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720 to 650 to 710

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New post 27 Sep 2010, 21:34

720 to 650

In the beginning, there was a diagnostic test in 2006. A beautiful Thursday afternoon, a Kaplan center in north New Jersey, a diagnostic paper test, and three hours later, a 720. That was the beginning.

Fast forward two years, and I’m actually thinking of taking the GMAT. So, I dig out my Kaplan books and spend two months of my free time after work diligently doing as many practice tests and exercises as I can. I give a GMAT Prep test in the middle and score a 640. I tell myself that it’s an anomaly, because there’s very little of that Kaplan material that I haven’t already mastered. A month and three hours later in midtown Manhattan, I receive a 650 on my first GMAT attempt.

650 to 710

I remember the diagnostic test well. I remember it well because, even before looking at any GMAT preparation material, I was able to recognize patterns. I could see the 2/3 split, I could notice the unnecessarily worded SC choices, I knew that DS didn’t need complete solutions.The Kaplan materials reinforced these patterns with strategies and other tricks, and by using them I thought that I was on the right track. So, the first thing I did before starting afresh was to figure out whether the Kaplan books were indeed the best, and I was quick to realize that they weren’t. In fact, they’re likely meant for those expecting a sub-700 score.

The first step to recovery involved retiring all my Kaplan resources but the erasable pad and non-permanent marker, and moving to a more reliable set of materials. I used GMATClub’s forums to search for a good set of books. The MGMAT series was highly recommended, so I borrowed my friend’s copy. Here's everything I ended up using:


  • The MGMAT Series: I learned something from each of the quant guides.
  • Forums: once I’d identified my weak areas (they were easy to identify) -- work and ratios, inequalities, geometry -- I simply searched for every possible question I could find on the GMATClub’s and Manhattan’s forums on those subtopics. I just kept practicing the topics over and over again. I’m still not great at Geometry (I probably never will be), but by doing very hard problems, I became much more confident on the medium difficult ones.
  • GMATClub Tests: When I started to plateau, I took the opportunity to buy myself a full set of GMATClub tests and do all the “hardest questions”. I bombed most of them the first time around, but that was okay. In fact, it wasn’t just about practicing difficult questions. By carefully understanding the solution to each problem, I learned lots of new tricks.
  • OGs: I had used the OGs previously, but I didn’t really use them much this time because they don’t have enough 700-800 questions. I’d go back and do the last ten or twenty questions of each topic every now and then.
  • Nothing but a paper, something to write with, and my thoughts: a wonderful way to get better at Quant is to get friendly with the subtopics that one finds daunting. I remember having a real problem with inequalities in the beginning. So I spent a couple of days just playing with inequalities -- I tried subtracting, multiplying, dividing, squaring inequalities, finding out what operations work, what kind of solutions I get, whether it would make sense to visualize some of them, etc. If I answered a particular question but it took too long, I tried to ask myself if there were other ways I could have solved it. In what cases would those approaches not have been appropriate? It took a while, but taking the time to thrash all my doubts really, really helped me get comfortable. Things became fun.


  • MGMAT SC: For two of the three months I prepared for this exam, I used an older edition of MGMAT’s SC book. I used the book to score a 710 on my first GMATPrep exam a month into my preparation. I didn’t even realize that the new edition had much more material than the edition I was using until a few weeks before the final exam. Even though I ended up using the new one, I enjoy the older one more. The new one seems to add a lot of exceptional cases to the general rules discussed in the older edition, rules that I found sometimes distracting when all I wanted was to refresh the basics.
  • Forums: I wrote a crawler that searched for all of Ron Purewal’s posts on Manhattan GMAT and concatenated them into a flat file, indexing them by topic. Kidding. I spent a lot of time googling each question I answered, whether or not I answered it correctly. It slowed me down (a lot, actually), but it was extremely important to keep making sure I was thinking about things correctly.
  • GPSC/GPOA: It’s hard to find a large set of tough and representative questions. This resource comes quite close.
  • Slingfox’s Condensed SC guide: Very convenient. I’d re-read it every other day on the subway ride to work.

