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790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!

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790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 23 Apr 2018, 04:30
Have now finally taken the GMAT for real and am still so happy with my score. I devoured other debriefs before I took the test - feels amazing to be here on the other side now that it's finally my turn!

My overall score was 790 (Q50, V51, IR8, AWA6).

Here goes...

Background information

I went into this with a lot of pre-existing advantages: English is my native language, my undergrad major was engineering, and on top of that my highest college grades were in classes in discrete math & formal logic which is basically half the GMAT right there. Also, I very rarely work more than 50 hours a week, usually around 45, so had a lot more time to study than people in consulting/IB etc.

On the other hand my undergrad GPA is not amazing (3.3), so I really wanted to hit the GMAT out of the park to make up for it. I really wanted to put in my hours and not half-ass the studying like I did in college. I knew I had it in me to score above a 750 - basically I can live with schools rejecting me for my GPA or work experience (pretty much out of my control at this point) but I was determined to not let the GMAT be the deciding factor.

Books & materials used

  • OG 2018. Very useful but actually mostly used this towards the end of my study, see below.
  • GMAT Prep (obviously essential) including Exam Packs 1&2. Also bought Question Pack 1 but didn't use it.
  • OG Verbal & OG Quant Review 2018 books - didn't even open.
  • Manhattan Prep guides including Advanced Quant - mostly used at beginning/middle of study. These were absolutely essential. Would not have been able to get nearly as high a score without them.
  • 6 included Manhattan CATs.
  • Laminated workbook and marker pens from Manhattan - super helpful.
  • GMAT Club tests - mostly used in the middle of my study. Also essential for really drilling quant topics after learning techniques from Manhattan.

This got pretty expensive especially considering I didn't use a bunch of it. Plan on trying to offload all this although the recent timing changes are probably going to make this harder!

Three months of study...

Graph of my performance over the three months!

Initial GMAT Prep diagnostic in late December was a 730 (47Q 44V). This is obviously a great score, but as above, I needed to, and knew I had it in me to, score a lot higher. In early Jan I booked my test for early April. I had planned to study for 3mo anyway before seeing that 730, April is a good time of year for me at work, and if I couldn't increase my score in 3mo, well, I'd gladly take a 730 and just be done with it!

I got into a rhythm of doing GMAT Prep / Manhattan CATs, roughly alternating, every 1-2 weeks. In the linked graph above, aside from the initial 730 diagnostic, basically everything >750 was a GMAT Prep test and everything <750 was Manhattan.

The sudden dip in the graph, my final Manhattan CAT, was due to a technical problem - I think what I did was accidentally open two Manhattan Prep tabs, and so the timer starting counting down twice as fast due to some bug in the software. I knew I had some timing issues with quant but not that bad! I realised about halfway and just laughed and guessed the rest of the answers. My partner suggested that I keep going with verbal anyway, but I couldn't take it seriously and gave up halfway through. It's in the graph anyway because it looks kind of cool, soaring up from a 480 to a 790 like that...

The rhythm of regular CATs, and associated review, was my only 'strategy', but in hindsight there were 3 main stages for the study I was doing in between CATs (with heavy overlap):

  • Jan-Feb: Primarily working through Manhattan guides
  • Feb-Mar: Primarily doing GMAT Club drills
  • Mar-Apr: OG exclusively by the end, drilling weakness areas & also analysing food, timing strategies etc

Thoughts on official materials vs Manhattan & GMAT Club

More stats about GMAT Prep vs Manhattan as this is something I was curious about. Since I was interspersing Manhattan with GMAT Prep tests, presumably my "core knowledge" at each point was pretty similar. (I've excluded the 480 Manhattan score.)

  • Overall score (790 actual):
    • Manhattan: 708 (mean), 720 (most recent)
    • GMAT Prep: 767 (mean), 780 (most recent)
  • Verbal score (51 actual):
    • Manhattan: 43 (mean), 45 (most recent)
    • GMAT Prep: 47 (mean), 48 (most recent)
  • Quant score (50 actual):
    • Manhattan: 44 (mean), 44 (most recent)
    • GMAT Prep: 49 (mean), 50 (most recent)

So, pretty close to standard wisdom that Manhattan is harder than GMAT Prep, but GMAT Prep is a better predictor of final scores.

Although I never took any GMAT Club CATs (I drilled questions in sets of 10-15, 1-2 topics at a time, instead), subjectively I felt that GMAT Club questions felt closer in spirit to official questions. The interface, with timing info and stats, as well as quick links to forum posts, is also amazing. Really appreciated this resource especially for the low price. If you are short on cash, you could probably get by on just this if you read all forum posts attentively!

Interestingly, once I'd finished working through the basic Manhattan guides and started focusing on GMAT Club drills, my Manhattan scores actually declined slightly! This is probably a fluke, but part of me feels that by early March (4 GMAT Prep CATs down by this point) I was becoming more attuned to "real" GMAT questions. I definitely had several moments during Manhattan CATs where I would just think "this doesn't feel right" and my brain would dig in a bit and refuse to engage, and I'd have to force myself to continue. After the 5th Manhattan CAT, I started noticing the pattern, and was a little torn about whether I should even continue taking Manhattan CATs - I didn't want to take the risk of ruining that sense I was developing. In the end, the technical issue described above made the decision for me.

