Hi all, I just got home from taking the GMAT. I scored a 770 (Q49 V47) after roughly 5 months of prep. Here's how it went!
[This is a work in progress. As you can see its very long, so I will continue adding when I have time.]
Test DayLast-minute Prep
My exam was scheduled for 11:30, so I woke up at 8am, showered and had breakfast by 9. I didn't plan on intensely studying at all because I wanted to be at my best. Quant was my weaker section so I clicked through the quant sections of my practice exams (GMATPrep1 and GMATPrep2) and mentally verified that I understood the problem. Most of the time this took roughly 20 seconds, but for a handful I took out the pencil and paper to work through it.
This took maybe an hour, and at 10am I left to go to the driving range and hit some golf balls. I'm a lousy golfer, but physical activity clears all the numbers from my head, and I operate best when my mind feels clear and fresh.Exam Check In
I arrived 30 minutes early but it took another 10 to park and find my way to the Pearson test center (it was a suite in a large office building). I used the bathroom real quick and then walked in. All I brought with me was my drivers license, wallet, cell phone and car keys. They handed me the rules, which I read briefly, and then checked me in using my drivers license. Then I did the palm vein scan thingy, 3 on each hand.
From the front desk I then walked to the test administrator (lady watching the cameras) who also checked my ID and scanned my palm. She then handed me the noteboards and two markers. I asked if I could test the markers real quick, and she said yes. I'm not gonna lie, from reading all the strict rules online I was expecting a stuffier experience, but the Pearson staff was very pleasant and friendly.
Once I had my noteboards, she walked me to my computer. Each station had noice cancelling headphones which I declined to use. Went through the preliminary screens, took a deep breath and it was on.Essay
Not really much to talk about here. I never wrote a mock AWA or read any of the templates on the website. I consider myself a decent writer, so I didn't sweat it much. My essay was relatively short, 3 paragraphs of 3-4 sentences each, but well written. I didn't care much about my AWA score, just wanted something respectable.
During my essay I took the time to write my timing guide on my noteboard: "65-6 ... 55-11 ... 45-16 ... 35-21 ... 25-26 ... 15-31 ... 5-36" Basically with 65 minutes to go I wanted to be starting question 6, etc. I wrote it on the header of 3 pages, which I figured would be enough for Quant.Integrated Reasoning
I didn't study at all for IR, but I had at least completed the section on 3 of my GMATPrep exams. Once again, I was not too concerned about the score, so I used it as an opportunity to warm up my brain. I should note that the IR on my real exam was a couple notches harder than the ones from GMATPrep (i found those pretty easy). I was able to give my best effort for 10 of the questions and had to guess blindly on the last 2.
After IR, I raised my hand, took a bathroom break and got a drink of water. I came back with plenty of time to spare, 5 mins maybe.Quant
Gametime. I had come a long way in quant (more on that below) and it was the true X factor in my score, so I had to perform. Got into a nice rhythm and 8 questions in I was ahead of my desired pace by 5 minutes. I was doing very well on number properties, algebra, and overlapping sets through question 20. Then it started to get hard. Ungodly hard. Obviously this motivated me because I knew I was scoring well, but it messed up my timing. I usually finish with 1-2 minutes extra, but today I still had 4 questions remaining with only 6 minutes to go. During the last 10 minutes I saw one particularly difficult DS question that asked about the minimum product of two slopes + intercepts given the x-intercept of one line and the y-intercept of the another. That was about when my brain exploded-had no idea, and I stared at it for way too long. Also got tripped up on a f(x) substitution question. Both of these took a lot of time and as a result, I had only 60 seconds to do the last question, which was a divisibility PS that I should have gotten.
While I was disappointed about my timing issues, I didn't stress too much because I knew that they were a result of really tough questions. I felt confident that I broke 45, which was my goal.
