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My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months

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My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Nov 2019, 18:11
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Hello,

Don't let the title of this debrief fool you into believing that this was one of those "extremely smart kid who got a 740 in 2 months and made it look easy" stories. My GMAT journey was far from easy. In fact, it was one of the most stressful, yet fulfilling, experiences of my life. It has been about a month since I first took my GMAT 740 (Q49 V42) and I still couldn't believe that I would be sitting here writing this debrief given that about 2 months ago I was seriously in doubt of my own ability to even cross the 700 mark. I am what you call, an average joe. I graduated from highschool with a 3.3 GPA and got an average 1800 on the SAT (old version out of 2400). This average SAT score was one of the biggest factors that hindered my confidence as I started my GMAT journey. I remembered putting in a lot of time studying the SAT and I was afraid I would get the same average score on the GMAT. I've read numerous stories about people scoring 740+ within 3-4 weeks and even though those are truly exceptional stories it decreases people's confidence, myself included, when they could not get to that score within the same time-frame. For those of you who are in doubt of yourself and think that because of your previous poor test scores (SAT, ACT) you won't have the ability to succeed in the GMAT, I am here to prove to you that with the right resources and right mindset you can too achieve your dream score. This debrief is for the people who are struggling with their confidence to get over the 700 mark. Here's my debrief:

Introduction
After high school, I went to Purdue University to pursue my undergrad degree in finance. I am currently in my senior year about to graduate in May 2020. With my graduation quickly approaching, I was hit with the realization that I will need to find something to do after graduation. Consequently, I decided in the summer that I would continue on my graduate studies after my graduation. I started looking for top MSF programs and decided on 3 schools which are MIT MFin, LBS MFA, and LSE MSF. All 3 schools are extremely competitive and required a GMAT/GRE score. Hence, my GMAT journey begins.

Preparation
Because the schools I've chosen are very competitive, my GMAT score needs to be 700+ (ideally 720+) for me to even have a chance. Also, the deadline of the applications are around January (I started in August) which means I have only about 4 months to get to my target score. I immediately started looking for online prep resources through sources like GmatClub. I eventually settled with e-GMAT as it seemed to have the best reviews. I signed up for the free-trial and took a diagnostic test on e-GMAT. I realized that this was just a dianostic test so I aim for a 650. I was horrified when I got a 510 (Q29 V32). I went into a little panic since I had no idea how to do HALF of the quant questions. Although my verbal score was alright I still have room for improvements. From the get go, I know that I have a big mountain to climb before I could even think of a 700+ score. Contrary to the general advice, I decided to start with my weaker section which is the quant section because I really want to brush up my quantitative skills before I go onto verbal. I purchased e-GMAT online course and went through its quant section. I completed about 75% of the quant course before I tried my hands on Scholaranium (e-GMAT's quizzing platform). I got most of the medium and easy questions correct but I couldn't do the hard and very hard ones. From what I read, to get over the 700 mark, I need to get hard questions correct most of the time and because I struggled with most hard questions I decided to switch to another quant prep course. I am not saying that e-GMAT quant course is bad. I felt like the course assumes that you already know the basic quantitative principles (which I almost completely forgot since high school) and go onto more complicated questions relatively quickly. I believe that many people will find it useful if they are already scoring in the Q45+ range. Because quant was my weakness, I need to find a quant course that teaches me the ins-and-outs of GMAT quant and will help me build the foundation for me to solve harder questions. After reading multiple reviews on quant courses, I settled with Target Test Prep because of its price and user-friendly interface. The course is quite lengthy with a lot of material and practice quizzes but it was well worth the time and money. In a test where timing is critical, being able to find more efficient ways to solve the questions is one of the key skills you need to score high on quant. TTP is incredible at this with its equation cheat-sheet and certain techniques to solve certain types of problems. All of its quizzes are designed to make you effortlessly solve quant questions on test-day. After I finish TTP's course, I scored Q48+ on all but one of my mock tests and eventually a Q49 on my actual GMAT. I highly recommend TTP if you are struggling in quant.

