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Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V)

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Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 07 Mar 2012, 11:31
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***I apologize for the length of this post! I’ll try at some point to cut it down, but for now, feel free to fast forward to the Advice Section, or read the whole thing.

Haven’t really posted on here very often except for once to solicit some advice, but I have been a frequent reader of the past few months and used a bunch of things I learned on this site, so I figured I would try to give back and post my debrief.
I don’t really have a crazy inspirational story like some people on here, and I hardly consider myself or my score a long shot, but nevertheless, the GMAT is a brutal test that doesn’t treat anyone nicely, so hopefully someone will be able to use or relate to my advice. After a little less than three months of studying, I took the test yesterday (3/6/12) and scored a 730 (Q48 V42), which I was very happy with. I will certainly not be taking it again.

Personal Background:

I am a pretty typical GMAT test taker, although not necessarily a typical Gmatter. I am a native English speaker, born in the US, went to a top liberal arts college here, and majored in Accounting and Business Administration. I worked in Big 4 consulting out of college about 2 years, and then switched over to a startup consulting firm about 6 months ago. I plan to apply two application cycles from now (so Fall of 2014 enrollment), and am probably targeting the same schools as everyone else on here. Also note that this round of studying was not my first time studying. I had studied intermittently here and there a couple different time after college, but never got fully dedicated enough to take the test, nor did I ever have an actual plan. I simply point this out to let you know that I didn’t start from the ground level this time with studying.
Goals: I started out with the goal of a 700, but as I went on, upped it to a 720. I was considering a retake if I scored a 700 or 710, but wasn’t sure. 720 was my goal simply because it’s above average at every school in the country. I figured anything above that was icing on the cake.

Study Materials:

1. MGMAT Live Online Course
2. MGMAT Subject Books
3. Official Guide, Verbal/Quant official Guides
4. Kaplan Quiz Bank
5. CAT’s (MGMAT and GMAT Prep)

CAT Results:

1. MGMAT #1 (12/6/2011) – 670 (Q44 V37) – Took this before I started studying again. Was pleasantly shocked by the results, but I think my math score was very inflated. I stopped the timer a few times, used a calculator for some simple math that I’d forgotten how to do, etc.. Probably was more like a 40 or so at best. Also, as I said, I had some GMAT experience before, so this wasn’t completely foreign to me.

2. MGMAT #2 (1/23/12) – 660 (Q44 V36) – This was after going through most every subject area in Quant. My math score was more legitimate here, but still stopped the timer a few times. Either way, I felt like I had learned a ton of Quant and was much stronger. I had barely studied verbal at this point so wasn’t concerned at all about my score there, but did realize that I should probably start getting after it a little more.

3. MGMAT #3 (1/29/12) 700 (Q40 V44) – Studied a bunch of verbal this week, and it paid off. May have gotten a little lucky with the overall number, but was definitely stronger. A 40 in Quant was probably pretty representative of my overall skill level. I had barely/not at all gone through any weak areas at this point.

4. MGMAT CAT 4 (2/6/12) – 680 (Q42 V40) – This was probably pretty representative of my overall state at this time. I had some glaring weaknesses in quant still that I needed to go through, and my verbal was decent. I felt a little down about dipping below 700 since I’d gotten there, but I knew there was plenty of time.

5. MGMAT #5 (2/12/12) – 710 (Q45 V41) – Going through weaknesses paid off big time here. I looked at error problems from my CAT’s and redid the strategy books where necessary, as well as the appropriate OG problems. Didn’t review verbal much that weak, but I think I made huge strides in two big areas, which probably accounted for the 3 point Quant gain.

6. MGMAT #6 (2/20/12) – 740 (Q47 V44) – Continued to plow through weaknesses, and the week before this test was probably my best week of studying. Plowed through more weak areas for Quant, and really worked on verbal stamina (see tips below for further discussion of stamina issue).

7. GMAT Prep #1 (2/26/12) – 720 (Q45 V44) – Felt really good about getting a similar score that was at my goal level on my first official practice test. However, I found this test to be significantly different from MGMAT’s CATs. The math was much less computational, and the verbal passages were shorter for the most part. I knew I would have to focus on error logging this test since it was so much different than Manhattan. This was also the first test I wrote the essays for. Didn’t find that it all that much of an effect on me.

