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Average student/test-taker gets a 760 (Q49 V45) third try

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GMAT 1: 760 Q49 V45
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Average student/test-taker gets a 760 (Q49 V45) third try  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 17 May 2015, 19:35
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What’s up everyone. I just took the GMAT for the third and final time this weekend and got a 760. It was a long journey that took about 6 months of study time (over the course of 11 months). Putting together this debrief to share some insights on what worked for me and what didn’t. This is a long debrief. You have been warned.

Background
I’m not quantitatively gifted nor verbally inclined. American born and raised (native speaker). I’m an average standardized test taker (B student pretty much my whole life). I’m also in a job that’s not quantitatively demanding although I do look at numbers all day. Pretty sure I had to teach myself long division again when I first cracked open my GMAT study guides. My goal was to get a 720, in line with the average for my target programs. I studied for the GMAT while working approximately 40-45 hours per week.

Material
Usual suspects. I’ll go into detail about how I used these materials later.
• Official Guide for GMAT Review (OG + Verbal Review + Quantitative Review)
Manhattan GMAT Complete Strategy Guide
E-GMAT – Verbal Online
GMAT Club Tests
• Manhattan – Advanced GMAT Quant
• GMATPrep Exam Pack 1
• Daily reading of Economist

Scores
9/7/14: MGMAT CAT: 400 (Q26, V18)
9/14/14: MGMAT CAT: 590 (Q40, V32)
9/21/14: GMAT Prep #1: 720 (reinstalled software so I forgot the split. Think I was at 92% Verbal)
9/23/14: Official GMAT: 710 (Q49, V38, 5 IR)
1/4/15: GMAT Prep #2: 720 (Q47, V42, 4 IR)
1/8/15: GMAT Prep #3: 750 (Q48, V45)
1/10/15: Official GMAT: 710 (Lost the score report. Might or might not have burned it.)
5/3/15: GMAT Prep #4: 710 (Q50, V36)
5/11/15: MGMAT CAT: 550 (Q31, V35)
5/12/15: MGMAT CAT: 560 (Q26, V40)
5/13/15: MGMAT CAT: 640 (Q36, V41)
5/16/15: Official GMAT: 760 (Q49, V45, 8 IR)

Journey Part 1 (July – September 2014)
It was the weekend after July 4th. I got back from a long weekend trip and decided now’s the time to lock myself up for a few months and hit the books. I read tons of GMATClub posts and debriefs to figure out what approach would work best for me. I decided to follow bb’s plan (gmat-study-plan-how-to-start-your-gmat-prep-80727.html) with some minor modifications. At a high level, my plan was as follows-
• Month 1: Review Quant. Read all MGMAT quant guides, do all accompanying OG problems.
• Month 2: Same as above but for verbal. Note for RC, I only read the first chapter of Manhattan. I went through a handful of OG RC problems to decide what strategy best suited me. I tried heavy note taking, light note taking, skimming, and careful reading. Ultimately decided on doing a careful/slower read of the passages and take very light notes. After I made this choice, I stop studying/drilling RC altogether. I felt like drilling CR and reading The Economist gave me all the tools I needed to tackle RC passages on test day.
• Month 3: Drill (MGMAT Navigator is a MUST). Identify weaknesses. Address weaknesses. Drill some more.
• Months 1-3: Read The Economist daily the same way I would read a critical reasoning passage or reading comprehension passage. I would quickly identify if a statement was a premise, a conclusion, or counterpoint while reading. I also tried to identify general shifts in the Author’s tone and what his/her main point was.
• Months 1-3: Played Sudoku daily for a few minutes. Also did Luminosity daily. I don’t think I got much out of doing these two.

At first, I carved out about 26 hours per week (2 hours per weekday, two 8 hour sessions each weekend). Towards the end, this ramped up to about 40 hours per week (4 hours per weekday, two 10 hour sessions each weekend). I said goodbye to social life during this three month stretch and put everything I had towards the test.

I booked my test for 9/23/14, giving myself about 3 weeks of drilling after finishing my review of the MGMAT guides. I did not feel confident at all during the week leading up to the test. The MGMAT CAT’s left me expecting a score in the 600s. Two days before the test, I took GMAT Prep CAT #1 and was extremely shocked to see 720. In fact, I thought it was some sample score page they show before your actual score. On the actual test day, everything was a blur. I remember feeling like I forgot things that I should have known. Scored a 710 (Q49, V38). This was better than expected for quant, but not as well as I had hoped for verbal. Close to my target of 720 but I decided I would not settle.

