I think you ignored the most important thing that contributes to your 760 score is
Good luck with your app.
Just because you are “good at math” doesn’t mean the GMAT math is cake ...
Before I get started here, I’d just like to say that I’ve been really impressed with the contributions of everyone here at GMATClub. For the most part, everyone here seems to be genuinely interested in helping each other out, whereas the users of the BusinessWeek forums are … well …
I wish I had stumbled upon this site when I was prepping for my GMAT exam; it sure would have helped me out. Hopefully this write-up of my experience with the test will help some of you.
Originally, my intent was to take the GMAT in the spring or early summer of 2007 since I was getting married later that summer. I was going to apply to programs in the fall so I wanted to get the test out of the way. I ordered the de facto Kaplan
book and got started right away, reading the introduction chapter as soon as the book arrived. Then … life got busy and I didn’t do a thing for the GMAT for … well … 9 months. Hey, it’s not my fault, the wedding took a ton of work, and when we got back from the honeymoon we had to move … and then I switched jobs and it was also football season … and then it was the holiday season … whoops. I missed the fall deadlines, but I wasn’t too worried about applying in the later round (at the time, I was looking at part-time programs in the area and not at full-time programs).
It was late January of 2008 before I actually scheduled the exam and got back into gear. The deadlines that I needed to meet for apps were in early April so I registered for an exam that was a little more than a month prior to those dates in case I bombed the exam.
End Goal: 700+
GMAT Premier Kaplan 800
I had procrastinated to the point where I started studying almost exactly a month prior to the exam; not the 2-3 months that I had thought necessary, but it was all that I had left. I started out cold by taking the practice test in the main Kaplan
book. I expected to score in the low-mid 600s at this point, based on what a couple friends/co-workers had scored and on my memories of the SATs. Sure enough, my score was 660*, but the breakdown shocked me. I have always been pretty strong in math (my SAT math percentile was 99%) and just OK in verbal. My results from this test: q 64% v 99%. “Whoah”.
I checked the numbers over and over again, and sure enough, I just plain screwed up the math section. I knew I hadn’t aced it or anything, but to have that low of a score shocked me into study mode. I didn’t even care that I had done well on the verbal. (Ok, well I thought that was cool)*The total of 660 doesn’t make sense considering the raw scores (should be more like 710), but that’s what the Kaplan book said.
Now that it was go-time, and I unfortunately had just over 4 weeks to prepare, I set my study strategy and schedule. I printed out a calendar with room to make plans/notes for what I would do each day, and also left a bit of room on that page where I could list my available study/practice resources and log results. Here is a breakdown of what I had listed:
Full Practice Exams:
2. GMAT Prep #1
4. Princeton Review Online
6. GMAT Prep #2
tests via included CD-ROM or additional online test
Book Chapters:Kaplan PremierKaplan 800
GMAT Prep software
You may be wondering why I have so many practice exams for a relatively small time period. Well, it was my thought at the time that actual test experience would be the most beneficial for me. While I still believe this today, I disagree with my past reasoning. At the time, I thought that the math should be cake for me and that all I would need to do is crank out some problem sets to get my groove back. Oh how I was wrong, but we’ll get to that.
I scheduled my practice exams for each of the Saturdays (4) and Mondays (3) that I had remaining before the actual exam, which was to be on a Monday. For each Saturday attempt, I took the exam at the exact time that I had scheduled for the real exam. For each Monday attempt, I took the exam when I got home from work (and after dinner). After I finished each exam* (and either groveled or rejoiced at the results), I took a break and then reviewed EVERY problem on the exam.
The exception was that for the final Monday attempt (one week before the actual exam), I took a half day off from work and simulated the whole exam experience: I set my alarm early, got up and made breakfast, got into my car and turned on a preset classical music radio station, and drove to the actual exam facility (and walked inside and to the room I’d be going to). I then drove home, took the exam, saw how I had done, went to work, and reviewed the problems that night. This simulation was unbelievably helpful.
