Update 3 (Aug 11, 2012):
I have received multiple requests for the study documents in which I compiled Bunuel's quant problems. I have (hopefully) removed all personally identifying information from the files and attached them as a zip file below. Good luck, everyone!Update 2:
I just got my official scores. My IR score was 8 (despite not answering the final two questions) and I basically bombed the essay... AWA was 4.5. I can't really imagine what caused my essay to be so poor. I know that waiting for 30 minutes before the test made me nervous. Or maybe I just wrote the wrong stuff!Update:
I want to thank everyone for their kind words and support. In case anyone is interested (or incredulous), I've added a Notice of GMAT Testing Irregularities
file that I received from the Pearson Vue Security Team. It simply says I'm not allowed to take the GMAT for five years. I'm under the impression that this is standard procedure.
I haven't posted very much on GMAT Club forums before now because I never thought I had anything worthwhile to share, but now that I got a
good GMAT score, maybe my debrief will help someone.
I am a 25 year-old American male. I have always performed above average on standardized tests. I had great success with the ACT especially. I didn't care as much for the SAT. I remember the obscure vocabulary and analogies to be quite challenging.
I received a BS in chemical engineering and a MS in bioengineering from a good-but-not-great state school (although our football team is top-notch). After my master's I joined the Peace Corps (in 2010). My work mostly involves community development and English education in Ukraine.
Method of Study and GMAT Score History
I used the OG 12
and GMATPrep software. I liked the OG because it provides answer explanations. Because of the introduction of the IR section, I was actually able to use two versions of GMATPrep software (before and after the change). This allowed me to have 4 adaptive practice exams. In general, I never studied on two consecutive days, nor for longer than 3 hours at a time. When using the OG, I enjoyed working through one question type at my own pace without a time limit.First GMATPrep Practice Exam
Last summer (2011) I determined that I wanted to pursue an MBA after Peace Corps if I would be accepted to a highly ranked program. I downloaded the GMATPrep software from mba.com. I took a practice exam on July 13, 2011. I received a score above 700. I don't remember what it was exactly, but I remember thinking that while the score wasn't amazing, it wasn't so low that I felt nervous about preparing for the test. I forgot about the GMAT for a while.Registering for the Test and Practicing Diagnostic Questions
On April 29, 2012 I finally registered to take the GMAT in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 3, 2012. I wanted to take it before it changed in early June, but I didn't want to miss work at the end of the school year (since I'm a teacher) and the dates just didn't work out. I had the good fortune of finding a copy of GMAC's Official Guide, 12th Edition among the free books that volunteers leave in the Peace Corps office. This guide has a short diagnostic test (paper-based) that I used to test myself. I intended to answer the quantitative questions, find how many I'd missed, then answer the verbal questions, but I never got to the verbal questions. I was appalled that I had missed about 10% of the quantitative diagnostic questions. I reviewed my mistakes and realized that half of them were due to careless mental math errors (saying 12 divided by 1.5 = 6, or 4 out of 20 is 25%) and the other half were due to reading the question incorrectly, thereby missing important details. I didn't do any other studying in April.
Working with the Official Guide (12th Ed.)
In mid-May I decided to answer 40 of each question type available in the official guide. There were five question types (PS, DS, CR, SC, and RC). I didn't time myself for these and I didn't do more than one question type in a single day. When I had the time and urge to study, I simply opened the guide to the section of interest and began answering questions using only a pen and scratch paper. I would answer 40 questions without a break (but also without a time limit), but no more than 40, except in the case of RC, where it was logical to answer the 41st question as well. It took me a few weeks to get to all five categories. I think I did the two quantitative question types in May, but didn't finish answering the other three until mid-June. Of the five categories, I missed one question for each category except PS, of which I answered all 40 correctly. I would make sure to review the answers and explanations for every question I answered incorrectly or answered correctly by guessing.
I felt that answering 40 questions at a time improved my stamina and ability to focus. Answering just one type of question at a time served to get me better acquainted with each question type. I removed the element of time so that I would be able to learn how to answer correctly. I wanted to identify the mistakes I was making without the complication of time limit effects.Subsequent GMATPrep Practice Exams
Still using the old
GMATPrep software (based on Java), I took my second practice exam on June 26, 2012. For the Analysis of an Argument section, I simply typed out an outline with sections such as: argument's thesis
, supporting evidence
, underlying assumptions
, alternative explanations
, and other information that would be useful
. I didn't write an actual essay. I decided to skip the Analysis of an Issue
section, since it wouldn't be on my actual exam (I would take the Next Generation GMAT with Integrated Reasoning). I finished the quantitative and verbal sections in good time. It was only later that I realized how much mental fatigue I spared myself by only writing an outline for the first essay and skipping the second essay altogether. My result on this exam was 770 (50Q, 46V). I felt really encouraged by this, but I knew that it didn't account for the new IR section.
