I write this feeling at best bittersweet. That I only wanted a 730 and ended up getting a 750 is sweet. That I already miss the relentless pursuit of a good gmat score is bitter.Overall studying schedule
I took my test on June 1st. I started studying around the end of last year, although only very casually and only on sentence correction -- probably 1 hour 4 days a week. I ramped it up a bit around 4-5 months before my test -- I was doing 2 hours a day 5 days a week at that point -- then i really started putting in the hours around 3 months out -- 3 hours a day 4 days a week and around 6 hours on sundays. I only took the test on June 1st because that was the last possible day before the IR section. Frankly, were it not for that IR section I might still be studying. I'm a bit compulsive.Taking Practice Tests
I made a huge mistake early on in my studies: I took a practice test every sunday while I was around 30-50% done with all my study material. Meaning I had not even covered critical reasoning, reading comprehension, a bunch of math topics, etc. In hindsight, I would not take a practice test until I was over 75% done with all material.. and I'd do the OG diagnostic, not a real practice test initially. Save a real gmat prep for 2weeks-4weeks out.My Material
I used the manhattan gmat guides
for sentence correction and math. These are absolutely awesome. Don't look at the advanced guides as supplementary. I consider them crucial for scores above 46. Though, like I said above, you can safely not be good at a few of the fringe topics and still be fine.
I used powerscore for critical reasoning, but to be honest, the only thing I picked up (and it was damn useful) was cause/effect type reasoning. I can't see how the average person could find weakeners or assumptions to cause/effect problems without knowing the tricks in that book. However, I have one huge gripe with power score... there are maybe half a dozen problems (maybe LSAT source) that are very unrepresentative of the GMAT problems in that they hinge on tiny details like a single word that if you glossed over would doom you. Agonizing over those problems was the biggest waste of time for me.
I used OG12
+ OG13 and verbal review + quantitative review. I used these for problems only. In fact, I don't know anyone that would actually use the "learning" portion of book. Bear in mind that all answer explanations in OG are crap. So google when you don't understand the answer and look for expert replies.
I also watched quite a few Thursdays with Ron. These are absolutely great videos (free).Logging problems
This is absolutely crucial. Create google documents (accessible anywhere you have web access) or just create document on your laptop if you bring it with you everywhere. I had an excel spreedsheet for every category, SC/CR/RC and Math. Take note of every problem that
(1). you got wrong
(2). you find even remotely difficult
(3). you think you will forget
have a column that tells you how many times you've done that problem. and have another column where you can just put something like "FLAG", "HARD", "SUPER HARD", "OMG" to further refine the problem priorities. I prioritized problems I put those flags on as well as problems I've re-done the least # of times. All common sense.
To give an example, I had probably 250 problems in my math spreadsheet from OG sources and GMAT PREP (someone dumped all the GMAT PREP problems into a PDF on this forum). The last 1-2 months was just going over these problems. In 3 hours the most I would ever get to is probably 30-40 problems. Sometimes I only got 10-20, but eventually you conquer those problems and make note to not do those again. 2 days before the test I was left with maybe 20 problems with flags. I also noticed that those 20 problems I had already re-done sometimes 3x. Retrospective Look
The GMAT is a strange thing. I believe I could have gotten around a 750 score with 2 months studying instead of 5. why? Well it's a game of luck in my opinion. There is so much material you could face on test day, and I would say 60% of my total studying was absolutely useless. For instance,
-80% of what I studied for sentence correction was useless in terms of what I faced on test day. If there was one shock, it's how much easier the SC is on the real test than in the OG, verbal review, or GMAT Prep. Verb tenses and if/then constructs didn't show up at all on my test strangely.
-Overlapping sets, tough probability/combinatorics problems, and mixture type problems were non-existent in my test. In any case, that made up around 30% of my studying for math.
