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560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.

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560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 01 Dec 2018, 01:43
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I gave my GMAT a couple of weeks ago. Here is my story. Hopefully this is useful to some of the folks who are preparing.

Contents


1. Background
2. Baseline test
3. Materials used
4. Reasoning behind choosing above mentioned materials
5. Preparation Strategy for Verbal (V27 to V40)
  • CR
  • SC
6. Prep for RC, Quant, and IR
7. Some of my realizations with respect to Verbal
  • Empathy
  • Don’t give much weight to thoughts such as ‘I can’t improve my score beyond this. I have reached my skill cap’
8. Test day and Test center experience


1. Background


I started thinking about GMAT preparation around May 2018. My initial plan was to give my GMAT by September 2018 and apply for programs in the months after that and hopefully get into a graduate program in the year 2019. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan. Everyone has their fair share of problems/obstacles, and I had mine. I ended up giving my GMAT on Nov 15th. Even though the primary feeling involved is – I got rid of the albatross around my neck, I must say that I was unnecessarily anxious and I could have enjoyed the process of preparation more. To all you folks out there.. take a chill pill if you think you’ve found the right material for your needs because it’s only a matter of time and practice for your GMAT scores to improve. More on this later.

2. Baseline test:


560 (V27 Q39 IR4) in the old GMATPrep Software. Got scared of GMAT and went back to my routine life till mid of May 2018.

3. Materials used:


[*] e-GMAT Verbal Online
[*] GMAT Official Guide
[*] GMAT Official Guide – Verbal Review

4. Reasoning behind choosing above mentioned materials


I could see that my sub-par performance in quant was primarily because I did not remember many of the basic formulas. But for verbal, I had no clue about what I needed to improve. Everything was lack luster.

I bought the OG guide first and began solving the CR section first, because I found that sub-section the most interesting out of the three in verbal. I was getting roughly 60% of the questions right. Whenever I looked at the solutions for the questions that I got wrong, it felt like I was lacking ‘creativity’ in coming up with the solutions for the CR questions and some of the answer seemed subjective, and I didn’t really feel like I was learning from the OG book. I was beginning to think that CR was primarily a test of creative thinking and gut instinct and boy were all my judgments about this subsection wrong!

I chose to attend a free webinar by e-GMAT on CR about assumptions. I did not have much expectation before joining that. Say.. you’re a kid in 5th grade and your mom takes you to a homeopathy clinic for some illness. You begin to wonder whether this really is legit or some pseudo-science procedure banking on placebo effect (No judgements made here. Just used for an analogy :P). That was my mindset before joining the CR webinar. I didn’t believe that one could improve creativity and gut instincts in a matter of few months.

At the end of the webinar, I enrolled for e-GMAT Verbal Online (honestly, I think it was the next day. I wanted to sleep on the decision – whether to enroll or not). CR can be tackled using a solid process. CR wasn’t pseudo-science. Good CR questions don’t have subjective answers. There is only one right answer and the other four can be proved to be wrong logically. This might sound basic to many of us right now, but this was my first big realization I made with respect to GMAT. And that is why I remember it quite vividly.

I was convinced that it’s enough for me to learn and practice Verbal, and that I could manage quants with the GMATclub Quantum CATs that come along with the package. This worked well enough for me.

5. Preparation Strategy for Verbal (V27 to V40)


CR


I chose to start with CR prep first. It is obvious that GMAT tests both skill and speed (it could be argued that speed is just a consequence of skill). But the point to note is that - only after building sufficient ability i.e skill, it is meaningful to worry about speed. So while I was learning, I never timed myself. For many questions I would take more than 7 minutes to mark an answer. What I focused on was getting the right answer given an infinite amount of time. If that ability itself is absent, then what use is worrying about solving questions in 2 minutes?

Part of the reason why I took a lot of time answering questions in this phase was that I was always making notes in the side. I would make notes while following the process to come up with assumptions, and I would make notes for every option, why I think an option is wrong or why I think an option is right. And at the end of those questions, I would check if my reasoning matches exactly with the reasoning described in the solution. If it didn’t, then I had something to learn.

