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Debrief: GMAT 760 (1st attempt) - Approach to prep and exam day

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Debrief: GMAT 760 (1st attempt) - Approach to prep and exam day [#permalink]

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New post 23 Jul 2017, 22:50
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Hey everyone,

I recently took the GMAT and scored 760 (Q48, V47). I read several debriefs before starting prep and while many were extremely helpful, I wasted a lot of time initially trying to figure out the perfect “approach” to preparation. The purpose of this post is to give first-time takers a sense of how to efficiently pick a self-study approach based on their own individual baseline and target score. I will also cover a few other points that I wondered about early on but to which I couldn’t find answers on the forums.

Background:


  • First-time GMAT taker, have been in touch with high-school mathematics on and off over the last few years
  • Loved to read as a kid so I have a decent “ear” for major sentence errors. Not a native speaker so still had to work on finer / technical errors (example: using “which” vs. “that”)
  • Relied on self-study and free materials, with my only purchase being the GMAT OG 2017
  • Did not follow a consistent study schedule – typically studied for a few days followed by a pause period, due to erratic work schedules and general lack of discipline in life :?


Resources:


I am dividing these into 2 buckets – Regular Prep and Deep Prep – based on the extent of improvement required for you to hit your target scoring range.

1. Regular Prep:



This is for folks whose baseline is reasonably close to their target range (~20-30-points difference), who need a plan that is deeper than a refresher but less intensive than a deep dive. For example, I scored 730 on a Kaplan practice test starting out and knew I could get to 770-80 with exhaustive prep, while I could hit 750-60 with moderate prep. Since I was in July and planning to apply in Round 1 (Sep deadlines), it made more sense to go with a 750 and invest time into the other components of my application, than spend another month and a half trying to nail a 780. Think 80-20 here.

  1. Official Guide (“OG”)
    The OG edition doesn’t matter so long as you have a valid access code. Each copy of the book has an access code at the back which allows you free access to IR questions (the physical book doesn’t include any IR problems) and more importantly, an online replica of the questions in the OG. I did not discover this online bank until the day of my exam, and lost a huge opportunity because the bank contains questions categorized by difficulty – Hard, Medium, Easy. Why is this a big deal? Because the physical copy does not reflect these tags, and targeted practice for each difficulty level is a much more efficient means to assess comfort and pacing on a sub-section, than practicing a set of consecutive questions from the OG.
  2. Manhattan Study Guides:
    Soft copies are freely available online (4th and 5th editions). I wouldn’t worry about sourcing latest editions. I used Manhattan guides to cover my theory for Verbal + Quant (did not get time to cover the ones for IR and AWA). I did the problem sets provided after each chapter, but a better approach is to go to the end of the book when you finish each chapter (and its problem set), and solve the OG questions referenced there (you will also find online the soft copies of the older editions of the OG that are referenced in 5th ed. Manhattan). I realized this far too late and began to solve OG questions only after I had completed all my theory – you do not want to go down this route.
    Also, start with the study guides and use the Foundation books only if you struggle with the actual guides – they are usually not necessary.
  3. GMAT Club Forum materials:
    The best AWA material I found (for both last-minute and intensive prep) was on the forum. I am not allowed to post URLs yet, but you can look for the post by "blayel", which additionally links back to a post by "Chineseburned". Thank you both, for making life so easy for so many!


2. Deep Prep:


This is for folks looking for a big improvement from their baseline, as well as for those wanting to attain a very high level of mastery (think >95% accuracy, or a Q50+/V48+ in your strong section). The list below consists of resources I did NOT use but would have had I worked on cracking 780. I have consistently heard good things about these over the years (online debriefs + feedback from friends), so I am reasonably confident about bringing these to your notice.

  • Official Guide (“OG”) – Verbal and Quantitative
    Additional GMAT practice questions for Quant and Verbal. Older editions of these are freely available online.
  • PowerScore CR Bible
    Users swear by this book for CR. Soft copy freely available online.
  • LSAT papers
    Good for sharpening RC skills, as they contain passages that are at a comparable or higher level of difficulty than GMAT RC.


Stages of prep


In my experience, there are two ways one can prepare, depending on your target score, current baseline, and time and dedication available to invest in the exam.

  • Step 1: Find your current baseline
    I suggest taking a dummy (non-official) practice test for this. If you are completely new to the GMAT, take an hour beforehand to go through the question types at a high-level (i.e. general question format of the 5 sub-sections – DS and PS in Quant, and RC, CR, SC in Verbal). At this point, there is no need to look at strategies or explore the subsets of question types within CR / RC. Work through 2-5 questions per section to get a feel for the question format, and do a 30-min high-level revision of math formulae (formulae only, not concepts or serious theory). The idea is to gauge where you stand on conceptual understanding, without letting weak recall of formulae distort the score estimate. I used Kaplan’s free test and scored a 730.
    (Golden advice for my over-thinking soul siblings out there: Take the exact score with a pinch of salt and don’t worry about getting the baseline down with precision. For example, 730 = comfortably 700+, which gives you the confidence to target 740+. Whether it represents a 730 or a 710 or a 740 when translated into Official test terms is irrelevant and a waste of time to explore.)