Once again I raised my hand to take a bathroom break and get water. I took a little more time on break 2, as I was trying to figure out in my head if I got that divisibility question right. I concluded that I didn't. Still felt confident heading into Verbal.Verbal
My bread and butter.. usually. This section I usually finish with 6-10 mins extra, but again I faced very difficult questions and ran out of time. This one was worse- I had 4 minutes to do the last 4 questions. The hard questions kicked in earlier too. Starting at question 15 each SC was a battle. The reading comprehension was much more difficult than any of the GMATPrep passages I had seen. While I regularly tapped into the hardest Verbal questions on my GMATPrep mocks, the "top-end" on the real GMAT was much more challenging. Still, I was amped up from my Quant performance and didn't let it shake me. I powered through the last 4 in 4 and crossed my fingers for a good score.
Blew through the demographic stuff, read the "Report Scores" section carefully, selected "Report Score" and hit next. When I saw the 770, a huge wave of relief and sense of accomplishment washed over me. I had done it. Walked out with my head held high.
Prep: Starting PointAbout Me
I'm 24 years old and I work for a SaaS company. I never really considered business school until I learned that my company would pay for it. I figured you can't beat a free degree. I had previously taken the LSAT and scored in the 99th percentile but opted against law school. (I should note that I spent close to 9 months studying for the LSAT in college, so I'm no savant... My first practice score was 50th percentile)Strengths Going Into Prep:
Verbal. Like I said, I scored high on the LSAT so critical reasoning and reading comprehension came naturally to me. The LSAT is just plain harder IMO. I also had a lot of experience prepping for a standardized test, so I knew how to structure my prep and stay motivated. Weaknesses Going Into Prep:
Math. My job requires no math and my college major only required a basic statistics class. I'm a writing person. I hadn't done any meaningful math since precalculus during my junior year of high school- I never even took calculus. My only beacon of hope was that I scored high in math on the SAT so I knew the potential was there if I could shake off 8 years of rust.
I decided not to start with a diagnostic, because I didn't want to waste a test. I worked full time for all 5 months, though I did take off work the day before the exam.Materials Used
8 ManhattanGMAT Strategy Guides (highly recommended, A+)
MGMAT CAT exams (did not like for reasons below, C+)
MGMAT Question Banks (B)
GMATClub Free Test (A)GMAT ToolKit App
by GMATClub (B+)
GMATPrep Free Software (A+)
GMATPrep Question Pack 1 (A+)
GMATPrep Exam Pack 1 (A-)
Prep Phase 1a: Quant, the untimed daysMGMAT Quant Guides
My prep technically lasted 5 months, but honestly for the first three I would say I was "casually studying." My job was demanding so I probably studied 2-3 hours each weekend. I started by going through each MGMAT guide. I quickly learned I was worse at math than I thought and reverted to completing the "Foundations of GMAT Math
" book which I found very helpful. I remember I actually had to call my friend because I kept trying to multiply 25 x 25 and coming up with the wrong answer. He reminded me that you had to "indent" a placeholder over when multiplying the tens digit.
I followed Manhattan's preset structure: Learn each concept one by one, complete the practice problems at the end. Review. When I finished a book I would complete the OG and Quant Review Guide questions assigned in the back. Because I knew I had a long way to go, I did not time myself. In fact, quite the opposite. I gave myself as much time as I needed to work through each problem. I repeated this for all 5 quant books.Note Taking Strategy
I did not keep an error log
, but any time I came across a concept that I wasn't 100% confident I would write it down in my notebook with an example. The idea was that I know myself and I know what I'm likely to forget. For example:"Total 'ticket sales,' two prices: SOLVE FOR EQUATION, not individual variables!
ex. What is the total revenue from the sale of 5 full price tickets and 10 reduced price tickets?
ex. You are told: The total revenue from 25 full price tickets and 50 reduced price tickets = $500.
YOU DON'T NEED TO SOLVE! They are multiples. DIVIDE!"
I have a whole notebook of this stuff. I yell at myself a lot in all caps.