8. GMAT Prep #2 (3/3/12) – 690 (Q42 V42) – Was really disappointed with this setback, until I did a full analysis of my test. I had really been focusing on timing the last few tests, and beating each one of my timing splits. Unfortunately, on this one, I got way to caught up in it, and finished 10 minutes ahead on each section. Review of both sections revealed a TON of careless mistakes, and few patterns of weak areas. This made me feel a lot better, and I knew that on my actual test (in just a couple of days) that I would really have to stick exactly to my timing splits.

Judgment Day: 3/6/12 – 730 (Q48 V42)


In terms of before the test, did everything that everyone suggests to do. Got a decent night’s sleep, at breakfast, looked at a few problems just to wake my mind up, and also actually went to the gym in the morning for a light workout, which helped me relieve anxiety and feel better about myself. I work out most days, so I knew it wouldn’t tire me out too much. I got to the testing center 30 minutes early and was actually seated at my computer 20 minutes before 2 pm and ready to start.

I plowed through the essays, which were very typical, and even though I didn’t want to take a break after them, did so anyway, because I knew I’d be tired later in the test.

Then I took on Quant, and, like always, got beat up pretty badly. After finishing it (right on time), I felt pretty good about how I’d done. Not great, but not bad at all. Further, I was within a minute of all my timing splits, which as I stated above, was my goal. I found that there were a bunch of Data Sufficiency Number Properties, which was by far my biggest weakness area before the test. Fortunately, I had gotten so many wrong on all of my CAT’s, and had redone them so many time, that many of the one’s I got on the real thing were similar. I felt great about that.

Verbal: I was hoping to pick up points in verbal, and maybe even add to what I had done in practice tests, to help support my more inconsistent Quant. However, I felt horrible during verbal. I was very tired, and struggled to focus. Additionally, I was very focused on time, as was my goal, and found that I was about one minute behind halfway through. I was pleased with this, since making up a minute in verbal for me was very easy. Then, however, I got a brutal RC passage about space and galaxies and who knows what else, but the worst part was that it was twice as long as any other passage I’d seen in GMAT prep or the OG. I ended up reading it two times, and even though I usually make up time in RC because I am a fast reader and spend no more than 30-40 seconds on each question, I ended up being about 8 minute behind my timing splits with 15 questions to go after this passage. Fortunately, since I am pretty quick at Verbal, I was able to make up the time, but was definitely not as careful as I had been in the first half, and I’m confident that I paid for it in my overall score.

Score Report: I was pretty nervous when I was waiting for my score to pop up since verbal hadn’t gone quite as well as I would have hoped, but when I saw my score, I was obviously very happy. It was the best I’d ever done in Quant, and even though my verbal wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I’d obviously used a lot of that energy to get a better quant score. Either way, I was happy.

My Key Takeaways/Advice

I have obviously given little pieces of advice here and there, but I’ll try to organize them below and explain them a little bit more:

1. Study by Topic:
This is huge. It is so helpful to pick something (say, Rate x Time problems), read the MGMAT book or whatever other study guide you use, and then do every problem you can find with them until you get it and get it good, including all variations. Once you get this, you can move on to the next problem. Further, when you get one wrong, or don’t know how, look at the correct answer, but not the explanation. Try to figure out how they got the answer. It can be a lot easier when you know what number/goal you’re working towards to recall how to do it. This approach can help connect the dots between what you studied and fully applying it.

2. Save timing for later:
I’ve seen this advice every now and then, but I think it’s imperative to not think about timing until you’ve learned the concepts. For me, there’s that moment of clarity when all of a sudden you get something, and often, you can’t get that moment if you’re pushing yourself with time limits. I distinctly remember sitting at a Starbucks in Manhattan when I was up there for a weekend, and I was wrestling with my biggest nemesis at the time, the aforementioned Rate x Time problems. After spending at least twenty minutes working through a “Chase” problem, it finally clicked. From then on, just about every RxT problem was easy for me, and I never spent more than two minutes on them. If I hadn’t spent twenty minutes on that one problem though, and allowed my brain to figure it out, I don’t think I ever would have gotten to that point. This happened with a bunch of other areas too.

3. Weekly CAT’s are vital, but only once you’re ready:
I wouldn’t start doing CAT’s until you have a decent subject matter base. In my mind, that means going through everything at least once. There’s no point in thinking about brutal things like timing and 40 problem sets when you haven’t seen 25% of the problems tested yet. However, once you get through everything, CAT’s are invaluable, and tell the bets story of your overall status. As a former college athlete, I relate them to videotape, which “never lies”. I would do one a week to give you progress reports each week, and spend at least a full night of studying redoing every problem you got wrong and guessed on until you get it. Also, if you use the MGMAT CAT’s, use the Assessment Reports. They tell awesome stories about how you’re doing, and they organize it all for you without you having to do any work.

