After several months of arduous (torturous?) preparation, I'm thrilled to report that I finally beat the GMAT this past weekend, with a score of 760 (Q49, V45).
I've been lurking around this site for the last several months, so I want to issue a BIG thank-you to all the GMAT Clubbers who were so instrumental in my success on the test. The resources on this site are incredible, and the forum community is pretty fantastic as well. I definitely would not have reached the score I ultimately achieved without this site.
Also, I'd like to say upfront that, unlike many of the GMAT Clubbers who write debriefs on this site, I actually struggled much more with the Quant section of the test than the Verbal. So I hope this debrief is helpful for those of us who are not natural Quant geniuses and had to work through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for every single Quant point we earned! Materials UsedStudy materials
1. Manhattan GMAT
strategy guides (all 8 books): I felt like I was starting from a pretty low base in Quant, so I found the Quant strategy guides to be quite helpful (especially number properties and word translations). As for Verbal, the SC guide was incredibly useful, even for a native English speaker like myself. The CR guide was pretty good, mostly in terms of introducing the different types of questions the GMAT would ask, and highlighting a few key strategies (e.g., always stay as close to the text as possible, and watch out for answer choices that look right but have a single word that makes them incorrect). The RC guide was not very helpful, especially considering that MGMAT's recommended note taking strategy didn't work for me.
: obviously clutch. Everyone should use this for their preparations. I agree with other posts that indicate that the first 80% of the questions are too easy, especially for Quant. However, I think there is value in seeing the types of things the GMAT tests, the language the test makers use, the types of wrong answer choices they use, etc. Besides, since the first 80% of the questions are fairly easy, they don't take long to complete. So I definitely recommend completing the entire OG, at least for the sections in which you struggle. Finally, doing the OG allows you to filter out unrealistic questions that you may see in other resource materials that you'll never actually see on the exam. You can avoid wasting time studying such topics.
3. Jeff Sackman
's Total GMAT Math
: I bought this book essentially as a means to access more practice problems. I read bb's review on Amazon, and after completing the book, I believe bb's review is quite accurate. The book is great for practice problems (they are accurate representations of what you'll see on the actual test), but it is poor for actually teaching fundamental skills. In retrospect, I wish I had just purchased Sackman's list of "Challenge" GMAT problems. That being said, I did find the practice problems in this book to be of high quality.
4. Kaplan GMAT 800
: I also bought this book to access more practice problems. Unfortunately, the Quant section is way too easy. Not sure why they market this book as "advanced prep" when most of the Quant questions are probably in the 650-700 difficulty range, not the 700-800 that I was hoping for. However, I thought the Verbal section was quite good, especially the SC. Practice exams
1. GMAT Prep: Obviously the best, most accurately graded CAT exam available. As you'll see below, my GMAT Prep scores were extremely accurate predictors of my actual score. I disagree with those who say that the Quant section on GMAT Prep is substantially easier than the actual exam. Instead, I think that peoples' nerves on test day just make them think the actual exam is more difficult (also, some of the experimental questions you'll see are quite strange [I'm just assuming some of the weirdest questions I saw were experimental], so this could also contribute to the sense that the actual exam is more difficult).
2. MGMAT CAT exams: Great for practice, especially if you have issues with timing. The overall quality of these exams is outstanding, especially for the value (free if you purchase any of MGMAT's strategy guides). Many people have stated that the Quant section on MGMAT's CATs is more difficult than the actual exam. I absolutely agree with this. As you'll see below, my MGMAT Quant scores were generally lower than my GMAT Prep scores, as well as my actual score. To be specific, the reason I think they are more difficult is that the questions are more time consuming. In my opinion, MGMAT questions were more likely to require substantial arithmetic/long division/tedious calculations than the actual questions I saw on the exam. Also, there were more complex VIC and probability questions on MGMAT than I saw on the actual test (I only saw one probability question on the actual exam, and it was a simple "coin flip" question, not one of the hard ones). As for Verbal, I felt that MGMAT Verbal was significantly more frustrating than the actual exam. I felt like many of MGMAT's Verbal questions (especially CR and RC) had two answer choices that could easily be considered correct, and it was a guessing game to choose the "best" response. On the real exam, there were few, if any, questions where I felt this way.