Overall I suggest taking a look at the broader picture. Some topics have greater weight than others. If you really suck at combinatorics, for instance, then just learn rudimentary combinatorics/statistics and forget about it -- if you see it on the real thing, make your best guess and consider yourself a winner for gaining 1.5 minutes. If you aren't good at verb tense, but you're good at parallelism, then forget about learning verb tense. Each subject takes a lot of time to learn and even more time to become proficient at (doing a problem in 2 mins requires proficiency). However, you have to be good at the core material like parallelism, algebra, work-rate, etc. Without fail, I saw those every single time on every practice test and real thing. It sure would be nice if strategy guides devote a section to outlining subjects that are less or more important. Sentence Correction
I probably spent the most time on SC during my preparation since it was my weakest section. I've learned that there's a difference between learning grammar and learning GMAT SC -- my mistake was learning grammar. However, I'm still really really glad I put in all the work since I have a strong core in grammar now; I speak/write/read differently and it's made a huge impact on the way I think of language. As far as the SC I encountered on my test, one could probably do pretty well just learning parallelism, relative pronouns, and various idiosyncrasies of the English language: like vs such as, "resulting from" after a comma, prepositional modifiers using "with". After all, there are only about 13 problems on the real test to cover the vast expanse of GMAT grammar topics.My Own Story
Look folks, I'm not a smart person by any means. My only experience with a standardized test was the SAT back in high school. I'm still embarrassed to admit that I took 3 prep courses before the SAT (I'm certain at least $2000+ in fees) and still ended up with a 1280.. and that was my second try. Needless to say I always felt that I was doomed when it came to standardized tests. However, on the bright side, I knew I didn't take those courses or my preparation seriously enough so I knew where to start.
I never signed up for a course because I knew if my motivation and study habits were on target I could do it. I didn't need a class to "lean on" or an instructor to micromanage me. I had to take responsibility for my studying and my score.
It's my belief that you know your shortcomings better than anyone else. They may be hard to admit and even harder to fix, but isn't that really the goal in life? to improve? However, throughout life you can workaround your flaws easily. For instance, choose a major in college that doesn't focus on your weak points, find a job that you're good at, choose the projects that you're good at. However, in this test, you may face those skeletons in your closet. No wonder it's a great test for MBA admissions, everyone's on a level playing field.
I know many people hate standardized tests, "I'm smart, but I'm just not good at standardized tests", but that's not really the problem. Truth told, standardized tests such as the GMAT simply give you no opportunity to weasel out of your weaknesses. That's why people hate them, they don't hate them just to hate them. If you've traditionally been a poor performer at standardized tests (like me), then you should thank god you still have one more opportunity in life to bury that notion forever.
That I could not do well on the SAT even after all the advantages given to me has had great ramifications. The failure stymied my confidence and made me doubt my own intellectual abilities. So, i basically gave myself no option other than to succeed on the GMAT in order to wipe the slate clean so to speak. So for me this went beyond the MBA program of my dreams, this was a make or break test for me personally.Mental Attitude Before the Test
Considering just how much I invested into this test and how much was riding on it (mba, dignity), I was getting nervous around the 1.5 month mark. By the time it was 3 weeks out, I realized if I keep getting nervous I'm screwed. The nervousness even hampered by studying ability. So 2 weeks out I made a decision so unlike anything I've ever done before: I said I am only thinking good thoughts..even ridiculous thoughts.
So for the last 2 weeks I would not allow a single negative thing to come into my mind. I told myself simply "June 1st around 4pm you'll get the score you wanted", "it's impossible you won't score 700+", "it's already done, there's no way to fail".
it sounded so stupid when i recited this mantra over and over because reasonable people such as myself don't delude themselves like so. Nevertheless, I did that half a dozen times a day to calm myself down.. in meetings, while driving to work, at the gym, taking a shower, and before i slept.
the way i see it is we are sometimes at the whim of our brain. we can't stop our brain from being nervous, but we can play stupid games and tricks on them. and for me that was enough to eliminate the nervousness that would have otherwise paralyzed me the last 2 weeks and on the test.Studying the last few days
The day before I did very little, maybe 1 hour of studying? The day of, I did some warmup problems. I marked problems in my spreadsheet as warmup. I tried to pick a variety of problems and I purposely selected easier problems. No reason to do something hard at that point and extinguish your confidence right before the big one.Test Day
I was very nervous, but I was able to keep myself as calm as possible with my mantra. I packed a banana, some cereal, a protein shake, and some tea for the break in the middle.
I'm actually glad the AWA came first. I remember having an almost dream-like feeling at the beginning of the test. "Can this really the day of the test?" , "So this is what it all comes down to?".. It took me 5 minutes to read the prompt for the argument. It took me about 12 minutes to get the intro. However, after some time the words flowed and I was able to come out with two essays I felt were good enough. I took the 8 minute break and went to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror and said some words of encouragement to myself, something along the lines of "this is it", and went back in.