I would reread these notes before each problem set. My reasoning was that during problem sets, I'm not testing myself. I want to give myself the best possible opportunity to succeed on these questions. Once I completed the set, I would review and add more things that I've learned to my notes, which I would of course reread before subsequent problem sets.Redoing problems
After I finished all the quant in OG and Quant Review Guide, I decided to do them all over again. This took another month. Looking back this was unnecessary and I actually regret doing this because it would delay me from tackling the issue of timing. On the LSAT, untimed practice actually translates relatively well to practice exams. I would soon learn that this was not the case on GMAT.
Prep Phase 1b: Verbal, Intro to Sentence Correction
I decided not to study critical reasoning and reading comprehension. For those of you that struggle with these sections, you're probably rolling your eyes at me right now. But I had it just as bad in quant. For the first month of prep, I thought that 7 x 8 = 63. I'm not kidding.
I did read through the MGMAT Sentence Correction
guide. I'm a native speaker and a good writer, so the idiom lists weren't that helpful, but the discussions on parallelism, subjunctive tense and conditional tense were. Honestly, I ended up deciding something to the effect of "this was helpful, and I will keep it all in mind, but I'm just gonna go with my gut." However, one thing really did stick: the concept of splitting up answers step by step. This is something I did extensively on every SC on my way to a V47. I can't count how many times I'd fly to the correct answer in two steps: 1) eliminate subject/verb agreement issues (mainly plural/singular) 2) parallelism (mainly verbs). The more you get absorbed into the full-length answer, the harder it is to see. Learning to mechanically compare components in answers was critical to my success.
I did a bunch of OG SC and realized after 50 questions or so that I was doing pretty well. I decided it was time to take a practice exam.
Prep Phase 2: First 2 Practice Exams (Rude Awakening)MGMAT CAT #1: 630 (Q34 V45) - Feb 13
My first MGMAT CAT was a mess. Only completed 23 quant questions. COMPLETED 23. I felt lost, scared, demoralized. The ticking clock seemed to grow each second. I was so shook that I didn't even complete the Verbal section; I finished that three days later when I had regrouped.
I left 14 questions blank and of the 23 I completed, I got 14 correct. That was after 3 months of studying, 450+ OG problems done TWICE. I knew I had to work on my timing. My verbal, at least, was great (V45). I was sad about the quant score, but 630 wasn't too far from 700, so I decided to shoot for Q42.
I spent the next few days doing sets of 10 OG problems in 20 minutes. Results were mixed. I kept "bombing" the section because I'd spend too much time on one answer. I needed to learn how to skip. I also used the MGMAT question banks online, with again mixed results. My strengths were Number Properties and Algebra. My weaknesses were Fractions/Decimals/Percents, Geometry, and Word Problems, specifically RATE/TIME/DISTANCE which I curse to this day. After completing the 5 MGMAT question banks for Quant, I decided it was time to take another CAT.MGMAT CAT #2: 650 (Q36 V45) - Feb 16
Huge improvement! I finished twenty-FOUR questions this time.
I hope Clubbers get sarcasm. This time I started out on a decent pace, but once again got sucked in to a hard question and got rocked on time. Left 13 blank, got the same number wrong. I was happy because at least Verbal stayed put and hey, 650 is 20 points better than 630. But I chalked it up to variation. I didn't think I was really 20 points better than I was 3 days prior.
Prep Phase 3: Quant Improvement Plan
I decided it was time to practice a ton of math, always 2/min per question. No more of this untimed crap. I still have this list saved in my email drafts:"GMAT Quant Questions
1-2. OG and QR. Focus on doing sets and NOT stopping if you bomb. LEARN HOW TO SKIP.