4. Kaplan Quiz Bank
I learned about the Kaplan Quiz Bank up from another member who discussed it in her debrief. I used this thing all the time. Eearly on, I did them untimed to gain exposure to a bunch of different types of problems, and further, to keep my mind in “GMAT mode”, as this same poster said (I’ll link her debrief, which many of you have probably read, below). Further, the “Flag a Problem” feature creates an instant error log for you, which like the Assessment Reports, saves you time and energy. I redid my flagged problems at least 3 or 4 times each, and knew the concepts like the back of my hand. Further, since I work in team rooms on client site at work, it was not feasible for me to pull out the OG and bang out 15 problems when I had some downtime, but the Quiz Bank allowed me to do it discreetly and easily.
This was my number one secret to success.

One other thing I used this for was practicing the Verbal section. I found that it was hard to replicate the verbal section when doing the OG, since it breaks up CR, RC, and SC. I also had found that I was doing significantly better in sets of 10 percentage wise than I was on the CATs, and I thought that it might be because of fatigue during the CATs. To combat this, I would do my math strategy/problems work first at night, and then after about 1.5 or so hours of that, would switch to verbal, and did 41 question mixed verbal sets to get used to pushing through the tiredness and maintaining focus. Note that I would not do this unless you are already pretty strong in verbal, and I did it mainly because I had no pattern of weakness in any one area (e.g. Sentence Correction – Modifiers), so my problems must have laid elsewhere.

6. Study with someone
One thing that I remembered from college was that I loved to study with people. Usually, when studying for a big test, I would do a bunch of review on my own, and then would talk it out with a friend, going over areas of weakness, working through them together, and explaining my areas of strength to him, who may not be strong in that area. All of these things provide another learning mechanism – it can be really useful to see how someone else does it, in person, with the ability to ask questions, and additionally, it can be great to work through a tough problem together. Plus, when you know something they don’t know, it boosts your confidence and helps cement your understanding when you explain it. Finally, it breaks up the monotony and loneliness of daily studying on your own. It’s easier to take on this test with someone than alone.

7. Use Timing Splits
I thought this was common knowledge, but I was shocked how many people I know that are studying don’t use them, even though they complain about timing issues. One additional piece of advice, which is fairly ubiquitous, is stick to them ALWAYS, including if you’re ahead of schedule. It’s fine to be a couple minutes ahead, but don’t bank 7 minutes, because you’re probably making careless mistakes or guessing too much. Obviously, you don’t want to fall too far behind, but that’s more self explanatory. I found it useful to break my splits up more often than some people to do to give more frequent snapshots of where I need to be, but to each their own. One last point is that just because your pacing is typically good, I would still write it down on the real test, and check it, because the real test tends do go a little different than your CATs, and you want to make sure that if you do fall behind (or get ahead), you know what you have to do to get back on track.

8. Learn how to guess:
Guessing is great, and guaranteed you’ll have to do it a few times on the test, so you may as well learn how. I think there’s a post on here or on GMAT Club that discusses 10 great tips for Quant guessing. I’ll try to find that, but definitely learn the tricks to good guessing and practice them. For example, double answers on probability that try to catch you one step too early on the 1 – Trick. The fractions are often paired, with one of them being right. If you can use some reasoning to figure out if it’s high probability or low probability, you just might be able to get it right without doing any math. Obviously, that’s if you can’t do the problem the way it’s intended.

9. Admit you don’t know:
Many of us struggle with timing in Quant. As many other have said on here, sometimes you just have to look at a problem, admit you don’t know, do your best to make a guess, and move on. The trick is, make sure you admit it in 30 seconds and not a minute and thirty seconds! If you do that, make your educated guess, and move on, you will have banked over a minute to use on problems that you do know how to do, but just need an extra few seconds on. Do this a few times and you have up to 5 minutes extra to spread out on your strengths. Obviously, if you’re going for a 51, this might not be the best strategy, but if you’re more like me and in the 45-48 range, save your energy and your time for problems you are strong at.

Closing Thoughts:

Bottom line is this test sucks, but you have to be confident that you can handle it. Study hard enough that you really believe you can do it. Hammer areas of weakness, even though that goes against human nature. WE usually want to study what we’re good at because it feels good to get problems right, but this won’t do much for you. At the same time, don’t only do weaknesses to the point that you lose confidence. Make sure to keep up your other skills which are already strong, because you’ll need them to be good come test day, and it’ll keep you in good (or at least decent) spirits on those nights when you’re working through the hardest problems.