What worked
1. Effective planning was crucial. I made the most of my 3 months by following a battle tested plan and using reliable sources. It helped me have faith that the hours I invested would pay off.
2. Knowing when you are most productive and using that time to study. I started off with evening study sessions after work. However, I found it impossible to maintain focus so I forced myself to try morning sessions instead. With the help of gallons of espresso from Starbucks, I managed to study two-three hours each morning before work. Find what time and place works for you and stick with it.
3. MGMAT Navigator. I’m always surprised when I find out that other people don’t use this. This is such a great tool to get detailed graphics and data on how you are performing. During my three weeks of drilling, I frequently checked this to identify what needed to improve.

What didn’t work
1. How I used error log and flashcards. I think these are great tools, I just didn’t use them effectively. During my first two months, I definitely overused flashcards, putting down bunch of concepts into cards when I didn’t yet have an understanding of what was likely to appear on the test. It drained precious time. If I could go back, I would have probably only start using flashcards and error log the last couple of weeks of drilling.
2. Not having adequate study time before the test. In retrospect, I think the three weeks of drilling time I gave myself was not adequate. If I gave myself another couple of weeks, I might have hit 720 and ended my fight with the GMAT after one attempt.

Round 2 (November – December 2014)
November rolled around and I started studying again. I set my test date for early January. I looked into different materials to supplement my MGMAT-centric plan. I ended up adding GMAT Club Tests and E-GMAT Verbal Online to the roster.

During November, I spent the month refreshing by skimming through all the MGMAT books and doing some of the problems. I also went through the E-GMAT lectures. During December, I drilled as if I was trying to find the center of the Earth. For the first two weeks of this month, I was averaging 35-40 hours per week of studying. I had the last two weeks of December off from work and decided not to celebrate the holidays. I locked myself into a coffee shop during these two weeks and spent roughly 10-12 hours per day hitting the books. I took GMAT Prep#2 and #3, scoring 720 and 750, respectively. I was ecstatic and confident heading into my test that I could hit 720-730.

On the actual test day, I made a couple of blunders. First, I unintentionally changed my strategy for quant. During my mock tests, I spent up to 4 minutes on some of the harder questions. For whatever reason, on test day I guessed at the two minute mark like it was going out of style. I noticed that after the first 10, all the questions thrown at me were very easy. I was confident I was getting these right but the difficulty did not increase at all. It’s as if the test had decided I’m an idiot from my first 10 and wouldn't let me prove myself again.

Second, I was a moron and decided to take my time during the 8 minute break between quant and verbal. I came back to the exam with three minutes deducted, forcing myself to rush through a few early questions to make up time. Hit submit and saw the 710. I forgot the split but I think my quant score was in the high 60%’s and verbal was low 90%’s. Devastated. 300 hours over the last two months and holidays down the drain just to repeat my first score. I wanted to retake right away since I knew the score was below what I could do. But I my schedule at work was going to be unforgiving January to March and I wouldn’t be able to carve out the time necessary to maintain. The retake would have to wait until after March.

What worked
1. E-GMAT Verbal Online. This course is geared towards non-native speakers but even for a native speaker such as myself, it was valuable. All the concepts were taught in a very logical and organized fashion. The rules were clear and easy to apply to OG questions. It really helped push up my verbal performance. They also have some tricky practice questions that are good to use if you run out of OG problems.

What didn’t work
1. I did not use GMAT Club Tests effectively. I bought this course because I was lagging in quant. I set aside about an hour every other night to use GMAT Club Tests. I found that I was too exhausted after a full day of work/studying to stay focused during the Tests. If I could go back, I would put more time into this and use it when I’m more alert. I think the best way to use this would be to analyze all of your mistakes and identify the key takeaways. Then replicate the takeaways on other problems. I definitely did not do any of that. This is an awesome tool, I just didn’t use it effectively.
2. Changing strategies on test day. Don’t do that. Identify all of the nuances of your test taking strategy and practice it on each CAT. Execute on the real thing the same exact way. I should have known exactly when I should guess and when I shouldn’t guess. I should have had better timing. Know how the CAT algorithm works on don’t let it work against you. (gmat-prep-software-analysis-and-what-if-scenarios-146146.html)

Third Round Knockout (April-May 2015)
After a grueling three months at work, I was (not) excited to wipe the dust off my tattered OG books. I knew I had what it takes to score the 720 I wanted, I just needed to refine my test taking approach so that I can execute on Test Day. My plan for this attempt was simple- (1) refresh myself on everything I had forgotten, (2) address my quant weakness, and (3) take lots of CATS to refine my test approach.

