I took the GMAT last Saturday after about 6 weeks of preparation. I would have liked to have done more preparation, but the idea of going to graduate school didn't occur to me until June, and at that point, I thought I had missed the deadline for the university to which I'm applying. I attended an informational session at this university in early July and learned that it was, in fact, still possible for me to apply and be accepted for Fall, so long as I submitted everything by September 1st. The presenter at this informational session also mentioned that the university had a GMAT preparation course that cost less than most professional services and was quite a bargain. So I registered to take the GMAT on August 6th and also registered for the class. Unfortunately, due to schedule conflicts, I was only able to attend 4 of the 6 class sessions, but these sessions included the information that I was most concerned about (analytical writing).
By way of background: I studied math and Spanish in college, then went on for a Master's Degree in math. I then taught math and worked other jobs, including some in financial operations, for about 12 years. So I was confident in my math skills.
After doing the OG diagnostics, I again felt confident because I did very well in every category. Then I took the first GMATPrep CAT under the recommended conditions and scored 690 (Q46, V39). I checked around and eventually found a score predictor here, which indicated I would likely score about 670 on the real GMAT. With what I knew about the university to which I'm applying, I thought 670 would likely be good enough to get me in, as it's well above the average score of students they accept. (I thought I would need an above-average score to balance my lack of experience in the area of the program to which I'm applying.) But I was very nervous about the analytical writing; It had been about 19 years since I last wrote anything under time pressure.
My goals were 700 on the GMAT and 4 on the AWA.
The prep course at the university was pretty good. Definitely got me to focus on preparing and gave me some tips on how to handle various types of questions. One of our assignments was to write an Analysis of a Topic essay to be critiqued in class; this turned out to be Analysis of an Issue (same idea, different name). I completed the assignment and volunteered to have it critiqued by the instructor, who said it would be about a 5.
A week before the test, I did a second GMATPrep CAT and scored a 730 (Q 49, V41). After looking at the questions I got wrong on both of the CATs, I noticed that my weakest area was Data Sufficiency, and my second-weakest was Sentence Correction (in terms of number of questions wrong). So I focused primarily on those two areas and on the essays. I also printed out the flashcards from BeattheGMAT, went through them, and picked out the items I felt least comfortable with.
Overall, I think I did about two-thirds of the practice problems in the OG. I read the 800Score AWA E-Rater Guide and tried to brainstorm on some of the essay topics in the OG but had a lot of trouble concentrating on this. I made some flashcards about some of the topics in the AWA E-Rater Guide as well.
A few days before the test, I drove out the the testing center in the evening so I would be sure to get there in time on the day of the test. It was a good thing, because I got lost on the way and had to ask directions. Eventually, I made my way to the correct building and up to the suite where the testing would take place. After I left, I retraced my steps on the road to make sure I would be able to find the place on testing day.
The evening before the test, I did some brainstorming about a couple of AWA topics and worked a few problems of each type from the OG. Then I read a little and went to bed early.
On the morning of the test, I got up early and went through my flashcards a couple of times. I drove out to the testing center and waited for it to open. There was a flood of people who went into the building just before the testing center officially opened. I think it may have opened a bit early. I went in and found myself 8th in line. I was given something laminated to read about terms and conditions; I was surprised to learn that, according to his document, I wasn't supposed to use "comfort measures" during breaks. Thankfully, during my breaks, I was
allowed to eat and drink stuff I had in my locker, so I don't know why that was in the document in the first place.
Then I started the test.
The essays were OK. I got topics I hadn't specifically prepared for, but I found something to write on each one.
The quantitative section included a Data Sufficiency problem unlike anything I had ever seen. After about 90 seconds, I decided to guess so I would have more time on the question after it.
The rest of the test was OK. I decided to do the extra section (to earn some money off the testing fee), and after I was done with it, I got my scores:
770 (50 Q, 45V)
One of the people working at the testing center printed out my results and said, "Well done." I was surprised to have done so well, based on my CAT scores and the prediction here.
This morning, I got an e-mail that allowed me to get my AWA score, which turned out to be 5.5. So I'm relieved that all sections of the test went well, and I won't need to retake the test.
Reflections and Advice:
- If you want to be the first to take the test, and spend less time sitting in the waiting area, get in line at the door before the testing center opens.
- Finding the testing center before the day of the test is a good idea, particularly if it's in an area with which you're not familiar. Going during daylight hours may make finding a testing center easier.
- GMATPrep CAT scores aren't the ideal predictors for everyone; neither is the score predictor tool on this site.
- As a native speaker of English, I think I had an advantage over some foreign test-takers on the verbal section (99th percentile); as a product of the US educational system, I think I was at a disadvantage on the quantitative section, even with a graduate degree in math (92nd percentile).
- Best prep materials: OG, 800Score AWA E-Rater Guide
- Data Sufficiency is hard (even for this math major) and requires a lot of practice.
Now it's on to the application essays (which, thankfully, aren't timed).
If anyone's in the Cincinnati area and looking to buy a used OG or to get information on the prep course I took, feel free to send me a message.