After finishing all the lessons, I began taking custom tests in an application called Scholaranium. It’s an application where you can create sample tests of how many ever questions you want for practice. Only now was I concerned about the time I took to solve CR questions. I would say that 1.5 months to 2 months was fully involved in skill building, and the next 15 days or so I allocated to practice in Scholaranium and time keeping.

It was hard to let go of the practice of having a notebook in the side and making notes of my thought process, but I had to reduce that. And while taking these sample tests I brought down the time it takes to solve CR questions from 3.5 minutes to around 2 minutes.

Never skimp on review process after a sample test. Say I take 20 minutes to solve 10 CR questions in a sample test, the time I take to review that test will be around 40-60 minutes. You aren’t learning anything from taking the test. You are going to learn only from the review process. So I would review every question, whether right or wrong, and every option and check whether my thought process exactly matched the thought process described in the solution. It is important to reject the wrong options for the right reasons. No going around that fact. You can’t bank on being lucky or your gut instincts.

When I realized that the quality of the prep material was high and that I could trust it, my focus was on extracting maximum juice from it. Speed was my last priority. Lot of time spent in review and browsing forum questions underneath every lesson. I wouldn’t recommend browsing all the forum questions for people who are lacking time, but I am that kind of person who cannot be at peace knowing that there’s a chance something valuable can be in the questions of other people. It is a risky choice but it has rewards. Choose wisely.

SC


For me, SC = nightmares. I am bad at grammar and its numerous rules. Terms that will make me sweat: past participle, appositives, relative clauses, participial phrases, etc. It’s not that these concepts are hard and that I cannot wrap my head around them. It’s an irrational fear. I suspect this is because of some traumatic incident during my childhood, but unfortunately I’ve repressed the memory of it and cannot recall how I developed this fear of grammar.

The biggest surprise for me when I was doing my e-GMAT course was that the focus on grammar and its rules was kept to the required minimum. The right mindset to have is: grammar is a tool to communicate the intended meaning. You would have seen/will be seeing SC questions where some options are grammatically correct, but are not the right answer. That’s because the sentence does not communicate the intended meaning, and communicating that cannot be compromised in the name of communicating it the right way (grammar).

Very few jargons were involved and the lessons were conceptual, which is the only way I could have learnt to tackle SC. SC is as logical as CR when you begin to track the constituent parts of a sentence and how each part is connected to another, what specific parts the modifiers in the sentence should be modifying, and what tense is appropriate for the meaning, etc.

This article itself would contain many grammatical errors, and yes.. I’m guilty of them. SC requires you to be able to correct mistakes in other sentences. And isn’t finding faults in something easier than writing something on your own? It totally is!

Just as I did for CR, for SC too I focused only on skill building for 1.5 months to 2 months with no timekeeping. I remember taking 4-5 or even 5+ minutes to solve some SC questions. I would be making a lot of notes. And in the last 15 days I started to consider timing. Review is important. You gotto track why you rejected every wrong answer and whether that reasoning is right. Learning from tests happens only during review.

6. Prep for RC, Quant, and IR


Just as I thought earlier.. as my general comprehension and ability to track parts of sentences improved, my confidence in doing RC questions also improved. I didn’t have to do any prep for this, just attended the verbal CATs in GMATclub and a couple of other free full length mock tests. RC too hinges on your ability to stand in someone’s shoe, which I am going to call as empathy. More on this later.

Quant = GMATclub CATs and some posts of a user here called Bunuel. I would take that user’s solution as the official answer and as the best way to solve that problem. I spent close to a week on Quant preparation.

As my Verbal and Quant ability rose, my IR scores also rose. Didn’t have to do any prep for IR except doing the IR section of the 2 full length tests at the gmatofficialprep website.

7. Some of my realizations with respect to Verbal


Empathy


While preparing for each sub-section in Verbal, I realized that there’s a common undertone in solving CR, SC, and RC questions.