3. GMAT Club exams: These are AWESOME!! It is amazing to me that the founders of this site created such a robust set of practice materials. I definitely credit the GMAT Club tests
for pushing my Quant score up to a Q49. However, one warning: DO NOT use these tests until you have done a significant amount of prep. They are REALLY HARD. I made the mistake of starting them too early, and was getting miserable scores (like, 22 out of 37 correct, while stopping the timer multiple times because I could never finish on time). I took a break from these tests and focused on learning the fundamentals and doing easier practice sets (like from the OG). This strategy seemed to work; by the end of my prep, I was getting 30-32 questions correct on these exams. Don't get frustrated by the difficulty of these exams; instead, consider it a challenge to really push you to new heights (again, with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears involved!).Preparation Strategy
Before beginning my studies, I read several posts on GMAT Club about test strategies, available resources, etc. bb’s big post on preparation strategy was really helpful. I knew that I was fairly weak in Quant and reasonably strong in Verbal, so I structured my study plan accordingly.
I began by completing the five MGMAT strategy guides that focus on Quant. In retrospect, this was probably superfluous, but I knew I didn’t want to start taking practice tests until I knew what I was doing (I didn’t want to waste a practice test early-on in my prep that only pointed out what I already knew: I was poor at Quant!). These books were really helpful in building my fundamentals and helping me understand what would be tested on the exam. However, I chose not to complete the associated OG questions that are mentioned in each MGMAT strategy guide while I was working through each strategy guide. I wanted to save the OG questions for later (mostly because I didn’t want to do them topically, as I thought this was unrealistic vs. what I would see on the actual exam).
I also started doing the GMAT Club tests
at this point, which as I mentioned above, was a big mistake. Definitely wait until you are further along in your prep before attempting these exams.
After completing the five Quant MGMAT strategy guides, I started doing practice problems, mostly from the OG12
and Sackman’s Total GMAT Math
. At the same time, I began my Verbal studies by working through the three Verbal MGMAT strategy guides. After completing these three MGMAT strategy guides, I worked through the Kaplan GMAT 800
book (doing both Quant and Verbal).
Finally, after about two months of studying, I took my first practice exam. It went well overall, but I took extra time on the Quant section, so it was not necessarily representative of my actual skill level. However, taking the test gave me enough confidence to finally schedule my actual GMAT exam. I scheduled the test for about four weeks later. The real countdown had begun!
Over the last month of my preparations, I completed the Quant section of the OG and did lots of GMAT Club exams. On weekends I would do one practice test, ending with the final GMAT Prep CAT one week before my actual exam. Much of my focus at this point was on shoring up fundamentals, eliminating careless errors, and developing a timing strategy. Finishing the Quant section on time was difficult for me, so I used the GMAT Club tests
to build an “internal clock” that told me when I was at the 90 second mark (give or take) on a given question. I forced myself to decide whether I could solve the question in the next 30-60 seconds, or if I needed to move on. Developing this strategy was key for me on the actual exam, as it allowed me to feel comfortable making an educated guess on questions I knew I wasn’t close to solving at the 90 second mark.
As far as how much time I spent studying, my overall study period lasted around 3 months. I probably studied two hours a day four days a week (three weekdays and one weekend day). I know this is less than many people study, but given work and other commitments, it was the most I could manage. In the last month of my studying, I added a practice test each weekend. In the last two weeks of my studying, I probably studied three hours a day five or six days a week (probably did one GMAT Club exam each of these days). Practice Test Scores
1. MGMAT 1: 730 / Q48 / V41 (caveat: I took extra time on the quant section of this exam)
2. GMAT Prep 1: 750 / Q46 / V47
3. MGMAT 2: 730 / Q48 / V42
4. MGMAT 3: 740 / Q47 / V45
5. GMAT Prep 2 (one week before actual exam): 770 / Q50 / V45
6. GMAT Club tests
: I didn’t keep track of the scores for each test I took, but I probably did 15 of the tests. When I started my prep, I was getting 22-24 questions correct, and taking like 15 extra minutes to complete each one. When I finished my prep, I was getting 30-32 questions correct and finishing on time.
Actual exam: 760 / Q49 / V45
So as you can see, at least for me, the MGMAT Quant was more difficult than the actual GMAT. Also, the official GMAT Prep exams were extremely accurate predictors of my score, as my actual score was sandwiched right in between my two GMAT Prep scores. Test Day Experience
I scheduled my test for 8:00am – I just wanted to get it over with! Thankfully, I live in a large city so there were several testing locations within a short distance from my apartment. I didn’t sleep well at all the night before the test (I wasn’t feeling that nervous, so not sure why I couldn’t sleep). I woke up early to give my brain enough time to start functioning properly. Had a big breakfast, but skipped my morning coffee for the first time since I can remember (didn’t want the, ahem, gastrointestinal issues associated with coffee to impact me during the exam!). I got to the testing center about 20 minutes early.