With quant out of the way, I turned my focus to the verbal section. I continued using e-GMAT online course. Although I didn't finish its quant course, I still think that e-GMAT's verbal course was well worth the time and money. Its course structure was very easy to follow and I like how the course separates the OG questions into sub-sections (e.g. Modifiers, S/V for SC, Strengthen, Weaken for CR). With this structure, you can go through each sub-section and see which ones you struggle with. This will allow you to later target those weaknesses and improve on it. Since I scored 90th percentile on RC in my diagnostic, I didn't focus as much on RC as SC and CR. For CR, I believe that the pre-thinking approach is very helpful since it will allow you to have an answer in mind and all you need is to find it in the answer choices. For SC, the application files and concept files in e-GMAT are very helpful because they contain detailed explanation and they teach you how to approach each question. I finished the SC and CR modules in e-GMAT and improve my skills through scholaranium.

Because I was running out of time, I studied both verbal and quant simultaneously. I finished studying the content about 2 weeks before my exam date and started taking mock tests. I purchased all six mock tests from GMAC (I think it is the most accurate) and took five of them. Here are the scores from the mocks:
Test 1: 690 (Q48 V35)
Test 2: 650 (Q44 V36)
Test 3: 710 (Q49 V37)
Test 4: 710 (Q50 V35)
Test 5: 690 (Q49 V34)

As you can see, my score was hovering around 690 and I couldn't break V40. As test day was approaching, my anxiety levels increased. I frantically searched for ways to break V40 and tried to cram in practice questions. As I do more questions, I get more questions wrong which further lowered my confidence. By the time test week approaches, I was covered in self-doubt and anxiety.

My Turning Point

I believe that my turning point came about 2-3 days before the test date. I was reading this article about the power of visualization. I have always thought that this visualization thing was non-sense but because I was so desperate and hopeless I decided to give it a try. I would meditate and visualize every detail of the test day starting from when I walked into the test center until I saw my dream score pop up. I would do this for 10 minutes and then go to sleep everyday until test day.

D-Day

Finally, the test day arrived. My test was at 4:30pm at a test center near my university. Surprisingly, after all the anxiety and self-doubt, I felt very calm. I'm not sure if it's because the meditation I did or the fact that I probably would bomb the test and have to re-take it anyway. Nevertheless, I went about my day as usual and came back to my apartment to rest. I bought protein bars and a gatorade to bring in as snacks for the breaks. I solved a few quant and verbal questions to warm up. At about 3:30, I did one last 10-minute meditation session to calm my mind. After I'm done, I prepared my IDs and snacks and went to the test center. Along the way, I listened to my favorite soundtracks that would get me excited for the test and keep telling to myself that I will beat the GMAT. I think that this help with my confidence and lowered my anxiety.

When I arrived, I put my stuff in the locker, scan my palms, and went into the testing room. The proctor took me to my computer and I sat down looking at the intro screen. I used this time to set up my scratch pad. I chose to go with quant section first since it was the one I was worried about. From other debriefs I read, I expected that the first few questions will be relatively easy. I was shocked to find out that I had to guess on the first question. This really threw me off course since I believed that if I miss the first few questions my score would tank. Also, I felt at some parts the questions were very easy. This made me even more nervous because I realized that if the questions were easy it means that I'm doing poorly on the test. With my mind going into panic mode, I tried to gain back my composure and focus my attention on only the question at hand. I was able to finish the quant section just in time and I thought I bombed it. I took the break and ate half of my protein bar and drank some gatorade. I went back in to start my verbal section. Looking back, I believe that by thinking that I bombed the quant section and would have to re-take the test anyway, it helped me become more relaxed on the verbal section. Just like in quant, I felt at some parts the questions were very easy. I finished the verbal section with 10 seconds left because I was stuck between two answers on the last question. I guessed on one before the timer runs out. I took the break and finished the remaining half of my protein bar and drank some gatorade.