The first math problem was more difficult than I had expected. It probably took me 2 minutes. The third problem was horribly difficult. And, not one to be a hypocrite, I looked over the problem, decided it would take me too long and just guessed and moved on. Pick your battles wisely on this test.
My overall impression of the math is that it's a bit harder than the GMAT prep stuff. Though it's tough to say because what's hard for me may be easy for someone else or vice versa. My last 5 problems were so easy I got very worried. I ended the section with almost 5 minutes to spare... This is the same guy that never finished a section on time in about 7 practice tests (i always had to guess on at least 2 questions since I would have 5 mins left for 4 problems)
During the 8 minute break, I ate my snack. I mixed my protein shake with tea (good/bad, more on that later).
When verbal started, I told myself, forget about the math, in 75 minutes it's all over; I had a slight feeling of excitement at that point. The tea was quite helpful. It perked me up and I felt completely refreshed. I never felt so good starting a verbal section and in fact I never did that well either. I'm pretty certain that I got every SC and CR question right up until probably # 11 or 12. At that point I KNEW the GMAT was going to try and screw me and thank god it was on RC since RC is my strongest section.
The first RC passage was tough and I knew it. But it was tough in a sort of 3rd party observer point of view. Since i'm strong at RC, I was thinking "this would be tough for someone who is not good at RC", and that's the best feeling you can have on the test because you know you're getting questions right that others get wrong. Most certainly I got those 3 or 4 problems right and then they gave me another RC which was even tougher. I think at this point I got 1 wrong out of 3 or 4 and then it went back to SC/CR.
Although the CR was noticeably tougher than the first 11-12, the SC was only marginally harder -- I'm weakest at SC. Then the worst part of the whole test...
At about halfway though, 37 minutes or so, I had the urge to go to the bathroom (#1) So tea, a diuretic, while perking you up, makes you want to go bad. At first I brushed it off, it's not like I can't hold it, "this is THE day, just ignore it". Nevertheless, I started noticing the urge would pull me out of my concentration every 10 seconds. "This is getting really bad" I told myself and the next two problems took me 5 minutes because of the lapses in concentration. I did another problem, taking 3 minutes and I started getting really worried so I raised my hand. I quickly indicated to the lady that I needed to use the restroom and hinted that I wanted to just run out and run back in... nope... i had to be signed out, hand scanned out, hand scanned back in, signed back in... all the while the clock would sadistically wind down. that moment i just told her screw it and I kept on going.
So overall, I did the whole 2nd half of the verbal with this handicap and I can't help, but think if this didn't happen I might have got that coveted v45 99 percentile. but i'm not one to complain because I did better than I ever imagined on the verbal, especially considering i'm an engineering major. eventually i shifted my body position in the chair to lessen the urge and I did not move an inch after that. any movement would have made it worse. At about 15 minutes left I actually thought to myself, I want to finish this test just to go to the bathroom. I immediately chided myself for letting a stupid urge take priority over the most important test for me thus far.
I finished the verbal with 2 minutes to spare (i still don't know how). As I clicked through the remaining screens I just kept praying to have a 700+. Before the final screen there was a short lag time as the software calculated my score, maybe 5 seconds. Meanwhile, I closed my eyes for a bit and opened them... still on the same page calculating. I closed them again. The second time I opened them I saw the score. You can't make any noise in the testing center, but if I could I would have been laughing. After all, i was shaking my head with my hand over my mouth laughing to myself internally. It was such an awkward feeling because i couldn't believe that was the score. I mean given my performance on math and verbal that was the last thing on my mind.
I just stared at that score for at least 3 minutes just dumbfounded. Finally I waived the lady (the same one who wouldn't let me run to the bathroom) over so I could go to the bathroom. she saw the score and i saw her sort of drop her jaw and put her hand over her mouth, then she congratulated me quietly and escorted me out.
I had my unofficial score report by my side for the rest of the day. I kept looking back at it because I swear I thought i was dreaming. My GF gets off work at 4pm everyday and I finished by test at 3:45pm. I called her around 4pm to give her the great news with no answer, 4:05, 4:10, etc. I started to panic because I thought if she doesn't pick up them I'm really dreaming.
It's been over a week and sometimes something in my room will catch my eye, the OG book or a manhattan guide and a panic rises in me... "time to study...oh... nevermind". I guess old habits die hard.