  • Step 2: Decide on your minimum and desired target score
    This is the score range that you would be okay applying to your target B-schools with, that would not necessitate retaking the test. Being clear on this is important because you need to hit this range in official (GMATPrep) practice tests before you take the actual exam.

  • Step 3: Know yourself
    Carry out an honest assessment of how much time and dedicated energy you are able AND willing to invest into your target score. This is crucial – I started out ambitiously, aiming for a 780+, but eventually realized that the final 20% of the journey would require exponentially (not incrementally) larger time and effort, which I was not keen on putting in for reasons previously explained. When thinking through this, factor in your motivation levels, whether your momentum is of the peaky (short rapid bursts) or the sustainable kind (diligent regular efforts over several weeks), and the difference between your target score and your baseline.

  • Step 4: Study plan
    There are excellent posts elsewhere on this forum on study plans. All I want to say this, the plan will change along the way, so it is best not to obsess over crafting the perfect plan upfront.



Other aspects


  • Study style: Discrete vs. continuous

    1. Continuous: I took leave to prepare, thinking that it would be easier to prepare at a stretch. This didn’t work out for me, for 2 reasons – lack of discipline, and low stamina for peak concentration (which meant that I was mentally tired out after every dozen pages or problems and couldn’t actually utilize all the dedicated hours available). Choose this route only if you are accustomed to putting in long intense hours with peak attentiveness and focus, or if you are disciplined in your study habits.
    2. Discrete: I began OG problems after I got back to work, solving 20-30 problems per weekday (I could usually manage this for 2-3 weekdays every week). I cannot say that this worked better, because I commute 4 hours daily, but it was certainly a more efficient use of time and leave.

      Overall, what worked best for me was doing timed sets on weekdays (e.g. 2-3 sets of 10 Quant problems in 20 mins, to work on my pace) and keeping larger problem sets on weekends (e.g. 2-3 sets of 30 Quant problems in 60 mins, to practice maintaining focus for 3-4 hours with minimal breaks). A small tip – I started out trying to do a 5-10 problems from each sub-section (PS, DS, RC, CR, SC) daily, but realized this was interfering with my learning. So, I switched to doing only 1 sub-section on any given weekday, or even for 2-3 weekdays at a stretch, as I tried to track my progress on pacing. It is far easier and quicker to track pacing for 1 sub-section daily than for 5 sub-sections in parallel. Do explore to determine what works best for you.


  • Error-Log:

    Starting out, I read countless posts emphasizing how this tool is make-or-break for success on the GMAT. Naturally I spent a lot of time upfront trying to know more and perfect my own version. The version was great but honestly it took too much time and mind space to log comments on each question into a spreadsheet after practice. Also, revising the important questions meant that I would need the relevant books with me for reference. I developed a system that is not as cool but worked well for me – I call it Red-ink Revision. Taking a hint from Stacey Koprince’s articles for Manhattan GMAT (which are great as a starting point), I made sure that I did every single OG problem in fair form (i.e. no rough work outside of the notebook). I had issues with Quant pacing so I did OG problems in timed sets, and once I was through with a set, I would take a red pen and critique my working for the problem (this included noting down the correct solution, identifying the step at which I had begun to go wrong, jotting down useful takeaways or formulae or rules to memorize at the top of each page etc.). I also used starring to highlight tricky, very tricky questions and so on. The OG also has several extremely easy and straightforward questions, which I left untouched unless incorrect. I was thus able to rapidly revise questions I had got wrong, within the context of my original working, and refresh my takeaways from each incorrect problem, in a thin notebook that I could carry during my commute. This is particularly helpful for Quant. For Verbal, my notes captured takeaways on correct and incorrect idiomatic usage, rules etc.


  • Practice tests:

    I completed 4 practice tests in all, taking each free GMATPrep test twice. I used two different laptops for my retakes but still got a largely repeated Verbal section in Test 2 (I am not counting the Kaplan dummy test taken a few months earlier). For me, taking fewer tests was a matter of morale – I knew after my first test that stamina was not a major challenge, but that giving full-length tests was uncomfortable because I usually could not complete the quant section, distorting my final score. It is important to interpret each score within the context of the exam, so as not to get overly affected (or elated) by the scores. In hindsight, I would choose to take additional tests from GMAT Prep Exam Pack 1, just to build more comfort around my pacing.


