This is my first time posting on the GMAT club even though I'm an avid reader of the forum. When I was first considering taking the GMAT I think I might have read through every GMAT experience posted in the last 6 months.
I was really nervous about taking the GMAT because from my undergraduate experience I knew I was not the best test taker. I know a lot of people say that as an excuse but really I'm pretty bad at time management and keeping my focus. So I knew that was the first hurdle I had to get over in order to do well on the GMAT.
Next, I'm a super busy consultant for a top Strategy and Technology consulting firm. I typically work 50-60 hours at the client site as well as put a few hours on the weekends to prep for upcoming work. I also mentor new hires, volunteer for UNICEF, and help consult my friends on their start-ups. I'm applying for Bschool this fall so last winter I knew I needed to get started on preparing and taking the GMAT. I knew I would need to take it more than once and I knew first round deadlines for a lot of schools was in early October. That gave me about 9 months to work on getting my dream score (700+)
Here I'll lay out my experience and what I have learned from it. I hope other busy professionals will find them useful.
1. Start Early!
One big regret is that I started too late. I thought I could study on my own and take it easy for a few months. I reviewed some basic math concepts but I totally under-estimated the GMAT. That was definitely not enough to get me ready. I took a diagnostic test and score a 550.
Eek! I have a lot more work to do obviously.
2. Understand Your Weaknesses
In my diagnostic test I scored pretty decent in the verbal (mid 70th percentile) but my Quant brought me down significantly (less than 50th percentile.) Pretty depressing but I knew I had to get better. I decide I need professional help.
3. Get a tutor.
I did a careful analysis of different GMAT tutoring options. There was the "Big Classroom" GMAT type of prep usually held by more recognized names such as Kaplan
or Manhattan Prep and there was the more small boutique private tutoring types of prep. Of course, Kaplan
and Manhattan Prep offer private tutoring but they were really pushing me towards the classroom style of prep. Since all GMAT prep is kinda costly I wanted to make sure I made the right choice. I decided to go with private tutoring since I wanted to improve my score significantly in a short amount of time. Next, I laid out my criteria for a tutor: flexible (preferably someone who can meet online), an expert on the Quant, well-spoken, not too expensive (less than $200 an hour), and most importantly, someone who can motivate me. Believe me, after a stressful week at the office the last thing you'll want to do is crack open a GMAT book and do 2 hours worth of Data Sufficiency questions.
4. Stay Focused and Disciplined
I decided to go with Target Test Prep (I'll provide their information at the end for anyone who is looking for GMAT prep help) to increase my Quant score. I do a free consultation to try it out. My tutor Jeff meets all of my criteria. Now the tough part comes next. I have to learn or re-learn a math concept every week. Exponents and radicals one week, work problems the next week, etc... I meet with my tutor 1-2 hours a week via WEBEX. Target Test Prep also has this massive Quant guide they created that walks you through each concept and question format. The guide also has HUNDREDS of questions that range from easy to super hard to let you get used that whole GMAT question algorithm. However, from February to May, my project is ramping up and incredibly intense so I only had time to study and do practice questions 4-5 hours a week (usually on a Sunday afternoon.) I take the GMAT for the first time at the end of April and score a 620 (Q40/V35.) I manage to keep my focus but my time management could be better. I take this as a learning experience and vow to do better next time.
5. Practice! Practice! Practice!
I keep meeting with my tutor, Jeff, for 2 hours a week. I would like to increase it 3-4 hours a week but my schedule doesn't allow it. I've scheduled another sitting in August. I really don't want to take the GMAT a third time so I need to hit my target this second time. Pressure's on. Luckily, Jeff is a great motivator. Even when I'm feeling super cranky after a meeting with my client and I'm completely brain dead. He also helps me with my test-taking skills and we discuss test-taking strategies like slowing down and taking the time to read and understand the question stem. This time, I put boundaries on my schedule.
I push myself to be as productive as possible at the office so I don't have to take work back to the hotel. I ramp down my volunteering and start-up consulting work. Fortunately, everyone understands and wishes me the best of luck. I also start working with a verbal tutor (also from Target Test Prep) to push my Verbal score up to the 90th+ percentile. I take a practice test every other weekend and continue to work on my test-taking skills. I recreate the GMAT environment and turn off my phone. I even put on my noise-cancelling headphones.
6. Don't Kill your Social Life
I think this is just as important as the previous tips. It's so easy to become so obsessed with the GMAT that you forget about your friends and family. It's a lot easier with their support. I was scared to put out there my target score and potentially embarrassing myself just in case I didn't reach it but I found out it only makes you work harder. Go out, have fun, take your mind off the GMAT.
7. Feel Confident and Don't Give Up
With all the prep work you've done you should feel confident once the big day is here. I told myself to think of the real GMAT test as a practice test. That way I didn't freak myself out before the test. Most likely, if you make a mistake during the GMAT it's because your nerves got to you. I'm not perfect, I did get a little anxious during certain questions. By the time I got to the verbal, I was mentally exhausted but I powered through. I also kept careful management of the clock. If I didn't know a question, I took an educated guess and moved on without even thinking about it. I entered my answer for the last question and clicked quickly through all those follow-up questions that come after the test has ended. "Blah, blah blah" What's my score?!! 710 in the 92nd percentile! (Q48, V39) Could I have done better in the Verbal? Yea, but I was ready to pass out half-way through it. If you have to retake the GMAT a third or even fourth time, go for it. Go back, figure out what you are doing wrong and don't give up! You may understand all the material really well but you may be like me where your test-taking skills will screw you over. It may be Data Sufficiency questions that are tripping you up or the answers for sentence correction questions may all sound the same to you, take the time to step away from reviewing the material and develop a test taking strategy.
Well, I hope this was helpful for anyone who has a tight schedule and a lot of priorities in their life. We all hear stories of GMAT super stars who waltz into the test center and score a 750 on their first try with no practice but I'm definitely not one of those people and I don't feel bad that I'm not. I worked super hard for my score and now I feel confident that it will represent me well in my applications. Again, I cannot emphasize the importance of starting early. Commitments will pop-up and your work my ramp up, you never know.
Work Hard and Good Luck!
Company: Target Test Prep (google them)
Service: Private, one-on-one tutoring usually through WEBEX or Skype
Materials: Target Test Prep Study Guide, GMAT Official Guide
11th and 12th Edition, sample practice tests, GMAT Club, Manhattan Prep Verbal Strategy Guide