So first off, I'm usually not cool about sharing scores. I'm a tad superstitious at times and don't want to invite unwanted attention.
However, I did want to post my experience/journey/story on the GMAT purely because it may offer some helpful advice to others, be it in terms of what's helpful or, more importantly, what not to do.Part I) New Beginnings
Pursuing an MBA has always been a personal goal of mine, so whether or not it's required for my job is immaterial; I'm simply not willing to give up on my dreams.
The story begins on December 31st, 2010. I'm celebrating New Years with some close friends and we're hosting a big party at our hotel suite. Before the crowd arrives, a couple of us got together to make our resolutions. A cheesy tradition? Sure, but also one that surprisingly works for me. Up until this point, I had always talked about pursuing my MBA, but hadn't taken the necessary action of, you know, starting to study for the GMAT or anything. Hence, this became my resolution -- to essentially get the ball rolling on the business school process.
And then basically nothing for a while.
Sometime in mid-January, I ordered two GMAT books -- the Kaplan Premier
and the Official Guide, two books with which I believe 99% of the people here must be familiar. I read a little into the format of the test (e.g. what "data sufficiency" is, etc), then took a diagnostic GMAT with Kaplan
. It was a non-CAT practise test, whatever that's worth.Score: 630Part II: And The Studying Begins Now!
It's roughly mid-February at this point and I've scheduled the exam for the second week of May on Saturday. I've always believed in aiming high in life, so I set my GMAT goal at 750, which meant I needed to add 120 points to my score within three months. And it was all going to be self-study.
So here's a little background on me: I'm a bit lazy and I love to go out, two qualities that really don't lend themselves well to studying. I essentially went through college (undergrad: UC Berkeley) trying to get away with as little studying as possible. I received a lot of advice from people who did well on the GMAT telling me to devote significant time to studying and to essentially stop going out drinking on weekends. Three months without this should be easy enough, right?
Well, it turns out that even if you want to study, life still continues on around you. Your close friends still have birthdays, March Madness still goes on, India still wins the World Cup (WOO!), etc. So it's a lot more difficult than it sounds to not go out. So I essentially tried to compromise -- cut down on going out to once a weekend.Lesson Number One: Focus on studying, but don't give up your life entirely for the GMAT -- it will only make you more stressed and more tense.
So when I was studying, I was studying at the public library. Having not been to a library in several years, I was in for a shock: they're loud and only open for a few hours at a time (literally four hours on Sundays). Make the most of that time.
I found the Kaplan Premier
to be really helpful in exploring the exam fully. Their strategies really worked for me and the math refresher was very useful. It was also really easy to bomb through without wasting too much time. Also, their practice CATs were great, but more on that later.
Weekend studying only got me so far, however, so I had to add some weeknight studying to the routine. Even if just an hour, it was worth a library trip. This way, I wasn't spending several days with no GMAT prep.Lesson Number Two: Make GMAT studying a part of your routine. One hour a day, five days a week is more valuable than five hours a day, once a week.
As it got to late March/early April, I added some more studying material. I bought the GMAT Club app for the iPad. It's tremendously useful app that has math lessons, as well as companions for the official guide to log your answers (very helpful when creating an error log
, but more on that later). Most significantly, though, it has a ton of tough practice questions. And if you're capable of multi-tasking, you can do practice problems while lounging around and watching a movie or a sports game. In some odd way, this helped me to maintain focus even when distracted.
I also used the Kaplan 800
book. The questions on the OG were getting too easy for me (pro tip: this is because they're actually ordered by difficulty, a fact I did not discover until three weeks before the exam). I've read the reviews around here and the general consensus seems to be pretty negative. I, however, thought it was nice to have some difficult practise questions, especially on the reading comp and critical reasoning sections.Lesson Number Three: Working on easy questions builds your confidence. Working on difficult questions builds your knowledge. Strike a balance.Part III: Crunch Time
So it's less than a month until the exam, meaning it's clearly time to step up the studying. Try as I may, though, I'm still not capable of stopping myself from going out on weekends, so I have to amp up my studying strategies. One solution that worked for me was to come into the office on a Saturday and just study in an empty conference room.
It's also time to start taking the practice CATs. Kaplan
came with four CATs and there are a bunch of free ones out there (Knewton, Princeton Review
, etc). There are also the two GMATPrep ones, which are both very helpful (in that they're real questions) and useless (in that they don't have explanations). Dealing with the time limits really brought new struggles into the equation. Now it's not just solving problems or answering questions -- it's the time. More specifically, it's the twin problems of sitting for 2.5 hours straight (3.5 with the AWA) and the time limits for each section.
