First off, let me say, I am STILL shaking from excitement. I finished my 1st attempt at the GMAT yesterday and scored an even 700. Below is my summary. Please pack a lunch, we're in for a loooooooooong ride:
First off, I hope this can help someone that is in my similar situation. Although I must say, I hope no one puts themselves in the situation I have put myself into. Many people say, "I need to score very high on the GMAT"...well, with me, it wasn't just a desire of mine. Scoring high on (700 or above) on the GMAT was a MUST. Let me explain. I am 30 years old. I "graduated" in 2009 with an overall GPA of............ drum roll............ 2.5! OUCH! EMBARRASSING! It also took me 7 years to get my 4 year undergrad degree in a weak program: Behavioral Science & Health. (A lot of people go to school for 8 years..Yeah, their called, Doctors). Needless to say, the cards were stacked against me. While during my extended duration of time on/time off of college, I was involved in various successful stints at marketing consulting. I also started and continue to run a company which sells collegiate licensed merchandise for various PAC-12 schools. In addition to these entrepreneurial activities, I have been the marketing manager for an online fitness/supplement company for 6+ years. So, my only saving grace is that while I so clearly UNDER performed in college, I was at least busy doing other, HOPEFULLY substantial things. Regardless, I knew I NEEDED to perform well on the GMAT, in order to get schools to somehow, someway overlook my 2.5 GPA. Anyway...
Now that the backdrop has been painted, here's my story. It all started in Fall 2009. I was in my last year in my undergrad and my wife and I with our two young kids just moved into a new house in a suburb area, outside of the city. One of my new neighbors was a young guy, about my age, with a wife and kids (just like me), owned his own business (just like me), and had just recently graduated with a 2.7 in economics the year before (another weak degree, ha). He told me his story of how he studied for the GMAT (5 weeks, 4 hours a day) and got a 720. He had just been accepted into the MBA program at Wake Forest when my wife and I had moved into the neighborhood. HIS STORY INSPIRED ME, to say the least. I thought to myself, if this guy can do it, I can do it! So, I took a GMAT prep course offered through the University. I have always been good at standardized tests and went into this course feeling pretty confident in myself for no other reason than my parents and friends always told me I was smart. I learned two things very quickly on the first day: 1) I'm not as smart as I thought I was and 2) Group courses for the GMAT is NOT the way to go. To expound, the class members were given an assessment practice test on the first day to determine where/how we would perform if we took the GMAT that day. I cannot for the life of me remember my actual score, but if memory serves me it was in the high 400's. While this was enough of a blow for me to get discouraged, the instruction given by the instructor was of course very broad and general. Great for just getting started, but I couldn't stand it. I wanted personalized help and coaching. I guess you get what you pay for. The course was $350. I went to every class, but didn't really progress. Fault lied on myself and the platform. So.................after the course, i stopped studying GMAT all together, and went on with my life. I knew full well that some time in the near future I would have to get back into and really take it serious..........Fast forward to March, 2011.
It is funny how envy and competition can work in a person's soul in such a way to get them moving off their butts and actually perform..my brother-in-law had just graduated from the Thunderbird Global Management program in AZ. While I was super happy for him and my sister, I felt the pang of envy and regret. I knew I needed to get back into studying. I knew i needed an MBA for so many reasons. I wanted it so bad. And I knew exactly what I had to do: Work.
Luckily, providence hit. While surfing the internet late one night, working on some work related projects, I came across a banner advertisement for a company called Knewton. The banner was advertising their online GMAT courses. The "call to action" is what stopped me in my tracks: A guarantee to raise a person's score by 50 points, or their money back. It wasn't necessarily the idea that I could get my money back, it was almost like a challenge. Okay, so being a "google search" savy kinda guy, I did my due diligence in finding out more about Knewton. Which quickly led me to GMATClub.com (the gold standard of how a vbulletin message board should be run on any given topic, imo). I couldn't find much in terms of reviews for Knewton. It appeared to me at the time, that Knewton was relatively new in the marketplace
compared to Kaplan
, Manhatten, etc. So, i didn't let it effect me too much that I couldn't find many reviews. I also noticed that Knewton was running a ad campaign through GMATClub. I noticed their discount code offered to GMATClub members. Using GMATClub, i did a comparitive price analysis on the various online GMAT courses available and quickly realized Knewton was not only the most cost-effective, but would also provide me with the most content for the price. On account of this analysis (and the 50-point guarantee), I decided to take the plunge with Knewton. The very first thing Knewton requires is a practice exam (just as I did with my group GMAT class two years earlier.). I scored a 530. Since this is the first practice test score I can "officially" recall, I'm using it as my beginning point in this process. I got a 530. Very low. The difference this time is that I was motivated. And with the tools from Knewton, i began to see some progress. This was the beginning of March, 2011.
