I took the GMAT for the first time yesterday (Jan 03, 2012) and scored 720 (Q51, V36). In this long post, I will try and provide as much insight into my preparation and what went wrong on the test day. Hopefully, some of it will help you prepare your own strategy.
I will try and avoid "you should" or "do not", or "you must" kind of a tone. But, the nature of the beast (that is GMAT) and the camaraderie that exists between fellow members on this board may make me use such a tone in a hope that one day someone may avoid the same pitfalls.
I am a non-native speaker from south east Asia. I am an engineer and it's been more than 7-8 years since I studied or took any academic exam. I live and work in the United States (mid-atlantic/south). My primary reasons for MBA are career change and progression. Chicago, Wharton and Columbia are my dream schools (mostly in that order).
I have not completely ruled out international MBA. However, I am not sure how helpful the one-year programs (such as INSEAD) would be in pursuing my ambitions in Finance and Corporate Strategy.
Stage 1: The beginning
After some prodding by peers, mentors and family member, and soul-searching in September/October, I have come to a point where I sort of now know what I want to do with my life over the next ten years. Upon research, the first step and probably the fastest way to achieve such a goal was an MBA.
A quick google search landed me here and I ordered OG12
and couple of MGMAT guides
from Amazon. While I was waiting for the books to arrive, I downloaded GMATPrep and gave the first practice test (without essay).
GMATPrep (sometime in early October) - 710
I do not recall the breakdown. In fact, I don't have that laptop anymore. Quant was somewhere in 47/48 range and Verbal must have been mid 30s. There were number of questions in Quant I wasn't too sure if I was solving the right way. Most of the Verbal answers were based on how the answer choices sounded to my ear.
Stage 2: A month in books
The books arrived and I started digging into both OG12
and MGMAT Number Properties
simultaneously. I would strongly advise against
doing anything with OG12
in the beginning other than trying the diagnostic test.
I liked the MGMAT guides
and upon reading comprehensive reviews on Amazon and here, I ordered all the rest of the guides. For the next month and a half I studied all the guides, did most of the problems from the MGMAT guides
. I was doing the OG12
Quant problems in the meanwhile and had also ordered the Official Quant and Verbal review books for additional practice.
I found all MGMAT guides
to be well written and structured. I will definitely recommend them all to a friend.
I spent some good time on the SC guides, but just quickly skimmed through the RC and CR guides.
Stage 3: First practice tests and shock
11/30/2011 - First MGMAT Test - 690 (Q48, V36) *no essay*
I seriously struggled for time on both sections. Somehow finished the test. I was in a phase of denial. How could this be? Probably I wasn't paying attention.
Two days later I gave another one.
12/02/2011 - MGMAT 2 - 680 (Q47, V35) *no essay*
This was really bad now. I frantically read perhaps 10-20 debriefs on this forum. Fortunately, I came across slingfox's debrief and his commandment of not timing the first few tests. Good idea. But, there must be something else wrong in Verbal.
Upon analyzing the results, I had made multiple mistakes in RC and CR. And, I had taken both of these for granted over the last couple of months.
Looking back at the MGMAT guides
, I got no additional insight on what I was doing wrong. I went back to bb's comprehensive book review post and found mentions of PowerScore guides
. Ordered them on Amazon.Both of these books are phenomenal. I can't speak highly enough of how they have helped me improve my Verbal.
First, the SC guide. Comparing it to MGMAT guide, the content is very similar. What I like about PS SC is its presentation. It builds layer after layer in an easy to understand, conversational way. If you read the book aloud in your mind, you may get the feeling that you are sitting in a classroom being taught by a GMAT instructor. I was very confident after going through this guide.
The same things can be said about PS CR guide. Very structured, conversational language. Couple of times I felt the language and tone to be very southern. Then I flipped back the book and what I find - the company headquarters are in Charleston, SC, no less. And, of course, the book is named Bible. LOL.
Anyway, I would highly recommend both of these guides to anyone struggling with Verbal. Once you have mastered the CR, the RC comes easy. You read "actively" with structure and tone in mind, looking for change in direction, conclusion and so on.
The other thing I picked up on this forum (and MGMAT RC
guide) was taking notes for RC. I always thought I could read and understand a passage without taking any notes. While that is probably still true, taking notes for GMAT RC helps. I never refer back to my own notes. In fact, if I referred back, I won't understand a word of it. Its mostly just gibberish. But, the process of taking short-hand notes helps your brain assimilate that information into smaller chunks of useful information. Think of it as a tool that divides the passage into useful blocks of information and stores them into separate interconnected chambers. When you come across a question afterwards, you just refer back to those chambers and without hesitation you have the right answer.
Stage 4: Untimed
Now that I thought I had mastered my weaknesses, I decided to take another MGMAT CAT. This time untimed.
12/13/2011 - MGMAT 3 - 770 (Q50, V45) *no essay*
So, I know now what I am capable of.
I spent the next couple of weeks finishing up all OG verbal
questions, the Verbal and Quant reviews. I was getting more than 90% correct on CR and RC and about 90% on SC.
Quant seemed to be ok. I had some trouble with Number Properties questions, but I knew my capability for improvement on the subject was only so much considering the time I have.