With that said, the strategies in the Manhattan guide were absolutely crucial to my final score. When I first opened them I thought "this is ridiculous - I know what a negative number is!" - but I quickly realised that there was a lot of great material packed into each book. I did skim some sections, but I made sure to go through every "Review Questions" page to make sure I really did understand each section instead of just assuming I did based on the topic title. These books were so comprehensive and covered every single topic I encountered on the actual GMAT.

The importance of regular practice tests

As I mentioned above, I took practice CATs (Manhattan and GMAT Prep) every 1-2 weeks. This was totally central to my strategy. If you take only one thing away from this debrief, it should be how effective a regular test-taking cycle can be!

I didn't go in thinking "Week 1, I'll study number properties, Week 2, will be geometry" etc. (I did try to create such a schedule in December but quickly realised it was based on exactly nothing, so abandoned it.) Instead I would take a CAT, identify my weakest area - or more precisely, the area where I felt targeted study would help the most - then review that topic. At first, these topics were broad and based on the Manhattan guide books. Basically I would go through 1-2 books between each CAT, accompanied by GMAT Club drills in that topic. After I'd gone through most of the books, drills took up more of my study time. As time went on, the topics I focused on got more and more specific (e.g. "DS triangle properties" instead of "geometry").

The cycle length (1-2 weeks) was deliberately selected, but you may find another cycle length works better. The shorter the cycle time, the quicker you get feedback about what is/isn't working, but each cycle needs to be long enough to get in a decent amount of study, and to have "rest days" (similar to gym rest days) to allow your brain to mull over everything you've learned. I would not go shorter than a week - 2 weeks is probably a good baseline. For me, I had studied nearly all this material in college so it didn't take a lot of time to refresh it all. I took some weekends off due to personal commitments, though.

In each test, having only a couple of topics to really focus on helped me to, well, focus. For example, one week I focused on sentence correction, and told myself "do what you want with RC and CR, but you'd better damn well get every SC question correct". This helped me get used to seeing a focus question, breathing in, and gathering all my mental resources to answer that one question. Slowly I built up this "mental muscle" and could apply it to increasingly larger sets of questions - more on this later. If I had only taken a couple of practice tests, I would have felt scattered and unfocused and not developed this muscle as well.

On "saving" the GMAT Prep CATs until the end: Just buy the Exam Packs and at least do a couple of the official tests during your study period. As I said in the previous section, you need to develop a sense of a) what the official CAT feels like and b) what your realistic scoring level is. I just don't feel that non-official CATs do this as well as GMAT Prep - you may be misled and waste a lot of time studying the wrong things if you don't have that regular check-in with GMAT Prep! With that said - it also is really helpful to have a store of fresh official material for right at the end, so do save a couple of tests for this purpose.

Leading up to test day

Going into the last few weeks, I had most of the core concepts down. My scores had stabilised to remarkably consistent 770s - but I just felt that I could give just a little bit more! I spent most of the last few weeks trying to work out how to optimise my performance. Here are a few of the things I considered...

  • Food - my partner is pretty knowledgeable about this, and taught me a bunch of things about how the body processes protein differently from simple sugars, all pretty interesting. Pretty quickly settled on coffee and scrambled eggs for breakfast, nuts in break 1 and a candy bar in break 2 as working really effectively for me, along with lots of water.
  • Paper - practised exclusively on yellow legal paper when I wasn't using the laminated boards, to "get my eyes used to the colour". (The board in the real thing ended up being white....)
  • Pens - practised exclusively with a medium thickness marker. (Again, it was superfine thickness in the real thing so this was also a waste of time)
  • Sleep - going to bed early for a 9am exam is a good idea, obviously
  • Visiting the test centre the day before (well, the lobby) was also good for nerves - suggest doing this at the same time of day to check traffic etc

One thing I didn't spend enough time thinking about was timing, especially in quant. In my second-last practice test, the Sunday before my Tuesday test, I got a 49Q and a 770 overall, which irritated me so much (I know... what a problem to have, right?). When I looked at the question breakdown for that and the previous test, I realised most of my incorrect questions were in the first 10-15 questions! In my review, I'd simply been clicking "next" to review incorrect questions instead of looking at the question numbers. I couldn't believe I'd made such a rookie error!

I had planned to have a rest day on Monday, just some light study, but I just couldn't help it and retook GMAT Prep 1 (originally taken in December so I didn't remember any questions). This time I went slow in the first few questions. Ended up with a 780 overall, 50Q, despite more questions wrong overall. Finally I was satisfied, and was confident that this method would deliver my best performance in the real thing on Tuesday.

Test day experience

After all that, the big day itself started out a little anti-climactic. Went in, had breakfast at a cafe nearby as planned. All was going well until I stood up from my table and realised how wobbly my legs were. I sent a text to my partner: "I don't feel nervous but my legs do!"