3. Completed MGMAT Cats. Review the two CATs and attempt misses under time.
4. MGMAT Question Banks. Do under time.
5. GMATClub free test. Complete test, review misses and master.
6. Take MGMAT CAT #3.
7. GMATPrep software Quant questions (default & question pack 1)
8. Keep taking MGMAT CATS #4-#6
9. GMATPrep tests #1-#4."
And that's pretty much exactly what I did. The next 4 days were super intense- I completed steps #1-#5 of my plan. I went back to my OG and Quant Review book and picked sets of 10 questions in a row and forced myself to complete them in under 20 minutes (2min/Q). I did roughly 150 questions this way. I forced myself to complete the MGMAT Question Banks under time. The results weren't pretty at first, but it was important for me to force myself to learn how to finish all the questions. If I had to skip, I had to skip- that was key. Knowing the penalty for not finishing the test, I decided that on my next exam, I would force myself to finish all the questions at all costs.
I then took the free GMATClub quant test and scored a Q45, which was heavily inflated because I guessed blindly on 6 questions and got 5 of them right. I'm not joking. Still, I was pumped to finish all 37 questions and knew that I still was somewhere closer to Q40. I really liked the GMATClub material-much more than MGMAT-but I will discuss that later in my post. I reviewed the GMATClub test, did more OG problems, and got ready to take another test the next day.
Prep Phase 4: Mocks on Mocks on MocksMGMAT CAT3: 740 (Q46 V45) - Feb 21
Super pumped! First CAT that I ever finished quant in time. My timing practice was paying off and I was starting to recognize "What are they asking for?" more quickly. I decided that it might be time to use the official GMATPrep material, because I had read somewhere that MGMAT's tests, especially the quant was very different from the official. Specifically I had heard
1) MGMAT's quant is different, requires more calculation, and is overall more difficult.
2) MGMAT's verbal is different, and its scoring system is more lenient (I got 8 wrong for a V45)
Over the next week, I went crazy on exams. I soon learned that both of those rumors were very true. I got so excited about the score that I took an exam for the next three days straight:GMATPrep 1: 720 (Q48 V41) - Feb 22
GMATPrep 2: 770 (Q50 V46) IR8 - Feb 23
MGMAT CAT4: 720 (Q44 V45) - Feb 24Anti MGMAT CAT Rant
Once I experienced the real GMAT material, I grew to despise the MGMAT material. It's way too hard, and very discouraging. MGMAT offers questions with ridiculous complexity in quant, whereas GMATPrep questions are "cleaner" and more simple. I really felt like GMATPrep questions tested your ability to reason through CONCEPTS, whereas MGMAT additionally tested your ability to execute CALCULATIONS. GMATPrep questions can still be very difficult, but such questions primarily test whether you KNOW what to do, and not so much your ability to DO it.
One could argue, "better to be too hard than too easy," which is fair, but it generates unnecessary fear of the quant section. I was prepared to be frantic. I was prepared to do 37 straight hard questions. This is what pissed me off the most about MGMAT CATs.
Even a Q51 shouldn't see 37 extremely difficult questions on the real thing. Even if you're killing it on GMATPrep, you'll still get a good amount of "medium" or "medium-hard" questions that if it's a strong area, you can complete in a minute or so.
MGMAT's sentence correction was great, but critical Reasoning and verbal were disappointing. I'm an LSAT nerd and I just noticed several logical issues with their questions. They're just not as air-tight as the real ones. Also, I didn't appreciate the scoring. One exam I got 8 wrong for a V45. Not realistic. Another exam I got THREE WRONG TOTAL for a V45. I only missed one of the first THIRTY. How is that possible?
Long story short, MGMAT guides
are great, and the CATs are still somewhat helpful, but should be taken with a large grain of salt, quant especially. You should use the real material as soon as you think you're ready.
