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From Mock 590 to Official 750 in Three Months + Detailed Advice

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From Mock 590 to Official 750 in Three Months + Detailed Advice  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 22 Jul 2018, 09:35
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Hey Everyone!

GMATClub has been really helpful to me in terms of the resources and the forums, so I’m here to debrief my GMAT experience.

Official Score: 750 (Q50, V42, IR8, AWA6)

MY GMAT STORY
A little background on myself. I'm a female Chinese-Canadian and a native English speaker. Back in high school, Math was my best subject and English was my worst (there’s irony in this later). I didn’t go to university for anything Math or English related, so I would say my skills in those areas are limited to the high school level. I had the sudden inspiration to consider an MBA a couple of months ago after two years of full-time work and casually started studying for the GMAT in April. Being a native English speaker and considering myself decent at math (I also stare at numbers all day), I thought I would have no problem acing the test.

Boy was I wrong.

Mid-April, my first GMATPrep practice test came back with a Q35 in Quant and a V36 Verbal coming out to lovely 590. Considering I wanted an eventual 750, that was definitely the kick in the butt I needed to take things more seriously. Remember how I thought I was good at math? It’s amazing how fast you lose your ability to do mental math once given a calculator and the much more crippling Excel. Overconfidence aside, I realized that I needed to buckle down and take this test seriously. Knowing myself, I knew I would need some sort of instruction as well.

For me, I knew I couldn’t really afford one of the more expensive live prep courses from the major prep companies, but I also knew that I need some form of structured learning or else I will veer off course (from previous experience). So, I looked for self-paced online courses and settled on something reasonably affordable: eGMAT’s Online Prep. I am an audio-visual learner, so this worked out in my favour. It took me the rest of April, all of May and the first week of June to get through both the Quant and the Verbal courses. After that I used the remaining three weeks I had to double down on the concepts that I lacked.

As per eGMAT advice, I started on my stronger section which was Verbal. I started with Sentence Correction, which was a weakness of mine because I was a native English speaker. My ear has been accustomed to the casual speaking language which is often wrong grammatically and thus wrong on the GMAT. From there, since I already felt comfortable with the Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension components I moved on Quant.
Quant was definitely a weakness. I think a lot stemmed from not understanding what material was to be tested and then struggling to apply the logic to come to the right answer.

By the end, I had created my own study plan, blocking off times in my Calendar dedicated to certain sections in order to hold myself accountable to my studying. After an excruciating two months, I did my second GMAT prep test (approximately 3 weeks before test day – yes I held out on doing practice tests for that long). I scored a 740 (Q49 and V42). Finally, I was in the range of what I wanted. From there, I would have a similar weekly schedule: on the weekend I would do a full practice test and spend the rest of the week identifying and shoring up on my weakness for the next one. I ended up taking two more practice tests scoring 740 (Q49 and V42) again and a surprising 760 (Q50 and V44). Hitting that Q50 was quite the relief as I knew I needed that to get to my ideal score.

Finally test day came during the first week of July. It was nerve-wracking, and I had a little trouble concentrating with the keyboard typing from other test takers, but I didn’t have any actual test day problems (thankfully) and I was very pleased that I ended up scoring a 750 (Q50 and V42).

MY ADVICE

Here are some of the tips I have for people thinking of writing their GMAT. Take it with as many grains of salt as you wish:

GMAT Prep Resources
What you use to prep yourself for the GMAT will depend on 1) Your learning preference and 2) Your financial resources. For me, as mentioned above, I used eGMAT’s Online Prep because it was an affordable self-paced online course. I am an audio-visual learner, so this worked out in my favour, though I would have also appreciated physical books for those times that I might have wanted to highlight or write on paper. Instead I made notes and printed them out. The course itself was very structured and had a great lesson plan feel to it. You also get access to the GMATClub and 800Score practice tests which were more than enough to practice with.

