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650, not so great, complete Quant meltdown

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Joined: 01 Aug 2011
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650, not so great, complete Quant meltdown [#permalink]

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New post 04 Aug 2011, 06:36
Took the exam 2 years ago, training to hit it again.
Thought that posting this might be cathartic, even after 2 years. And teach you why I failed, so you don't.

To make the long story well, long.
It came to my attention that some ordinary guy that cannot add "daddy is rich" to his resume, can actually attend business school. That is me of course. That financing turns out not to be an insurmountable hurdle.
Since it was already the end of October, I had to rush it and go for the third round of admissions.

Planned to take the GMAT at the beginning of February, so I had about 3 months to train. Notice the emphasis on training instead of studying.

Without any training, took the first tests to get a baseline: Princeton: 640 and Kaplan: 600. Just on the skills of "it sounds good" for verbal and remembering the maths from high school (17 years prior). Yeah, I know, I'm an old man, thank you.
The Kaplan score scared me a bit, but after 640 on Princeton I gained a little more confidence. And having 3 months to go, I thought I was in good shape.
Since I had to work in the same time, I only managed to allocate a couple of hours every other day, and a more consistent 4-5 hours in weekend days.

As a study plan, I did not use any book, just Flashcards from forums and OG.
And solved a lot of questions, 100SC for example. And the complete OG.

During the study period I was disappointed to find that my scores did not improve at all, sometimes I got worse.
Although I thought that Quant will be my strong point, since English is not my primary language, I consistently hit 40 in verbal and only 40 in Quant (notice that Verbal and Quant scores are not comparable and do not scale similarly).
Did not make a proper analysis, but most of the time I made careless mistakes. Mostly errors in calculating values and sloppy reading.
My strategy was I think the worst ever: No structure, no strategy, just work harder: do more questions/tests.

The week before the exam, found myself not far from where I started: 620 in Kaplan 670 in GmatPrep. Almost zero progress.
Made me think that the GMAT is only testing intellectual ability, and that there is no way I can study the material to fool it that I am actually smarter.
Big mistake that was! GMAT is testing in part intellectual ability, but mostly is testing how you can plan your work and execute flawlessly on your plan. And I failed the second part in great style.
So, one week before the exam and no progress. By that time I started to panic, but there was no more time to remedy anything.
This state of mind did not help in the day of the exam, of course. By the time I entered the test center I already had high pulse and sweaty palms.
The exam started, I did AWA reasonably well (5.0 score) and felt slightly better.
As I remember it, as Quant started, I did the first couple of questions relatively ok. But then I was hit by a geometry problem where I had to compute something. Not a hard one, but brute force calculations. My result did not match any of the choices. Started to redo it. Same result. I thought I was going crazy. Somewhere I made a mistake, I was sure that the method was right, (again, not a hard problem), but I was unable to figure out where I made that mistake. I think I did the calculations four times, wasting almost 10 minutes on it.
It turned out that I was doing something that happened again and again in my study. When I made a mistake, I would do it again and again, because I was replicating the same steps. When I finally found it, I felt like kicking myself. Imagine the 'confidence boost' to have wasted 10 minutes on a question and find that you made the same stupid, calculation mistake over and over again.
From then on, my Quant was a complete emotional meltdown. I wasted so much time, lost any confidence, that I could not get into tempo for the next 10 questions. By the time I felt right again, I was already in a time crisis. I think the last 5 questions I just guessed with one or two remaining unanswered.

I took the break trying to regain my composure.
I did the Verbal section only slightly better, in time, but still shaking.

At the end of the exam I did not even feel like looking at the results. I was pretty sure they would be catastrophic. Actually to see 650 (Q39, V40) after that ordeal was almost a pleasant surprise.

The main points I am laboring here is the importance of:
- having a good strategy, a good plan, and executing it. Use the experience others have distilled here. I know I will.
- working under emotional pressure and time constraints. And here practice exams help.

And some minor points, but nonetheless important ones:
- try to organize, write down the mistakes you do. Work on the weak points you have identified;
- I have found that no matter how good I am at math, It is impossible for me not to make some dumb, unwarranted mistake. Like losing a minus sign on the way. And then, when checking, do the same mistake again. If you suffer from the same 'disease' I do, here is a word of advice. When checking, try to write stuff differently. Do the calculations some other way. Add the series of numbers in a different sequence, etc.
- don't waste more than 3-4 minutes on a single quantitative question. The time investment never pays off. Just make a guess. An educated one if you can, but just cut your loses and move on.

This is my opinion on what I did wrong. If you think you see something else, please tell me.

You might have heard some of these advices here. But after living the mistakes, they have special meaning to me.
If you feel they apply to you as well, hope this helps.
And hope to be able to post a "lessons learned" thread in October.

Best of luck to you all,

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650, not so great, complete Quant meltdown   [#permalink] 04 Aug 2011, 06:36
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