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My GMAT Journey to 700

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My GMAT Journey to 700  [#permalink]

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New post 07 Mar 2019, 09:30
Don’t usually post on the internet, but I have gotten so much from this community/site that I felt I should share my journey in case it helps one of you along. I’ll do my best to give you the fuller story/timeline below, but if you’re just looking for bottom line takeaways, here they are:

(1) Trust yourself. Keep this in mind throughout. Read, ask questions, get help, gather information you think will/may be of use to you along the way, but at the end of the day go with what you feel will work best for you.

(2) Review your mistakes: Keep an error log of some kind.

Lots of good material on this site and others about this, but at the end of the day, again, do what works for you. For me, I’d first flag the questions I got wrong and then go back and try them again later. Then, if it was a problem that still gave me trouble (or had a good nugget lesson baked in) I would review that problem in the explanations and (gratefully) on this website. There are often multiple solutions and tips for each problem readily available.

Then, I would make a note card of it. I’ve read about others who made excel sheets. Others still who just circled them in their book and would continue to returned to them. Note cards worked for me. Liked them for their ease of travel and because I had a stack accessible to cycle through for review toward the end of my studies. Set up: I wrote out the question and answer choices on the lined side and then provided the correct answer on the flip side with a “tip” underneath to remind me what I needed to do/learn from that question. If I couldn’t get the answer I would flip it over and look at the tip and try and work it out. If I still couldn’t get it I would go back to the explanations and make sure I understood why and add information to the “tip”. (Some questions you see will may be too difficult and probably be of the type you will pass on during the exam even after looking at the explanations. My advice here is to give the explanations a sincere and slow read, and if you still feel lost, set it aside, look with fresh eyes later in your studies, it will often be clearer then, but if it’s still one you are having trouble understanding or can’t find a way to solve in a reasonable amount of time – MOVE ON.)

One thing I did early on that helped here was attacking my 500 level question note cards. I read online the importance of doing your best not to get these wrong. Which makes sense, because it’s harder to get to the 600 level questions and earn more points if you are getting 500’s wrong. So, to start I would focus on these and make sure you could get them right. Its also important because the difference between 500 and 600/700 level questions is USUALLY that the question will involve multiple concepts built in to one question that you will learn from 500 level questions. You can figure out the level of question on the GMAT Club website which has most problems tagged for difficulty (especially OG and GMAC questions but almost all problems – just google search part of the question followed by gmat club). Also, if you use the Manhattan software, the questions on practice exams are all broken down by difficulty type as well.

Continue to add to these cards as you move along. Start slowly reviewing them as time allows when you are at the beginning stages of your study. But as your study progresses start to revisit them more regularly. Finally, start to really hit them home as you finish your prep materials and begin to take practice exams and ramp up for the real thing. Check off the ones you got right and put them in a separate pile for later. Keep the ones you get wrong in the mix and review them more regularly until you can move them to the other pile. Repeat.

Can’t stress enough how important this part is. Certainly, you will need to spend time at the front-end learning concepts, brushing up on math, the style of the exam, etc. BUT once you do that you should spend THE MOST TIME doing this. It is the single most helpful tool you have.

Learn how and why you got the question wrong and how you will get it right (and as you will quickly learn, questions similar to it right) in the future.

(3) Get instruction that works for you

So, again, a lot of this goes back to takeaway one, figure out what works best for you. For me, I know I like to study a lot on my own, especially at the front end when I’m getting familiar with a new anything. Clearly that will be different for everyone, but it’s what works for me. See below for more detailed timeline, but basically I started by ordering the Official Guide and taking the diagnostic. Then, I picked up the Manhattan Math Foundation book. Took my time reviewing basic math at my own pace, which was a good start. Then, I went through the Manhattan full set of books on my own as well. Again, I liked being able to go at my own pace and start to build a foundation. Finally, after some research and cost/benefit I ended up signing up with Brett Ethridge and his Dominate the GMAT course (highly recommend). More on him below, but basically, he had come up in a few online searches I had done while doing my initial prep and I just liked his style of teaching and content (he’s also less expensive). So, I reached out to him and he helped set me up with a tailored course that worked for me. (Full math and SC only).

