Like many on this forum I have lurked in the background, quietly drawing upon brilliant advice in hopes of dominating the GMAT and being able to post my very own advice to those in need, as I was, just a few short months ago.
I have literally dreamed about making this post. Here it goes...
Native Speaker: 640 to 680 to 710!My background:
• Native Speaker: I grew up in America and have been speaking English my whole life
• Academic Past: Attended the University of Notre Dame as a Biology Major (B-/B Average GPA)
• The Hype: Going to a top MBA program has been a dream of mine for quite some time, given my poor GPA I always knew that a standout GMAT score (700+) could help my chances of attending a great school… this undoubtedly added undue pressure to my studying experience.
• Testing Background: Let me just come out and say this: I am NOT a good test taker. I get incredibly nervous in testing scenarios. I have always been mediocre when it comes to school. For as long as I can remember I have always doubted my own intellectual ability.
• Industry: Corporate retail, currently on my 4th year of experience out of college.
• I AM NOT: hating my job and wanting to quit badly. I enjoy what I do very much. I am going back to grad school to prep my future self to be a company officer as I had little/no business exposure in undergrad being a Science major.
2012, FIRST GMAT: 640 (Q42, V38) - May 2012
I studied for 3 months, roughly 110 hours, mainly using the Kaplan course
I had taken paired with the OG content. I just wasn’t ready but I forced myself to take the exam anyhow. With a sub-par 640 I forwent applications for the 2012 season and decided to focus on my new promotion as Manager of a team, I loved my job. With my attention mainly on my job I put away the GMAT books and decided to visit them later on for the 2013 application season. Kaplan Class Review: WASTE OF TIME/$
• Doing little/no research I naturally assumed that an in-person prep course would be the best way to go: WRONG. I signed up for the Kaplan
program in my city and it wasn’t until I picked up the Manhattan content did I realize that I had been missing quite a bit. This might look as if Manhattan is paying me or something, this, I can assure you, is not the case! Believe what you read: Manhattan is the way to go, hands down. Kaplan
is overpriced and half as effective. Identified Weaknesses:
• Quant: Word problems
• Quant: Algebra
• Quant: Quick and/or large arithmeticIdentified Strengths:
• “Natural” 35ish verbal score
• Quant: Number properties
• Quant: Geometry2013 GMAT JOURNEY:
• I started going through the Manhattan material casually in the months of January, February, and March, with 100% of my attention on the Quant … I needed to get that 42 up!
• I created incredibly detailed notes of each and every Quant chapter available in the Manhattan texts. It’s key that you create unique, separate notes for yourself, and not simply highlight information in the books. I took note of really tough OG 13
problems and studied them inside and out as well.
• After completing these awesome notes I started to do Math “sprints” (see reference below) and this was the turning point for my Quant score (getting up in the high 40’s)MATERIAL USED:
- Manhattan Quant (a must)
- Manhattan SC (a must, although this was a weak spot for me)
- CR Powerscore (GOLD, CR Powerscore > Manhattan’s CR book)
- SC Powerscore (not as good as Manhattan, stick to Manhattan)
- Official Guide 13
(a must, knowing how to do every problem, even if you have slightly memorized them isn’t a bad thing)
- Verbal GMAC book (blue book) – solid, identical in quality to OG13
- Quant GMAC book (green book) – solid, identical in quality to OG13
Advanced Word problems book – I was spotty with this area, Veritas
creates incredibly refined content… judging on this one book, I am sure the Veritas
content is as good as Manhattan’s
CAT’s (easier than Manhattan’s but the wording is sometimes strange)
question bank – great for breaks at work and Kaplan
content really trains you to NOT fall for typical Quant GMAT tricksGMAT LOG:
690, Q49 V41, 6/23/13 kaplan
640, Q49 V27, 6/30/13 kaplan
680, Q48 V35, 7/3/13 GMATprep1
670, Q49 V32, 7/7/13 GMATprep2
680, Q50 V33, 7/9/13 kaplan
710, Q49 V42, 7/11/13 kaplan640, Q42 V36, 7/13/13 actual GMAT
I was so focused on my quant score and I knew I had been doing well in mocks, however, when I took the real test I got way too nervous and straight up bombed the quant section. EXTREMELY LOW MOMENT FOR ME (Lots of GMAT CLUB forum browsing ensues)
I was determined to get a better quant score. I signed up for a follow up exam 6 weeks later.