What do you want to do while solving CR questions? You need to temporarily be the author to see why he/she is concluding something. And when you attempt to think like the author of that CR passage, you will realize the assumptions he/she makes, the flaws in the argument and all that. You want to stand in the author’s shoes – empathy. Sure, you can also call it as ‘comprehension’.. but to me at least there’s a subtle difference between judging the author’s paragraph from the perspective of a GMAT test taker (comprehension) vs becoming the author and realizing his/her intent (empathy).

What do you want to do while solving SC questions? You need to give importance to the intended meaning of the sentence, and you want to communicate that meaning in the best possible way using grammar. How do you get the intended meaning? Empathy.

What do you want to do while solving RC questions? In addition to comprehension and summarizing the passage in your head or on a scratch pad, you need to be able to capture the tone of the author and the intent behind the RC passage. And for this too you need to stand in someone’s shoes – empathy.

The preparation methods taught in e-GMAT focus on empathy. They just didn’t call it so. Realizing this and making a conscious mental shift helped me quite a bit. Instead of looking at verbal questions as a test of grammar, critical thinking, comprehension, and reading speed, I would look at each verbal question with a “Hmm.. what is this guy wanting to say?” attitude. Honestly, this way was more fun too. By empathy, I do not mean that you have to develop the nature of being kind hearted, nice and all that. I am talking about its definition which is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand their intent.

Also let me just put it out there that the two required characteristics of a good leader are empathy and courage. Can be seen in a tribe in some corner of the world or in a multi-national corporation. So is this focus on empathy just a coincidental pattern? Maybe. Maybe not.

Don’t give much weight to thoughts such as ‘I can’t improve my score beyond this. I have reached my skill cap’


In my opinion, learning to solve GMAT questions is like learning to solve those Sudoku puzzles or the crosswords in the newspaper. It’s a separate skill which anyone can learn with practice. Some learn faster than others but that’s secondary. The point I’m trying to make is that.. anyone who solves those crossword puzzles daily IS going to improve at it.

Let’s imagine it this way.. if all retired GMAT exam questions were out there in the open and free.. with detailed solutions.. don’t you think literally everyone WILL improve? Ans: Yes.

Just trying to remind the obvious point here - Get a good prep material which suits your requirements. If the questions are more GMAT-like and you keep exposing yourself to the question types/concepts you get wrong more often, your score will improve as a consequence. I found the e-GMAT verbal content and Scholaranium questions and the solutions for all these questions to be of high quality, and it was just a matter of time. I can honestly tell that I didn’t get smarter or more intelligent than what I was during May. I just learned how to solve the puzzles in GMAT better.

Maximize your prep after you’ve found the right prep material for you. I, for instance, was wasting 2 hours commuting to work every day in a cab. I started solving OG books in those 2 hours. Sure, I’m going to be reading slow and all.. but something is better than nothing. I wouldn’t rush through it just for the sake of completing N number of questions. Always went slow and thorough.

8. Test day and Test center experience


Lot of disturbances. I took my mock tests in environments with no sound, movement, and disturbances. The GMAT test Centre I wrote my test in was far away from that setting.

To begin with – The elevator was out of service. And the venue was in the 6th floor. Sure I can use the narrow dingy stairs. But I’m not sure whether everyone can.

The chairs you sit on had wheels that are stuck. You can’t get them to move as you want.

The air-conditioning was high. I’m aware that high/low can all be relative and I was prepared for this. I had brought a light jacket/hoodie which I wore then. But I was interrupted while giving my verbal and was told that I should not cover my head. Fine, I can see why.. but how can one cover his/her ears? Ears are most sensitive to cold temperature and I don’t know how people tackle this common problem. I guess we could bring something to cover our ears. Not sure.

I would have loved it if the noise cancelling headphones fit well. Saying that they were too tight is an understatement. They cut off blood flow to your head. The noise cancelling headphones would have solved the ‘ear getting cold’ problem and the noise problem. But I couldn’t wear it. I asked the staff whether it could be adjusted but they didn’t know how to either.

