Hello forum browsers.
I debated whether I wanted to contribute my personal experience on the forum or not. In the end I felt that some poor soul studying for the GMAT may actually find my experiences helpful.
A quick background of my educational background. B.A. in Business admin, completed 1st year of M.A. Economics, both at a california state university. I plan to apply for doctoral programs this Fall (2012).
Standardized Test Taking History:
SAT (2001, old 1600 scale)
Combined Score: 1260 (math was 600-something, verbal was low 500's)
GRE (Fall, 2010)
Verbal - 420
Quant - 770
My verbal has never been strong on standardized tests so verbal has always been my weakest section.
As many people typically post their progression on practice CATs, mine are as follows:Kaplan
CAT 1 (Jul 20) - 600 (Q - 55%, V - 59%)
Manhattan CAT 1 (Jul 31) - 670 (Q47, V34)
GMAT Prep CAT 1 (Aug 5) - 680 (Q47, V36)
Manhattan CAT 2 (Aug 12) - 640 (Q43, V35)
Manhattan CAT 3 (Aug 13) - 660 (Q46, V34)Kaplan
CAT 2 (Aug 19) - 620 (Q - 61%, V - 69%)
GMAT Prep CAT 2 (Aug 20) - 700 (Q49, V35)
Actual GMAT (Aug 25) - 720 (Q49, V40)
Prep Time: Summer 2012 (June - Aug)
- Began with lots and lots of practice
- Last 3 weeks were the most intense, averaging 8-10 hours per day, 6-days a week for two weeks, and 4-5 hours of review the final week.Break down of Practice CATs
CATs drastically underestimated my quant score in relation to the actual GMAT
- MGMAT's algorithms were in the domain of where my quant score turned out, however the test questions were definitely harder
- GMAT Prep - probably the best predictor (as commonly agreed by most test takers)
At the end of the day, the CAT exams from test prep companies are good for one thing: Making sure you can get the timing down. Personally I feel that if you can complete all of the questions under the time limits with Kaplan
/ Manhattan CAT exams, you can do so on the actual exam. I found myself easily finishing the verbal section on CATs, but always time crunched on the quant. On the actual GMAT, I finished the quant with about 1:15 min to spare, and had to rush the last two verbal questions. (As a note, I finished the Integrated Reasoning section with 1:30 min to spare, while on the practice CATs I was rushing with less then a minute each for at least two of them).Resources I used
I tend to dislike paying for test prep courses, especially after my SAT experiences in high school when I felt it was basically a guided course to tell you what to do. Yes, having an instructor there who can help you work through problems is beneficial, but to me the costs weren't feasible.
- GMAT Premier (2011)
- GMAT Premier (2013)
- GMAT 800Manhattan
- Foundations of Verbal (5th)
- Sentence Correction (4th)
- Advance GMAT Quant (5th)
- Number Properties (5th)
- IR and Essay (5th)GMAT Review
- OG (12th)
- OG (13th)PowerScore
- Critical Reasoning
- Sentence Correction
Now this may seem like a hoard of books to almost anyone. I started with kaplan premier
and 800, but I realized that my verbal was the biggest factor that I was lacking. After getting the manhatten books, they just didn't seem to click with my understanding, so I found powerscore.
I have to say, in-between the manhatten and powerscore purchases, I was devastated that after weeks of studying, my MGMAT CAT 2 score had dropped to 640. The test prep companies CATs wrecked havoc on my psychological and emotional states throughout my prep time.
Personally I felt that the books listed below were the most beneficial for someone with relatively higher math analysis skills and low verbal foundations:
- OG Guide
- Kaplan 800
- Manhattan Number Properties
(This is probably the best book for a lot of the abstract problems)
- Powerscore Sentence Correction
- Powerscore Crit. Reasoning
- OG Guide
The rest were fillers that may have contributed marginally, but the above six were the most useful in my experience.
(There are also free resources littered across online forums, including the GMAT Club verbal guide and list of idioms)
The preparation experience was probably the most brutal studying experience I've ever had, even when compared to my Master's Comprehensive Exams.
My highest score on any practice CAT was 700, but my actual GMAT score was 720. Now this seems to be against the norm of most test takers. It was simply the verbal that boosted my overall score going from low 30's to 40 on the actual was by far the dominating factor.
During the experience, ate a powerbar (Powercrunch, ~ 200 calories, fairly balanced bar) before entering, and at both breaks. The break time is extremely limited, so I inhaled the powerbars, drank a few sips of water, stretched out, and returned to the test room.
During the test, I had to keep telling myself that there was nothing I can do about any problems I had doubts on and keep focusing on the one right in front of me. I had some extra time by the time I was 2/3rds through with the quant section, but I ended up staring at a data sufficiency problem for about 5 minutes. By the time I finally submitted my answer, I was down to about 2 min per remaining question again (frustrated the crap out of me but I pushed through).Conclusion
For those aiming to score 700+, there are a few key things to understand:
- Since so many people score high on the quant section, it is crucial you score above a 48 as well
- Sentence correction is easily the best way to boost your score, ALTHOUGH it is probably, in my opinion, the HARDEST to study for.
- Don't bank on practice CATs to gauge your score. GMAT Prep Software is the closest thing. INSTEAD focus on the time constraints.
All of the advance quant material I spent so much time focusing on was definitely not worth the time. I learned to view MGMAT and Kaplan
's crazy 700-800 difficulty math problems. Very few of those types actual showed up on the test (more like none that I can remember). It was the number properties book from Manhattan that helped the most in advance problems. The key goal is to break down abstract question stems into properties that can easily be tested, so without knowing number properties, it would be extremely difficult to do some of the advance PS and DS questions.
I hope someone finds my experience useful and can benefit from it. I'll remain around the forums for a few weeks to answer any questions or comments that may come up.
Best of luck to upcoming and future test takers.