*AWA – I only did the AWA sections of the practice exams on the last 3 practice exams that I took. I did so because I felt that it was important to get used to writing two essays before diving into multiple choice on the important part of the exam. Other than that, I didn’t spend a minute prepping for the AWA, because I didn’t deem it to be at all important score-wise. I’m sure many people are in the same boat, but even if you are, you still have to get used to writing those essays at the start of the exam. For those whose first language is English, writing a few of them will give you enough practice to get a 5+, which is really all that you need.
** Another note – after about a week, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to use scratch paper on the actual exam and that whiteboards were used. Curious, I looked online to see if I could buy any, and sure enough, I found a place that sold them:http://gettingtogradschool.com/MBA-Busi ... oklet.html
I’m not sure if they sell them anymore, but if you can find anything like this, absolutely go for it. I had a good 4 exams or so using these whiteboards, and the ones during the actual exam were almost identical, down to the marker.
Between taking the practice exams, of course I had to actually study. I spent the first two weeks plowing through the Kaplan Premier
book during my lunch breaks at work and then every night for approximately 2 hours, completing the small problem sets along the way. Each morning when I got to work I did the math and verbal questions of the day from gmatscore.com, as well as the daily question at prepfortests.com:http://www.gmatscore.com/mathquestionofday.asphttp://www.gmatscore.com/verbalquestionofday.asphttp://www.prepfortests.com/gmat/practi ... ions/daily
Additionally, a few nights a week I would complete one or more computer-based question sets, either from the Kaplan
CD (3 sets for each problem type) or the GMAT Prep software (1 each).
After I finished the Kaplan Premier
book, I switched to the 800 book and spent a week going through that. To be honest, I didn’t find the questions in this book to be as difficult as the title of the book would imply. However, it was near the end of going through this book that I had a revelation.
You may have noticed that I have yet to include any details as to my practice scores. At this point I had taken 7 of them, but the results had been disturbingly random. My verbal scores stayed in the 90s for the most part, but my math scores ranged from ~60 to ~80 and with no consistent patterns … or so I thought.
I took a deeper look into my test results and determined that for each test, whenever I hit a stumbling block question, my performance from that point forward took a huge hit. Why? I was too proud/arrogant/stupid to ever admit to myself that a question confused me, and in turn I’d spend 8 or 9 minutes on that question. Sure, I’d often end up with the correct answer, but the time hit just screwed over the rest of my exam. I’d look at the clock and panic, and then rush on the questions that remained and perform poorly. The earlier in the exam that this started, the worse I performed.
This revelation was nice, but with a little over a week remaining, I was a bit worried. Luckily I had a gut feeling that I needed to not only cap my time spent on any one question, but work to speed up my performance overall on all of the questions. I knew that my approach to these questions was holding me back. I was looking at almost every question and trying to find a way to use formulas to find the solution. I didn’t care if there was potentially a shorter path to the answer; it was a challenge to use my method to get the answer, and I thought the other methods were just tricks for people who weren’t strong with math.
It’s amazing how stupid my approach had been, but it was equally as amazing to me that I could recover in time. After thoroughly and repeatedly going over the Kaplan
math review section, day after day I adapted my approaches to certain problem types with great success. I was able to chop off precious seconds from the easier math problems, which put less pressure on me when the more difficult ones came up. If I took too much time, I forced myself to move on. The timed problem sets became easier all of a sudden and everything started to click. The final practice test before go-time I hit q50 on the math.
That final practice exam was two days before the actual exam, and I was tempted to continue with my quest for math progress. However, after reviewing the practice exam that Saturday and going over the math review one more time, that was it: I stuck to my intended plan of not doing any review whatsoever on Sunday. I can’t stress enough how important this turned out to be for me, and the advice of others with similar experience was much appreciated.
On the actual exam day, I hit the radio preset that I had set with a classical music station (hey, it kept me calm) and drove to the [now] familiar test center. I was surprised that they not only took my photo, but also my fingerprints. Any time I entered the testing room I had to show my ID while simultaneously placing my index finger on the pad at the entrance door. Not expecting that, but then again now I hear that some centers use vein biometric analysis or something crazy.