(4) Focus more on the process: being introduced to different questions and learning from them more than worrying (too much) about how many questions you’re getting right on a problem set or, to a certain extent, what kind of practice test scores pop up on the screen.

(5) Keep going - you got it! As you will see from the timeline below. My progress was not a straight climb to 700. There were times where I plateaued, then made jumps, only to get knocked down again. Remember you are learning from all of these experiences.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Full Timeline:

Kicked around the idea of taking business classes or perhaps even applying to bschool for some time and knew eventually that would mean taking the GMAT. To start, I mostly just wanted to get a baseline of where I stood, so I did some research and ordered the following:

Official Guide (OG) 2017
(can find relatively cheap online)
Essentially the bible of GMAT prep

First, I took the diagnostic at the beginning of the book:

FEB 1, 2017: OG 17 Diagnostic Test
(a good place to start: relatively low impact, untimed, but real GMAT questions, and will give you a baseline of where you stand)

Results:
Section: my scores (score range they fell in)
Problem Solving: 10 (10-15 AVG)
Data Sufficiency: 7 (0-9 BELOW AVG)
Reading Comprehension: 17 (16-17 EXCELLENT)
Critical Reasoning: 13 (high end of 9-13 ABOVE AVG)
Sentence Correction: 13 (11-15 ABOVE AVG)

Confirmation of what I had already suspected – I needed a significant amount of work on my quantitative skills. But I also felt slightly encouraged. Sure there were problems I had no idea on, but a lot of the others I felt were on things I knew or at least had known, but hadn’t used for some time. Also, it seemed like the verbal section was a strength I could spend less time on.

Probably a good point to at least talk about how much time to put aside to study. The honest answer here is it depends. My work schedule is seasonally dependent. So I had a good chunk of my winters to (mostly) dedicate to studying but had to take several breaks in between. How long to study also depends on where your baseline is and what kind of score you are looking to achieve. (there’s plenty of material on the internet about this).

Anyway, that was really all I did that first winter season.
When I returned home at the end of the next fall I purchased the following:

Manhattan Foundations of GMAT MATH
Recommend for anyone who needs to brush up on their math.
Starts incredibly basic and works through to what you need for the GMAT.

Full Manhattan Strategy Guide Set
(relatively cheap online - $100-150 for full set of books)
**Bonus here is you get to sign up for Manhattan Prep’s online resources including 6 practice exams with computer adaptive scoring and in-depth feedback. Check to make sure if you are purchasing used that the codes to sign up online have not already been used.

Tip: Buy a scratch pad as well. Good practice for the real exam plus it saves paper.
https://www.amazon.com/Manhattan-GMAT-S ... 0979017580

For the first 3 weeks or so, I dedicated all my time to the foundations book. Again, I recommend this to anyone who needs to brush up on their basic math skills. For me, I went through the entire book from start to finish, but moved more quickly through the earlier sections. But could see this being useful if others just want to brush up on specific topics (algebra, geometry etc).
Again, I like note cards so I would fill one out for each key concept I needed to remember.

Didn’t take my first practice exam until after completing this book. Felt like I wanted to at least give myself a fighting chance before sitting down to take a full practice. No idea what I would have scored had I taken it to start, but here is my score after the initial work I put in:

DEC 8 2017: Manhattan #1 580 38 Q, 32 V
(**note: again, one of the great things about the Manhattan software is the in depth breakdown it gives you about what types of questions you get wrong etc., however I would say that in terms of questions most like those on the actual exam, the practice tests on the GMAC website (not surprisingly) are best. So, I’d recommend finding a good balance between the two)

Big takeaway for me here was timing. Needed to speed up at the end to finish both sections, but especially on the quant section where I barely finished. If you haven’t learned already, always finish your sections even if you have to guess. (again, plenty on internet re: this)

Ended up using the following techniques for timing after some trial and error (again do some research and see what works for you):
Quant:
Used a modified version of this: https://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/2014/09 ... atch-paper

