I took my GMAT exam this morning. This was my fourth and final attempt. Score: 700!!!! Initial score: 510. Improvement: 190!
During my preparation I benefited greatly from reading others’ GMAT debriefs and can only hope that my debrief proves useful to someone as well. Before I get into the details regarding specific resources and strategies, I want to take a second to acknowledge a few facts and to motivate each of you to keep working hard.
First, the GMAT is a separation mechanism; its intended purpose is NOT for everyone to get a 700 score. Whether the exam is “difficult” per se depends on one’s definition of difficult I suppose. But based on student results, it is not easy to get a score in the top 15%. I believe that it is essential to acknowledge this fact, deal with it, and move on. While it may be “unlikely” to get a 700 score, it is certainly not impossible and you must not believe that it is. Treat the GMAT as a war, where YOU are the warrior. You will sometimes experience defeat (as when you score low on practice tests, etc) but no great war has ever been won easily. As the great warrior that you are, you treat defeats as learning experiences that will aid you in ultimately winning the war! Believe that you can and you will! Read the previous paragraph twice!
Now, a quick summary of my GMAT results. I will not get into too many specifics regarding each of the first three tries as I do not think they will provide useful information. Scores were as follows: 510, 580 and 640, respectively. The main piece regarding the first three administrations is this: DO NOT SIMPLY DO QUESTION AFTER QUESTION WITHOUT REVIEWING CONCEPTS
. Despite reading over and over that focusing on concepts was crucial, I did not listen and simply worked through the OG and PowerPrep Quant questions. My results: on each of the first three exams I scored in the 35th percentile for Quant. 35, 35, 35, respectively!!! No improvement.
I began preparation for my final attempt the same way that I had done so for my previous 3 attempts. I did some quant questions from the OG and then called Manhattan to “reset” the 6 CAT tests. Shortly thereafter I took a test to see if I had improved. The result was predictable. I had not made any improvement. For the first time I thought about enrolling in a prep course. I found an offer online from a company who guaranteed a 40 point increase. I was initially persuaded, thinking that a 40 point improvement would raise my score to at least a 680. If I did not improve, I would get my money back according to the guarantee. I almost purchased the course but luckily I began to do some self reflection and analysis. Had I really prepared myself for the exam? I had read through the Manhattan Guides, worked out the problems, but had I really understood them? The point became crystal clear when I attempted to answer a question about the xy-coordinate. The question asked about slope intercept form. Huh! I had taken Calculus in high school, passed the examination by credit exam, recently read the MG and had no clue what the slope intercept form was. I then realized that while I had “read” the materials, I had not fully (or even partially) understood the concepts. I knew that purchasing a course would not alleviate the problem and that the only way for me to improve was to relearn the concepts slowly and methodically.
I went back to the drawing board and began with decimals and fractions. I used the Manhattan Guides as a general outline. I would then fill in the gaps with info from Total GMAT (book). If something was still unclear to me, I would look up information on the web. Of course, I also made use of the forum when a question was particularly difficult. When I got to coordinate geometry, I knew that I remembered nothing from middle school so I actually took two full days to relearn the basics. Since the MG and Total GMAT book did not provide basic info, I looked up the topic on YouTube. I found several videos by a middle school teacher; he explained the basic concepts thoroughly. I used this approach for every topic that is outlined in either Total GMAT or the MG. [Please note that since I’m a teacher myself, I had all summer to work on my preparation. Each day I worked at least 8 hours going through the material.] I spent 45 days reviewing basic math skills that I had forgotten. Again, I used OG, MG, Total GMAT ($50), web (free advice from other GMAT companies), and YouTube. I also purchased the GMATPREP Question Pack I ($29). I did not work on any questions from OG or GMAT prep during the 45 days. I did not take any practice tests either.
After relearning some of the basic concepts, I then began to redo all the questions in the OG. I still struggled with some of the challenging questions but I was getting all the easy questions correct and I understood the reasoning behind the answer! I did the questions untimed. I answered about 75% of the questions. Again this was untimed. This took about 5 days.
