Just retook the GMAT here in China after a terrible first experience, which I wrote about elsewhere on gmatclub. Although this time didn't go as well as I would have liked, and I made some critical pacing mistakes on the quant section (which I felt was coordinate-geometry heavy), I did learn a few valuable lessons--especially regarding critical reasoning and pacing--throughout the whole process that I figured might help others.
Quick background: I have a BA in economics from a small liberal arts school called Colorado College. Immediately after graduating back in '07, I came to China and started working in an industry I had been involved in most of my life as a competitive athlete, and worked for several years in import and distribution of outdoor sporting goods products. Two years ago I made a career move and decided I wanted to gain more experience working in larger, Chinese run organizations, and I have been working for a Chinese solar equipment manufacturer ever since. I just found out Barack Obama's half brother lives in Shenzhen, which means I'm one of two black Americans living in China.
I started studying back in April, and was having a pretty tough time the first month or so. During a work trip in the States last year I picked up a copy of the Princeton Review "Cracking" book, as I knew I was going to take the GMAT at some point, and the first day of April got started on it. The PR book is quite basic, and even their most difficult quant problems are probably 500-600 level at best. I blazed through the book in a couple of weeks, found all of the concepts pretty basic, then promptly scored a 370 of a Manhattan GMAT
practice test. I had a ton of work to do.
Over May and June, I went through the MGMAT strategy guides for quant, and they were great. I was scoring pretty low on quant at first, and just hadn't seen this stuff for so many years that it was giving me a pretty hard time. There were times I thought I was incapable of getting above 40 on quant, period. For some reason I can kill just about any probability or counting problem, 700+ levelers included, but I'm terrible with anything else. I have a particularly hard time with VICS problems where there is not a set rule or strategy for going about it. Plugging in numbers might work, but you might waste 5 minutes plugging in numbers that don't quite work or that end up confusing you. Not plugging in numbers and doing the algebra can kill you too (just take a look at PS177 in OG13). Something that was killing me, and that I wish I had realized before taking the GMAT on July 4th (first try), was that you sometimes just have to let problems go--and better yet, you have to be able to figure out quickly when to let problems go.
On the verbal side, I was getting hammered on CR, so I decided to attack these two areas--quant and CR-- until my July 4th test date. I picked up a copy or PowerScore CR
Bible, as I saw that many folks on gmatclub recommended it. This helped me on CR--especially for "must be true" questions--which I was struggling with. Their strategy for MBT questions is flawless, and I had been getting alot of these wrong before going through the PowerScore book.
I spent most of May and June going through the MGMAT guides
for quant and practicing CR, and as I approached my test date, I realized I had really neglected SC and RC and hadn't made any improvement whatsoever in those areas. I was initially getting about 10% of these questions wrong on practice tests, and had judged that to be a relatively acceptable level when compared to quant and CR, and so hadn't practiced SC or RC at all. Looking back I probably should have.
I took the GMAT in Nanjing, China on July 4th, and things went pretty badly. The test center was terrible--run down, shabby, and very noisy. To top it off, there was an incident in the test center, which I posted about elsewhere on this site. My pacing on quant was way off, and in the end I scored a Q44 V34 for 640 overall. Things went nuts in the test center during the verbal section (written about in link above), and I had to file a complaint to Pearson Vue--and after twisting their arm to watch the surveillance footage, I was given a free retest.
I was scheduled to take the retest on September 14th (this time in Shanghai--no more messing around in the provinces). This was extremely difficult with my work schedule and the b-school app deadlines, and I was pretty angry about what happened at the test center on my first attempt--but whatever, gotta role with the punches. After being inspired by an awesome 800 score gmatclub post by Non Yankee, I decided to spend my two months until G-day doing OG problems to improve pacing and stamina. I did 40 in a row (a few more for RC if necessary) of a different question type from OG12
, 6 days a week, always timed for 75 minutes. I also decided to shape up and keep an error log
, which I downloaded from gmatclub. I noticed a huge bump in my quant score after doing this, as it helped me with pacing. I learned the importance of letting problems go during practice tests, and generally got more into the groove of working quickly. Initially, I had been running out of time and guessing on the last 7-10 problems. I could never score higher than 44 this way. With better pacing, I was consistently scoring 48 or 49 on old and new GMATPrep and GMAT PowerPrep.