690, Q45 V38, 8/29/13 manhattan
710, Q47 V42, 8/17/2013, GMATprep1A (reset)
680, Q49 V35, 8/22/2013, Kaplan
730, Q49 V41, 8/26/13, GMATprep2A (reset)680, Q48 V35, 8/28/13, actual GMAT
Finally, I scored the quant score I deserved… what happened to verbal!?!
My girlfriend decides to sign up for the GMAT so I hit the books one, last, final time. Here we go.
680, Q49 V39, 11/25/13 kaplan
680, Q49 V35, 12/6/13 kaplan
(taken after work)
690, Q48 V36, 12/7/13 GMATPrep3
710, Q47 V41, 12/8/13 GMATPrep4
690, Q48 V36, 12/12/13 GMATprep1 (reset for the second time)710, Q48 V40, 12/18/13 ACTUAL GMATTHE DAY OF THE TEST:
• used the notepad horizontal style (huge for me)
• I actually was supposed to take the GMAT two days earlier but I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep through the night. By the time I fell asleep it was 3 hrs before the exam start time. I woke up that morning having slept only 90 minutes… I was exhausted and in no shape to take the GMAT. So, I cancelled (no show) and booked another test for two days later.
• The night before the exam I relaxed, watched a movie, and took Nyquil. I feel fast asleep only to COMPLETELY WAKE UP at 10:30pm… I was freaking out, I don’t know why! I literally didn’t fall asleep until 2:30 am when I took another shot of Nyquil. I woke up 3 hrs later with a total of 4 hrs of sleep under my belt. I was super drowsy from the Nyquil and had to be ready to test at 8:00am. After what happened two days before there was no way I was backing out… I had become so freaking tired of studying for this exam. It was now or never.
• Food: With the Nyquil still making me drowsy I drank a full cup of coffee (I quit coffee 6 months ago) and ate a bacon-sausage-egg-cheese bagel to keep me full. At the test center I was still feeling pretty drowsy. A lot of people advocate eating light: I don’t, my metabolism races so I ate as much as I could (and you won’t be able to eat that much!) so that my hunger wouldn’t bother me throughout the exam. SOME THINGS THAT I DIDN’T FIND THAT MUCH VALUE IN:
• Some will advocate spending 5-10 minutes on a quant problem understanding what exactly to do. While this is a good habit in the beginning you should really “graduate” from this phase of preparation and eventually move on to simply executing a large series of Quant Problems
• Manhattan CAT’s. I love the manhattan content overall but the CAT’s were just ridiculous. I started to become terrified of even taking them because I would perform so poorly and it would wreck my confidence for days. I didn’t touch a manhattan CAT in the final month because it messed with my confidence so much, the quant is just crazy hard. Manhattan CAT’s are for those seeking 750+’s.
• Over 2 mins = a big issue (false).You will find this to be totally false when you start really doing the CAT’s. Sure it’s ideal to finish most Quant problems in 2 mins or less, and it’s good to create that internal clock for yourself, but the reality is that you start off the GMAT crushing the easy GMAT problems in 60 seconds or less and eventually spend more time doing the complex ones. Lesson learned: HAVE A FEEL FOR THE “2-MIN RULE” BUT DON’T LIVE BY IT. SOME THINGS THAT YOU WILL HEAR THAT I DID FIND VALUE IN:
• BOOK THE TEST, yes. Take it from me, I started aggressively studying back in March of this year and it has taken me 9 months to achieve my goal score. It’s because I never had that exact date in mind propelling my preparation.