The actual test, no joke, was 4 hours of my heart pounding like crazy. My blood pressure must have been off the charts. I think it was because this was [what I thought was] my only shot at the exam for that application cycle. Regardless, the time between clicking the button to accept the exam and get my scores and when the results actually showed up on the screen felt like forever. When I saw 760, my heart slowed down and I started to smile.
[SUMMARY and RECOMMENDATIONS]Time Needed to Study
I only gave myself a month to study, which would have been better had I not been ignorant regarding my math problems. However, my foolishness is a good lesson for all: give yourself time to discover weaknesses and execute game plans on how to improve. I would suggest 2-3 months if you can swing it. It’s a lot of time, but remember, you really only want to have to take this test once; it’s expensive and if you can get a good score on the first shot you can then move on in your application process.
-- One additional thing to consider when you are setting up your study schedule: your health. You are going to need sleep, but you’re unlikely to change that despite good intentions. What you can work on is your fitness and your … well … your liver. That’s right people, if you don’t work out, hit the gym, and if you still like to party like it’s sophomore year, just stop. While I was studying, abstinence from alcohol was an unintended benefit of giving up alcohol for Lent that year. It’s amazing how taking care of your body can help your mind. --Study Materials / Plan
There are a ton of free materials out there (including at GMATClub), but I can personally recommend the Kaplan Premier
book as a great starting point. The Kaplan 800
book wasn’t too helpful for me, but that’s because I was being inconsistent with the basics (for math). Better for me would have been to use The Official Guide, which has a ton of questions of all levels of difficulty (I actually bought this book but never got around to using it since I ran out of time). Beyond just the book chapters, of great use were the problem sets on the Kaplan
CD as well as those that came with the GMAT Prep software. In addition, the question of the day sites took minimal time but were great short bits of study time.Regardless of the materials that you choose, the most important thing is to keep a watchful and analytical eye on your performance. Be honest with yourself and be open-minded. If a particular type of problem is difficult for you, figure out why it is and fix it. If you are reading a section in a book that offers a different approach that what you would use, step back for a minute and consider that this different approach may be more efficient. My problem all along was that I ignored the advice of the book that I had paid for until the very end – luckily it wasn’t too late.Practice Exams
Though I still think practice exams are a great way of preparing for the endurance required to do well on the actual exam, I think it’s important to get your skillset under control before going crazy with exams like I did. Rather than investigate my weakness after the first practice exam, I continued on with the assumption that things would just work out for me. I think it’s best to wait to take another exam until you really think you’ve made strides with your weak areas.
The AWA is what it is, and I don’t think it should be the focus of anyone who can craft a decent essay. Still, you need to practice writing them on the front end of an exam or else you’ll be thrown off when you go to do the real one. Spending a few minutes reading how they are scored (whichever chapter in your GMAT book) and then doing 2 or 3 sets of them as you practice your last few exams will be plenty of practice for most people. Adcoms don’t drool over 6/6 AWA so neither should you.
Though it may sound insignificant, I think having the whiteboard materials to practice with was very helpful. At the very least it took out one element of mystery and potential distraction from my real exam. The same goes for the dry run exactly a week before my real exam; there was no doubt how to drive to the center or where I needed to go. Of course, I also got to set the preset for the all-important classical music; wouldn’t want to accidentally listen to Slayer before the exam. Day Before the Exam
I relaxed, watched some movies, and generally did a whole lot of nothing. I DID NOT DO ANY STUDYING OR EVEN GLANCE AT A SINGLE GMAT RELATED MATERIAL. Trust me, this is the way to go. This isn’t a Ukraine history exam that you are cramming for and you need to memorize 200 names and places for your final. One day out from the exam, you’re as good as you’re going to get, and you aren’t going to improve your scores any more. Your brain needs some rest from the madness.
I had a friend who was so worried about the exam that he studied straight through the day before his exam. Then, he did a FULL PRACTICE EXAM and multiple practice sets ON THE DAY OF HIS EXAM!!! Suffice it to say, he did not do so well, and he told me that I was right and that he should have listened to my advice.The Exam