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My quest for a 99% score which began in early June has ended!
I feel that I'm ready to share the happy news that I got 770 in my GMAT with 50 in Math and 45 in Verbal, which I took within the past couple of days. I was waiting till I informed all members of my family. Now I'd like to share it with my friends at GMATClub. I'm really grateful to Preatorian, Paul and other owners/managers of this site. I'm thankful to people such as HongHu, sparky, banerjea_98, rthotad, himalaya, gmataquaguy, darth_mcdaddy and many others whose names I cannot recall now. I honestly could not have reached the 750 level without near-daily participation here. The challenges were simply invaluable, I must add.
I'll post a detailed debriefing in a bit, along with my study methods.
Okay, I'm ready for my debriefing. I did sleep for a long time last night after having had to go to work, so my memory might not be accurate.
My test was in the morning. I'm not a morning person but I simply could not get an afternoon slot at either of the two centers of my choice. I wanted a center that was in a quiet office building. I actually picked a center that I saw and liked because a couple of others that I could have chosen were in crowded shopping malls. Tip -> Know your center before you pick it.
My day went like this - I woke up earlier than usual because I could not sleep well at all, which is typical for me before big days. I take a couple of hours in the morning to get going in any case. So, I surfed the net and did a couple of questions of each type to keep my mind fresh. I also refreshed my mind with the templates I came up with for AWA.
I had my usual breakfast - oatmeal, fruit and a large Colombian, prayed, kissed my sleeping wife and left the house. I reached the center about 40 minutes before the test. There were 15 people who reached before me, but none seemed to be taking the GMAT, most were appearing for some test called the NASD or for a test called Praxis. I already knew the layout of the area and where restrooms were etc.
First I filled in the confidentiality agreement form and stuffed my backpack in a locker. I then went outside to catch some fresh air instead of being stuck in the small waiting area. I washed my face and went in and within a few minutes, they called my name and I did the sign in etc. I asked for a noise cancelling headphone set which was given to me promptly. I did not like the seat that they gave me - right next to the door when people were walking in and out. Plus the two proctors were laughing and chatting and it was a visual distraction for me. But they had no other GMAT computers so I had to take that crappy seat. Tip -> Go early and ask for a quiet seat, if possible.
As I mentioned above, I had a template for each of the two AWA essays which I employed in every practice CAT that I took. I got the analysis of argument first and the analysis of issue later. Each of them took me about 25 minutes to complete. So far so good. I then utilized the 5 minute break - drank a sip of water, then took a leak and washed my face with cold water and hands with soap (I hate it when my hands get oily). I got back to my seat with some 10 seconds to spare! I clicked okay and used the Math instructions screen to calm myself down by taking a few deep breaths.
Math started of with a couple of easy Algebra questions but the 4th or 5th one was a slightly involved combinations problem - you have to consider various cases and add them up. Then I got a super hard overlapping sets DS problem with 3 categories and lots of percents, fractions and actual numbers. I took a while for this but I have a feeling I might have gotten it wrong. In these types of hard problems, if you are getting E, it is usually wrong - because most guessers guess C or E in harder problems. I was a bit rattled by it and had to calm myself down again in the next problem, which was another one of my bugbears - statistics. Luckily, this one was easy and I was able to progress smoothly. I did not get ANY probability problem (perhaps explaining why I did not get 51). There were many problems with co-ordinate geometry/slope/circles, sequences and series and mean/median. There was one clever problem that combined remainders and set theory! There were also a few problems where I had to use brute force calculations to get 3 digits after the decimal, so I must advise people who have been avoiding long hand calculations to get down and dirty. I honestly did not feel that I made any mistake after Q 8, but I have this feeling that a couple of mistakes earlier might have put a ceiling on my score at 50. I do not buy GMAC's "All questions are important" spiel. Anyway, in the last 4-5 Qs, there were some involved geometry problems. I finished with a couple of minutes to spare. I clicked okay and opted for the break. This time, I drank some water, had a couple of bites of Baby Ruth bar and half a caffiene pill (vivarin). Got back to the desk again with seconds to spare. I calmed myself down yet again and focused on positive thoughts and then clicked okay to start the Verbal section.
