long exam and physical and mental fatigue is natural. Hence, keep yourself active. Carry some cereal bars which are not too heavy, yet filling. Carry fruits like apple or banana [do not choose acidic fruits – which most fruits are – because they might turn up your hunger]. Many had suggested Gatorade, which I also found useful.
4) Use your notepads adequately. There’s no need to save on space there. They staff at the test center provide you enough notepads. So no need to worry. [And the pen and the scratchpad were also not bad. They were quite handy and useful].
5) Organize your space. You don’t need the keyboard after the essays are over. So push the keyboard to the side and keep your notepad in the centre so that you can look at the problem statements and note them down easily in your notepad.
6) Make use of the breaks. The 8-minute breaks are good periods to get prepared for the next section. Give yourself a stretch. Walk out of the test room. Grab something to eat and drink. Use the restroom. Splash a dash of coldwater [or warm water, if you prefer] on your face. Get refreshed.
7) Keep a note of the time – always. There are several time management strategies available in the web. Use them to your own good. The ultimate idea is to have those 2 minutes for your last question in each section as well. If you think you’re slipping by, you should make the hard decision of selecting a random answer choice, early enough into the test. You cannot make up for all the slips in time, towards the end of the test. Remember, a single incorrect answer choice in the middle of the test is better than a string of wrong answers at the end of the test.
8) At any time during the test, do not panic. And do not regret. There’s simply no time for such emotions during the test. Just keep moving ahead.How did we lose?
Towards the end of our preparation, my wife and I were getting consistently high scores. We expected a score above 740 for sure. Hence, our scores were really dampeners. So, how did we lose:
Lack of concentration on verbal: I was fairly confident that I have done my quant section well [which was confirmed by the good score on that section]. I found the verbal section, tougher. Even the questions for critical reasoning and sentence correction, were relatively longer [or was it just my imagination?]. The questions were longer as well, making me spend a good amount of time on each question.
I was also considerably fatigued when I had reached not even the 20th question. One thing is that I was not keeping the best of my health [not that I was extremely ill as well]. Though I had bought enough food items to eat, in my anxiety I hadn’t eaten anything during the 1st 2 breaks. That took a toll.
Ultimately, I had a time crunch. I couldn’t get enough time to read my last 4 questions adequately well.
I should also say that I focused more on quants than verbal during preparation. This, I think, is foolish and is a common mistake done by many other GMAT-takers as well. People repeat this mistake, in spite of [inconclusive] trend analysis by many, such as Manhattan GMAT
, that a higher verbal score usually leads to a higher overall score [when compared to same score levels in Quants].
So if at all, I am allowed to give one single piece of advice that would be this: Focus on your verbal. Perfect it. Ensure that you get consistently high scores [within time] in your practice tests. And keep your energy levels up till the very end of the test.Some general tips:
1) Know to estimate or to do a rough calculation; Polish your guesswork. You should be able to out rightly strike out a few answer choices even without working out the problem fully.
2) Read all the answer choices fully before you start solving. For e.g. if the answer choices are disparate then you can easily use rough estimation techniques to get closer to one of the answer choices.
3) Memorize squares and cubes of no.s at least till 20. In general, know your multiplication tables till 20. Get to know some commonly used figures - such as all the squares or all the primes under 100.
4) Scan forums. They have some real gems. For e.g. you can come across many thumb rules that will help you to stop breaking your head (for e.g. a square no. has odd no. of factors! Can be useful in data sufficiency questions where they ask you determine if a no. is a perfect square or not.)
5) Remember: Solving is not the only way to answer a problem correctly.
6) Know your formulas by-heart. No alternative to this.
7) For sentence correction - know the 2/3 rule. It will help you in avoiding every answer choice fully before you chose or eliminate them.
8) Reading comprehension: Read the 1st question that you will be able to see before reading the paragraph. You can pay special attention to that question even as you give the 1st read.
9) Reading comprehension: If the paragraph is within 50 lines, read the paragraph thoroughly. Avoid rereading the paragraph as much as possible. [Manhattan suggests a strategy of outlining the reading comprehension essay in your notebook. We found it time consuming.]
10) Critical reasoning: These questions can be sometime really tough. Use quick diagrams and charts to understand complex relationships explained in the question paragraph.
11) Essays: Do not keep thinking. Just start jotting down ideas as they come to your mind in the response area. When you see your ideas in writing, you get better ideas. Choose a few ideas to develop them into full-bodied paragraphs. Think of a good introduction and conclusion.
e.g. Contrary to the usual notion, that the introduction is your understanding of the problem statement [many simply end up rephrasing the argument or issue statement], an introduction can also be an entry point to your main idea –for e.g. if you’re going to refute an argument, you can right away start with how people make mistakes in assuming something and then go on to make the idea specific to your problem statement.
Remember to delete your rough notes before you submit your response!Important Sources of Study:
1) OG – Absolutely essential. Get a copy of OG. We found OG 12
to have slightly simpler questions than OG 10
2) Practice tests: Keep a fresh set of full practice tests handy for your last leg of preparations. We found the Manhattan tests useful here. We found these tests to be slightly tougher than the GMAC sample tests [Quants especially]. Hence, we found the quant section relatively easier on the test day.
But you need other tests as well, during the course of your preparation. Almost every vendor, Manhattan, Princeton, GMAT club offer free tests. Make full use of them.
3) Forums: Best sources for learning, rhetoric practising and fine-tuning. GMAT Club and Manhattan forums are the only two forums which we followed to our advantage. The sheer variety and the no. of problems solved in these forums helped us get better with the question patterns and our approach to solving them.