  • In the end, I probably gave about six or seven CAT practice tests. I remember most of the RC passages I read. I remember them because of a certain ‘Gin’ and his hints about what I should do with these kind of questions: enjoy them.
  • It’s really simple -- if I went into a RC passage telling myself that this passage is going to be interesting, that I’m going to learn something beautiful about the way a plant grows (think Feynman), or about the failure of a certain economic policy in the 80s (think Wall Street), then these passages became much more approachable. They became about learning something new, about agreeing with the author and the main position of the passage, about disliking the author’s style of writing or his/her approach to the topic. Once I felt interested in the article, everything fell into place -- my brain would automatically latch onto the author’s main points because they mattered to me, I would notice subtle changes in tone because I formed an opinion early on and took these changes in tone personally, I would breeze through examples because I understood the main point the examples were elaborating.
  • I read somewhere that it’s good to approach the passage as if the admissions committee of a school had asked you to read it and was going to ask you questions. I tried that for a while, but it didn’t work. I would keep thinking about what the adcom would consider the most important things in the passage. By reading the passage for myself, I enjoyed it more, and as a result, remembered it better.


  • Slingfox’s notes helped me a lot. Often, a problem would come down to two close ACs, and it would help to remember that the correct answer choice doesn’t need any additional help.
  • As with SC, I found it helpful to take out a whole day just to do CR. It’s just good to see patterns again and again.
  • Kaplan 800 has a great set of regularly appearing CR types. I kept revisiting them once in a while.

Other tips

  • It’s easy, and it’ll happen every now and then, to find yourself in a plateau where all the questions that you’re doing seem to more or less work out with the set of rules that you’ve learned. I think that’s what happened with Kaplan, and I just preferred to ignore the instances where things weren’t working out. It was a bad mistake, but realizing it really helped me switch gears later in my preparation -- switching to GMATClub tests for more challenging quantitative questions and to the most recent edition of Manhattan’s SC for those finer SC nuances that were missing in my older ed.
  • Studying can get stressful. A couple of weeks before my exam, I really started to burn out and felt like I needed at least an evening to myself. I took it and hoped to be back to normal the next day, but I just couldn’t look at my books. So, fighting the urge to force myself to study, I took a whole day off, and then another day off. Fortunately, the break helped. I was able to restart my preparation calmer and more refreshed. The following week, I took a couple of vacation days from work and made up for lost time. Give yourself room to breathe when things get too tense.
  • When seeking forum postings for advice on a study plan, don’t just select the most popular option or the one that looks like it "should" work. Go with what you know will increase your confidence. If you’ve taken enough tests in your life, you’ll know what works best for you. For me, it’s repetitive learning. I learn best by re-enforcing basics. I like spending lots of time getting comfortable with weak areas. My roommate, who’d given the GMAT and scored rather well, kept telling me to take tests early on in my preparation. I didn’t. I knew that there wasn’t any point. I knew I still had a long way before improving my accuracy, that I was still weak in lots of areas, and giving a test wouldn’t have proven anything. When I did give my first test (two months into my preparation), I scored a 710. It gave me lots of confidence knowing that there were areas that I was still improving and that I could at least score a 710. At the end of the day, do whatever increases your confidence. If it means giving lots of exams, do it.
  • There are many reasons to think that a poor GMAT score will weaken your application, and that a weak application will lead to a rejection, and that a rejection will change the course of your life. Don’t think about it. At the end of the day, it’s just an exam, and if you try your very best and things don’t turn out well, you can always give it again. You may have to apply to a couple of fewer schools, but it’s not the end of the world. So, relax, work hard and take pleasure in knowing that your verbal, quantitative and reasoning skills are becoming stronger.