Verbal was a totally weird experience for me. I got a couple of SCs and a couple of very easy CRs in the beginning, CRs were such that the incorrect answer choices were so clearly wrong that you could not but pick the right choice. Then came the whammy - a super hard history RC passage regarding some European woman author and women's rights in some century (40 lines). Folks, I simply could not make head or tail of the passage and had to read it 4 times and ended up using POE to get answers for each of the 3 questions. One of them was about the attitude which was lost on me because I could not tell if the author was critical of the woman or the person whom the woman author was criticizing. Tip -> Practice a lot on the RC types that you are not comfortable with.
I then got an easy CR and a couple of super hard SCs followed by a very hard Bold face CRs where it was not clear whether a bolded part was a premise or evidence or fact. Time was running fast. But I must have been doing well because I then got back to back RCs - 70 line and 50 line, one on science and one on business. Then more SCs and regular CRs. Another history passage (40 line) followed but this one was easier. Then it was more CRs and the test ended with 3 medium level SCs. CRs were no harder than the hard OG ones. SCs were definitely more involved but no confusing answer choices. Many of the long ones were ones where you have to eliminate answer choices based on pronoun reference, parallelism etc to end up with the correct answer - essentially not obvious ones. I finished verbal with about 8 minutes to spare.
By this time, I had a feeling that I did well in Verbal but the easier middle part of Math was haunting me. I clicked through the stupid survey and then selected the "Show scores" option which the computer forces you to selecte twice. I was overjoyed when I saw the score even though I had an instant tinge of anger at myself for missing a 51 in Math. But my Verbal score was mind boggling for me because 45 was about as high as I got in my practice tests. I'll post my preparation strategy below but I must point out that I got 770 in each of my 2 Powerprep and GMATPrep CATs. I took PPs before trying the OG.
So I signed out and got the score printout, and drove back home. I called my wife who was happy that the ordeal was over. The rest of the day was a blur for me. I did have a wonderful night's sleep after a looooong time. I had to get back to work immediately but I'm taking today off to celebrate with my wife. But I figured I post my debriefing here before I forget my test experience. I'll post my study strategy details in a bit.
I started in earnest in early June with a couple of diagnostic tests. I quickly realized that I needed to relearn a lot of Math concepts and prepare for verbal from scratch. I immediately ordered Kaplan 2005 and Princeton Review from amazon.com.
I figured that to get a high score (750+), I absolutely needed to get a 50 or a 51 in Math. My knowledge of the basics was still in the back of my mind, so I first had to get that out. I then bought Kaplan's GMAT Math workbook, older edition from my friend, and did all the problems there and I mean all of it. I did this over a weekend. This got me back in the groove in terms of the meat and potatoes GMAT problems - algebra, basic number properties, word problems, rate/work, geometry etc.
I then realized that I had to take on areas that are not covered in any of the standard books - permutations and combinations, probability, basic statistics, set theory etc. I'm a kind of person who is uncomfortable without studying atleast one book to get the concepts of any topic. Learning by jumping in and solving problems is not for me. So I scoured the net, libraries etc. Here is what I found:
1. For Permutations and Combinations, there is no better book in the whole wide world than Higher Algebra - by Hall and Knight. This is book decades old but it is a classic. Any decent college library should have it. A library near my place had it in the reference section, so I just went there and took notes.
3. For probability and statistics, I had to scrounge a few websites and make notes myself. But once I did that, I began solving problems.
4. For number properties and inequalities, I found this superb e-book from 4gmat.com For just $6.99, I strongly recommend this e-book. You can only use it in the computer you by it from and cannot print it out, BTW. But it is worth every penny nad give you a boost for a wide variety of LCM/HCF/Prime/reaminder and inequalities of every type including the notorious ones with modulus and quadratic functions. The e-book also gives a bunch of shortcuts to to multiplications etc. which were very useful to me since I've gotten used to my calculator a bit too much.
Concurrent to this, I started taking part in discussions here and did all the challenges I could. Once I got access to the old ones, I did many of them as well. I cannot over stress the importance of the GMAT Club challenges. . If you can consistently get 30 plus in the challenges, 51 is yours to lose in the real test. In fact, the day before the test, I went back and did one super tough challenge (#22) again. My kudos to the GMAT club team for coming up with consistently tough and diverse sets of problems.
Towards the end, I started with the OG after doing my Powerprep tests. To be honest, I only did the ones identified as "hard." I felt that it was more useful to do the challenges than to do a bunch of easy bucket problems even if they are from old tests. I also regularly did the mini tests for PS and DS in the Kaplan CD. I topped it all off with a serving of Kaplan 800.