At the end of March, I had consistently worked through 4 weeks of the 12 week Knewton program. The online LIVE instructional videos were awesome. The homework assignements were great. The additional problem sets, etc. All was great. I took my second of their 6 offered practice exams and scored a 570. While it was clear that progress was being made, I was losing my focus. After 4 weeks I had only increased 40 points. While I was happy with the content and the software from Knewton, I felt like I wasn't putting in enough effort. About this time is when my work decided to put me through the 'Six Sigma: Black Belt' certification. Because this new course would take up so much of time, I decided to hold of on my GMAT studies until I finished Six Sigma. I was reluctant to do this because I was really enjoying the live sessions with my Knewton virtual "classes" twice a week But I had to do it. FAST FORWARD to August, 2011.
It just so happened my work postponed our Six Sigma training for a few month in the beginning of July. I had a whole month of no extra studying and I loved it. When August rolled around, I realized I wouldn't be starting up Six Sigma with my job for at least another two months. I knew that NOW was my time to get back into GMAT. And THIS time I was SERIOUS! For 4 full week, roughly 3-4 hours a day, I was deep within Knewton's software. I went through the 12 week course in 4 weeks. (I started back from the beginning). While my studying was on point, my scores weren't so reflective, at least initially. As I have mentioned my first and second Knewton scores back in March were 530/570, respectively. So I had 4 tests left. I took three more of them in August, sparsed throughout the month: 570/630/540 in that order.
That 630 got me excited and I thought another two week or so of really cranking it out was going to pay off. I scheduled my GMAT exam for September 9th. The rest of the month of August went great, and that is when the 540 showed up. I was devistated. I thought it was an outlier, so I found some of the free practice exams that are available through some of the other third party companies that offer them (A big thanks to GMAT Club, again). I took the Manhattan Review
practice exam and scored a 630 (phew!). While I was happy with that score, I realized I was NOT going to be ready for Sept. 9th. Remember, my goal was to get a 700 or higher. I knew it was lofty, but I felt I could make it with just another month of really going to town. This is the part of my experience that really made the difference. The idea of another full month of studying was both exciting (cause I knew i WOULD be ready by October) and discouraging (I was getting pretty burnt out.) Regardless, I moved forward. I rescheduled my GMAT exam from Sept. 9th to Oct. 3rd.
I had 5 weeks to give it my all. Since I had finished the Knewton material I was NOW ready for more. That is when i REALLY began utilizing GMAT CLUB for what it was worth.
Going through the GMAT Club's success stories, I read a GREAT breakdown of someone else's story of how they achieved a 720. This person said he/she simply went through the OG books and made sure they knew EVERYTHING. Simple, right? He/She also said they supplemented the OG material with the GMATClub questions. So........................now that I was done with Knewton and had built a very solid base, I went to the OG and to GMAT Club. For 5 weeks - 4-6 hours a day - leading right up until my exam, these were the only materials I used (other than re-watching some of the instructional videos at Knewton, anytime i needed a refresher). I simply worked problems. AND let me be clear, based on my sub-scores I was getting, I didn't focuse ANY time on verbal. The MAJORITY of the 5 weeks was spent on math. Another interesting approach: I only used the answer explanation portions of the OG books. Meaning, i worked the problem with the answers right there in front of me. Not sure if this approach is meant for everyone, but it was great for me. I can further elaborate if anyone wants more info on it. Okay, where was I? Oh yes, in addition to the OG, i purchased access to the GMAT Club questions. VERY WORTHWHILE purchase and i recommend it to everyone, as many others have recommended it. The questions are great, and further explanations to all the difficult problems are simply a "search" button away.
So.....at this point in my GMAT study, between the OG and the GMAT Club questions, I certainly had enough material. Because of the great base I received from the Knewton course, I pretty much went crazy with studying the OG. Besides working full time and being activily committed to my local church calling (Working with the young men in our local church as their "Scout Master") I was dedicating 6 hours a day to GMAT, going off 4-5 hours of sleep a night. I was studying like mad and really enjoying the progress I was seeing. The best advice given to me, again was: Make sure i knew EVERYTHING from the OG.
At this point, I stopped taking practice exams. I strategically waited to take the 2 Official GMAT practice exams until it was closer to my test date. So on Sept. 16th, i took the first of the two: 670 (42/40) I was so happy. I felt like I was right on schedule, if not ahead of schedule. That was a friday, i kinda took some time off that weekend cause I was feeling so good. That is when the following Monday almost crushed me. I deviated from my course and went and found a free third-party practice exam (I think it was from Kaplan
). I took it monday morning. Well, to clarify, I started to take it. About half way through the math section I ended it. I felt like I was doing horrible. So I literally stopped the exam. And the unfinished results confirmed my fears. I had missed well more than half the problems. I didn't even go through the questions I had gotten right/wrong. I was devisetated. BUT, luckily, I was determined to get back on track and not let it get to me. I POURED myself even more into OG and GMAT Club (and of course I reviewed over and over again the questions from my first official practice exam). I didn't take the 2nd of the two official practice exams until Sept. 26, a week before my exam date. I took it late at night, which was not something I usually did, but i felt great during the entire exam. Got my score: 700(44/40). YES!!!! I was VERY excited about this score. Went back through the math/verbal. Went back to the OG, went back to the GMATClub. I was feeling really good. THEN, the doubts started creeping in as the test date got closer and closer. My studying during the final week seemed very un-productive due to my mind stressing about the actual exam. One thing I did last week was find out about how the scores in the official GMAT practice software can be reset. You know i did that
I took both tests again, saw some overlapping of some of the questions and scored a 720/680, respectfully. While I was a bit worried, i basically resigned myself to a "whatever happens, happens" mentallity. My goal was a 700 or higher. I knew if I didn't get it, I would have to take it again. Fine, I thought, a lot of people have to take it again. The first try would be a platform for me to get it the next time. Friday, I finally gained composure, had a great couple days studying and basically took Sunday OFF. I had a relaxing day Sunday with the family.
