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I took the GMAT for the first time in November 2008 and scored 700 (Q47, V39). At the time, I thought I had made the mark. After all, I had hit the magical 700 barrier that everyone talks about. It didn’t take long for me to realize that 700 was technically below average all of the top 10 schools. Although I had studied for 3 months prior to hitting the 700 mark, I knew I could do better, so I decided to retake the exam. This time I’d be shooting for 750.
In January 2009, I decided that I would use the GMAT Club Tests and the MGMAT SC guide to improve my quant and verbal scores. I finished 2 chapters of the MGMAT SC guide and quickly realized that this plan sucked. I was still worn out from my first attempt and I didn’t have any motivation to study on my own. To top it all off, the economy was getting worse and a lot of people were nervous about the impact on b-school job opportunities. I put the GMAT on the backburner and began to research March Madness strategies to ensure that I would get last place in the GMAT Club March Madness fantasy league.
By the time March Madness was done and I had succeeded in taking last place, Knewton was offering their course for $699. It seemed like a reasonable price and the program looked promising, so I paid for the program and chose the session that would run from June – July. So now that you know how I got back into studying the GMAT, here’s how it all went down…
I took my Knewton diagnostic test and got a dismal 640 (Q46, V32). I was pretty pissed off because I only missed 2 questions on the quantitative portion. I couldn’t help but wonder if this program was just a marketing scam. Did they sandbag my performance on the first test just to make their 50 point guarantee easier to back? I called Knewton support and they said they’d look into my results and send me an email. I never got an email.
I went forward with the course and most of it was actually pretty good. As most people will tell you, the instructors are great. The practice material is also really good. Most of their practice problems are official questions that have been rewritten. I actually liked this approach, because it gets you in the habit of looking for the pattern. Rather than seeing a random question, you see the concepts that are being tested. It’s also really helpful to practice with questions that are representative of the real exam. I was mostly disappointed with the CATs, which I thought was funny because they’re so quick to brag about having the original creators of the GMAT scoring algorithm on staff. The scoring on the Knewton CATs sucks, but I’m not sure if it’s an issue with the algorithm or simply a lack of difficult questions. It was also a little annoying that there wasn’t a good library of information to reference. The concept library was great for seeking explanations to problems you had missed, but there wasn’t a clearly organized method for reading material before you’re tested on it. This led me to seek resources outside of Knewton.
For quant, I used Jeff Sackmann’s Total GMAT Math, as well as his Extreme Challenge Questions Set. Total GMAT Math is by far the most thorough quant book available for the GMAT. It starts with the assumption that you know nothing about the GMAT and ends with the most difficult subjects, such as combinations, permutations, probability, and symbolism. Total GMAT Math contains every concept that you will need on the GMAT, but it won’t expose you to every combination of concepts. This is where the Extreme Challenge set comes in. The question set contains 100 questions that are all 720+ difficulty level. What I liked most about this question set is that it requires you to solve difficult questions by combining concepts. Consider the following question:
"How many ways can you select 4 people from 5 married couples if no two people from the same couple can be selected?"
You know that order doesn’t matter, but you can’t really solve this question with the combinations approach either. What’s the solution? You use the permutation approach and divide out the number of ways they can be ordered.
(10x8x6x4)/(4x3x2x1) = 80
Jeff Sackmann’s explanations are outstanding and all of these questions appear to be based on official questions.
MGMAT SC is an absolute must. This book will teach you everything you need to know about GMAT Sentence Correction. If you’re serious about getting V40+ on the GMAT and you’re not already an SC wizard, you have to buy this book. I learned a couple odds & ends from Knewton as well.
CR & RC
I didn’t use any books for these sections, because Knewton is actually really good with these subjects. I didn’t use Knewton’s approach to reading RC passages, but their explanation of question types was really helpful. I’m probably going against what most test prep companies will tell you, but I don’t use any tricks for CR or RC. I read the passage and answer the question. For me, it was really helpful to understand the types of wrong answer choices (too extreme, out of scope, etc).
As you can see, I didn’t mention GMAT Club Tests or the Brutal SC document. I’ve tried to use these resources, but they’re just too demoralizing for me. A lot of people really like these resources, so don’t be swayed by my opinion, but just know that they aren’t the only resources that will take you to Q50 or V40+.
The Test Scores
Knewton #1 640 (Q46, V32)
Knewton #2 730 (Q46, V45)
Knewton #3 750 (Q48, V45)
Knewton #4 730 (Q48, V41)
*I lost faith in the Knewton CATs and never took the last one.
MGMAT #4 730 (Q49, V41)
GMATPrep #1 750 (Q49, V42)
-9 Quant errors, 6 Verbal errors (1RC, 2CR, 3SC)
GMATPrep #1 RT 780 (Q51, V47)
-3 Quant errors, 2 Verbal errors (1SC, 1CR)
GMATPrep #2 750 (Q49, V44)
-10 Quant errors (timing issues), 5 Verbal errors (3SC, 2CR)
GMATPrep #2 RT 770 (Q50, V47)
-6 Quant errors (finished early), 2 Verbal errors (1SC, 1RC) (finished early)
Official GMAT: 770 (Q50, V44)
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