I had taken a look at the practice IR questions on mba.com and didn't feel too concerned about the new section. Actually, I thought it would favor analytical people like me. I can't say that writing is my strong suit, so I wasn't upset to see the second essay go. On June 27 I downloaded the most recent GMATPrep software that is based on Adobe AIR. I was stunned by the quality and breadth of the changes GMAC made to the software.
On June 28-29 I worked through more PS problems in the OG, but didn't do anything strict or regimented. I think I answered 100 on the 28th and 60 or 70 on the 29th, until I got tired and decided to play Diablo. Diablo 3 and GMAT preparation were my two time sinks from June 20 until G-Day. I found it necessary to decompress, especially after taking practice exams.
On June 30 I took a practice exam using the new software and had problems with time management (it's convenient that the new software saves this information for later review). I only answered 34 of 37 quantitative questions and 11 of 12 IR questions. I answered all verbal questions in 47 minutes. Verbal has never given me too much trouble, but now that I'm an English teacher, I find it even less challenging. My score on this practice exam was 760 (49Q, 45V, 8 IR). I thought it was noteworthy that I got a perfect IR score even though I didn't answer all the IR questions (and I'd even guessed on the last question I answered because time was running out). I realized there is some leeway there. I was a bit disappointed by the decrease in my score. I told people, including myself, that my goal was 730, but I secretly hoped for 750+.
After this practice exam I searched GMAT Club forums for explanations of the quantitative questions I'd missed. This is when I discovered Bunuel, GMAT Club member of the month and all-around outstanding poster. I saw his signature contained links to all sorts of challenging quantitative problems. I knew that I wouldn't have consistent internet access after leaving my apartment on July 1, so I opened all of Bunuel's PS links and saved the problem and solution sets on my computer as Word documents (although if you do this, be aware that not all equations copy properly automatically; I had to look for "holes" and manually copy the relevant image file from the original post and insert it into my document). I began reviewing exclusively these especially challenging 700+ questions. One unforeseen consequence of reviewing only super-hard questions is that I lost my confidence.
I encountered questions I didn't readily know how to solve more frequently than I had done when I was simply answering questions in the official guide. This was especially true of complex permutation questions, for which even Bunuel's solutions and explanations were sometimes difficult for me to understand. As test day drew near, I told myself that the real GMAT wouldn't contain exclusively super-hard questions, and I should calm down.
On July 1 I took an overnight train from my home to Kyiv, where I would take the test. On the train I solved PS questions (without a time limit) until the lights were turned off. I wasn't able to sleep all night because the passenger next to me snored very loudly. I had been aware that I might not be able to sleep on the train, which is why I had planned to arrive in Kyiv a day early, not simply on the day of the exam. I arrived on July 2 and found the test center. I actually walked all the way into the office where I would need to register on the day of the exam so that I knew how long it would take me to get there. I went to the apartment where I was staying and took my last remaining practice GMAT. I again had problems with time management. I only answered 35 of 37 quantitative questions, but finished the verbal section in 53 minutes and the IR section in 15 minutes. I noticed that all IR questions and some RC passages and questions were the same as those in the first practice exam I'd taken using the new GMATPrep software. This is one reason my times on those sections were so fast. My score on this practice exam continued the downward trend. It was 750 (49Q, 44V, 8 IR). I tried to encourage myself by reasoning that I hadn't slept at all on the train. That night I went to bed around 10:30 (tired from no sleep the previous night and mentally exhausted from the practice exam), but I couldn't fall asleep for a long time. My mind was racing. I worried what would happen if I got a low score. I worried that I wouldn't have time to retake the test before essay prompts begin to be released, and then my attention would be divided. I didn't think my work experience alone would get me into a good school. I tried to fall asleep but kept thinking about how much I needed a strong score. Also, it was just too hot in my room. My window was open, but the night air still hadn't become cool. Eventually I fell asleep.