Since verbal is my weak area, I always did Verbal > Quant > IR and AWA. I wanted to do Verbal when my concentration was highest, i.e in the beginning. But I failed to consider the possibility that there will be folks doing their AWA first.. and guess what.. my test center had the MOST noisiest keyboards I’ve ever seen. It was as noisy as ancient typewriters. I’m not sure what the purpose was in choosing those keyboards. It looks pretty deliberate because those keyboards aren’t common. Maybe it’s supposed to be another hurdle? I really don’t know. Thinking about this frustrates me even today - about how common this problem can be and how easy it is to fix it.

I wish I had thought of all this earlier or assumed that test environment will throw you some unexpected surprises. I would have certainly chosen the Quant > Verbal > IR and AWA order, and dealt with all these test center surprises while doing Quant. Nobody can do AWA in the middle and it would have been quiet also.
I wasn’t able to complete verbal. I didn’t get to attend a few questions in the end and I was pretty anxious after that. I tried to put that behind me and give the rest of the GMAT as good as I can so that I can at least get an honest evaluation of my skills for the other sections. That was my thought then.

After seeing my score in the end of the exam, I know I should have been happier but I wasn’t. Had I given my best shot in an ideal test center and seen the same 740, I would have felt blissful. But when you know that things could have easily been much better and that this was not your best shot, by a far margin, you won’t feel happy whatever score you get (probably except 800 :P .. because you’ll be psyched that you managed to get an 800 despite the many disturbances.. however if one gets a 790 with these disturbances.. I cannot even fathom the frustration/anger that will ensue)

In hindsight I would ask folks who are going to give their GMAT to pay a little attention to the test center environment and what you can do from our side to make it as easy as possible. I’d say it does have a 10-20 GMAT score point impact. And a few intelligent choices will put you in the better side.

I do not want to end this post with a negative tone (thanks to my test center experience), instead I’d like to end this with one of the quotes I like in Bojack Horseman (TV show).

"It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier.
But you gotta do it everyday.
That's the hard part"


Hope this was beneficial to some of you folks. It is better to eliminate some of the unnecessary suffering by learning from the mistakes and the correct actions of other. This was my attempt at helping that cause. Wishing you all the best!
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 01 Dec 2018, 07:43
Congratulations on a wonderful score. Thanks for a very nice debrief. You make nice points and provide useful insights. I liked your point regarding "Empathy"!! Were you working full time or studying full time?

All the best for your admissions!!
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 01 Dec 2018, 08:31
CAMANISHPARMAR wrote:
Congratulations on a wonderful score. Thanks for a very nice debrief. You make nice points and provide useful insights. I liked your point regarding "Empathy"!! Were you working full time or studying full time?

All the best for your admissions!!


I was/am working full time. I was able to balance work (9horus of work + 2 hours in travel) along with GMAT prep. But social life took a hit. :tongue_opt1

Clueless about admissions though. Trying to find the right course for me.

Thank you.
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 01 Dec 2018, 08:41
gautham0615 wrote:
CAMANISHPARMAR wrote:
Congratulations on a wonderful score. Thanks for a very nice debrief. You make nice points and provide useful insights. I liked your point regarding "Empathy"!! Were you working full time or studying full time?

All the best for your admissions!!


I was/am working full time. I was able to balance work (9horus of work + 2 hours in travel) along with GMAT prep. But social life took a hit. :tongue_opt1

Clueless about admissions though. Trying to find the right course for me.

Thank you.


Oh, that's really commendable effort!! So did you take exam leave during the end of your prep?

Wishing you all the very best for your admissions!!
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 01 Dec 2018, 08:47
Nice debrief and Congratulations gautham0615 on the great score! :)
Best of luck for your applications!

Thanks!
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 01 Dec 2018, 23:05
CAMANISHPARMAR wrote:
gautham0615 wrote:
CAMANISHPARMAR wrote:
Congratulations on a wonderful score. Thanks for a very nice debrief. You make nice points and provide useful insights. I liked your point regarding "Empathy"!! Were you working full time or studying full time?

All the best for your admissions!!


I was/am working full time. I was able to balance work (9horus of work + 2 hours in travel) along with GMAT prep. But social life took a hit. :tongue_opt1

Clueless about admissions though. Trying to find the right course for me.

Thank you.


