Here is a shorter version of my debrief.
I took my second shot at GMAT on 25th (of January, 2011) and scored 760 (Q50/V44/AWA-5.5), and here is a debrief, for what its worth, of my GMAT journey:Background:
I am Indian-Male-ITProfessional and would admit that havent been the brightest studesnt in my academic life. I scored 68% each in 10 and 12 from CBSE and 72% in my Engineering. Those who are in India can relate to that and would know that my academic performance has been below average at best. If you are interested in taking GMAT, you probably scored more than that.
So if I can improve from 660 to 760, you can too. That should be your take-away from this debrief.Prerequisite:
The first and the foremost important thing is setting a goal – not just the one which you think you can achieve easily but the one which you know is going to give you a tough time. And when i say this, I dont mean just writing the target score on a wall in your room, but writing it in your heart too. The importance of raising the bar can just not be emphasized enough.Resources (Preparation):
While I did maintain an error-log, I didn’t really refer to it much. Instead, I analyzed my mistakes and learnt the relevant rules there and then. I may have made same mistakes couple of times but honestly speaking, I don’t think I could have learnt them any other way.
If that were not enough, I could be willed to rot in hell until all eternity by many after I mention that I did NOT touch the OG this time around, and last time I had practically used nothing but OG. I personally feel that questions in OG are little towards easier side, and you could crack 90% to 95% of them even if you are moderately good with Mathematics (and English).
Having gotten straight what I did not use, here is what I did use for my preparation (not practice, with an exception of RC for which preparation and practice overlapped):Verbal:
1) Sentence Correction: While a lot has already been said about MGMAT SC
book, I would just add that during the 3-4 months of my preparation, I went through MGMAT SC
book some 3 or 4 times, and by the time I was done the book was loose at seams and pages full with footnotes and highlights.
2) Critical Reasoning: The strategies suggested in PowerScore CR
bible are very effective and simple enough that after a time you don’t need to consciously apply them to the questions. They start coming to you naturally or instinctively. Though I would say that author(s) could have done without the “Families” as defined in the book.
3) Reading Comprehension: RC section was my biggest weakness last time, not so much because I am poor at it but because I never really practiced it. It is easy to believe that the questions asked after the passages are similar in nature to the CR questions, and so long as one is good at CR, h/she doesn’t need practice a lot of passages. Trust me, you can not be more wrong.
I did some 8 to 10 LSAT RCs for a week and, as I got progressively better in Active Learning, moved from doing 50-60% to 80-90% accuracy. However, I did not find any books or strategies shared by many on many websites (including GMATClub) of much help. I tried my hand at making road-maps, preparing information diagrams, naming the paragraphs, stating the conclusion of the paragraphs but finally settled down to good ol’ note taking. The drawback of this strategy is that it can be very time consuming, so once my accuracy got fairly good a started minimizing the noted down words.Quantitative:
1) The most important resource I had at my disposal for quant was my girlfriend, who is a Maths Genius of sorts and was a gold medalist in her college. What I am getting at is that it helps to have someone who is good at Mathematics and who is willing to help.
2) I used only MGMAT books
to go thru the basics of the GMAT Quant, but frankly speaking, I didn’t find MGMAT Quant as impressive MGMAT Verbal (MGMAT SC
in particular). Having said that, these books are very effective at what they set out to do and the testimony to that is the fact that I touched no other book for preparation (not practice).Resources (Practice):
This time I practiced at least ten times as much as I practiced last time, I give that to myself, and most of the practice material was the hard stuff. Following are the resources I used and my two cents on their worth.Verbal:
1) 700-800 Series: A good bunch of tough questions; really helped me improve my aptitude. Since the questions are categorized question-type wise, I knew precisely what were my strengths and weaknesses. I would typically consider a section in which I got more than 15% of the questions wrong my weak area and put in extra effort in such sections.
2) LSAT Papers: Extremely helpful for RC to say the least. I also tried a couple of CR questions from these papers but found them too off the beat.
3) 1000 Series: I am sure there are people who swear by this series, but personally I found the questions way below the standard. I would not recommend it to people who are planning to score in high 700s (which is pretty much everybody).
4) Paper based tests: If there is one thing that I truly regret, its having gone thru some 20-25 of the paper based tests. Questions were below standard and never got more than I couple of questions wrong, consequently I almost slipped back into the realm of over-confidence. Please stay away from them.
5) Kaplan 800
/Advanced: Finally something really good from the conventional bookstore. It presents a bunch of Quant questions tough not in terms of calculations but in terms of concepts tested.
6) MGMAT question bank: I really can not praise MGMAT enough, let my gratitude suffice.Quantitative:
The most important resources for the Quant were the wonderfully tough GMATClub tests
. However if you are not careful these tests may lead you into thinking you are worthless!! I personally never got more than 22-23 correct. But then again, the extra tough nature of these questions is intentional. Or so I have been told. Another issue with GMATClub tests
is that they do not give you a real test feeling, since the sections (Quant and Verbal) are disjoint. Besides we have too few Verbal tests (only 6).
