First of all just let me say…Man, this test is brutal! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get into my story of luckboxing a 730 GMAT in 6 weeks of study. It’s important to note that I was not working or attending school during this time, so I was able to give the GMAT my (almost) full attention.
Quick background: First took the GMAT in ’05 to get into Joe state grad school that only required a 500 for admittance. My prep consisted of two practice tests without the essays. I scored a 550 (don’t remember the splits). Fast forward to 2010 and I’m considering applying to PhD programs. I studied for about three weeks (maybe 40 hours total?) and scored a 580 (Q33 V37). So yah, that was a waste of time. Fast forward again to 2014 and I really want to give the PhD process a go. I work full time and then some so I know I’m not going to be able to get the score I’m targeting (700) without a full out blitz on preparation (as that was the only way I was able to get through my CPA exams). For me personally, dragging prep out for 4, 5, 6 months or whatever I just couldn’t do. I would either burn out or not be prepared on test day the way I would want to be. So, I quit my job and off we went!
I didn’t bother taking any CATs since I was familiar with the test, so I decided to just jump right into prep. I had purchased all of the Manhattan books
and OG13, so to begin I just started going through the Manhattan books
one by one. I knew that if I was going to do this in this short of time, I was going to have to do a lot of things right. Not necessarily everything right, but the majority of things. I’m very interested in the study of optimal performance, so my prep was centered a lot on that. When I started, I studied 4 hours a day. I started my prep in the morning, took a long (2 hour mid-day) break, and finished studying around 4 or 5 p.m. I did not study in the evenings (except the last week) as I wanted that time to recharge, and I made sure I slept at least 8 hours per night. I also took at least one full day off a week and in a few cases the whole weekend.
Week 1: (3/17 – 3/23, 25 hours)
Wow, I suck at everything. Ok, maybe not everything, but this doesn’t look good. I’ve seen a little bit of each topic this week, and it’s not pretty. My foundations seem OK, but nowhere near where I should be at to be answering 700 level questions. Most notably, I’m terrible at geometry. Anything that isn’t a basic formula or is more than 2 steps is not happening. Exponents? Square Roots? Not so much. Verbal is completely hit or miss. I don’t remember any of the correct idioms and double boldface CR questions are blowing my mind.
Week 2: (3/24 – 3/30, 20 Hours)
I spent this week going through all of my Manhattan books
a second time. A few things are starting to click, but I know I’m not 700 level at anything right now. I’m just now starting to feel like I’ve built the foundation that I need to start solving more difficult questions. At this point though, I’ve done no work on timing and haven’t really spent any time on tough questions. I haven’t even opened the OG yet.
Week 3: (3/31 – 4/6, 21 Hours)
I started this week by taking my fist MGMAT CAT. I scored 660 (Q44, V36, IR4). I also did the AWA which I did for every CAT I took. Initial impressions: How in the world are you supposed to do IR in 30 minutes? I was way behind schedule in timing. My math score was also super inflated, as I completely ran out of time and paused the test for 7-10 minutes while I tried to work out problems. Verbal I completed on time but I was completely burnt out by the end of the test! The rest of the week I spent on OG practice questions. I did not do any timing work and simply attempted to work out the problems. I also picked up some sort of bird flu (that I would have until week 5) that made things even more fun!
Week 4: (4/7 – 4/13, 19 Hours)
More practice questions out of the OG and my 2nd MGMAT CAT this week. 680 (Q43 V39) IR 5. I struggled with timing on math and IR again. I’m starting to feel a lot stronger in verbal and my quantitative feels like it’s very slowly improving. I’m also coming up on the 100 hour mark for studying and I’m over it!