I thought I also bombed the verbal section so I started doing IR and the essay with a sense of resignation. I kept thinking to myself that I have failed and I will never get to my dream score, let alone getting into my dream schools. I put every ounce of my effort into my GMAT prep, studying 200+ hours (6 hrs everyday for 2 months). I couldn't think of any other way I could improve. My SAT experience popped into my mind and I felt like I would always be just average at everything I do. After I finished my essay I clicked submit and the score popped up. I almost fell out of my chair.
Scaled Score Percentile
IR 8 92
Quantitative 49 74
Verbal 42 96
Total 740 97

I couldn't believe my eyes. My heart was pounding as if I just ran a marathon. All these emotions came rushing in. I was confused, excited, relieved, proud, and bewildered all at the same time. I raised my hands and the proctor came in and dismissed me. I couldn't stop smiling as I walk back. Then the realization finally hit me. I did it. I beat my target score of 720 by 20 points. All the hard work I put in finally paid off. Considered all the self-doubt and psychological turmoils I've been through the past few months and during the test, I felt like this was an achievement I will never forget.

Aftermath

Even though the hype died down a little bit, I still get goosebumps whenever I see my official GMAT score. I know 740 might not be as impressive as a 750+ score but I felt very proud of myself that I could overcome my self-doubt and achieve my dream score. With the GMAT out of the way, I can now focus my efforts on my graduate applications. I might pursue an MBA in the next few years so I might have to come back and take the GMAT again. Anyway, I really like the GMATClub community and wish everyone good luck.

Resources I used

e-GMAT: I highly recommend the verbal course if you want to break V40 and score a 700+ score. I recommend not to go all out on quant and try to get a Q51 and use the time to break V40 instead because you probably won't be able to break 720 if your verbal is around V35-37 even with a Q51.

Target Test Prep: Personally, I think this is by far the best quant course out there. I highly recommend this course if you want to score Q48+.

OG 2020/Verbal and Quantitative review: I went through every verbal questions in both OG and Verbal Review but I didn't do all the quant questions because I was using TTP. I would recommend purchasing the OG since it gives an accurate representation of the questions in the real test.

Scholaranium (e-GMAT): I think this tool provided by e-GMAT is very helpful. It allows you to take quizzes on sub-sections of both Verbal and Quant and it tracks your performance. You will be able to see your weaknesses and improve on them.

GMAC Mock Tests: I recommend purchasing all six tests (two of them are free) since it can give you a very accurate estimate of what your real score will be. Try not to use these tests as an diagnostic since it gives very little information about your ability in each sub-section. Try to take them after you went through all the material to see if you are in the score range you want and practice your test taking stamina.

General Advice and Tips
Lastly, I would like to leave you guys with some advice and tips that helped me along the way.

- Be PATIENT. Patience is one of the most important things to have as you prepare for the GMAT. As mentioned earlier, the "740+ in 3 weeks" stories often than not give unrealistic expectations to people. Many people will then rush through materials thinking that they are efficient by minimizing study time. This is a common trap that can be detrimental in the latter stages of your preparation. Take your time and learn the ins-and-outs of the test. Great things take time. Trust the process and you will be rewarded. In the end, the "740 in 12 months" guy will have a much better chance of getting into his dream schools than the "620 in 3 weeks" guy.

- Learn from your mistakes. I know this is cliche but try to maintain an error log. Sometimes it can be tedious to write down everything you did wrong so I recommend using a prep course that automatically tracks your mistakes. TTP has one and e-GMAT's scholaranium also has one. Now this part might be intuitive but a lot of people, myself included, fall into this trap. DON'T ASSUME that you can solve the questions by just reading the solutions. I can tell you that watching how other people solve questions is VERY DIFFERENT from actually solving the questions yourself. So after going through the solutions try to go back and redo the questions you got wrong.

- Study smarter not harder. Although you will need to do a lot of practice questions (I solved about 3000+ questions in total) if you want to break that 700 mark, it is a strategy that will give diminishing returns. Once you get through all the material, the best way to increase your score is to go through your mistakes and eliminate them instead of solving new questions. I found that my score increased by about 50 points just by eliminating careless mistakes alone. That's a difference between a 650 and a 700. Also, try to go through incorrect questions in detail. This is especially helpful in verbal. Try to recall your thought process of why you chose this answer and why it was wrong. Later on, you will pick up on patterns that will be very helpful on test day.