Other resources:
Official Guide 2018 books – This is a must as the more official questions you get the better
• GMAT Prep Tests 3 and 4 – I found the happy number of official practice tests to be 4
• Official GMAT Practice Questions Set – Again more official questions the better
Manhattan Prep Sentence Correction – I was weak in SC and from GMATClub reviews I picked up this book. Very good read, but it does tend to use more technical grammar terms.

TLDR: Purely visual learner, or limited in time? Opt to buy physical books so you can read faster or skim pages if you wish. Audio-visual learner? Do an online prep course with video instruction. It’s not the best method if you want to learn everything in a short period of time, but I tend to pay more attention to videos. Need an instructor or a structured class setting? Go ahead and do that classroom class.

Study Plan
Even if its rough, try to have a study plan from the very beginning. For me this ended up with blocking off time in my calendar for specific times to study a specific section and planning out my official practice test days. This helped me become more accountable to my studying. On average, I studied approximately 2-3 hours on weekdays and 5-6 hours on the weekend. Please do give yourself breaks as well or you’ll burn out long before your test day.

Sentence Correction
This advice is more for those native English speakers who tend to rely on conversational English in their writing. Try and forget what you consider to be correct. Grammatically, a lot of the time it is wrong. Sentence Correction was my weakest of the Verbal sections. This was where I spent most of my time because I had to re-learn my grammar. Unfortunately, there are no tricks here, you’re just going to have to memorize your grammar rules. I used eGMAT’s verbal course and it was extremely helpful in teaching me the basics without using overly technical grammar terms. They also had a nice three-step process: understand the meaning of the sentence, identify errors and eliminate other answer choices with reason. For me, understanding the meaning wasn’t the hard part. It was identifying the errors. Advice I would have here is to write down the topics you have the most trouble with onto cue cards and carry them around with you. Every once in a while, take them out and read them. Eventually, your brain will remember it. I also tended to use POE a lot once I was comfortable with my grammar rules and often times, it cut out one to two answers immediately from the list. If you’re left with one or two, trust your gut and don’t waiver. Once you start second guessing yourself, you’ll end up picking wrong answers.

Critical Reasoning
Consistent practice. That’s my number one advice. When it comes to reading comprehension, which I believe both CR and RC falls under, you’re not going to get better if you don’t consistently do problems related to these two because your brain tends to favour consistency over last minute cramming. I would suggest, even if you’re off studying some other section to do at least one or two CR questions and one RC passage a day. Your comprehension skills will gradually get better. For CR questions, my key advice is to focus your time on understanding the passage. Start off reading slow. Understand the point of view of the passage and then read the question stem. Take a second to guess what the answer might be which will prime your brain for reading the answers. From there, go down the answer choices one by one and eliminate choices that are completely off topic and out of scope from the question. Then hone in on the answer that best answers the question. Again, trust your gut.

Reading Comprehension
My advice here is to read smart. What does that mean? It means skimming content that is not key to the passage and spending extra time on sections that are. On average I would spend approximately 1-2 min reading the passage depending on length.

So, what is key then?
• The first sentence or two: Often if not always, the context of the passage is introduced then. Pay close attention and really feel interested in these sentences. It will really help your understanding of the passage later on.
• Transition words: Words like ‘however’, ‘but’, ‘additionally’, ‘also’ set up a new turn in the passage. Write them down on your scratch paper and one to two words of what happens after the transition you’ll end up with a mini roadmap of your passage that will help with those main point questions.

What to skim?
• Examples and Experiments: These sections are often filled with data points and other information that can be skimmed. Write down on your scratch paper that there was an example but don’t try to completely understand what is being said. It’ll take too much time. If there is a question that asks about it, you can always go back and read further.

This is common advice but do try to be interested in the topic. I can’t count the times I lost interest and ended up reading four or five sentences but having them fly over the top of my head. I wasted an extra thirty seconds re-reading. Stay interested even if you wouldn’t normally be. Trust me, it makes a world of difference. In terms of answering the questions, I would offer the same advice that I did for CR.