This was a game changer for me. I was just getting comfortable with the quant section and now I discover that I'm running out of time because I get bogged down on one or two problems and end up rushing at the end of the exam to answer all questions before time is up.Lesson Number Four: Start working on your timing early on. A certain question may be possible to solve in six minutes, but it may not be worth the time suck. Learn when to make an educated guess and move on.
Scores were all over the board. My first Kaplan
CAT was a 750, but the second one was a 660. Scores on the other CATs varied from 710 to 740.
Oh, also one more tip I forgot. Manhattan sells a pad and marker set on Amazon for $12 that's very similar to the actual pad and market on the real test. There is a pretty significant difference between pencil and paper and this. Pay the money! It's worth it!
It's also around this point that I ditched the iPod when taking practice tests. I used to constantly listen to classical music when studying in the library, but I realized that I was just getting used to having background noise that wouldn't be there on the real thing. I don't know how much difference this makes.Part IV: One Week
One week until the exam, scheduled for Saturday the 14th. What the hell do I do? I ditched the practice questions and focused almost exclusively on taking CATs. Basically, every day I would do a CAT and then write down what I got wrong in my notebook, along with why I got it wrong (I ended up writing "READ THE QUESTION, IDIOT" a lot). A week prior, I also discovered the GMAT Club Flashcards set, which was very helpful in creating a half page cheat sheet for me to look at the morning of the exam.
CAT scores at this point are improving, but still too volatile. GMAT Prep was 750 and 750, Veritas
CAT was 730, Kaplan
CATs were 800 (must have been broken) and 740.
Exam is schedule for a Saturday, so I call in sick (with my boss' permission) on Friday and stay home. Thursday night, I take a practice test and watch some tv and go to bed early.
Friday morning, wake up, laze around a little bit, then do some practice problems (no CAT) at the library for a couple hours. Work out a little bit at the gym, then watch a movie and bed. I don't know if I'd recommend this for everyone, but I took some melatonin at night so that I could get a good night's rest. I ended up getting nine hours of sleep the night before a huge exam.Lesson Number Five: Spend the day before keeping your mind fresh, but relax and don't stress yourself out. This isn't college; you can't cram the night before
Saturday morning, visited the temple before going to the exam (I'm a very religious person) and got to the prep centre an hour early. They let me start early, so I quickly reviewed my cheat sheet and started right away.
I was too nervous to eat during breaks, but I made sure to visit the restroom on every single break and splash water on my face to stay alert. Math section I, surprise, ran low on time and finished with twenty seconds left (somehow, I managed to get the last problem right in ten seconds... it was like a buzzer beater for exams). Some of the questions felt way too easy, so I started to worry in the back of my mind that I had been getting them wrong. Verbal went by with nary a hitch.Lesson Number Six: Don't overanalyze the questions. You've been studying so much that some questions just feel so intuitive as to appear deceptively easy.
Got my score, was a little surprised, but VERY happy. Naturally went out and partied since I had not gone out drinking in an entire three weeks. Celebrated it big and enjoyed the rush.Part V: The Future
Where do things go from here? Well, I'm going to take a short breather, then start hitting the apps when they come out. As of right now, my application list will be HBS, Wharton, stanfurd, Haas (Cal), UCLA, and Chicago. This may change, but I plan on continuing to aim high.
I plan on contributing for some GMAT stuff and posting in the MBA section regularly.
Now, since I've been rambling on this entire post for no reason... here are some things that may be worthwhile doing differently:
1) Make an error log
. Seriously, I have no idea why I never did this. The closest thing I did was mark which questions I got right and wrong on the CATs and the OG
2) Don't dilly-dally when it comes to studying. There were many, many times I only got an hour at the library on a weekday because I wasted time watching tv when I got home instead of eating a snack and going directly to the library.
3) Probably go out a little less. I know I've pressed on the importance of balance, but I may not have taken the studying seriously enough. It's not just the time out, it's the time spent recovering the next day.
4) Seriously, realise that the questions in the OG are in order of difficulty. I didn't do any hard questions until the day before the exam. Don't be me.I'm sure more ideas will come to me and I'll edit this post, but that's it for now. Let me know your thoughts!