- ALWAYS BELIEVE in yourself even though your performance indicates otherwise. This is easier said than done. How can you believe in yourself to score V40+ when you never actually cross that mark in any of the mock tests? I would continually asked myself this question prior to the test. Despite this fact, during my meditation sessions, I would envisioned myself scoring V40+ and believe that I could actually do it on test day. Self-doubt is a very powerful thing that can ruin your chances of achieving anything in life. It is okay to have self-doubt throughout your preparation. You just need to handle it efficiently and try to use it as a motivation to improve.

- Don't get down on yourself if you score poorly on a mock. Remember that nobody cares about your mock scores. It is the real test that counts. Try to use the mocks as a tool to improve. Also, try not to take mock tests if you are not done studying the materials. Taking full tests when you are not ready is just a waste of time and it will lower your confidence. Apart from my diagnostic tests, I took only 5 mocks before my test and I started taking them after I finished with all the materials.

- FOCUS on only the question in front of you. This is especially hard if you realize you made a careless mistake on the previous question or you are forced to guess when you "know" that you can do it if there was more time. Try to practice this on your mock tests. In addition, don't try to guess where you are during the test. I know I am certainly guilty of this. However, I usually snapped out of it very quickly so that I don't waste too much time. Trying to gauge your performance when you ARE TAKING the test is not only bad for your confidence but you might just be wrong (as in my case). Some hard questions might be easy for you but hard for others and some easy ones might be hard for you. Consequently, it is important that you don't let your past actions affect your ability to solve the current question.

- You DON'T need to get the first few questions right to get a good score. I know that there are experiments that indicate the importance of the first 10 questions but unless you are missing EVERY question out of the first 10, I don't think missing 3 out of the first 10 would be that detrimental to your score. This is evident according to my ESR. I found that I only got 80% of the first block of quant questions correct and I still scored Q49. Your score represent your overall performance on ALL of the questions with no particular emphasis on their order. So don't sweat on it if you have to guess on the first question (like I did) because you can still get a good score.

- Lose the battle to win the war. This is a little bit cliche but it is important. You will have to guess on some of the questions. This is particularly painful if it's a question that you know you can solve but you realized you made an error and it would take another 2 minutes to resolve the question. At this point, you will have to take the hit and move on. This does not mean that you will get a bad score. I remember guessing in 4-5 quant questions and about 5-6 in verbal and I still got a 740. So try to think of the big picture and fight the battle you know you CAN win.

Sorry for the long post. If you made it to this point, I hope that this debrief can help you with your GMAT journey. If anyone of you reading this feel that you are not capable of getting a good score, just remember that 2 months ago I was in your exact position. With persistence and belief, you will one day be writing your own debrief on your successful GMAT journey!
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Re: My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Nov 2019, 20:05
Just gave me goosebumps at somepoint.......can you provide exam strategy for verbal like timing,...
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Re: My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Nov 2019, 20:46
Wow !! Brilliant ! Fantastic !!! Just the dose of motivation I needed to keep me going. Congratulations on scoring a 740. You are no longer an average Joe now that you slayed the GMAT.
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Re: My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Nov 2019, 22:09
I was scoring around 710-730 in mocks, but could never replicate it in the real exam? I could just score 640,690,640 again

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Re: My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months  [#permalink]

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New post 26 Nov 2019, 20:49
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Great job!! I’m thrilled that TTP was able to help you achieve such a great quant score! Good luck with things moving forward.
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Re: My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months  [#permalink]

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New post 27 Nov 2019, 08:31
Enlightening. A very congratulation on achieving 740 score! Which business schools atpre you applying to this coming intake? Are you tglaking mba/ms degree program?

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Re: My GMAT journey: First time test-taker 740 (Q49 V42) in 2 months   [#permalink] 27 Nov 2019, 08:31
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