So here goes! I'm trying to make this short as possible.
Started with a Princeton classroom course, Diagnostic 620. Studied every night, kept up with the syllabus. Test 2 620. Backed up, reviewed notes, went to Math Boot Camp. Test 3 490. More study. Test 4 600. Studied more, Test 5 620. Ugh!
As for the Princeton course: (a) Do not call and ask advice from customer service representatives, about anything. I found they typically were dismissive and discouraging. (b) Listen to your teacher, who should have your best interest in mind. However, do not listen to the teacher if he/she tells you to take the test within a month or whatever after the class ends. Test Prep courses give you math basics, and I truly believe the rumor that they work for people aiming for 500-600 scores, but not higher. However, if you are aiming for a 500-600 score, I do not think that means you should follow the test prep companies like they're the law. Use the test prep companies to get up to 500-600, then judge for yourself how much more studying you have in you. If you know your work ethic can handle a few more months of self-study, then do it! Practice is key (especially for Quant, for me).
After the Princeton course, I bought Manhattan GMAT books and continued working through the OG. From Manhattan, I ended up only really using the verbal note-taking strategies, which did bring my score up. For Quant, I stayed primarily with the OG and additional Quant OG, except for some browsing in MGMAT books. MGMAT tests were great. I scored in the mid-high 600s on all of them. Also during this time I took the Kaplan diagnostic and scored 650.
Took both GMAT Prep tests--Test 1 720. Test 2 710.
Then I made my first attempt at the real thing--650! Shoot. I'd had a terrible week, was half sick, had rescheduled to a town an hour away and stayed in a hotel the night before, only slept 5 hours. Anyway, I didn't give up, and I don't recommend giving up to anyone who has time for a second test before second round. My nerves were soooo much better the second time, there's no way I would have scored lower (FYI average score change for second timers is an increase of 30 points). Anyway, essays came through as a 6.
Then I started with a fresh copy of the OG. I ignored the additional quant OG at this point because the GMATPrep practice tests use some problems from that book, which could skew the final score. Anyway, I just kept working problems, leaving checkmarks on those I missed and circles on those that took too long, and also reading the solutions. After making it through all Quant problems in the book, I reworked the problems I missed, as well as the problems I took too long to solve. Then I went through the missed/too long problems again. During this time, I took a few more Kaplan tests. Scored 550 on all of them.
***Important! Also during this time, I did 5-10 of the GMAT Club Math Challenges/Tests. They are harder than the real thing, which is the point. Seriously. It made the test so much easier for me. Thanks GMAT Club! (I swear this is not a paid endorsement.) GMAT Club Math tests are well worth the money. I recommend working all of them and wish I'd given them more time.
Tried a third take at GMATPrep and scored 730.
Then sat for the real test again and viola! 740. Still waiting for my essay score.
#1. Don't give up, and trust yourself more than anyone else.
#2. Quant is about practice. Practice practice practice.
#3. I don't recommend involved forms of tracking the questions you missed. I started a spreadsheet, then found it was a waste of time in comparison to working and re-working problems. That said, I didn't get a supergenius math score (46 raw/77th percentile), so maybe the supergeniuses with spreadsheets know something I don't (clearly, they do). Even so, unless you're already a math expert, the checkmark seems like enough to get up to speed, especially since what you need most is practice. I don't think time spent formatting a spreadsheet is time spent wisely.
#4. Trust your strength, focus on your weakness. I barely studied for Verbal between my first and second attempt (first attempt 92nd percentile, second attempt 99th percentile). I have a master's in lit and have worked as an editor for years.
#5. Take vitamins, do yoga, exercise, trying breathing and meditation. Drink 3-4 ounces of red wine the night before. Especially do these things if you are an anxious person or have a history of nerves. Listen to classical music, especially on the way to the test. I like Beethoven's 6th.
#6. Know that ultimately it doesn't matter that much. If you bomb, worst case scenario, down to the wire, give yourself another year and try again.
#7. Believing you can raise your score is 75% of the work. Keep believing it. No matter how bad your practice tests get. Just keep practicing and studying.
So, that said, here's a disclaimer--I worked 50-60 hour weeks for the 3 years preceding my GMAT prep, so I'm used to coming home from work and continuing to work. This work ethic is the #1 factor in my final score. Also, and I hesitate to go here, I always scored well on state-wide standardized tests as a kid and I was in the gifted program from a young age. I studied lit so my college-level standardized test scores dropped a bit until this GMAT score.
I'm saying this because I don't want to mislead people==I completely believe that everyone can raise their scores dramatically, with enough effort, patience, and positive thinking. However, if you've always had a hard time with standardized tests, then another 6 months of study when you've already put in 6 may not make a difference. What does make a difference is knowing your confidence level, knowing how much studying you need to do your best, and then putting in the work. If you get down on yourself because of a bad practice test, set yourself a time limit before you buck up and move on (maybe an hour? 2 hours?). Anyway, I've been a good-for-nothing at times and a crazy hard worker at times, so because of my own vicissitudes I have complete faith in the flexibility and potential of every human mind. What will get you where you want to be is good health--physical and mental, which means keeping a positive attitude, believing you can do it, and giving yourself room to make mistakes.
Good luck everyone!!!
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