Quant
The baseline knowledge for quant is pretty basic and I would put it at the high school level. What makes the Quant section difficult is the application and logic that is layered on top of those topics. I started off my prep simply learning all the baseline knowledge that I needed first using eGMAT’s Quant course. From there, I did a million practice questions (an exaggeration but that’s what it felt like). I used eGMAT Scholaranium as well as the GMAT Club Quant practice questions to aid in my study. The key is to make sure you review your answers thoroughly. Questions that you got right and wrong (because sometimes it might be a fluke). Understand where you got wrong, what logic you missed (for me it was always forgetting zero). Again, if you find yourself making the same common mistakes, write them down onto cue cards. Review them later. I also recommend revisiting questions you found to be challenging to see if you’ve learned what you needed to.

In terms of practice, I knew from the start I wasn’t going to hit that Q51. It was out of my range seeing as I started off with a Q35. So I aimed for the Q49 and Q50 range. What that meant was studying for those medium and hard questions and forgetting about those extremely hard ones. My logic was that I was never going to see those hard questions if I couldn’t even get those medium questions right. So, for a while I focused my studying on medium and 600 level questions. These were the questions with simpler application and logic which I could hammer down before attempting more difficult ones. After that I moved onto hard and 700 level questions.

Integrated Reasoning/AWA
I didn’t spend a lot of time studying specifically for IR. I found that by the time I was done prepping for Verbal and Quant, I was sufficiently prepped for it. At this point I was simply putting the two together. The other parts would be reading graphs, but I was still able to handle that from my prior high school knowledge.
In terms of AWA, I think the biggest advice here would be to format properly. I used Kaplan’s format as a soft guide to ensure I structured my argument properly. The key here is to think of all the things that could go wrong with the argument and what information could be provided to make it more solid. Make sure you put all those points in. I would spend maybe 5 min reading and structuring initial points, 20 min actually writing and 5 min at the end to proofread.

Practice Tests
After I did my baseline test at the beginning of my studying I didn’t touch an official or full-length practice test until three weeks before my actual test day. It was a little risky, I know, but to me it didn’t make sense to do a full length practice test until I was confident that I had learned everything. My practice test experience was interesting. I would do separate section tests from GMATClub for example and my estimated score would come out to scores such as Q41 and V36. Then my first full practice test a few days later came back with a 740 (Q49 and V42) which was drastically better (and much more confidence boosting) than the other practices I’ve done. Bottom line: the official practice tests are the best estimator of your ability. Don’t get your hopes down if you don’t get good scores on test prep company tests. They are often harder than the real one.

My advice here:
• Hold off the official practice tests until you are truly ready. You’ll find out that you’ll probably need less than you thought.
• Take the tests in similar format to the real day. This includes simulating your scratch paper layout. I really liked the layout that ManhattanPrep suggests.In short, basically you end up writing certain times on the bottom corner of your scratch paper pages which is a soft guideline as to how much time you should have left when you flip to the next page. This was much better than me trying to time each question to an optimal 2 min and much less stressful. It also let me know if I was even ahead of the timing and to try and slow down to make sure I was getting questions right.

Exam Day/Format
At some point you need to decide on what format you want for your GMAT (e.g. Verbal first or Quant first). For me, I know I get very nervous at the beginning of my tests and I knew that I had the leeway to be nervous and still do well on Verbal which was my stronger section, so I chose that first. From there I hoped my nerves would settle in time for the Quant section to start. After settling on this, I set all my official practice tests to run that way to make sure I’m simulating test day environments.

I’m glad I did this. On test day, it felt as though something was sitting on my chest the entire time I was doing the Verbal section. I could feel my heart pounding. I don’t think it let up until I took my first break. Speaking of the break, you have less time than you think you do, so I would say time to spend only 5 minutes on break, so you have enough time to sign back in. Quant section was surprisingly less stressful. I think I just didn’t have time to feel stressed because I had to power through the questions. After that my whole body relaxed and I was able to get through IR and AWA with no real problems.

At first I thought I didn't do too well because of how I was feeling during Verbal, but I was so pleased to see the 750 pop up. I immediately accepted and left the center with a smile on my face. This was my first attempt. It's obviously not the world's best score, but I feel confident enough with the balance in the score and my own grades that I don't think I'll make a second attempt.

