Alright, as promised here we go, not sure how long this will end up being.
In the wake of the 670 I got on my first exam I was pretty depressed, but the day after a few friends pointed out that I had gotten perfect scores on 2 sections, and 93rd percentile on another. I knew I had to take it again, but with deadlines looming for applications I had to balance my need for further studying with what I needed to do on my applications. I selected a date of December 27 for the exam. This gave me enough time to study in the ensuing 7 weeks, and also with Christmas right before I had a couple days off from work (which I restarted after the first exam) with which to devote myself to my studies. Now, on to how I changed up strategies.
The first exam prep I focused ENTIRELY on 'knowledge', learning formulas, how to solve different kinds of problems, etc. I had a word document filled with facts and formulas and little tricks to look out for on problems. And you know what, barely any of them came up on the test. Granted, a few did, and that helped, but I felt that there had to be some better way to spend my study time this round. I think Mike Mcgary had posted about how the GMAT wasn't really testing your knowledge, it was more about testing your logic abilities, abstract thinking, and problem solving. With that in mind, I made a plan; I would give some effort into reviewing my guides on subjects, but the next time I took the test I would look at it more analytically, not as a list of problems to solve. Next, I also started to look around for help with the actual strategy to employ on the quant section. I overlooked that almost entirely on the first exam run. I wanted to solve every question with actual formulas. I knew the gmat doesn't know if you're guessing or not, but I wanted to solve EVERYTHING. I was too prideful in that regard.
So with that in mind I went and got the Manhattan
advanced quant guide. This guide was completely different than the others; true there are problems to solve and formulas discussed, but it's more than that. As I read through it, I realized it was more about strategies to employ when taking the test. There are sections on how to spot patterns, common problem types, etc. Most importantly, it has sections on how to eliminate answer choices, how to make educated guesses. If you can go from having no idea which answer could be correct on a problem (a 1/5 chance of being correct) to eliminating even 2 of them, you've gone from a 20% chance of being correct to 33%, which is huge on a weighted test like the GMATs. If you get even one or two extra correct that could easily add 2 to your Q score. The guide was also invaluable for DS problems as well. I always felt overwhelmed, and the way in which it broke down strategies on how to handle each stem, and how they interacted with each other was invaluable. I'm betting at least 7 points of the 10 point increase I got was from an improvement here. A lot of my improvement thus came not from knowing the material better, but by
strategizing better; realizing that it's ok to guess if it saves you some time for harder problems that you COULD solve. By learning strategies on HOW to guess, by learning the patterns that show up in answers that can clue you in on which are correct, and by looking at the mathematics that go into solving each problem not as the primary method of answering, but merely as a tool that you employ AFTER you figure out what each question is asking you for and has been thoroughly broken down.
Next I looked how I divided up study sessions. I had to balance both applications and studying, so I planned things out ahead and knew what I would be doing each day. This time budgeting extended over into the test itself. I realized that some problems may actually reasonably take longer than 2 minutes to solve, but that others should take you far less. I looked at the time available as a bank that you can deposit or withdraw from. If I only took one minute to solve a problem, then the extra minute went into the bank, and I could withdraw that later on a tougher problem. The first time I took the test I panicked if I took more than about 2:15 for any one problem and would just wildly guess. This time there were no wild guesses because of my time management, and also the educated guesses I could make based on the Manhattan guide. I also didn't go over on time for any of my breaks this time; the first exam I went over by about a minute and a half before the quant section, panicked, and just blew through the first 3 problems. This time I was a bit jittery on the very first problem, I was shaking a bit, and knew it was easy but my brain sort of locked up. I took some deep breaths, acknowledged that I would take longer than 2 minutes to solve this one, but that it was worth it to get off on the right foot, and I could make up time later, which I did. After that I started to feel a bit better, and each question felt like it was getting gradually easier. This worried me a bit, but in retrospect I believe it was a sign that I was well prepared.
Also, coming into this exam I knew I had gotten the 6 on AWA and IR8, so I didn't focus on them very much. I still did them on the prac exams, but I figured you can't get higher than I did already, so hopefully I would get close to that again. Same with verbal, V41 was sufficient for me; I could have maybe spent an extra 150 hours studying and gotten a tad better on SC or something, but my Q score was the one I needed to bump up, as a non-business undergrad/professional, I needed to show that I was capable of the analytic thought needed in programs. So it was really about return on investment, and realizing that I could get WAY more back by focusing on the Quant section. Other loose ends: On test day I followed the same pattern as the first time for pre-meal, etc. and what food I brought, since that part worked out. I also took the day before completely off, I figured I should just relax and refresh so that I didn't go in mentally fatigued.
So as I mentioned, I ended up with a 730, V41, Q49, IR8, and I got my AWA score back, 6!
So far I've gotten an interview request from 2 out of 5 schools, and they're the smaller 2 programs I applied to, so I figured I'd hear from them first. Thanks again for all the help, I'm going to keep on posting and contributing here.