The testing center was in an old building downtown, and the elevator up to the floor where the testing center was located was a bit creepy. However, the testing center itself was nice and clean. The people working there knew what they were doing, and everything related to checking-in went smoothly. There were probably 10 other people scheduled to take the exam at the same time as me. I checked in, put my snacks into my assigned locker, and started the exam. I used the noise-canceling headphones for the essay section, as the noise from everyone else typing was quite distracting. This was less of an issue in the later sections, as you don’t really type in Q or V sections.
The essays were pretty easy. Big shout-out to chineseburned for his/her incredible AWA template. I had read this template two or three times and practiced the essays on two of my practice exams, so I felt prepared. The Argument essay had several huge assumptions/logical gaps that were easy to dissect. Luckily, the Issues essay was on a topic that I actually knew about (and cared about), so it was easy to choose a side and make a few compelling points. I’m glad the essays are the first part of the exam, because they give you a full hour to calm down, lose your nerves, and gain some confidence by doing something you know how to do. After I completed the essays, I took a short break to get some water and prepare my mind for Quant.
As you’ve probably gathered, Quant was the bane of my existence. Quant constituted 85-90% of my total study time, and I knew that my test score was going to hinge on my performance in this section. I was really hoping for an easy first question to give me confidence for the rest of the section. Thankfully, the first question was a fairly simple algebra-based word translation problem. I chugged through the calcs and got an answer… that wasn’t one of the choices! I started to panic a little, but told myself to calm down. I re-checked my math, found a simple mistake, solved the problem correctly, and moved on.
Questions 1-12 or 15 went quite smoothly and I was feeling comfortable. The questions were clearly getting harder, which was a good sign. I didn’t see anything too strange. However, around question 18 or so, I realized that I had fallen behind by a full 6 minutes! During my practice tests, I had often fallen behind by spending 4-5 minutes on a single problem, which I did not allow myself to do during the actual exam. So I suppose I must have just been spending ~2:30 on most questions instead of 2:00, so it never felt like I was really falling behind even though I was. I therefore had to start moving more quickly. I started going faster, and made educated guesses on two DS problems where I had it narrowed down to C or E but couldn’t choose which. There was also a PS problem that I read twice and couldn’t understand at all. Just guessed and moved on. Hopefully it was an experimental question!
Anyway, by question 25 or 26 I had gotten back on schedule. The questions were quite difficult by that stage (as they should be – the test would have pretty much pegged my skill level by that point), so I plodded through the remaining 10 questions or so without too many problems. I finished the Quant section with less than one minute to go (I ALWAYS take the full amount of time on Quant!). I felt like I did okay – not great, not terrible.
In general, I would say most of the questions were similar to what I had seen in the OG, GMAT Club tests
, MGMAT software, and GMAT Prep software. There were definitely a few oddballs, however (e.g., one question about the area of a piece of paper that had been folded into a new shape and a strange arithmetic/exponents/square root question I had no idea how to solve). One distinction I would draw is that the questions I saw required less calculation, on average, than practice problems from GMAT Club and MGMAT. In other words, the questions were more theoretical and less mechanic in nature.
I took another break and prepared for Verbal. I had scored a 45 or higher on Verbal in three of my practice exams, so I felt confident that I could get a 45 again. I also knew that high Verbal scores boost one’s overall score more than high Quant scores, so I knew I had a chance to really push my score to the 750+ range.
My Verbal section started with several SC questions in a row. This was a good thing, as I find that of the three Verbal question types, the 700+ SC questions are harder than the 700+ RC or CR questions. So – I was glad to get as many SC questions out of the way early, before the test started getting really tough. The RC passages were just as described in other posts. I got a mix of hard science, history, and economics-based passages. One of them was a monster, with either four or five paragraphs and lots of dense language. The CRs were relatively straight forward, although towards the end of the exam they were quite long and dense. However, they were definitely less convoluted (and the answer choices more clear) than MGMAT practice tests.
I was very anxious to complete the exam and see my score, so it was difficult to remain focused throughout the Verbal section. I kept looking at the question number and thinking, “I have 20 more questions to go?!” At question 40, I still I had about 15 minutes left, but actually spent eight total minutes on the last two questions, because they were quite difficult (one CR and one SC).