Personally, I didn’t make an error log, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t study like I had one. I was pretty aware of my weaknesses, so I worked through those OG problems over and over until they were useless because I memorized them (not intentionally). Use the automatic error logs that are kept in MGMAT and GMAT Prep, and for me, the Quiz Bank, which in the end will be all that you study. I did little to no strategy the last two weeks, just looked at what I’d gotten wrong and tried to practice the skills I needed.

Last, read these debriefs. They’re pretty inspiring, and they’ll give you some great tips. I would never copy someone exactly, because we’re all different, but try things that people suggest, see if they help, and if they don’t, scrap it. Just because someone got a 780 doesn’t mean their strategies will work for you. On the other hand, just because someone got a 650 after months of studying doesn’t mean that none of their strategies will work for you because you want a 700. They might have the best strategies cause they had to struggle so much more.

Feel free to ask my questions, and I’ll do my best to respond. Thanks to all who have posted debriefs in the past, and commented on my advice post.
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 07 Mar 2012, 13:43
nice debrief, a lot of valuable advice
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 07 Mar 2012, 14:43
Very useful advice. Thanks.
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 07 Mar 2012, 19:52
One of the best debrief that I have read. Congratulation on an awsome score. Can you elaborate on how you study each of the Verbal section (CR, SC, RC)? Thanks.

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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 08 Mar 2012, 06:28
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Samwong, i will be the first to say that I think my verbal study tactics were flawed, and that if I could do it again, I would absolutely change how I studied verbal.

The fact is, my improvement in verbal (from a 36-37 to a 42-44) was simply due to familiarity with the questions. I had a few halfway decent strategies, but honestly, I didn't do enough to improve in verbal. I think I probably should have been more around the 46-47 range. I have always been significantly better at verbal on standardized tests than math - on the SAT's I got an 800 in verbal and I think a 650 on math, and when I first started studying, I knew I had a significant amount of ground to make up in Math, so that's where all my focus was. To catch up in Verbal, I really just did a lot of problems, and read the answers to the ones I got wrong.

I would MUCH have preferred to learn them the same way I did the Quant, and go topic by topic, doing the appropriate OG problems (e.g. Sentence Corrections Modifiers - then do a bunch of OG problems with modifiers so you learn how to identify those issues). Unfortunately, I did not, and by the time I realized that I should do this, it was a little too late. That being said, here are some of the strategies I did use:

SC:
Know the four BIG groups - Subject Verb AGreement, Parallelism, Modifiers, and Pronouns (are these even the four big groups? Not sure, but they're what I always looked for). It seemed to me that 90%+ of SC had one of these issues. Once you have identified these, and done your splits (any book explains how to split SC problems), make sure your correction of the problem does not contain new issues! I made so many dumb mistakes like this, where I'd fix the original problem, but be too lazy to go back and read the whole sentence with a watchful eye, and then have some crazy other issue in there like wrong verb tense or something like that. Always be sure to read the sentence of the one you pick once or twice as closely as you read the original sentence to make sure it's good to go.

CR:
I think the books have great strategies for CR (I used MGMAT, but I doubt any of them are that different). My approach was simple: 1) Read the question 2) Repeat the question to yourself to make sure you actually understood it 3) Read the paragraph CLOSELY and actually understand it. Read it twice if need be 4) Identify the conclusion and briefly think about any assumptions that go into it 4) Reread the question 5) Eliminate answers. Note that certain questions will merit you trying to come up with an answer before you read the options. For example, I got a TON of CR's where the last part of the passage was blank and it said "Which of the following most appropriately completes the passage". I honestly think I got 6 or 7 of those on the real test, and those are all ones where you want to have an idea of what the answer will be so you don't get tripped up by trap answers.

I also developed a solid strategy for bold faced CR's, but didn't get any on the real test. I guess that's why everyone said not to study them too much, but I had seen at least 1 or 2 on every practice I'd taken.

RC:
My strategy for RC was no strategy in the sense that I didn't take notes, didn't have a set process I went through, or much else. This has always been my best verbal topic. I guess if I had to break it down, it was: 1) Read the first paragraph in DETAIL, and identify the thesis 2) Read the rest in less detail, but make sure you understand and are not just reading for the sake of reading. 3) As you read, be an active thinker. By the time we get to the test, all of us have done enough RC's that we can sort of tell what type of passage it is. Is it refuting one theory for another? Telling us the history of something? Whatever it is, actively reading adn trying to figure out what type it is will help you understand it better, and will most likely be the answer to one of the questions down the road.