Overall Advice
Be confident in your potential. I knew straight from the bat when I scored that initial 590 on the practice test that that wasn’t even close to my potential. Even when I was being beat down from all those mock tests giving me Q40s and V33s I knew that I wasn’t at my full potential. Just believe in yourself, don’t settle and you’ll get to where you want to be.

I know this was quite long of a debrief, but if anyone else has any questions or things I should add feel free to comment! If you liked what you read, please leave a kudos to let me know. I'll try and find some of my old notes to add to this going forward.

Originally posted by cmklaw on 21 Jul 2018, 10:35.
Last edited by adkikani on 22 Jul 2018, 09:35, edited 3 times in total.
Edited with addition of links for setting up scratch paper
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New post 21 Jul 2018, 13:37
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cmklaw wrote:
Overall Advice
Be confident in your potential. I knew straight from the bat when I scored that initial 590 on the practice test that that wasn’t even close to my potential. Even when I was being beat down from all those mock tests giving me Q40s and V33s I knew that I wasn’t at my full potential. Just believe in yourself, don’t settle and you’ll get to where you want to be.


Thanks for sharing all those section specific tips - cmklaw

Congrats on that awesome score. Hope you get into your first choice school!
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Re: From Mock 590 to Official 750 in Three Months + Detailed Advice  [#permalink]

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New post 21 Jul 2018, 13:44
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One of the best Debriefs I have read in some time. Congratulations on a great score and hope you do get into one of your shortlisted schools. All the best to you!
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New post 22 Jul 2018, 08:25
Many Congratulations cmklaw on your score and thanks a ton for sharing your detailed debrief.

Quite motivating it is :thumbup:
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From Mock 590 to Official 750 in Three Months + Detailed Advice  [#permalink]

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New post 22 Jul 2018, 09:51
cmklaw

Thank you for sharing your sweet success on the forum. It is indeed motivating to see the perfect pair of your dream B schools
with such a competitive score right below it :-)

I started at a much lower baseline score than yours and am a non-native speaker. Since my current mock
score resonates with your baseline, could you elaborate your study strategy
between Mid April and first week of June (i.e. in between your baseline score and second Gmat mock) w.r.t below points:
a. How did you manage theory portion of E-gmat (e.g. SC would consume around 60-80 hrs) along with practising
questions to identify any application gaps? It would be helpful if you could arrange to attach your notes / error log
You can PM me in case you face any difficulty regarding the same.
2. How would you rate E-gmat scholarinum difficulty level vis-a-vis questions in your mocks/ actual exam and Question Pack -1?
3. Did you use LSAT for CR and RC during your prep?
4. How did you tackle RC timing using the scratch-pad (Unlike quant, for most non-natives, RC slows down the reading pace
and influences the linear chart of q vs time remaining) Your strategy of completing the passage in max 2 mins is truly exceptional.
+1 Kudos for the same.

All the best for your apps and we would love to receive inputs from your story here as well.
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Re: From Mock 590 to Official 750 in Three Months + Detailed Advice  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Jul 2018, 07:51
Wow. Congratulations on a great score @cmklaw,and thank you for this great debrief. I am just going through a diagnostic test and not liking that I am average right now in PS, DS, RC and above average in CR. Yet to complete SC after 3 weeks of study. So your debrief is quite encouraging since I am aiming for a similar score as yours. I still have about 2 months to my exam so will double up my effort. Thanks again, and all the best with your applications to business schools.