I woke up at 7:20, well before my 8:00 alarm went off. I ate breakfast, although it didn't sit too well because of nerves. I traveled from the apartment to the Peace Corps office in Kyiv, where I planned to return the official guide I'd borrowed and pass the time until my exam. I had about two hours to kill. I couldn't help but fret about the test. I checked my email, chatted with people, and solved PS problems from the guide to calm down. I read online about London Business School and INSEAD. I knew three of the five schools to which I would send my scores, but I wasn't sure about the last two spots. In the end, my five were Booth, Kellogg, Fuqua, LBS, and INSEAD. Now I wish I had replaced INSEAD with Tuck.
I arrived at the test center early. My appointment was for 2:00 and I arrived around 1:15. The test administrator asked me to wait, but he told me that he could get started if I gave him my passport and appointment confirmation. I gave them to him and sat in the hallway to wait. I started reading some posters on the walls, but I couldn't keep from getting nervous. I had serious butterflies. I sipped from a bottle of juice I'd brought with me. I had heard that it's good to drink something with sugar and electrolytes during the scheduled breaks to alleviate mental fatigue. I ended up "sipping" half the one-liter bottle before I even began my test.
At about 1:45 the test administrator, Vladislav, invited me in to have my palm scanned and picture taken. When I said I was ready, he escorted me to the testing room. There were four test stations arranged in a row. It was a small room. I asked Vladislav whether I'd be the only one testing. He said yes. I was relieved.
The first part was the essay. I noticed right away that the computer keyboard's keys felt squishy and it didn't register every keystroke. I typed slowly and deliberately and looked carefully for spelling errors. I also noticed noise from people walking in the hallway. I put in the earplugs that had been supplied to me. I didn't take time to write or type an outline. I was afraid I'd run out of time if I didn't start promptly. In the end, my essay included all the points I wanted to make, all the alternative arguments and underlying assumptions and so forth. But my essay seemed short, and as time ran out I couldn't help but feel that it could have benefited from more polish.
The integrated reasoning immediately followed. I noticed right away that the mouse didn't consistently register clicks. One of the early questions, perhaps the third, was worded in a way that I found quite difficult to understand. I spent a long time (too long) working on this problem. It was a two-column question. I made my selections and checked to see that they met the constraints of the prompt. It seemed that they did, so I moved on. I think I must have spent 8 minutes or more on that problem. Since there were several questions still ahead, I thought that I could save a little time on each of those and be fine. In the end, I didn't have time to answer the final two questions
I don't know my IR score yet, but I'm hopeful that I'll get a 7 or 8, or that my IR score won't count for too much, since business schools will still be adapting to the new GMAT format.
I took the first optional break. According to the lock screen on the computer, I had 8 minutes, but Vladislav told me I would have only 5 minutes. I went to the hallway, drank some juice, and cursed myself for running out of time on IR. I tried to calm myself before returning from my break, but it was no use.
The quantitative section went smoothly, except that one of the pens supplied to me didn't write very well. It would make two lines whenever I made a stroke. I read each question, then solved it on my laminated 10-sheet notepad, then selected my answer, then checked to see that the answer worked. I spent the most time on the DS questions and on PS questions that were structured with three conditions (I, II, III) and answer choices like (I only, II only, I and III, etc.). I assume most GMAT Club members know what I'm talking about. Even though I checked each question after selecting my answer, I finished the section in good time. I think I had 6-8 minutes left. I was relieved that I didn't see any complex permutation questions like those I'd stressed about in Bunuel's problem sets.
I took the second optional break. I sipped juice. I used the bathroom. I rinsed my face with water. I fussed about my appearance in the mirror. I thought about my performance on the quantitative section and felt that there was still hope for me to get a good overall score (this is in contrast to how I felt after IR). It all depended on the verbal section.
I've always found SC relatively easy. Verbs should agree with nouns, phrases should logically describe their noun (and that noun should be the closest noun to the phrase in almost every case), and there are a few finer points (like the differences between "fewer" and "less," "between" and "among") that aren't difficult to remember. On RC questions I took care to identify the basic content of each paragraph, and from the content I deduced the purpose of the paragraph. I also payed attention to the language used throughout the passage, which can sometimes make the purpose of the passage clear. On CR questions it's most important to identify which answer choices have nothing to do with the topic at hand. I reached the last verbal question, a SC-type, with about 6 minutes left. It was at this point that I realized I hadn't looked at the timer throughout the entire verbal section. Thinking back, I only glanced at the timer two or three times during the quantitative section. I realized that over the course of the test, I had become a kind of question-answering zombie
--I had no awareness of anything besides the present question. I didn't even recall the question immediately prior to the current one. As the exam had worn on, I came to be entirely focused on the current prompt, what it was really asking, and which answer choices were viable and which were nonsense. I took my time and ended my exam with about 3-4 minutes remaining.