• CREATE NOTES, thorough, organized notes and reference them as you get problems wrong/right
• Tracked the most difficult Quant problems in O.G. 13 and constantly revisited these. I would spend 5-8 minutes executing these problems constantly until I was able to solve these within 2-3 minutes
• QUANT problem sprints
. I read one post on this forum of a guy that achieve a Q51 and he mentioned that he was doing 60 problem “sprints” on a daily basis… he would just line up 60 OG problems and do them as quick as possible. This was a game changer for me that elevated my Quant Score to the high 40’s consistently. After a couple months of laying down solid foundational knowledge and working on my weaknesses, the Quant “sprints” really helped create math stamina (others achieve the same thing through several mocks… whatever floats your boat, I guess). Furthermore, I mentioned I am not a natural test taker, this helped dull the knocking test nerves during the real deal. The nervousness I had to battle just became numb after a while from doing the math “sprints”.
• READ, READ, AND READ
. When I first arrived on the forums I read testimonials of individuals who advocated reading to improve their reading skills. I didn’t listen to this advice and I wish I had earlier. I read Grapes of Wrath this summer, though a good book, I thought it was mostly a waste of time. In my most recent “winter” go at the GMAT, I subscribed to the Economist on my Ipad. BEST DECISION EVER
. The Economist
’s articles make the GMAT’s reading Comp passages seem like picture books. The Economist
’s article are longer, use a wider array of grammatical style, have incredibly clean grammar, and represent subjects extremely similar to those seen in GMAT’s RC’s. For the past month I read The Economist
between 30-45 mins right before bed. I didn’t casually read either, I read, and held the same mentality I have when attacking RC’s. Furthermore, I started training myself to fight sleep in order to finish 1-2 more articles from The Economist
. I put myself in this situation on purpose: in the GMAT when I got tired I noticed that my reading pace and comprehension would start lagging, so this new behavior forced me to create the skill of keeping my mind on the content of the respective article. Before, I might get in the high 30’s by chance if I was “on that day”. By the time I actually tested I was scoring in the high 30’s/Low 40’s in verbal consistently. Reading the Economist
on a regular basis, I have no doubt, raised my reading ability which helped in all aspects of the verbal section.
• CRITICAL REASONING: Read the stem first, NOT THE QUESTION
. When I originally started studying for the GMAT I used the “read the question first” technique. My accuracy hovered in the 60-70’s. This is the method that Manhattan advocates. I purchased the Powerscore CR
book and like this approach A LOT better. Your mind is naturally objective, use this to your advantage. When reading the question stem FIRST in CR questions your mind naturally sees the next step of the CR problem (without even knowing the question exactly). For instance, weaken questions have naturally crappy arguments, strengthen questions typically have pretty solid arguments, Explain the discrepancy problems seem strange right from the get go. I found that when I read the question first, it needlessly occupied my brain as I moved through the CR stem.
o I maintained similar mindsets when approaching Data sufficiency and Critical reasoning problems: I would saturate the question stem for both types of problems with as much simplifying and understanding as possible. It wasn’t until I fully understood what the GMAT was asking for, and the information provided, did I jump into the answer choices. By anticipating/PRE-PHRASING the answer choices you are seeking you can quickly riffle through the offered choices and the correct one seems very obvious. ADVICE I NEVER HEARD
• I was always spotty with Algebra but thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, thinking that I could simply mitigate this weakness over time. In general, the GMAT is very Algebra and Number properties heavy exam. If you can master Algebra and number properties then you are setting yourself up to solve complex problems involving other math subjects. Algebra and Number properties are pervasive throughout the exam, if you can master these two in particular you can become nimble and efficient with creating unique solutions to several types of math problems on the GMAT. Some focus ridiculous amounts of time on crazy marginal subjects like Combinatorics, Geometry, and Probability, subjects such as Algebra and number properties are a significantly more frequent on the GMAT (if aiming for 700-720 range… cracking 750 might call for a different mentality!)