Stage 5: The next set of CATs and timing struggle
All the following tests were with both the essays and while allowing only 8 minute breaks.
MGMAT CAT 4 - 12/20/2011 - 710 (Q49, V38) Miserable timing both in Quant and Verbal. Was able to do only 35 in Quant and only 37 questions in Verbal
MGMAT CAT 5 - 12/29/2011 - 720 (Q50, V37) Timing was better. Finished all quant questions on time. Rushed towards the end in Verbal and did 3 questions wrong in a row.
GMATPrep 1 - 12/xx/2011 - I had lost the laptop on which I gave the first GMATPrep1. I decided to take it again, reminding myself to take care of timing.
750 (Q48, V45) - Guessed last 4 questions in Quant. I was in a library (to change the test taking atmosphere from familiar surroundings). After the Quant I was like "how could I let myself get personal with those few questions". I need to learn to let go. Happy with Verbal, only 3 incorrect.
MGMAT CAT 6 - 12/29/2011 - 720 (Q50, V37) Timing better than all previous tests, still not ideal. Verbal low as I got last 5 out of 7 questions wrong. I must have rushed through them. Not a single verbal error till question 25.
Final GMATPrep 2 - two days before exam - 01/01/2012 - 750 (Q50, V41) - Much better control on Quant timing. Was able to comfortably finish Quant on time. Verbal was also ok on time, if not great. 6 mistakes. One CR guessed (running out of time). I RC mistake. Must have lost focus.
Discussing the night before the test, my wife asked how I felt and what my concerns were if at all. I hadn't told anyone regarding my practice test scores. I am little superstitious regarding that. I told her that I 'll score ok, only if I manage time properly.
Good night's sleep. Oatmeal for breakfast. Half a cup of coffee. Other half reserved for breaks.
Essays were ok. Took my break. Ate a small candy, half a banana, two gulps of coffee.
Came back for Quant. I must have stared at the first question for 4 minutes or so. It was an optimization question. One variable reduces while the other is increasing. Find the ideal point where the result would be maximum. It was a word translation problem. I must have reread the question 4 times trying to formulate the algebra. Then started brute force AC elimination. Half way through elimination, realized what was being asked and picked the right answer.
I looked at the clock after the second question and I had already consumed six valuable minutes. For a moment I felt like getting up and going home. This was turning out to be one more same old, same old timing struggle. Convinced myself, that there was no point in quitting and that I should just focus on finishing.
I don't know what I did on the next 20 problems. But, I just seemed to solve them in an auto-gear.
I encountered only 3-4 number properties questions and 2-3 permutation/combination, probability questions. Couple of gotchas in DS questions. Towards the end there was this crazy geometry question with 4 squares and 8 circles within a rectangle. It was a DS question. There were at least 4 unknowns. I know I could have solved it. But, it would have taken me more than 5 minutes. Decided to choose C and move on.
After finishing Quant, I took the next break. Ate another half of banana, one more small candy and a gulp of coffee.
Verbal started ok. I was conscious of the fact that I was taking longer on each question, but I wanted to get the first few right. I knew, I 'll gain some speed by the time I got to my first RC. That did happen and I breezed through the first RC in probably 5-6 minutes.
What happened after that is hard to explain. It was as if my brain froze in a thick sheet of ice. I was reading every sentence twice, every CR at least 3-4 times before making sense of what was the topic and what was being asked. I looked at the clock and there were 12 questions to go and just about 15 minutes. I knew I was doomed. I knew there was a 4th RC coming around question 35. At that point, it was hard to concentrate and do anything right. When the RC came as expected around question 33, I had under 5 minutes left. I guessed the entire RC, two CR and half-guessed two SC. Must have been 7-9 questions.
When the section ended, I wasn't sure for a moment what just happened. For a moment I thought perhaps the section went ok. Then thinking back at how MGMAT's scoring had penalized me for getting last few questions wrong and specially RC questions wrong, I sort of knew it couldn't have been too good.
I did two or three of the experimental questions and then randomly selected the rest.
The score - 720 (Q51, V36).
I always thought slingfox was paranoid about test day strategy. I mean sugar, Tylenol before the test, combination of potassium and salt blah, blah.. blah.
Now, I understand why I should have read those posts carefully. From the moment I started driving from home (8am) till the end of the test (2.30pm), it was more than six hours. And, I should have realized I am not the same 20 year old anymore who can do a marathon study for six hours without a break. At a certain point in the test, the mind just refuses to cooperate. The only way out - sugar, little salt and perhaps some (more) caffeine.
I am not saying this is a bad score. I also realize that a 750 may not necessarily increase my chances of acceptance at a program.
Also, I think the Q51 was a fluke and I won't be able to repeat that performance again. There is a good possibility that in my next test, I may end up with a lower Quant score, like 47 and a similar (high 30s) Verbal score.
But, I know for a fact that this test was not the true reflection of my potential. If I would have scored same 720 after completing all questions in time, I would have accepted it as "my" score and moved on.
I have rescheduled my exam for February 11th. I am not applying this year, so no sweat there.
Thanks for reading this long story. Please feel free to ask questions, I 'll help as much as I can.
PS: I am yet to go through all retake experience threads. If you have specific suggestions for me, please feel free to let me know. I am off the books and any kind of preparation for the next 7-10 days.