Cheers!
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Re: From Mock 590 to Official 750 in Three Months + Detailed Advice  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Jul 2018, 18:58
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adkikani wrote:
cmklaw

Thank you for sharing your sweet success on the forum. It is indeed motivating to see the perfect pair of your dream B schools
with such a competitive score right below it :-)

I started at a much lower baseline score than yours and am a non-native speaker. Since my current mock
score resonates with your baseline, could you elaborate your study strategy
between Mid April and first week of June (i.e. in between your baseline score and second Gmat mock) w.r.t below points:
a. How did you manage theory portion of E-gmat (e.g. SC would consume around 60-80 hrs) along with practising
questions to identify any application gaps? It would be helpful if you could arrange to attach your notes / error log
You can PM me in case you face any difficulty regarding the same.
2. How would you rate E-gmat scholarinum difficulty level vis-a-vis questions in your mocks/ actual exam and Question Pack -1?
3. Did you use LSAT for CR and RC during your prep?
4. How did you tackle RC timing using the scratch-pad (Unlike quant, for most non-natives, RC slows down the reading pace
and influences the linear chart of q vs time remaining) Your strategy of completing the passage in max 2 mins is truly exceptional.
+1 Kudos for the same.

All the best for your apps and we would love to receive inputs from your story here as well.


Answering your questions below:
1. With the theory portion of the E-GMAT, I definitely agree that heavy topics (like SC) did take me significantly more time. For me it became a budgeting exercise. How much time I had and which topics I needed to learn. Often times there would be multiple questions or application videos. If I felt a little more comfortable with the topic at the time I might have done two of the four questions in the application video file, but I would take the time to debrief any questions that I did get wrong for any gaps in my application. All my notes were hand written so it'll be a little hard for me to scrounge them up. I'll try and look for them to upload.
2. Scholaranium question difficulty vs. official question difficulty depended on whether it was Verbal or Quant for me. I found that Medium questions from e-GMAT for Quant on average felt like harder medium or even hard questions on the official and the Hard/Very Hard eGMAT questions were often out of reach for me (even though I would be able to handle the Hard questions in the official questions). If you're aiming for Q51 then by all means it would be a great source of questions. The Verbal questions on eGMAT for me felt more close to its difficulty to the official questions though.
3. No I didn't use the LSAT for CR/RC
4. For RC timing, I found that writing things down actually slowed me down in terms of timing, and broke my train of concentration while ready so I would advise on finding your sweet spot between writing to understand and writing too much. Of course, in the beginning if it helps with the understanding of the passage, writing more might help, but I would suggest slowly requiring fewer words (and in my main post - smarter words). Below is an example of what I would write for an RC passage and how I would use what I wrote to answer the questions.

I used the OG Guide 2018 RC passage for Q#405-408 as an example:
P1: Biologists – two theories for schooling fish (protection) Answers Q.406
P2: Theory A
    o Experiment: Chance of finding school same as one fish alone
P3: Theory B
    o Fish forms school even with no escape
    o “Confusion effect”
P4: Exp. 1: Can’t decide which fish – look the same Answers Q.407
P4: Exp. 2: Sensory confusion– distracting – too many moving prey Answers Q.405

Q.408 – From overall tone of the passage, it was a very explanatory passage (explaining the two theories but didn’t weigh in on one over the other) (no strong opinionated words were noted or written down). Thus answer A makes the most sense.

From the above, I was able to get the general gist of the paragraph without using too many words.
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New post 20 Mar 2019, 06:45
This was very inspiring! Congratulations!!

I am curious if there was ever an "aha" moment for you on any of the sections? Or was the improvement very slow and over time? If the former, I would be very interested to hear your take on it now looking back. Thanks in advance.
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New post 22 Mar 2019, 12:38
Dear McWill,

That’s a very pertinent question. I don’t think Carrie is active right now but I did look at our conversation (please see the YouTube link below). Carrie improved her Quant score significantly. One of the biggest drivers of this improvement was the importance of logic and process when applying concepts on GMAT Quant. Note, Carrie knew all the concepts but was stuck at Q35 since she had not focused on the "logic" aspect.

You can watch this part of the interview from 12' onwards.



-Rajat
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New post 24 Mar 2019, 10:00
Congrats on a getting an amazing score on GMAT. Thanks for sharing a detailed debrief. All the best for the applications.
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Re: From Mock 590 to Official 750 in Three Months + Detailed Advice   [#permalink] 24 Mar 2019, 10:00
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