I had been scoring pretty high on verbal already, but was still having trouble with critical reasoning. Here's where I figured out something that really helped (and after which I NEVER GOT ONE critical reasoning question wrong on a practice test
). After finishing all of the critical reasoning problems in OG12
, I realized that, even after going through PowerScore and using their strategies, I was still getting about 5% of CR questions wrong. I would look at the explanations in OG12
, and I noticed they would always start with summarizing the situation. I could read the first few lines of their summary, and immediately I would know what the answer had to be. So for me it was just a matter of understanding each situation in the CR problems in a very simple manner. Understanding the situations is of course the sole purpose of the tactics taught in the PowerScore and MGMAT CR
books, but I had been making things far too complicated and wasting far too much time making various diagrams and negating this and that, when all I needed to do was say, "Ok, so the situation is that we have a medical treatise written by four different copyists..." etc. Also, I never read the questions first, as this was getting in the way of my clearly understanding the situation. Once I clearly understood what was going on, it was much easier to eliminate-out-of-scopers quickly and efficiently, and see which answers were traps. For "bold" questions, I also didn't ever bother reading the question first, but just read the passage carefully, and before reading the question, wrote down in my own words what I thought the role of each of the bolded phrases was. I would then match answer choices to what I had written. This seemed to work quite well. I did not get any CR questions wrong after employing these strategies.
In the couple of weeks before my Spetember 14th GMAT in Shanghai, I had been scoring between 730 and 760 on old and new GMATPrep and MGMAT practice tests. The very last week before the GMAT, had some killer luck, and started getting a gnarly migraine. I've been getting these since I was a kid, and they are no fun. They mess with my eyes and make it hard to see, and usually last about week. The migraine was making it difficult to study and throwing off my final week study plans. I was hoping it would subside before test day, but it didn't. Still hasn't. Gotta love it. Took a final practice test Wednesday September 12th, scored a 760, then on Thursday the 13th jumped on the bullet train to Shanghai. Found the test center Thursday afternoon, and planned my route. The Shanghai test center is great, though to anyone testing there, it is in Huangpu district, meaning it is in the worst place to get to in the whole city, especially during the hours of, well, anytime not between 1am and 3am, I suppose.
The essay seemed quite easy, and I just followed the methodof the "6" essay in the OG. This method, to me, seems to be to find several assumptions (I chose 3) and show why they are weak using counterexamples. Done. Write an intro that also states the function of the argument (ie "The author cites the example of xyz to show that abc), and include a sort of thesis statement that says the argument fails ("The author's argument is, overall, unconvincing because of several key flaws in his reasoning..."). Restate this in different words in your conclusion and you're good to go. I got a 6 last time, and I'm sure I got a 6 this time. IR was more quant heavy than CR heavy, whereas my first time seemed CR heavy. I didn't use the calculator the first time, but used it this time. It certainly helped. Bombed the quant section--which I felt was geometry and coordinate plane heavy (especially quadratics/parabolas). My pacing was way off, and I just felt off the whole time. I went against my whole mantra of "letting problems go" and didn't finish the last problem. Still kicking myself, and considering a retake because of my poor quant performance. Shut out my anger at not showing up for quant, and got mentally prepared for verbal during the 8-minute break. Verbal seemed pretty easy after having gone through all of the SC, CR, and RC passages in the book. Still had problems with pacing and guessed on the last 4 questions. I felt I maybe missed two questions until guessing on those last 4. Ended up with Q44 V42 for 710 overall. Not a particularly balanced score, and not quite where I'd like it to be, but taking the GMAT in China has been a bit of a hassle.