Oh, that's really commendable effort!! So did you take exam leave during the end of your prep?

Wishing you all the very best for your admissions!!


I took like a couple of days off the week before the GMAT.

To be honest, in this regard.. my preferences are not common. I am generally not able to stay at home an entire day. I dont like being indoors, specifically my home. So if you can take off from work and study peacefully for longer durations, it is obviously beneficial!
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 02 Dec 2018, 08:56
gautham0615 wrote:
I took like a couple of days off the week before the GMAT.

To be honest, in this regard.. my preferences are not common. I am generally not able to stay at home an entire day. I dont like being indoors, specifically my home. So if you can take off from work and study peacefully for longer durations, it is obviously beneficial!


Okay, nice!! kudos to you for pulling out a very good score and maintaining a proper overall work-life-study balance!!

All the best for your admissions!!
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 02 Dec 2018, 20:23
Congratulations gautham0615. Excellent debrief! Very helpful to read your experience with Verbal preparation in detail.

You mentioned that you were not able to finish the Verbal section. Did you mean to say you randomly guessed and moved on or you did not even get a shot at those last few questions in the Verbal section?

If it is the latter, then I really need to put some thought into picking the section order, since I'm worried about the test center and all the gimmicks that might get to me and waste some time on Verbal if taken first while others type away on the AWA section.
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 02 Dec 2018, 23:55
nkin wrote:
Congratulations gautham0615. Excellent debrief! Very helpful to read your experience with Verbal preparation in detail.

You mentioned that you were not able to finish the Verbal section. Did you mean to say you randomly guessed and moved on or you did not even get a shot at those last few questions in the Verbal section?

If it is the latter, then I really need to put some thought into picking the section order, since I'm worried about the test center and all the gimmicks that might get to me and waste some time on Verbal if taken first while others type away on the AWA section.


I had 4 questions remaining with 10 seconds. I wanted to guess all 4, but I think I guessed only 1 or 2. I started reading the options to guess better. Rookie mistake.

Yes, if you're not comfortable taking tests in a noisy environment, you are banking on the fact that the noise cancelling headphones will work for you. If you want, you can try that headphone first (while reading the terms and conditions and the other initial screens), and if that works for you, you can do verbal first too.
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 03 Dec 2018, 01:34
Congratulations!! Thats a great score.

Thanks for a great debrief! Do you mind posting your practice mock tests & scores.


All the best for applications!

Cheers,
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 03 Dec 2018, 08:21
Congratulations gautham0615 on such an amazing feet . A truly inspiring well-written story . I really liked the way you have identified the correlation between GMAT & empathy and then worked on the same to propel you to success. Although you have mentioned that the IR & RC came along naturally, it would be great for our community if you can add a bit more tips on those two topics . Community would also love to have some more direction in Q as well.

Congrats again. All the best for the app-process :thumbup: :thumbup:
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Re: 560 to 740(Q50 V40 IR8) in ~6 months. Not a story of miracles.  [#permalink]

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New post 04 Dec 2018, 10:02
u1983 wrote:
Congratulations gautham0615 on such an amazing feet . A truly inspiring well-written story . I really liked the way you have identified the correlation between GMAT & empathy and then worked on the same to propel you to success. Although you have mentioned that the IR & RC came along naturally, it would be great for our community if you can add a bit more tips on those two topics . Community would also love to have some more direction in Q as well.

Congrats again. All the best for the app-process :thumbup: :thumbup:


To be honest, this is something I cannot offer an educated opinion on. IR is basically verbal and quant, and anyone who is comfortable with both would automatically be comfortable with IR. That was the case with me. IR is fun. It literally is puzzle solving and I like solving puzzles :tongue_opt1

In RC, I would take 5 minutes to read the passage thoroughly, obviously not focusing on the details and data but on the author's sentiment towards the topic. I would take less than a minute to answer each question that followed. This is not any method that I found online and then incorporated, this is the only way I know to do RC's and I didn't face any limitation doing it my way.

No experience to share about quant prep too, the concepts tested are 10th grade mathematics in my country. So it's something I had a lot of exposure on already.
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