Prep Phase 5: The Final Push
After three straight 700+, I scheduled my exam for the Saturday 5 days away. Gotta love computer exams (LSAT is only offered 4 times a year. Somehow it takes 4 weeks for them to run bubble sheets through a scantron and give you your score.)Question Pack 1
I took a 2 day break from mocks and started plowing through the free questions on GMATPrep and Question Pack 1. Quant PS and DS, 10 each, 40 minutes. THIS is how I got to my absolute peak in quant, because I was working with realistic question difficulty. I learned to be confident instead of scared, aggressive instead of frantic. I allowed myself to spend 3 minutes on a question because I knew that I'd be able to knock out a divisibility or positive/negative question in a minute or so (the seconds per question information on GMATPrep is very helpful). With a Saturday exam, I spent Tuesday and Wednesday doing every quant question in this way. Then I took my final two mocks (listed all of them for ease of comparison):All mocks (final two in bold)
MGMAT CAT #1: 630 (Q34 V45) - Feb 13
MGMAT CAT #2: 650 (Q36 V45) - Feb 16
MGMAT CAT3: 740 (Q46 V45) - Feb 21
GMATPrep 1: 720 (Q48 V41) - Feb 22
GMATPrep 2: 770 (Q50 V46) IR8 - Feb 23
MGMAT CAT4: 720 (Q44 V45) - Feb 24GMATPrep 3: 760 (Q49 V44) IR8 - Feb 27
GMATPrep 4: 760 (Q48 V47) IR6 - Feb 28
Felt awesome ending my last two days of prep with back to back 760s. From there, the rest is history.
Takeways, Things I learned and Other NotesBig Picture Thinking: Quant
One incredibly valuable lesson I learned was to always take a second to evaluate the big picture: before fiddling with the numbers, ask yourself WHAT KIND of information do you have?
Instead of "John finishes painting in 3 hours, Todd finishes in 5," I learned to forget the numbers briefly and make a mental note "I have two individual rates." As I read the question they might give me more numbers- perhaps "15 miles", or "3 hours," etc. In the old days I would have immediately Instead of focusing on those numbers I tried to stay big picture: "I have two individual times and a total time. I can need to calculate the individual rates, then the combined rate."
It's really easy to see two numbers and start plugging them into an equation, but I learned that you need to think big picture first- WHAT KIND of information do I have, and where do I need to go with it? This is especially helpful in geometry. "I have the length of side of a square (5m) that is inscribed inside of a circle. They want the area of the gap between the two shapes. Well, what can I figure out using this information?"
In the old days, I'd immediately square 5 to get 25. But as I got better, I decided to think before I acted.
"Well, I can get the area of the square. For that to be useful I would still need the area of the circle. How can I get the area of the circle? Well, if I get the diagonal of the square, I can get the radius. How do I get the diagonal of the square? Well...."
And so on. I learned to avoid immediately factoring things, dividing things, and plugging things into equations without thinking. You have to ask yourself
1) What type of information do I have?
2) What type of information do they want?
3) How do I get there?
Once you gameplan that, THEN you use the numbers and do any calculations that you need to. I learned that often times I was diving into calculations that weren't even relevant to the problem.Big Picture Thinking: Verbal
Same thing applies with Verbal. You need to reduce these sentences to their parts. Forget about playwrights, black holes, "a recent study," insects, or whatever the subject matter is. Know this: at the end of the day, the GMAT can only break so many rules of grammar in a sentence without it sounding ridiculous. Thus, its up to you to check for them systematically.
Pretty much every sentence, regardless of topic, I would look at the question (aka answer A) and go through this process:
1) Is there an error in the first sentence? (answer A?)
2) If so, what other answers have that same error?
Once I did that and saw a problem with answer A, i would NOT read all the way through the remaining answers. Instead, I would cherry-pick the answers that committed the same error. This is what I would see:FAKE QUESTION:
Unlike other birds of prey, the beak of the bald eagle lacks the necessary sharpness to blah blah.
A) Unlike blah blah blah blah, the beak of
blah blah blah blah blah
B) Unlike blah blah blah blah, the beak of
blah blah blah blah blah
C) Unlike blah blah blah blah, the bald eagle
blah blah blah blah blah
D) Unlike blah blah blah blah, the lack of sharpness
blah blah blah
E) Unlike blah blah blah blah, the bald eagle
blah blah blah blah blah
If you're doing this properly, you should hardly ever had to read all five answers all the way through. Cherry picking the answers makes your life a lot easier, because a lot of times the rest of the answer might sound REALLY GOOD.