Week 5: (4/14 – 4/20, 26 Hours)
I can see the finish line, but I also don’t feel like a confident 700 scorer. Early in the week I took MGMAT Cat 3 and scored 690 (Q45 V38 IR5) which was moderately encouraging, but three days later I took # 4 and dropped back to 660 (Q43 V37) which was very disappointing. The single biggest thing I was struggling with on math was the timing. On verbal, I felt very strong on the material but was still hurting on stamina by the end of the test. Another thing I noticed on the 660 was I felt I started very flat and did not catch a good groove until half way through the test. I decided coming in cold to a test was not my best strategy, so I decided to add a warm up routine going forward. (30 minutes of timed questions split between math and verbal)
Week 6: (4/21 – 4/25, 14 Hours)
This was a short week as I was scheduled for the test on day 5. I decided to mimic my test day twice (on days 1 and 3), have a review day on day 2, and completely take off day 4. CAT 5 I scored a 670 (Q40, V41). My score isn’t improving but I feel encouraged. Verbal is right where I would like it to be, and if I just get my timing on quantitative I might have a shot at 700. On day 3 I decided to take the Official GMAT Prep CAT as I had read that the math section was more in tune with the actual GMAT, and it was true! I cruised through math, skipping when I needed to, and actually finished like 7 minutes early. Then my computer died and I lost the IR and Math work I had done
Whoopsy,.. I decided to take the verbal section and scored a 42….An hour later I retake IR and Math and get IR 8 M48…. Now we’re talking!
The day before the test I did absolutely nothing that required brain power. Not sure if this is the best way to go, but I really wanted to be fresh for test day.
For better or worse this is happening. I can’t imagine having to sink another 100+ hours into this, but I try not to think about it as I prep for the test. I start my routine: Wake up at 8:30, go to the gym, have a light breakfast (eggs and fruit), do my test warm up (7 Math, 7 Verbal, 2 IR). I spent the last 30 minutes before I left for the test just stretching/meditating and really just attempting to get to a mental state where I am fully engaged but not over exerting. Once that is done, I pick up my Gatorade and it’s off to the test.
I didn’t have too much trouble with AWA, but I was working on it until the end and only had about 30 seconds to reset my brain before IR started. IR I found to be much less time consuming then the MGMAT tests. I kept a good pace and finished right on time. I give myself a little pep talk, had some Gatorade, and it’s off to the math section. The single biggest thing I focused on was timing. After the first ten questions I was about 2 minutes ahead of schedule and looking good. Shortly after I started having questions that took me more time, and by question 20 I was 2 minutes behind schedule. I kept my poise, however, knowing I would make that up when I came across a question I was confident I didn’t know and could guess quickly and move on. I didn’t rush and kept my focus and was able to get to the last question with 3 minutes to spare. I took the entire time (and likely got it wrong) but overall I was not upset with how the section went.
I went into the verbal section reminding myself that this section was my strength, and I was fortunate to be working in my area of strength to gain some ground on my score. I focused a little extra on the first 5 questions and ended up in a 2 minute hole, but I knew I could make that up on sentence correction. The content was challenging, but didn’t feel unreasonable, and I made up my ground to finish right around exact time just like in math. I felt ok with how the test went, but I really had no idea what to expect!
The survey questions were the longest 30 seconds of my life, but then clicking through I finally got the good news. Q47 V44 IR8….730 (and later AWA 5.5)
I did a crazy silent fist pump and floated out of the test room. Once in the lobby I was a little more vocal and startled the receptionist a bit I think…All I could think was, thank goodness I’ll never have to take this again!
Here were my takeaways from the experience:
- There are two separate battles that you fight when tackling the GMAT. One is the actual content of the exam (Algebra, idioms, probability, etc..) and one is the demand of the test (Stamina, timing, structure, mindset, focus).. These are both very important, and I might even be convinced the demands of the test factor into your score just as much if not more than the actual material. The battle of GMAT content is fought and won before your actual test. Your focus on test day is much better served navigating the actual demands of the test.
- Timing is everything! From your preparation to your tests, you need to have timing on your mind. Not just timing of questions, but timing of when you will study, how long you will study, and when you will be at your peak to take the test.
- I took 6 practice tests in total, all of which I did AWA, IR, Q, and V in full. I would recommend doing all sections for each practice test so you have the fullest understanding of timing, stamina, and focus needed. Also, don’t make the mistake I made on the first few CATs of pausing the test. If you can’t get a certain score in the time allotted, than you can’t get that score period.
- I focused just as much on my mental game as I did on the actual content. This included getting enough sleep every night, taking adequate breaks, taking days off, eating healthier, and exercising. This also included convincing myself to push through every now and then when I really didn’t want to study. It’s a fine line between slacking and overdoing it, and I worked hard to find the best balance I could.
- Finally, if you have put in the work and are confident that you know the material and are ready, do not stress on test day! Most of the battle is already complete, you just need to navigate the way!