• BE STRATEGIC ABOUT YOUR TIME on verbal
. On this forum you will see far less timing strategy advice offered for the verbal section compared with the quant section. In the final 3 weeks of preparation I tried and tried but couldn’t turn the corner with sentence correction. When I tried really hard, spent a lot of time on SC, it ultimately resulted in poor CR and RC accuracy, which would hurt my overall verbal. Ultimately, I sort of just “sacrificed” SC… I was able to get through SC’s very quickly (around 30-40 seconds) with roughly 55-65% accuracy. While the accuracy was low it allowed me to complete RC and CR with nearly 100% accuracy. Through the GMATprep CATs I learned that the RC and CR questions are not a 1:1 ratio with SC questions. GETTING ONE RC/CR QUESTION CORRECT IS WORTH MORE THAN GETTING ONE SC QUESTION CORRECT. And this was my final strategy to reign in the Verbal section: I deliberately semi-rushed through SC problems, over invested time and thought into RC and CR, and ultimately I pulled off a V40 (90TH percentile).
• PLAN OUT EACH SECTION AND CUT CORNERS in AWA and IR. The AWA essay is a joke: write what you need to in order to score a 4-5-6 and use the extra time for another break. I was able to write an effective essay in 20 minutes, leaving 10 minutes to spare. I wrote the essay, Took a break, let the time run, and came back into the test center with a few minutes to spare. If you are already a decent writer then use your writing speed to create another break. IR isn’t tough but it could be mentally draining. I purposely skipped through IR and rushed to the finish so that I wasn’t deflated going into Quant. GOOD HABITS FOR ALL (regardless of background and strengths/weaknesses)
• Read the GMATclub posts and content
(at first I didn’t like the content on this website because it seemed to be a lot of foreign students trying to up their Verbal scores… something I, at first, didn’t think I could relate to… I was totally wrong… even though I don’t share the same background as everyone here it was reading testimonials from all sorts of people that really helped me succeed!) The testimonials and advice on the GMATclub also provide unbridled amounts of motivation. So if/when you get destroyed by a CAT or tough problem set, you can come back to the GMATclub community, and it will pick you back up. The posts also offer new and exciting techniques that might just work for you (see next bullet)
• If you are doing XYZ and you are scoring in the “GOAL SCORE - X0” - range then you need to stop doing XYZ and try ABC or maybe AYZ. Everyone is different and we all learn in different ways. What you think may be working may not be a good idea whatsoever. Read some posts and try something new!
• Quit Caffeine. After work I noticed I was crashing a lot and the idea of studying seemed very ominous. I was crashing because of all the caffeine I was drinking throughout the day. So I just stopped: I was slightly sleepier in the mornings but I noticed that my overall stamina and engagement after 5pm GREATLY improved.
It seems like I have been studying for this test forever. I am happy that it is all over. I don’t believe I took the most direct/efficient route to the 700+range but I’m hoping that I can at least provide some random useful tips that will propel your studies or give you the courage to foster a different approach. My overall message is this:
The GMAT is a standardized test but in the end, everyone learns and performs in different ways. If you are feeling uneasy about a certain aspect of the test, read-up, speak to your friends, reach out,…seek out something new, don’t just sit there in frustration! It has been one hell of an experience. If you are reading this post I wish you the best of luck and encourage you to hang in there. People in world class MBA programs are from two distinctive groups: You either studied for a month and scored a 750 or you needed the advice, encouragement, and persistence that a place like the GMATclub offers in order to succeed. While it’d be nice be in the former, I am in the latter, and in the end it will make no difference at all
. Stick with it. You’ll find the big 7-0-0. See you at Harvard.