  • Section order:

    My two attempts of GMATPrep 1 were in the original default order. My two attempts of GMATPrep 2 were Verbal first. I eventually opted for Verbal – Quant – IR – AWA. Overall, this worked better even though I was mentally fatigued on Verbal and AWA.

    1. Default order:
      Pros: AWA and IR serves as warm-up to get into flow.
      Cons: AWA can go badly depending on the argument, IR is easy to screw up if not rigorously paced. That means you might go into quant with confidence already worn down.
    2. Verbal first:
      Pros: I need time to warm up and hit peak concentration, and Verbal was the only section where I could afford to lose time upfront easing into my game and then cover up later. By the end of Verbal, I had the sense of adrenaline-induced urgency that comes from nearly not completing the section, but without the clawing disappointment that accompanies actually not completing it. This was the perfect mind space for me as I commenced Quant, where I needed to be confident AND fast.
      Cons: I was starting to slow down mentally by the time I hit AWA, so make sure you have adequately practiced AWA beforehand. For the same, I would not advise keeping Quant for last unless math tends to kick your brain awake.
    3. Quant first:
      Did not have either time or tests to try this. Here is a nifty shortcut though – Do a set of the GMAT Prep practice questions included for free within the software. I picked a mix of easy + moderate Quant problems, and did it as my first set of the day. I found myself missing obvious cues or making silly mistakes in the first 2-3 questions because I was processing the question AND the initial jitters of the test in parallel. If you get that feeling and it is a section you cannot afford to waste any time on, you know it must not go first.
      You get the idea – depending on whether you tend to dive in with full flow or gradually build up to top performance, start with your weakest or strongest section respectively. If the latter, pick the section you can afford to lose some time on. I wouldn’t recommend blindly taking multiple tests in each section order to gauge which one works, unless you have lots of time and energy to spare.
  • Exam day

      Time of day: I took the 5pm slot on a Saturday. If you are an evening person, it is not necessarily a bad time (my preferred bedtime is around 1am). But if you wake up at 9am like I did, and then solve problems / revise at a steady level of adrenaline all day, then by 5pm the adrenaline starts dipping and you are left with the fuzzy sleepy feeling that comes after a glass of warm milk at night.
      Bottomline: On exam day, do not over-practice, do not under-sleep, do not take the exam TOO many hours after your wake-up time.

    1. Accessories to carry: Here’s a nifty list so you don’t have to waste time on this –
      • Light snacks that can be eaten with a spoon (I carried a box of pomegranate arils with some rock salt added. Salt, sugar, water, vitamins, lightly filling)
      • Paper napkins and sanitary wipes / sanitizer (also available at the center)
      • Water bottle
      • Medicines: Best to be prepared. Carry your go-to med if you are prone to migraines, allergies, the sniffles etc.
      • Cold-weather gear: I carried a pair of warm socks, a cardigan, and moisturizer and lip balm, just in case the exam room was too cold (or if you are prone to cold hands and feet at 23 degrees Celsius, like I am).
    2. Warming up: Solve some questions from the GMAT Prep software (free practice set of 90 questions) at home. You can choose your desired difficulty level and do ~5 questions per sub-section without getting tired out.
    3. Using the 8-min breaks: I finished half my snack box in the first break plus took a quick 2-min restroom break. Finished the rest of my snack in the second break. Didn’t have time for much else. Realistically, you will have about 6 mins per break that you can spend outside the exam room.
    4. Center amenities: The center will provide you with noise-cancelling headphones (or 3M soft ear plugs, upon request), and access to a restroom, sanitizer, paper napkins. I took my test at the Mumbai center (Solitaire Corporate Park, Andheri) and faced no trouble. The exam room was warm-ish, not too cold.

Please feel free to add to the above or direct queries my way if needed. Good luck!

Last edited by bb on 26 Jul 2017, 18:39, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Debrief: GMAT 760 (1st attempt) - Approach to prep and exam day [#permalink]

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New post 24 Jul 2017, 18:07
Hi Points2018

Amazing debrief. What's your WE and which B schools are you planning to go?
All the very best!

WR,
Arpit
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Re: Debrief: GMAT 760 (1st attempt) - Approach to prep and exam day [#permalink]

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New post 02 Aug 2017, 10:06
Kudos to you!!! My exam is in a week and your exam day tips are very helpful and just in time for me!! Thanks a ton for the detailed note!

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Re: Debrief: GMAT 760 (1st attempt) - Approach to prep and exam day [#permalink]

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New post 05 Aug 2017, 12:02
Excellent debrief. Really helpful.
Can you please share the links to the PDFs of OG 13th edition & OG quant review 2nd edition?

Thanks

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Re: Debrief: GMAT 760 (1st attempt) - Approach to prep and exam day   [#permalink] 05 Aug 2017, 12:02
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Debrief: GMAT 760 (1st attempt) - Approach to prep and exam day

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