After the fifth day, I decided to take one of the GMAT PREP exams. I had seen the questions during my earlier study attempts but did not remember most of them. I scored a 690! I realized that the score may have been inflated since I did recall some of the verbal questions but my main reason for taking the test was to see how I did with math. I used the next TWO days to do all 494 questions on the GMATPrep package. I solved each of these questions under “exam” mode, which has a screen clock that warns you once you have spent excessive time on a particular question. I answered the questions in sets of 20, including easy, medium, and hard questions in each set. I was getting most of the easy and medium questions right and about 40 to 50 percent of hard questions correct. Since I had completely ignored the verbal portion during my preparation for the fourth attempt, I decided to do all of the verbal questions on GMATPrep as well and answered about 90 percent of all questions correctly.
I then decided to take one of the Manhattan Practice tests. I got through 4 or 5 quant questions and quickly realized that the questions were more challenging than the ones on GMATPrep. I had read on the forums that Manhattan GMAT
CATs were not reflective of the real GMAT so I quit the exam. Because I had worked out all the questions on the OG and GMATPrep, I had also developed an intuition for how the GMAT questions should look like. Manhattan’s CAT questions had a different format. Rather than attempt other Manhattan CAT’s, I decided to take the second GMATPrep exam. I scored a 710. Again, I knew that the score could be inflated given that I remembered some of the verbal but I felt confident with the quant. This was yesterday.
I had not planned to take the test until after my trip to Cancun next week. However, I figured that it would not be fair to my girlfriend if I spent some of my Cancun time buried in GMAT books. Plus I did not think that waiting another week would provide additional benefit. So I registered to take the test! I scheduled the test for TODAY!
AWA. The AWA was a breeze (knock on wood). I scored a 6.0 on my last attempt so I was not nervous about this part. I love to write (isn’t it obvious lol) and came up with creative arguments to answer the prompt. IR. I will not elaborate too much since I do not want to jinx myself but it did not look too difficult. Also the IR was way different than IR’s in my previous exam attempts. I will not go into specific details due to the confidentiality of test items. However, suffice it to say that the FORMAT was different, which I believe played to my advantage (knock on wood). Quant. The time had come! I had scored in the 35th percentile in each of my last 3 attempts. Question 1 was tricky but solvable. I was confident that I had answered it correctly. Questions 2 and 3 also took some time to solve but again I was confident that I had answered them correctly. Of course, as the test progressed the questions became more difficult. There were some that I had no clue what they were asking for. However, there were also many questions that were very similar to questions that I had practiced. I had reviewed the concepts enough to come up with the right answer. Again, because of the confidentiality of the exam, I cannot give info on specific question, but there was at least one question that looked EXACTLY like the questions on GMATPrep. EXACTLY. There was also another question that was very similar to a question on Total GMAT book. Anyway, I continued working my way through, keeping an eye on the clock and skipping those questions that I knew were difficult for me. A GREAT BONUS OF GOING OVER CONCEPTS IS THAT YOU LEARN WHICH QUESTIONS YOU CANNOT SOLVE. For me, geometry is a weak area so I knew that if the question looked weird I should skip it. I was able to look over all but the last question. I had 5 seconds left so I simply guessed and submitted a response. Verbal. This is my strength so I did what I do best. Read, make inferences, answer the questions and enjoy the selections. Score Report. I slowly took the survey after the test before seeing my score. Clicked next! There it was…..690!!! I had scored a 96 percentile on verbal (as I expected) but I had finally improved my quant score. 60th percentile!!!! This was 25 points higher than each of my previous 3 results! I realize that 60 on quant would be a disaster for many here and that is ok. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I am confident that if I continue to prepare I can improve my quant even further. After all I was once selected as Calculus Student of the Year so I cannot be too bad at math lol. However, this is where I get off this GMAT journey. I can live with myself knowing that I improved 190 points. I am also practical and understand that I now need to spend tons of time on my essays and applications. To those of you continuing to prepare, do not despair. Keep pushing. Keep fighting! Remember that you are a warrior and that, while you may lose some battles, your ultimate goal is to win the war. In the movie Gladiator, the protagonist goes through ups and downs during the movie. At the beginning, he is a decorated soldier with the world at his feet. Soon, however, he becomes a slave and has to fight back through adversity. Despite many obstacles, he never loses sight of it all. You are talented and, like the gladiator protagonist, must never forget that. There will be a day when you can end your GMAT journey but if you have not reached your goals, then that day has not yet come. Not yet. Not yet.
Best of luck and gig’em!