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450...550...590...670 (47Q, 35V) - How I did it.

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450...550...590...670 (47Q, 35V) - How I did it.  [#permalink]

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New post 19 Sep 2017, 12:15
After TWO year long battle I finally beat the GMAT. This past Saturday, after missing my goal three times, I finally got the quant score I wanted and finished with 670 (47Q, 35V).

This process was easily the most humbling and grueling experiences of my life, but with hard work and perseverance I made it through. When I was done with the GMAT, I decided to write a debrief detailing my whole process. Hopefully my story can serve as motivation for anyone that going through the process now. While the test is hard, it is certainly beatable.

The debrief is long but definitely worth the read. Please feel free to ask me any questions about my process, especially increasing the Quant score. I started off with a 31 on my first test and ended with a 47, so it can definitely be done.


I graduated magna cum laude from a small historically black university, receiving a business degree and going to work in investment banking immediately after school. Overall, it would seem that I’m fairly intelligent and should have been prepared - this wasn’t the case for me at all.

One thing I know for sure, is that I have to work at what I’m doing to see results. My mom once told me that I wasn’t “naturally smart,” (love you, Mom!). What she meant, was that I had to work for my grades and study….hard. I graduated at the top of my class in high school, finished college with a great GPA, passed my investment banking licensing exams on the first try….and initially thought I would have the GMAT in the bag. WRONG. Very, very wrong. I thought that because I had done well in school, and in business classes, that I would naturally excel at the GMAT. That was really far from the truth. The entire GMAT process has been on the most humbling experiences I’ve had thus far. It thought me the power of perseverance and never giving up on yourself. I’ve learned what it means to truly grind and work hard for a goal that seems so far off sometimes. There were so. Many. times. I wanted to give up and not even go to business school. I took a ton of breaks over my two year period. I took months off to figure it out. But, I kept going.

The GMAT took a severe toll on my social life. I missed birthday celebrations, brunches, parties, concerts...I buckled down and made myself work towards my goal. I stopped watching TV regularly...I only allowed myself to watch certain shows on Fridays. At a certain point in my journey, I kicked up my exercise routine and cleaned up my eating habits to get my stamina higher (I also lost some weight as a positive side effect.) I took a break from real life and focused on my job and this test, because I knew I had a goal and I realized that my score wasn’t going to raise itself. I had to do the work. Now to my story:

In the middle of 2015, right after I left my investment banking career and entered into work of crisis communications consulting I received an email detailing a program for a small group one on one GMAT class that would be paid for through a foundation that I was apart of in college. When I was recruiting for my job, I was told the work schedule would be relatively easy and that I would still have time to have a life...unlike my investment banking career when I worked 60+ hours per week. (Spoiler Alert: That didn’t happen).

I signed up for the class and paid a donation to the organization that set up the class instead of having to pay for the class itself. It was a nominal fee. I took a week break in between investment banking and my new consulting career, and started my GMAT classes that next Friday. (Spoiler Alert: not a smart idea.)

For the class, we were required to take a diagnostic GMAT - an old paper-based test - that would provide use with a starting point of where we were before the class. I took my first GMAT in May 2015, and received a 450. (Yes, a 450). I remember showing up to the center unprepared and not understanding how the test worked or was scored - I left a bunch of questions blank and faltered through. My first GMAT test was finished! Our class started, and I quickly realized that my job was not as “easy” as promised and my fundamentals were far behind many of the other students in the class.

Our class started in July and ran through December. We took a practice test (paper-based) every two weeks and would come to class ready with questions and tutoring for explanations. The first half of the class was a refresher course on our fundamentals and the second half of the class was meant to drill down further on any troublesome issues. While I was in this class, I was completely overwhelmed by my new job and new apartment. My rent was too high, I wasn’t in control of my expenses, I worked way, way more hours that I thought I would, I was struggling to get up the learning curve and my GMAT performance reflected all of those issues. During the class - which again, ran from July 2015 to December 2015 - I could never get a practice score higher that a 560. Not a strong performance at all.

After the class finished, our class also had the opportunity to receive 40 hours of additional one on one tutoring. I scheduled myself for a few hours (at really odd times) - Friday nights, Saturday mornings, etc. to work around my work schedule, but decided that I didn’t have the time to fully devote to using my hours and decided to: a) pause my GMAT studying, b) push back my application timeline and c) focus on my job. I made that decision in January 2016.

Enter March 2016, I had fully deferred my business school process and made the decision to buckled down at work. I decided to also continue to work on my fundamentals and work through material. I had a copy of the Manhattan fundamentals book, which I went through; got a Magoosh login and began reviewing materials; and continued to do practice problems on my own. In tandem, I decided that perhaps seeking a new role would be a good idea, and decided to also start looking for a new job (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).