Also, if a question asks about a certain word or area in the passage, it almost always has the answer in there. FIND the answer, then look at the choices. Don't fall into their traps! There are also RC just like the CR I mentioned before, where you should come up with an answer before you read the options (e.g. main purpose of this passage or whatever some of those other big picture, what is this passage about questions are).

Finally, I know for a lot of people, especially non-native English speakers, timing is an issue on verbal. Unfortunately, I cannot help you here, since I was typically way ahead of schedule, and even when I did fall behind on the real thiing, was easily able to make up 10 minutes in the last 20 minutes of the test.

Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any more specific questions about any section.
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 08 Mar 2012, 15:28
Your first 2 MGMAT scores are almost same as the ones I took so far. I hope I can also increase my score from 680 to 730 s : ))
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 12 Mar 2012, 12:34
Good luck, goktug. Took a lot of work but no reason why you shouldn't be able to get there and surpass me.
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 10 Apr 2012, 15:08
Great post and advice on how to tackle the exam and prepare for it.
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 10 Apr 2012, 20:44
Great and also very detailed advice. Thank you.
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 14 Apr 2012, 01:04
Excellent debrief.. I am just starting off..and have 3 months at most for giving the test..This was very informative..Thanks a ton!
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2012, 23:53
One of the most descriptive and informative posts. I'm retaking my GMAT soon and I've been doing many of the similar things in your prep. They say that timing is one of the most crucial strategies to consider in your preparation and actual exam. I like how you were very consistent with your CAT exams, prep, and even the way you wrote.

A lazy person can't just wake up and decide they're going to study hard and make a 700+. To become proficient in the verbal concepts, you have to live it in your daily life up to that point. To place emphasis on time, you have to be urgent in everything you do, not just when you answer 37 math problems, etc.

I'm going to bookmark this and read it later again =)

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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 15 Apr 2012, 23:58
randomguy2012 wrote:
I'm not trying to be a d***, but 730 is not that great of a score, especially with such a low verbal score. You could improve that score a lot if you just improved your verbal skills. a Q48V48 would be in the 99 percentile.


Looks like he was able to improve a fair amount from his first CAT practice exam to his final actual score. I'm sure with that same preparation in the rest of his application, he would be a strong candidate. I would agree though that a Q48V48 is a great score for anyone ;)

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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2012, 01:43
Congrats on the good score and really exhaustive debrief.
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2012, 06:40
Not really sure where I said a 730 was a "great" score, but I do think there are a lot of people on this board that are hoping to score around there and I simply posted this debrief to help others with some of my strategies.

I'm sure I could improve my verbal some (especially considering that I felt like I was having a horrible time during verbal on test day), but can't really see the point. I even mentioned in my debrief that if I could do it all over, I might change how I approached verbal. That being said, I highly doubt a 750 will make much of a difference over a 730, and would certainly not be worth it in my mind to study for another 31+ days (especially with no guarantee of getting the same Quant score). In my mind, it's all about the return on investment, and I think the extra month can be used in better ways than scratching for another 10-20 points.

Whether a 730 is a "great" score or not really depends on what you need out of the test. It is 96th percentile. If you have a good profile and package, it is more than good enough to get you into any school in the country. If you don't have a good profile/application package, you probably won't get in to a top school whether you have a 760, 730, or 690.

Neither H/S/W, nor MBB (since I want to get into MC after school) are going to deny you based on a 730, and once you're getting a look, it comes down to your profile and execution of the application and interviews.

Interested to know your take, and how you think 1) I could score a 48 (4 points higher than I ever got on a verbal practice test), and 2) how/why you think that would make a big difference in getting into school (the entire purpose of getting a good score on the exam).
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Concentration: Strategy, Other
GMAT 1: 660 Q47 V34
GPA: 3.32
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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 16 Apr 2012, 11:16
Great job! Thanks for sharing and best wishes on your application process and MBA career.
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Joined: 16 Feb 2012
Posts: 36
Location: United States
Concentration: Entrepreneurship, Technology
GMAT 1: 690 Q47 V38
GPA: 3.7
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Kudos [?]: 10 [0], given: 2

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Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V) [#permalink] New post 23 Apr 2012, 15:22
hands down to such a great debrief. Not only inspirational but a great reading exercise of all of us aspirants holding our breadth over Gmat score. Thanks for sharing and all the best for further.

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Keeping up the spirit. Target = 750

Re: Tips, Advice, and How I Got a 730 (48Q 42V)   [#permalink] 23 Apr 2012, 15:22
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