I know there are many other debriefs from high scorers, but reading posts on GMATClub with suggestions on how to study helped me a lot so I thought I would share what worked for me. A little background on me, I'm a Software Engineer and native English speaker. Typically in school I've done well in Math and ok in English.
I decided back in June 2010 that I wanted to take the GMAT. I found a few example GMAT quantitative and verbal problems online and when I tried to do them I failed miserably. I knew I would have to get some study guides so I hopped on Amazon and bought a couple of the top rated GMAT prep books. This was before I knew about GMATClub and the books I got turned out to be terrible (and I haven't seen them recommended her on GMATClub). In July I discovered GMATClub and began reading the suggestions and debriefs. Based on the suggestions here I purchased the following books:
- Manhattan GMAT 8 strategy guides
- Official GMAT Verbal Review, 2nd Edition
- Official GMAT Quantitative Review, 2nd Edition
- Official Guide for GMAT Review, 12th Edition
- Official Guide for GMAT Review, 10th Edition (so I would have more real practice questions)
- GMAT Test Simulation Booklet (the yellow scratch pad)
I began studying in October 2010 and for the first month of study I went through the MGMAT strategy guides. I took notes in a notebook for each guide, made flash cards for any concepts I had difficulty on, and did all the practice problems at then end of each section in the guide. After completing the guide I had a two to three hundred flashcards. I would review the flashcard deck once a week all the way up to the test date and I gradually pulled cards out of the deck as I became confident that I would remember them. The cards covered formulas, number properties, verbal rules (ex: parallelism rules, what to check for subject verb agreement, etc.), and example problems. The MGMAT guides
in my opinion were indispensable. I found them easy to read and understand and they covered all the background material needed for the GMAT extremely well.
After I completed the MGMAT guides
I took my first practice test at the end of October. I opted to use the official sample test from GMAC and I scored a 720 (Q49, V39) if I remember correctly. I was pretty happy with the score, but I noticed I really struggled on DS and SC problems.
I spent the next 1.5 months leading up to my official exam practicing all the problems I could find. I would do about 5 problems at a time, timing each problem, and then go and review the answers/explanations. It was at this point that I started keeping an error log using a template
I found on GMATClub, although I probably should have started right from the beginning. I found entering problems to be very time consuming so I only entered problems I got wrong or had a lot of difficulty with. Since I initially struggled with DS and SC I focused on those problems for a couple weeks. I found the problems in OG Verbal
Review and OG Qualitative Review to be easier than the problems in OG10
so I worked through the entire DS section of OG Quantitative and the entire SC section of OG Verbal
which really helped me feel more comfortable with those type of problems. Then for the next several weeks I worked on all the hard problems I could find. I did problems from towards the end of each section in OG10
, the brutal SC
from the GMATClub verbal SC forum and the Hardest Quantitative Questions tests from GMATClub tests
. Going through all these difficult problems really helped solidify my understanding of concepts. Working with difficult quantitative problems also really helped me learn how to find the answer in the quickest way rather than trying to solve every problem using the normal approach (which can be time consuming). The final two weeks leading up to the test I went through all the problems I had entered in the error log
and carefully went over the explanations for problems I continued to get wrong.
Also during my final month of study I took 3 more full sample GMAT tests (including AWA sections) so I would feel comfortable with the rigor of going through the entire testing process. On the sample tests I scored a 710 Q45 V42 (MGMAT), 730 Q49 V41 (MGMAT), and 760 Q51 V42 (GMAC) in that order (Q & V score may be off by a point or two since I'm writing from memory). For my final test I also followed a suggestion I had read on these forums and drove to the actual testing place so I knew exactly where it was and then drove home and took the test. Since I am an Engineer, I don't have to write a whole lot so my AWAs left a bit to be desired. However I found chineseburned's AWA guide
to be very helpful and I did about 5 practice AWA essays outside of the tests to get used to writing essays under a time crunch again and examine what type of spelling/grammar mistakes I made when there was no spell checking.
Finally test day came around. I got a good solid 8 hours of sleep the night before and in the morning I did one last review of the flash card deck and a few sample problems to get myself in the right mindset (my test was scheduled for noon). I brought some water, snacks, and a 5 hour energy drink to the test center. Right before the test I took the 5 hour energy to keep me focused and alert during the test. The AWA section went well and I took the optional break to get some water. I had a bit more trouble on the quantitative section than normal since there seemed to be more problems than usual that hit my weakest areas, but I felt it went ok. Again I took the optional break to get some water and snacks since I was starting to feel hungry. Shortly into the verbal section I needed to use the restroom and towards the end it was getting pretty bad which I think may have caused me to move through problems quicker. At the end I got my score, 760 Q48 and V47. The quantitative was a point or two lower than my average on the practice tests, but the verbal was a full 5 points higher than my best on the practice tests. My guess is I was second guessing myself too much on the verbal section, and because I needed to use the restroom I just went with my first instinct. My suggestion would be to take a practice verbal test where you just go with your first instinct (especially on SC problems) and see if you do better or worse than normal.
Summary of Suggestions:
- Use the MGMAT 8 strategy guides
- Read chineseburned's AWA guide
- Take notes AND make flash cards
- Go through lots of difficult problems. I got OG10 and OG12 since they have little overlap.
- Get a good nights sleep the night before the test
- Do some light reviewing and practice problems the day of the test to get your head in the right mindset
- Use the restroom during the breaks if you think you need to go in the slightest
- For the verbal section try a practice test where you go with your first instinct (although, do go with your second instinct if you are 100% sure your first instinct was wrong) and see how you do
- Get the GMAT test simulation scratch pad so you are comfortable using it
Thank you GMATClub, the suggestions I found on here were a huge help in formulating a study plan and this forum was a great resource for difficult problems.
Edit: Total studying time was about 6-10 hours a week for about 10 weeks. I may have gone a little overboard in my approach, but I really wanted to nail it the first time so I could just be over with it.
Edit2: I was reading shadowsjc's debrief
and he said:
There were a couple of questions that I knew right away I would either a) have no shot on , or b) would take me more than 4 mins to solve, so I guessed right away and moved on. I think I did this at least twice. I think if you have the confidence to do this, you will improve your score in the long run.
I did this as well throughout my practice tests and on the real GMAT.