I scheduled myself to take a test in April 2016, changed my mind and focused on continuing to learn my fundamentals. At this point, it had been a year and a half since I’d started studying and I hadn’t taken an official exam yet……

Cut forward to August 2016 - I needed to take an exam, so I swallowed my fear and pride and took it blind. I got a 550 (35V, 31Q). An improvement from where I started, yes, but not enough to justify waiting a year and a half to take the exam. I buckled down even further, invested in a login into Target Test Prep, and kept trying on my own. Work was also just as busy as it was when I started, though, I thought it would eventually die down (spoiler alert: that never happened)...and I hoped I could gain a higher score before I starting going through various preparation programs.

I took the test again in January 2017 the same score again. Same. Exact. Score. I cancelled that exam and decided I needed to make the time to have a tutor and I needed to focus. I went back to the original program and re-engaged to use my tutoring hours that I was awarded earlier in the process. I started working with my tutor in March of 2017, and we met once a week for 2 hours for 2 months. I scheduled my exam for June 2017 before I started working with my tutor to give myself a goal to work towards. I knew I wanted to apply to business school in the fall, and hoped to be done with my test by August.

My tutor and I worked through those 2 months as if we were in a class. We would cover key concepts and material, and then do homework and practice questions. During my last month of working with my tutor, I began taking practice exams once a week, before I met with my tutor. This process was grueling and disappointing at the same time. I couldn’t get my score above a 600. I took over 5 practice exams leading up to the real thing. My tutor told me to go into the exam with the goal of just achieving a 6__. I took my third exam in June 2017 and received a 590 (35V, 35Q).

After that third exam, I was depressed. I felt dumb and like I couldn’t conquer this test. I didn’t understand why I was struggling so much. I mean, I did, and have done, hard things. Why was this beating me? Why wasn’t I getting the success I wanted? So, I took a break.

I stopped studying for a month. I decided to again (focus on work) and enjoying my summer. I needed a mental break and a chance to breath while I figured out my next steps. My tutor offered to ask for more hours for me to work on the program, but I declined. I told him I needed time to figure out what has next. My month break was great! I went to a concert, enjoyed my Saturdays, but had this feeling at the pit of my stomach that I needed to knock this thing (da GMAT) out. I KNEW I WASN’T JUST DUMB. I KNEW I NEEDED HELP. I KNEW I COULD DO IT.

So - I had a friend who was successful in his GMAT journey, and working with a specific tutoring company really helped him move the needle. I asked him for a reference, and he told me they really worked out for him. At the end of June 2017, I reached out to Atlantic GMAT for a consultation, and have explaining that I only had a certain amount of money to spend, I was all set to get started. I had my first session with my new tutor, Luciano, the day after my birthday in July.

My work with Luciano was completely different that the work I had previously done with my other tutor. Luciano (and the Atlantic GMAT program) helped me understand that this test isn’t all about how fast you can solve distance-rate-time problems, but how well you knew yourself enough to get all of them right in a certain timeframe. If you couldn’t, you had to have gained mastery on key topics to get you over the hump. Luciano and the Atlantic GMAT team reviewed my enhanced score reports from my previous tests and put together a daily plan that focused on drilling into the problems and types of problems that I had the most trouble. We shared a Google Drive file, and each day I’d go into the file to complete all of my homework. I only did between 2 - 2.5 hours of homework each day (for context, on my own, I thought that 4 hours a day was good progress). Luciano kept me honest in ensuring I was completing all of my work each day. We worked together for a little over 2 months and I slowly saw my practice test scores get higher. A few sample scores: 560, 590, 610, 630, 640.

Luciano recognized that I was getting burnt out of doing a full practice test each week, so he recommended that I just focused on the quant sections only of the official GMAT exams for my practice. This is when I truly turned a corner from receiving low 30s on my quant scores to boosting my scores to mid 30s then low 40s to mid 40s. We focused on this for a month and each time I just took a quant section I received a higher and higher score! On the quant practice section before my exam, I got a 46 - the highest I’d ever gotten. Luciano also taught about the methodology of the exam, and how skipping questions that (I didn’t have the time to figure out and/or didn’t have a plan of attack for) would actually help me have control of getting to my final questions. I believe this timing strategy truly was the game changer in helping me raise my score.

I’d also note that Luciano suggested I schedule two exams: one in September and one in October. While I had to take a (small) financial hit to schedule both exams, helped me take some pressure off the first scheduled exam.

FINAL Test Day:
The day before my test, I did nothing GMAT related. I actually had to work late the Friday before and didn’t leave the office until 7pm. I treated myself to a Whole Foods dinner (yum!), listened to a podcast and was in the bed by 10:30pm. My test was scheduled for 8am the next day.

