I've been a silent follower of the forum for a while, and now that the journey is complete I'd like to give back to the community and share my experience. I do so hoping that others will find inspiration and courage in my story, as I have been inspired by so many great stories I've read here.
Executive summary: if I, a non-native English speaker with less than average quant skills, with no formal training in English at all, and quite some years away from my last academic foray, can get a 750, anyone can do it, period.
About me: 29 yrs old, non-native English speaker, hailing from Romania.
My GMAT preparation effort started on July 27th (a little less than 8 weeks of study), when I took the Knewton diagnostic exam, without any prior preparation.
Let me just say this upfront: I SUCKED.
Math was never my strength, and whatever quant skills I had back in college, they were gone. I scored an appalling 590 (31, 42), which was a bit of a wake up call. I expected my score to be less-than-stellar, but 590 was really awful. My verbal skills were good, but needed some polish nonetheless.
Reeling from the shock, I immediately did two things which I believe did the most to change the course of my journey: I signed up for Knewton's GMAT Prep course, and I took almost 4 weeks of leave from work.
Regarding Knewton, I could not have made a better choice. Its thorough, no-nonsense approach covers everything you need to know in a structured manner. It basically built me up, both in terms of knowledge and in terms of confidence, since I didn't feel alone in the struggle anymore. Therefore, I wholeheartedly recommend Knewton to anyone studying for the GMAT, and I'd like to take a moment to thank Chris Wu for his patience and excellent teaching skills.
To be fair, a lot of my time was invested in brushing up my math. I did pick up some new things on SC/CR from Knewton, but my RC was very high from the beginning (I rarely missed one-two questions per sitting). I'm not sure why though; perhaps it is because I used to read a lot of English literature some years ago.
Anyway, I spent the next 4 weeks immersed in GMAT materials. I had two 3-hour live classes per week, and a LOT of homework and assessments both before and after the class. Really, if you take Knewton, expect to invest a significant amount of time. You will literally do hundreds and hundreds of questions, assessments, re-assessments, etc. Overall, I believe I spent an average of 3-4 hours per day, maybe more, reading, learning, taking tests.
My test scores are:
Diagnostic Knewton: 590 (31, 42)
Knewton #1: 650 (40, 41)
Knewton #2: 700 (44, 42)
Knewton #3: 640 (36, 43)
Knewton #4: 660 (41, 41)
GMATPrep 1: 730 (48, 42)
GMATPrep 2: 700 (did not record Q and V scores)
GMATPrep 1: 770 (retake, did not record Q and V scores)
I can definitely confirm that GMATPrep is the best predictor of your results, and it comes closest to the real thing. I found Knewton's exams to be quite a bit more difficult than the real thing, especially in quant. I'm sure it's meant to be this way, and given my results, I have no reason to complain. Just be aware of this fact and if you score lower than expected in a Knewton test, don't let it demoralize you; you'll probably do significantly better on test day.
Books used: OG11
, GMAT Quant Review, GMAT Verbal Review, MGMAT SC
's GMAT 800
. As you can see, the book list is pretty standard, no fancy stuff. I didn't even get the chance to open the Verbal Review and the SC Guide, unfortunately.
My whole strategy was based on the fact that I already had very strong verbal skills to begin with. I felt that it would make little economic sense to try and improve further in verbal, but given the limited time to Round 1, I would be better off investing in bringing the quant skills up to a reasonable level. In practice, this translated to (1) go through all Knewton coursework, then (2) do the OG12
, Quant Review and GMAT800 and finally (3) take the GMATPrep.
I went through about 70% of the hard content of the GMAC books. I barely touched GMAT800 because time was running out and I thought it wise to focus on the OG instead.
I stopped doing anything GMAT-related yesterday. I took the day off, relaxed, had a nice dinner, listened to some music, etc, and went to bed early (sort of). I woke up this morning very fresh, ate something light and went to the test center. However, when the lady said "would you like to begin now?", my stomach turned.
) I had a brief moment of panic, but then the training kicked in and by the time I was in front of the computer, all emotion was gone. I made full use of my breaks, splashing water on my face each time and eating a candy bar to maintain an appropriate blood-sugar level. I had no lunch, only a sandwich before the test, since eating an entire meal makes me a bit sleepy and I wanted to avoid that.
Not everything went perfect, though.
With 10 minutes of the quant section remaining, a lady entered the test room, sat next to me and started her test. She then coughed for 30 minutes straight. 10 minutes into the verbal section I started to have violent thoughts.
After another 10 minutes I reached quite a difficult RC passage, and all I could hear was her cough.
I couldn't read anything, I couldn't focus on anything else except the lady's coughing. That's when I gave in and used the earplugs. If this happens to you, use the earplugs immediately. I avoided using them for 30 minutes because I thought having something in my ears would distract me (very stupid thought, I know :p). It doesn't, it helps a lot. If all else fails, DO raise your hand and point out the problem to the test administrator. I contemplated doing so but felt bad for the lady and didn't want to cause any trouble to her during the exam, after all she couldn't help it. Anyway, I put on the earplugs and went on to see a 750 (47, 47) on the screen. I couldn't believe my eyes! I knew it went well, and expected a low 700, maybe 720 maximum, but the score blew me off the chair.
That's my story, folks. If I could sum up my GMAT experience into advice to a prospective test taker with a similar starting profile (crappy quant, solid verbal), it would read like this:
- It's NOT that difficult
- It's as much (if not more) a test of managing your emotions and your time as a test of your quant and verbal skills. In my opinion, the only way you'll get to the level where you can control your emotions and time is by doing A LOT of tests, always timed
- Do not go for extremely difficult question sets. In my opinion, they add no value. I still suck at the hard GMAT Club tests
, I barely get 2-3 right questions. I did some hard sets and then stopped, because I found them confidence-shattering.
- Get a prep company behind you, if you can afford it. Specifically, get Knewton. I know how this sounds, but I'm really enthusiastic about my experience with them.
- Save the GMATPrep for last, and go through EACH question you got wrong. Thoroughly understand your mistake.
- Do not AVOID confronting your mistakes and weak areas, but focus on them instead. You hate probabilities? Focus on them for a few days. XY-plane making you nauseous? Spend time with it until you love it.
- Do invest time in verbal if your skills are not up to speed. A strong verbal score WILL make the difference.
If I can be of any further help, please do ask, I'd be glad to assist fellow GMAT warriors