I still had about 40 minutes until I planned to check in, so I went for a walk around the city, but my legs were just so jittery. I couldn't help it, I had to sit down. I pulled out my phone and started taking notes about how I was feeling. One thing that popped into my mind, a little incongruously, was the old joke about the man trapped on his roof in a flood. Suddenly something clicked for me: my body was sending me help via all this adrenaline, but it was up to me to harness that and use it. I just needed to center myself and get to a mental place where I could draw on all the energy inside me. Seriously, this sounds pretty 'woo' as I type it, but visualising it as energy rushing through my veins got me so pumped. This time when I stood up, my legs didn't feel wobbly, they felt weightless. It was actually a pretty amazing feeling, feeling so centered and in touch with myself and my capabilities.

I went in, checked in. One question I had was about lockers. They don't really explain on the GMAT website what you're meant to do with your food. In my case (small center) she took my bag away to lock it in the back room (giving me the locker key) and got me to leave my snacks in a designated space on the reception desk. It was a lot more casual than I was expecting.

There's not a lot I can say about the actual test, aside from the comment that I felt unusually stable and in control as a result of the pre-test pep talk. Quant was slightly harder than practice tests, verbal was about the same. IR was about the same as well, pretty straightforward, as was AWA. I knew I had delivered a performance that was above my usual level in quant/verbal, even despite quant being harder, and I couldn't wait to see the results. As I typed out AWA, I realised that I really, really wanted a 780 or above (until this point I hadn't really had a goal score in mind aside from 750+), and in my last minute of AWA (halfway through proofreading) I suddenly couldn't take the suspense any more and just clicked Next.

And there it was. 790. Q50 V51 IR8. I am still as stoked now as I was then to see it!

Happy to answer any questions about this or GMAT study tips (I have a bunch of opinions on this but this is super long already). Good luck to everyone still writing - trust me it's an awesome feeling being on the other side!

Edit: Edited few typos

Originally posted by tightrope on 10 Apr 2018, 06:17.
Last edited by tightrope on 23 Apr 2018, 04:30, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post 10 Apr 2018, 06:27
tightrope, that's quite a real Achievement Bro...
Your Debrief serves as a motivation for all the GMAT Aspirants.
I have seen many aspirants struggling with GMAT syllabus using all the resources that they can gather because they don't want to leave any stone unturned, But your debrief proved that limited authentic resources and dedication is all that is required to achieve the Aim.

Kudos to you...

Best wishes for your future endeavors.

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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post 10 Apr 2018, 07:47
First of all, salute for the "wobbly legs" and looking at it as Adrenalin rush part. You nicely turned a difficult situation on to it's head to get great results. :-D

Thanks for the debrief. It is very inspiring, and makes a 790 look as something achievable through hard-work and right effort.

Best of luck for application process.

Hope you get into your dream college and the GPA doesn't end up being a hindrance. :-)

Keep us posted with the progress during application.



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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post 11 Apr 2018, 04:25
Thanks Gladiator59 and gmatbusters!

I truly believe that the best part of my preparation was applying an analytical approach and constantly evaluating "is this working for me, and if not, what can I change?" The resources were secondary to the analytical approach. I agree with both the replies above - it's more about dedication and really engaging with your own learning than accumulating piles of books!
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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post 11 Apr 2018, 04:47
That's WOW!

What a score, what a story. Congrats!

You have scored the rare V51 and on a different day, may have scored Q51 as well... that would be a perfect 800 I believe.

Thank you for sharing your story. Very inspiring!

The food story was a bit funny...I believe they give you a personal locker that you can use to store the stuff you like.

Anyway, we'll done!

Let me predict your AWA..



Good luck with the applications!

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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post 11 Apr 2018, 09:13
OMG. That's a near perfect score. Hats off to you man. Good Luck with the application process. Make sure to update on the thread to mention about your admits. I wish to be like you.

Regards & many congratulations to you !!!!
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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post 12 Apr 2018, 03:32
smritisingh8 wrote:
The food story was a bit funny...I believe they give you a personal locker that you can use to store the stuff you like.

Yeah this part wasn't really as I expected. From other people's debriefs, it sounded like you just put everything including restricted stuff (phone etc) AND food in a locker, and go to it in your breaks. This sounded a bit weird as you could quickly check your phone secretly, but I guess the staff must watch you closely? In my case my bag was pretty quickly taken away from me and the lockers were in a back room somewhere, I didn't even see them. But I was allowed to take out my snacks first.
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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!  [#permalink]

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New post 11 Sep 2018, 22:26
Hey Tightrope,

Thanks a lot for your detailed experience explanation, I'm in the same situation as you, graduated from an engineering school with a GPA around yours except that English isn't my native language.

Now, I've scheduled my exam for October 20 but can't make it on this time and I'll reschedule it. What's your tips to gather myself esteem to pass GMAT with 750+?

Congrats for being accepted into INSEAD :)
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Re: 790 (50Q 51V) on first attempt - walking on air!   [#permalink] 11 Sep 2018, 22:26
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