DAY OF EXAM. Luckily, the testing center is about 4 minutes from my house. My test was scheduled for 8am, i got there right at 7:30am, and was in taken my exam by 7:45am. The AWA portion of the exam was AWESOME. I hadn't spent ANY time preparing for the AWA. I knew with the limited time I had, I needed to direct all of my studying entirely toward the GMAT. I am a fairly good writer, so I wasn't too worried about it. I've NEVER written better essays in my life. Great vocab, diction, structure. Those two essays really catipulted me into the GMAT exam.
MATH Section: I felt fairly good throughout the Math. But I was a bit concerned because I seemed to be getting quite a few "moderate" level questions. ZERO probability, ZERO mixture, hardly any crazy rate/work problems. I was getting ALOT of number properties questions (which I actually do NOT prefer, ha). Some of the problems I found myself backsolving simply because I couldn't figure out in my mind how to put the formulas together. By then end of the math, I was not terribly worried, but I was thinking to myself, "Okay, that definetly wasn't a 700 level performance." I took my break and it was on to the verbal.
VERBAL Section: Not to get too graphic, but as I was taking my break and using the restroom, I thought to myself: "Okay, regardless of how the math went, I am just going to CRUSH this verbal section." The verbal section has been a strong suit for me this whole time, dispite not putting alot of study time into it. My thought of just crushing it really gave me the focus and confidence I needed to finish strong. So, went back in, started the verbal section. I nailed a couple really tough SC's and I knew I was on my way. All four reading passages were either social science related or biology related passages. They were REALLY tough. The CR problems were equally tough, but I felt great the entire time. I felt like I wasn't getting ANYTHING wrong. Finally, as the test was coming to an end, and I started realizing I was getting closer to problem 41, my excitement started to come on. Excitement to be DONE with the exam and anxiety/excitement to see my score. I finished the exam, and went through a few survery-related questions, verified my mba.com info, then the final screen: Accept or reject. I of course hit accept. I didn't know if my score would pop up on the screen, or if the proctor would give me a print-out. Low and behold, my score flicked onto the screen immediately:
I can't even describe to you what my heart did inside my chest when I saw my score. Because I had been keeping track of the breakdown of my scores, I instictively grabbed my dry-erase pen and began writing my break-down scores on the palm of my hand. HAHA! That was a BIG no-no! Do not do that when you take your exam! Luckily, the proctor was watching me, and quickly came over to tell me to stop. He was very polite, but very direct. He said to use my saliva on my hand to get that ink off, because if they saw the pen marks on my hand out at the front-desk it would cause a massive problem. Haha, I quickly agreed (not wanting ANYTHING to get in the way of what I had just accomplished, ha). He said I would get a print out at the front desk. After he made sure all the ink was off my hand, he said, "By the way, nice job." I was so excited. I got up, walked out to the front desk, got my print out, got my stuff out of my locker, and got the HECK OUT OF DODGE as quick as I could! I didn't want to stay any longer than I had too. I didn't want there to be any chance of someone at the front desk to say, "Oh, oops, we made a mistake, that score was for the kid sitting next to you, your score was actually a 640." HAHA, I got out of there FAST! I got in my car, and just starred at my print out. I said a prayer, I called my wife, I called my best friend, I called my Mom. Anyway, I am VERY excited if you can't tell. I'm trying to hurt anyones feelings by saying this, but as many of us know, a 690 just isn't a 700. It is only a couple percentile points of a difference, yet there is simply a chasm between the two scores. If I would have gotten a 690, I would have been deflated. I am SO happy i made it to the 700 mark on the first go.
For review, a lesson to anyone who is in the middle of studying like crazy:
1) KEEP GOING!
2) Use a program like Knewton to give yourself a VERY STRONG base.
3) Know the OG front and back.
4) Spend alot of time HERE at GMATClub.
One additional "help" was the "Question of the Day" emails that GMATClub sends out. Subscribe to those! It was neat to see my success rate on answering the questions correctly as my studying progressed. Great at building confidence.
Again a very BIG Kudos to Knewton. You KNOW I wore my Knewton "KNERD" shirt yesterday when I took my exam! Knewton sent me one of their very cool "KNERD" shirts about a month ago after I posted a review about their company. Not only did I think that was a very cool promotion, but they were not interested in only "positive" reviews. ANY type of review, and you'd get a free shirt. Very cool.
So there is my summary! Hope it can help someone along the way! I GOT A 700!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!