I also did many small compilations such as "198+ tough questions", "700+ level DS questions", "tough maths problems" etc. While I found them to tough to be tested on GMAT, I was glad to be challenged. In fact, at times I really felt the lack of enough tough questions in quant. May be someone should compile a collection like the 700-800 Series, and that somebody better be somebody else .Tests:
I would just repeat here what others have already said:
1) Take a lot of practice tests.
2) Take the tests in controlled environment.
3) Start writing AWA as soon as possible.
I took some 10 practice tests (excluding GMATClub tests
) over a period of 3-4 months, all MGMAT CAT and GMATPrep. That’s right, no Veritas
, no Knewton
, no Kaplan
. Nothing Else.
MGMAT CAT: These tests are pretty challenging and must takes. They also have the algorithm to change the difficulty level of the questions as you get previous question right or wrong, which brings them pretty close to the original GMAT algorithm. However, these tests derive a major chunk of the questions from the same pool 700-800 series derives from, so once you are through with 700-800 series you score on MGMAT CAT tends to be heavily inflated. For this reason I did not take any more MGMAT CATs after my third one. Here is my score chart:
MGMAT CAT1 680 (Q47/V36)
MGMAT CAT2 690 (Q45/V38)
MGMAT CAT3 760 (Q49/V45)
These tests were from early to late December.
GMATPrep: It was with a lot of apprehension that I started taking GMATPrep tests
. Last time my best score on MGMAT CAT was 680 and on GMATPrep was 720, and since my actual GMAT score was 660 I did not have a lot of faith in GMATPrep when I started preparation again. Here is my score chart anyway:
GMATPrep1 Don’t remember the exact score and split but in low 700s.
GMATPrep1 710 (Q49/V39)
GMATPrep2 720 (Q49/V40)
These three tests were sometime in late November - early December
GMATPrep1 760 (Q50/V44)
GMATPrep2 740 (Q48/V44)
GMATPrep1 770 (Q51/V45)
GMATPrep2 740 (Q47/V44)
These tests were from 10th Jan to 22nd Jan.D-Day Experience:
Test day experience was nothing unusual. I slept around 12 the previous night (which is usual for me), and while the alarm was set to go at 0800, got up at around 0700-0730. Reviewed some Idioms (from MGMAT SC
) and went through Inequality concepts, as this is one area I still don't feel very comfortable in (luckily, no inequality questions in actual GMAT). After taking a shower I realized that I had ran out of deodorant and thought maybe it wasn’t a lucky day for me, but nothing I could do there.
I had the GMAT appointment at 1300, and I knew the center well enough from my previous experience. Reached the center around 1230 and immediately proceeded to take the test. Unfortunately, some major renovation work was in progress on the same floor of the building and I was sat in a corner, so I was getting noise from two directions. Though the test center did provide ear-plugs but nothing beats the absolute silence. Now, I have this major problem of poor concentration and I frequently need to slap myself back into the moment. Even last time I frequently found myself humming a tune, and to ensure this didn't happen again I kept the car stereo tuned to static while driving to the test center. In retrospection, the noise from the construction work may have gone to work in my favor, after all.
In AWA, the AoA was fairly easy and had 2 obvious loopholes which I exploited around. The AoI, on the other hand gave me some cramps in stomach, and after 15 minutes or so I had a feeling that I wasn't doing very well. I somehow mentioned my points without elucidating much and went on to summarize the content. I was not very happy with the way things had turned out so far and I talked myself into believing that I still could pull a Monica in Quant and Verbal, but the AWA was a total goner. As it turns out, it was not.
I don’t remember any question giving me tough time, except for the last question in Quant for which I ran out of time. For that one, I was down to final few seconds, and while I do remember the question I don't remember which option I clicked on. In the 4 tests that I had taken in the last 2 weeks, I managed to finish both the section in 60-65 minutes. While I was ok with this over-speeding in Verbal (not many wrong answers anyway), I definitely felt the need to slow down in quant, in which I was consistently getting 8-9 questions wrong and most of them in DS. I decided to take it easy on D-Day, but guess I took it a little too easy.
I had been consistently doing well in Verbal in past few tests (44,44,45,44), and knew that unless I get overconfident, I should not have too much trouble. And except for one RC question in which they asked for author's tone (I did not know meaning of one of the words and only 3 out of remaining 4 were definitely wrong), I wasn't particularly bothered by any question; though it stands to reason that I definitely made some mistakes along the way, else I'd have scored better than 44.Acknowledgements:
Though I am thankful to everybody who helped me or supported me in any which way in my quest, some have been more helpful and directly involved than others.
I am particularly thankful to Caitlin Clay, gurpreetsingh and ballubalraj.
PS: Correct me if I am wrong.