All along, I had noted down problems that always gave me trouble and the day before the test, I went through all of them again.
Okay, now for the Verbal part. I'll post this before the beer gets to my head.
Like I said before, my main focus in June and early July was to get my Math to a 50-51 level. Once I felt confident in Math, I started doing verbal. CR was my strength here, so I figured, I'll polish it and keep it safe first. I did the Nova Press GMAT book and then the LSAT Superprep and the 10 more actual LSATs. The latter book does not have solutions however. For one week I did 24 CR sections from old LSATs (25-26 questions/35 minutes). Each LSAT paper has 2 CR sections, BTW. Trust me - if you can do the LSAT CRs, GMAT stuff is nothing. It took me 7-8 LSAT section attempts before I could even finish the test in time. LSAT has questions on the line of reasoning etc. which is just another way of phrasing the Boldface CR questions. After that I kept doing one LSAT section every now and then to keep me fresh.
Then it was time for RCs. RC has always been a problem for me because I either lose focus or hyperfocus with the result that I'll either get 100% correct or go as low as 60% in a given test. I realized that I needed some structure. After reading strategies from Kaplan and PR, I decided to junk both. I'd recommend that people not even try RCs from either place. After a while, I got hold of Arco's GRE-LSAT-GMAT-MCAT Reading Comprehension Workbook. Normally Arco's stuff isn't good but this book is a gem. I basically adopted the technique given there of active dialogue - namely to read a para, close your eyes and note down what your understanding was. For instance (P1 - Talks of 1900 capitalists. Author suggests their ideas flawed. Quotes Keller./P2 - Author quotes Romney who disputes Keller, statistical evidence, Schrum disputes Romney etc.) etc. The book also lists out the various RC question types and specific ways to identify the traps and clear wrong choices, essentially from the point of view of the question writer. I also has some great 90 line MCAT passages which are useful to get ready for the bigger GMAT RCs that you are likely to encounter if you are doing reasonably well. This is another book, I wholeheartedly recommend. Once again, I got this from my library - an old edition. To be honest the OG RC passages are simply junk for the most part. Real GMAT passages are way harder. If short on time, I'd even recommend not doing OG save the last 5-10 passages. Try bigger LSAT passages instead.
This brings me to Sentence Correction. SCs had been my bugaboo with the GMAT from Day one. I could not improve my average over 70% no matter what I tried. As I said in the math post, I'm a structured thinker and so cannot do well in a test where I do not have a feel for the ground rules. I tried everything - Kaplan, PR, Nova, Arco, you name it but it did not help. Finally I saw Banerjea_98's debriefing and bought Manhattan GMAT's SC guide. That book is golden! It was exactly what I needed. It gives 10 chapters each focusing on a type of error. After I did that, I started working on the 1000 SC document, since I did not want to do my OG before I took the two Powerprep tests. But doing the MGMAT helped me look at sentences and mentally check for types of errors in order (Subject/Verb - Yes, Tense - okay, pronoun - aha, mistake...). I then started looking and answer choices AFTER I figured out what the error (if any) was in the original sentence.
After taking the two Powerprep tests, I went through the OG SC questions with a fine tooth comb. The MGMAT book gives you a list of OG questions pertaining to the chapter at hand, at the end of evey chapter. This is too useful for words, in my opinion. I did the OG SC twice until I could convince myself as to what the error in each question was. To be honest, I feel that online forums may in fact be harmful for some when it comes to SCs because the rules of Grammar are unpredictable at times. I'd advise people who are not that strong on SCs to not try a question unless its source is authentic. Too often, people post stuff that may have mistakes and not understanding why you got it wrong can demoralize you if you are not careful.
Wow AJB77, your score is fantastic! You just the GMAT.
Very infromative post, thanks a lot. Waiting to know more about your practice tests....also please let us know how to keep ourselves 'alive' till verbal section ends, very often I get tired by the time I reach mid of verbal section.
I too used to feel the same way with Verbal. The key for me was to eat something like a Powerbar or chocolate after the Math part and/or take a swig of cold espresso to give me a boost. It is very important to practice with AWA in full. Take the practice CATs at the same time of day as your actual test is scheduled to be.