On Saturday, I work up feeling refreshed. I got ready, packed my break snack (apple, dark chocolate and cold water), and took an uber pool to the testing site. I was completely relaxed before my exam. I chose a different testing site than where I had taken my exam the three times prior, and didn’t eat breakfast before, as I had a filling dinner the night before. I caught my uber pool at 6:40am, and as my uber driver played afropop music pretty loudly, I realized that this was just another exam and I could always take another one if needed.

I had a bit of trouble finding the center, and I walked into a full house! People were there taking their FINRA, nursing and social work exams - along with a couple of other people taking the GMAT test. As I got settled in, I let myself clear my mind and zone out. “It was just another practice exam. I would be happy with a 640 and I could take it again, I told myself. It would be ok. I had another test booked.”

Thanks to new exam rules, I was able to change the order in which I could take my test. I decided that my best order was: Verbal, Quant, IR, AWA. When I was taking practice exams, I often found that I would get tired during verbal and would get a lower score (think 31, 32), when I should have been getting a higher score. To combat this, my tutor and I decided that taking Verbal first would give me a good “warm-up” before Quant, force me to be engaged and ready to tackle the Data Sufficiency questions in the quant section.

As I worked through the verbal section, I found it to be a bit tougher than what I practiced, but I DIDN’T PANIC. I kept going and just slowed down to ensure I was choosing the right answer choices. At one point, I got really sleepy, but I forced myself to sit up and pay closer attention to what I was reading. I also allowed myself to take small “mental” breaks to stay on time and stay on task. After I finished my verbal section, I didn’t feel overly confident. I thought I probably missed some easy questions and may have screwed over my timing. But, I didn’t allow myself to get bogged down in this thinking. I told myself to “remain calm.”

During my first 8-minute break, I walked the hallway of the testing center back and forth to keep myself energized. My water was still cold (!) in my bottle, and I had a square of dark chocolate. I didn’t have a watch to time my break, and when I went back to the center, I realized that I lost a minute and 30 on the initial amount of time for the quant section!

But, again - I didn’t panic. I knew what to do. I knew how to make the timing work in my favor. I calmly and methodically began to work through the quant section of the test. I put on the headphones to mimic what I practiced and stayed focus. I didn’t even think about what my score was going to be - I just focused on staying present and working through what I knew I could do. By the time I got to the last five questions, I had over 10 minutes on the clock, and I knew I had executed my timing strategy well. I was able to have a solid shot and each questions and had to time to try for proper execution.

When I got to the IR section, I was pumped. It was really easy for me and I wasn’t too stressed. Finally, as I wrote my essay, I had an internal conversation with myself and told myself to prepare for another 5__ score. To my pleasant surprise, a 670 flashed with the final score of a (47Q!!!!, 35V). I was DONE with the GMAT.

Major Keys for Success:
    Stay CALM. Panicking will not help you.
    Presence. I learned just how to be present as I took the test. This mental ability has helped me in other aspects of my career.
    Confidence. Believe you can do it. My self confidence wavered throughout my process, but I knew I could be successful.
    Practice. Learning my timing strategy and practicing it over and over helped me be successful.
    Keep Going. This process was a complete grind for me. I cried (a lot), I ran (a lot, to not cry), and didn’t get much sleep and my work desk became my study desk as the office was empty. I say all of that to say - I kept going.
    Ask for help. Hiring my second tutor was the best decision I made and he made all the difference (Luciano, Atlantic GMAT).
Joined: 26 Jul 2017
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Re: 450...550...590...670 (47Q, 35V) - How I did it.  [#permalink]

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New post 19 Sep 2017, 17:19
Congratulations for the great score and best of luck for the application process!
Can you tell us what was the source of practice questions for quant? OG,Manhattan etc or did you just go with what the tutor said?
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Joined: 04 Jan 2016
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GMAT 1: 620 Q44 V32
GMAT 2: 600 Q48 V25
GMAT 3: 660 Q42 V39
GPA: 3.48
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Re: 450...550...590...670 (47Q, 35V) - How I did it.  [#permalink]

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New post 20 Sep 2017, 16:18
It seems you and i have been working on this project for a long time. You, however, got to where you wanted to get and now can plan for the future.
Thank you for sharing this long debrief. It is informative and also helpful.
I wish you all the best and your story gives strength to break my target score as well.
Joined: 04 Mar 2018
Posts: 1
Re: 450...550...590...670 (47Q, 35V) - How I did it.  [#permalink]

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New post 04 Mar 2018, 17:47
Hi there - thank you so much for sharing. This sounds like my story and I really need to get that extra bump to high 600's. Can you please share how many hours you ended up working with Atlantic Gmat? I reached out and wondering how many hours I would need but on a tight budget. Thanks!
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Re: 450...550...590...670 (47Q, 35V) - How I did it.   [#permalink] 04 Mar 2018, 17:47
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