Again, the questions were broadly similar to what I saw in MGMAT and other practice materials. One thing I would note, though, is that I’ve seen posted a few times that the GMAT is no longer testing idioms. However, I definitely saw a few questions where a grammatically correct answer was eliminated due to improper use of idioms (of course, I could have missed a grammatical error present in the answer choice). Anyway, my point is that I saw a few idiom-based questions on my exam.
So – I finished the Verbal section and felt a huge sense of relief wash over me. I chugged through the demographic questions (I had filled them in online so didn’t have to complete them after my exam) and selected to receive my score. I waited what must have been the longest 10 seconds of my life and then – BAM! – a 760 popped up on the screen! I thanked God (like 20 times), then got the proctor’s attention and left the room. Got my score report, re-read it like 5 times to ensure I didn’t read my score wrong, and headed home to enjoy the rest of what would now be a great weekend!Recommendations/TipsQuant
As you can see, Quant was a real struggle for me. My advice for others in the same boat is as follows:
1. Don’t get discouraged. Despite what you’ll read on this forum, the material IS NOT easy. It requires lots of hard work to learn. I probably ended up doing nearly 1000 practice problems (or more) by the time I was done. So consider this a marathon, and don’t be discouraged if your results are not where you’d hope at the beginning.
2. Be relentless in developing your fundamentals. The GMAT is great at picking apart test takers whose fundamentals are not strong. You may know how to solve a problem, but the time constraints and other factors can easily lead to careless errors. So be very confident in your fundamentals to avoid making careless mistakes, as well as to give you extra time for the harder questions.
3. Develop a timing strategy. Timing was a big challenge for me. I could never finish the GMAT Club tests
on time. So I made some rules for myself, some of which I alluded to above. If, at the 90-second mark, I knew I was going to need more than 30-60 more seconds to answer a question, I guessed and moved on. If I fell behind on time, I would try quickly narrow a DS question down to C or E, then guess and move on. As you probably know from MGMAT tests, you can miss 8-10 questions (or maybe more) and still get a great score, so you have some room to work with. The worst thing that could happen is you get the first 25 questions right, then miss 9 of the last 12 because you ran out of time. Related to this, ALWAYS time yourself when doing practice problems. I would do practice problems in sets of 37, with a time limit of 75 minutes, just like the actual exam. That way I became very good at managing my time, as well as building the mental endurance to slog through 37 tough math problems in 75 minutes.
4. As for specific skill development strategies, I highly recommend the MGMAT strategy guides, followed by a HUGE number of practice problems. Combine this with the GMAT Club exams, and you’ll be well-prepared.
5. Many people recommend keeping an error log
. I’m sure this is a great strategy, but didn’t work for me. The reason is that I would never re-visit those problems, so all the error log
was doing was tracking what types of questions I was getting wrong. For me, I could track this mentally myself (“Man, I ALWAYS miss absolute value inequality questions!”). Such a “mental” error log
was sufficient for me. However, I do recommend error logs because so many people on this forum have found them to be of value.Verbal
As a native English speaker and avid reader, Verbal was much easier for me. However, I only got my score up into the 45 range through some rigorous studying. Some tips:
1. Learn how the GMAT asks questions, especially for RC and CR. It was key for me to learn what the GMAT means by assumptions, premises, etc. I learned all this from the MGMAT guides
, as well as the Kaplan GMAT 800
guide. These books have lots of great tips on how to tackle tough RC and CR problems (e.g., stay very close to the text, even when it is illogical to do so)
2. Learn the 5-10 things that comprise 80% of SC questions. While the MGMAT SC
book is great, it is almost too comprehensive. I would estimate that 80% of SC questions test 5-10 topics (parallelism and subject-verb agreement being the top two). So concentrate your studies in these areas to avoid overwhelming yourself
3. Again, do LOTS of practice problems. This seems obvious, but I think some people try to focus their studies on strategy guides, or even doing the same practice exams over and over. Simply doing practice problems opens your eyes to things you don’t know and new skills you need to develop. With the huge quantity of good Verbal material on this site, you should never be searching for practice problems.Other tips
Take advantage of this forum. There are so many great resources here – I’m not sure how well I ever could have done without stumbling across this site! Also, take time to read debrief stories. Such stories definitely gave me hope that this whole GMAT thing would work out in the end for me!
So that’s a (not so) brief summary of my GMAT experience. Now I’ve got a few months to relax before beginning my applications this summer!