I paused when I saw the report/cancel scores screen. It was the first time I'd seen it, since it wasn't present in the GMATPrep software. I felt good about my test performance with the exception of IR. Then the unofficial score screen came up:
Quantitative: 51 Percentile: 98
Verbal: 51 Percentile: 99
Total: 800 Percentile: 99
I got goosebumps when I saw it! I raised my hand to be dismissed and shakily walked with Vladislav to his station, where he printed out my unofficial score report and scanned my palm one last time. He said it was the first time in two years that he'd seen a perfect score.
General Test-Taking Advice
I can't say I'm a GMAT expert. But I highly recommend all GMAT examinees get acquainted with both the content and the length of the test. I was content with the official guide and GMATPrep software, both of which were produced by GMAC. For specific advanced questions, GMAT Club met all my needs.
Mental fatigue is real and it tends to snowball. I mean that as you approach the end of a section, fatigue will cause you to think more slowly, it will force you to re-read or re-calculate, and spending longer on each question will only serve to fatigue you even more. In the weeks leading up to your exam, take a few practice exams. I recommend taking them at the same time of day you as your test appointment. If possible, determine whether you are mentally fresher in the morning or afternoon before you schedule your exam.
Also, time management is important.
To those expecting scores of 700+, I would say do not pay too much attention to the clock. You have the ability to identify the correct answer, you just need to do it without second-guessing yourself or getting distracted. It might seem counter-intuitive, but I really believe my time management was better because I wasn't paying attention to the time. Don't calculate how much time per question you have remaining. Don't determine whether you are ahead or behind schedule. Focus instead on identifying what the question is asking and which answer choices are decoys or traps. It's important to avoid diverting your attention from the question at hand and losing your train of thought (on the current question) and your momentum (on the test section).
For those who aren't merely struggling against time, I would advise you to use strategies to eliminate answer choices whenever possible. This way, even if you truly don't know how to solve a question, your guesses will be correct more often. That's the goal: to narrow the choices and to do it as quickly as possible. On quantitative questions, use estimates when possible. On questions such as:
Which of the following must be true?
use test (example) numbers when possible, especially testing values between 0 and 1, between 1 and 2, and between -2 and -1 and -1 and 0. Don't forget to test 0 itself! And on SC questions, identify the noun and verb and ignore the answer choices that don't have the right form. On RC questions, an answer choice might use words from the passage but combine them to make a statement that is inconsistent with the content of the passage. Don't be deceived by the presence of conspicuous keywords from the passage. I think the strategies I've listed here will help eliminate the most incorrect answer choices the fastest, thereby helping you finish the section in time. Finally, pay attention on all questions to what's NOT said. Don't add or imagine that an opinion was stated in a passage or a constraint was listed in a quantitative prompt, when in fact there was no such thing.
I'm glad to put the GMAT behind me for now. The initial excitement of my score has worn off and now everything is firmly back in perspective. After all, if a school's student body has a median GMAT score of 700, it means that half of the accepted students scored 700 or below. That means that they were accepted because of other deciding factors and the GMAT didn't change the strength of their application. Similarly, I know that my GMAT won't get me into any schools that don't already like my essays, interview, and work experience.
I don't claim that luck played no part.
I know that I didn't get every quantitative question right; otherwise I would have gotten a quantitative score of 60 according to GMAC's percentiles.
But now that I have taken the GMAT, I can stress about the essays and recommendations, which will be crucial in convincing adcoms to take a chance on an applicant with so little relevant industry experience.
I believe anyone can prepare for the GMAT, and it doesn't cost a fortune. I found the official guide exceptional. Also, Bunuel shared some formulas that weren't in the guide and I had forgotten (such as the sum of the first n consecutive positive odd integers equals n squared). Practice is key! I wish you all luck in your business school endeavors and beyond!
Edit: Edited for formatting and to add a file.
My GMAT debrief
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