My motivation was close to nonexistent at this point, I had decided that this would be my final take of the test. If I didn’t break 710, I would just move on. Nonetheless, I logged in about 30-40 hours each week of study time. I bought MGMAT Advanced Quant. I went through the book once and really liked the strategies and tips in it. I didn’t get to the online problems that come with the book since I was short on time. On 5/3/15, I took my last fresh GMAT Prep CAT and got a 710 (Q50, V36). I was happy to see the quant improvement and not too worried about verbal. Over the next two weeks I focused on taking lots of CATS and going through the E-GMAT material again. My Manhattan scores were low as always but I never thought they were accurate so I disregarded them (still good practice though). Also, I’ve never come close to finishing a Manhattan quant CAT on time. On a good day, I probably make it to question 25 by the time the timer hits zero.

The night before the test day, I got in bed early. Put on a meditation podcast to help relax my mind. The neighbors downstairs decided it was the night to play Call of Duty with their sound system on max. So much for meditation. I put in ear plugs and eventually got eight hours of sleep. The next day, I got to the test center about two hours early. Got some coffee at a shop nearby and reviewed my notes. Finally it was test time. I took my time on AWA and IR, not letting them stress me out. Quant was surprisingly smooth. Luck played a factor and I didn’t see too many problem types that I feared. Verbal went smoothly as well, and I actually didn’t find any question that was too challenging. Submitted. I saw 760 (Q49, V45) and could not stop smiling from ear to ear.

Problem type specific thoughts
PS: Know all the back-solve and pick-a-number strategies. Get use to using them and knowing when they are the optimal strategy. Also, it’s important to be able to switch strategies. When one isn’t working or is too cumbersome, your ability to quickly find another approach is key.
DS: Prove insufficiency. Know how to test cases and test numbers. The quicker you can prove a statement is insufficient, the quicker you move through these problems.
SC: You should already know about Ron Purewal. For SC problems you have trouble with, search to see if he has posted an explanation. His explanations and his webcasts are golden. When drilling SC, I made it a goal to describe why other options were wrong and what rules they violated (rather than just knowing that another option sounded “better”). So I ended up spending quite some time researching problems I got right just to find out why the other options were wrong. This really helped push my verbal up.
RC: I didn’t study RC too much. I think the months of critically reading the Economist paid dividends. I would advise anyone looking to improve at RC to become an avid reader (I was not one before the test).
CR: Refine your process. I followed Manhattan’s approach and had no issues with it. Every time I got a problem wrong, I would try to see what misstep in my process caused the mistake. Make sure you don’t repeat these mistakes.

Finally, thanks to all the members of the GMAT Club community. All the contributors and all the success stories really make this an invaluable resource. Hopefully this debrief can help shed some light at the end of the tunnel for all the people who have been average test takers in the past. Also, thanks to the randoms at Starbucks that never stole my laptop when I had to run to the restroom.

Finally finally, some wisdom from the Fresh Prince: “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I'm not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there's two things: You're getting off first, or I'm going to die. It's really that simple, right?” There you have it folks, don’t be afraid to die in a problem set. Go work for it.

Originally posted by backthatassetup on 17 May 2015, 19:29.
Last edited by backthatassetup on 17 May 2015, 19:35, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Average student/test-taker gets a 760 (Q49 V45) third try  [#permalink]

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New post 17 May 2015, 19:32
Congrats the great score! Amazing debrief, thanks for sharing. Looks like all that hard work paid off.

Glad to see you're not afraid to die on a treadmill
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Re: Average student/test-taker gets a 760 (Q49 V45) third try  [#permalink]

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New post 21 May 2015, 00:51
backthatassetup - Congratulations on the Amazing Score.

Your success proves that you don't need to be super smart to score 99 percentile. You can compete with the best as long as you are diligent. In fact, in life, brilliance takes you only so far.

I also love how you adapted throughout the test from initial planning to the final night when ..

Quote:
The night before the test day, I got in bed early. Put on a meditation podcast to help relax my mind. The neighbors downstairs decided it was the night to play Call of Duty with their sound system on max. So much for meditation. I put in ear plugs and eventually got eight hours of sleep.


It's this attitude to solve problems as they come your way that will take you forward. Never give it up. I hope that others learn and benefit from the same.

Thanks for sharing the debrief and good luck for your applications.

-Rajat Sadana
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Re: Average student/test-taker gets a 760 (Q49 V45) third try  [#permalink]

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New post 17 Aug 2018, 17:41
Why doesn't this post have more likes and comments? This is far more motivational of a story to read than half the posts I see by e-gmat sponsored e-mails.
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Re: Average student/test-taker gets a 760 (Q49 V45) third try &nbs [#permalink] 17 Aug 2018, 17:41
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