To start off, a little about my background; currently 27, Asian male, top 25 undergrad, 3.4 gpa, working in finance. I started seriously studying for the GMAT in December of 2010. I decided to self-study using the Manhattan study guides. I went in sequential order starting with page 1 of study guide 1, spending about 2 hours a day. By March of 2011, I got through all of the study guides and then started taking practice MGMAT CAT exams. For the next month, I would score in the high 600’s and scheduled an exam date for early April. The week of, I got a 710 on the MGMAT CAT #6 so I felt good going into the exam but honestly not knowing all 100% of the material.
Exam day: I felt great after the essays so I was really pumped up during the break (mistake #1 – more on that later). I didn’t write much on my laminated scratch sheet so I didn’t ask for a new one (mistake #2) going into Quant. I got crushed. I didn’t expect so many D.S. questions which I hated during my practice so I obviously wasn’t prepared. I also didn’t expect to see so many D.S. questions back-to-back. But I was able to get through the test at a good pace until the last 5 questions. With a lack of focus and little room on scratch paper, I didn’t give these questions as much attention thinking my fate in Quant had already been decided. After quant, I took a break but because I felt so burned by Quant, I wanted to run back and tackle Verbal (which I was slightly stronger in based on my practice). After a short break, I went into Verbal but I couldn’t clear my mind of how poorly I thought I did in Quant. In terms of the Verbal material, I didn’t think it was difficult – I felt my practice CATs were on par and there was nothing that surprised me. When I finished, I felt that my Verbal could carry my overall score… not so much. I ended up with a 650: Q46 and V35.
Immediately after the exam, even though I felt dejected, I made sure to write down how I felt what I could have done differently while it was fresh in my mind.
#1 – don’t put so much emphasis on essay. While I think it’s important to practice the essays in a real life setting by simulating the time and breaks, I don’t think this portion requires 1/3 of my energy, so to speak.
#2 – let the clock run out and take full advantage of the break. If you have a couple of minutes leftover after you review your essay, just let the clock run and enjoy that spare 2 minutes. If you hit okay right away, you don’t get extra time toward your break.
#3 – ask for new scratch paper. Not just for more space to write on but helps to mentally move on to the next section.
#4 – bring a snack during the break. Fruit and a granola bar.
It took me months to get back on the study wagon as I wanted to focus on other things in my life. In December of 2011, I started studying again. This time, I spent the bulk of my time doing practice questions and keeping a log of what I got correct and incorrect. This is very important. There are some great tools out there (all found in the gmatclub forums) that keep track of the types of errors I was making so I was able to focus on my weak points – I figured out that I was weak in probability; weak in the sense that I could do them but not under a time crunch. Another great tool is the GMAT Timer
. I used this tool every single time I was doing practice problems to get in the cadence of doing problems in 90 seconds. It was annoying as heck to hear the beep every 90 seconds but it conditioned me properly for the real life exam. I wrote down which questions I got wrong (in the OG12
) and searched these forums to figure out the right answer. A year ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders and move on. The exam will exploit your weaknesses, so you can’t have any. I thought the MGMAT CATs were too easy in comparison to the actual test. I paid the $100 for the gmatclub tests
and it was the best investment I made. The quant tests are hard but I started to feed off the challenge. Towards the end of my studies, I did 1 quant test every 2 days as I felt that quant was where I could make the most significant improvement (“I’m good at math but the problems weren’t clicking for me.”) I probably ended up doing 12, and that was sufficient because I spent a lot of time on the forums reading how other people were able to solve it – to be honest, I underestimated how helpful people would be; I thought people would sabotage others and post incorrect answers. I’m very grateful to the forums and the makers of the practice tests.
The last big adjustment I made was a lifestyle change. The first time I prepared for the exam, I tried to spend every free moment I had to study, sacrificing workouts, and eating fast food to free up some time. This was my downfall. The second time around, I created a realistic calendar I would be able to follow which included going to the gym (I worked out harder than ever), cooking healthily at home, and setting aside 1.5-2hours/day to study. As cheesy as this sounds, I was not going to let the gmat own me, I was going to own it. I was scoring 700 in the practice exams (there are quite a few free practice CATs and some are flat out terrible). Going into the test, I told myself that my goal was to get through the entire exam, meaning, not let one problem let me down but keep trucking until the end. When I was done, I thought I would have to take it for a 3rd time… When I hit submit, I was shocked to see that I got a 710! (Q50, V36) My feeling of despair must have been because I was getting really tough questions in quant but I got through it.