Test Day

I never get any sleep the night before an exam. Unfortunately, I kept thinking about how I’d never get sleep the night before the exam the night before, so I hadn’t slept well in two days when I gave the GMAT.

It didn’t matter, I wasn’t getting to let anything come in my way. I woke up a couple of hours early, made myself a breakfast mommy would be proud of, said a quick prayer and took the subway ride over to Herald Square. On my way, I tried to recall some of Jim Morrison's poetry, and pondered what he would have written had he taken the GMAT.

Here it is. A walk-through of my GMAT experience, in the words of my mind as it reflected on my progress as it took place.


Look at that beautiful essay. Long, well reasoned, carefully laid out, lots of keywords. Nice.

“The best teachers are those who expect students to challenge existing ideas”. Sure, sure, I would love to write about this.


It’s payback time, sucker.

Wait, why are all these quant questions so easy?
Why am I not seeing any probability questions?
What the heck, why am I getting so many arithmetic problems?
You want to me what, find x% of 100? I busted my butt for this?
Woah, now why is this so difficult?

Glad that’s over. What on earth did I do to deserve such easy problems?


All right, you can do this.

Cool, I learned about commercials and their relationship to TV programmes.
****, I’m spending too much time re-reading these long CR answer choices.
Got a bit slow, but I’m okay now. 21 questions, 40 minutes. Not terrible.
WTF was that? Weaver worker ants that do what?
Why can’t I think anymore? Why is everything taking so long?
And now I have 14 minutes for the last 14 questions. Right.

The Score

I want to die. I want to die.

710. Weird, it’s not a complete disaster. 49 Math? Huh? 37 Verbal... well yeah, that sounds about right.

710. 710.

I’ll take it.
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New post 27 Sep 2010, 22:13
How did the most difficult CRs look like? Were they compared to those in OG or rather to those in LSAT_1000_CR?

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New post 27 Sep 2010, 22:21
The most difficult CRs were long and wordy. I got a bunch of complicated CRs right after a long and wordy RC passage, and that kind of threw me off. I don't think the questions were necessarily more difficult than the OG's.
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Re: 720 to 650 to 710  [#permalink]

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New post 27 Sep 2010, 22:52
Great Score! Excellent Debrief!
Good Luck!

Consider Kudos if my post helped you. Thanks!
My TOEFL Debrief:
My GMAT Debrief:

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Re: 720 to 650 to 710  [#permalink]

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New post 27 Sep 2010, 23:04
Hi anandkapur, Grt score & brief; u have mentioned OG didnt have 700-800 quant questions. Apart from GMAT club tests, what else did u use for practice?
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GMAT 1: 670 Q49 V31
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Re: 720 to 650 to 710  [#permalink]

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New post 28 Sep 2010, 00:13
excellent debrief.. Congrats !!

Which schools are you applying?

Fight for your dreams :For all those who fear from Verbal- lets give it a fight

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GMAT 3: 740 Q40 V50
GMAT 4: 700 Q48 V38
GMAT 5: 710 Q45 V41
GMAT 6: 680 Q47 V36
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Re: 720 to 650 to 710  [#permalink]

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New post 28 Sep 2010, 00:37
good job man. 710 is a great score.

You mentioned you had 14 verbal questions left to do in 14 mins. What did you do? In all the practice tests that I have taken so far, I always end up in the same situation. Please give some advice.

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New post 28 Sep 2010, 03:50
Great debrief and 710 is a good score. All the best !
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New post 28 Sep 2010, 04:12
Great score! Congratz!

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Re: 720 to 650 to 710  [#permalink]

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New post 28 Sep 2010, 06:39
Great score. Thanks for the detailed debrief.

My gmat story
MGMAT1 - 630 Q44V32
MGMAT2 - 650 Q41V38
MGMAT3 - 680 Q44V37
GMATPrep1 - 660 Q49V31
Knewton1 - 550 Q40V27

Re: 720 to 650 to 710 &nbs [#permalink] 28 Sep 2010, 06:39
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