So, basically to start each quant portion of an exam I divided each sheet into four boxes and put the time I should be on after completing four problems at the bottom right hand corner. So 54, 46, 30, 22, 14, 6, smile face (only three questions on the last sheet). Practice this technique if you are going to use it. It takes some time at the front end, but makes for less stress as you go. FYI you have 30 seconds right before the actual exam starts on test day to look over the directions, but can write in your scratch pad during this time, so since you’ll already know the directions you can use this time to start writing in the pad. I took on average about 50 seconds to do this, so lost about 20 secs of actual exam time. Well worth it for organization and peace of mind for me, but again, do what works for you! (Also, keep in mind that you can only write in the scratch pad during the last 30 second before the exam starts. I’ve read some conflicting things about this online, but on my first exam try I asked the proctor and that was his answer).

Verbal:
So, timing wasn’t a huge issue for me here. But I used ten question blocks to check my time,
giving myself more time at the front end (again, do some research, but it is suggested that taking a little more time early and getting off to a good start can help). Anyway I did:
45 done with 10 Q’s
25 done with 20 Q’s
10 done with 30 Q’s
(at this point I would peak at time after each question, but usually was ahead of schedule)
-------

Spent the next several weeks starting to go through the Manhattan books and completing the problems sections in those books and occasionally extras from the OG 17 book as well.

JAN 12 2018: Manhattan #2 620 37 Q, 37 V

Encouraged by the overall score. 40 point jump in a month. But slightly discouraged because my math had not really improved. Had not done any additional verbal study at all but think just getting familiar with the test and the timing helped me there. Reviewed my incorrect questions and made note of my weaker sections. Then, continued with my Manhattan books.

JAN 19 2018: Manhattan #3 630 38Q, 37 V
JAN 26 2018: Manhattan # 4 620 39Q, 35 V

Still wasn’t seeing the gains in the quant section I was expecting after putting some work into it. Also, sentence correction was proving to be a consistent trouble spot for me.

Little discouraged because I was thinking there was an outside chance I’d get my score up enough to sit for the real exam at least once before I left for work, but I just wasn’t ready.

During the summer I did some general research and kept finding myself watching video’s with Brett Ethridge from Dominate the GMAT. Eventually, I sent him an email about taking his course. He couldn’t have been better. He listened to what I had already done and where my weak spots likely were. Instead of recommending his entire course he suggested taking his full math course (which gives you access to his office hours – more on that below*) and then supplementing it with his sentence correction “a la carte” course. By doing this I was able to save money and get what I needed (BTW his course is already much less expensive than some of the bigger names). The thing I enjoyed most about his style of teaching was that it was simple, straightforward and digestible. He knows the theory and concepts behind what he teaches, but also gives you tools to work with what you have and get more answers right.

*Note: the one thing I would recommend to anyone taking his course is to make use of his “office hours” as much as you can. I waited until I was almost finished with his program before using this feature and then was on every week until my test dates. It is essentially a skype tutoring session with Brett. He is fantastic in these sessions and they are much more intimate than I would have imagined. The most people I ever had on a session was 3 including myself and there were a few weeks where it was just me and Brett – HUGE value add here.

Dominate the GMAT Full Math Course
Dominate the GMAT Sentence Correction Course
Followed along with the videos and continued to make note cards on the big-ticket items.
His working backwards and making up numbers videos are great test day tools.

OCT 16 2018: Manhattan # 5 650 44 Q, 35 V
Great jump here. Fee like I had moved past the plateau and was feeling good.

Then, I had several weeks of mixed results….
OCT 30 2018: Manhattan # 6 620 37 Q, 37 V
NOV 20 2018: Official GMAC Practice #1: 620 37 Q, 38 V
DEC 7: Dominate Exam #1 650 45Q, 34 V
DEC 15: Dominate Exam #2: 610 42 Q, 32 V
DEC 21: Dominate Exam #3: 650 45Q, 34 V
(After this exam, I booked my real exam. Felt good with another 650 under my belt and was gaining confidence even though results had been mixed.
DEC 28: Dominate Exam #4: 580 45 Q, 23V

For some reason I had a brutal time with the Dominate verbal sections. Could very well have just been poor performance on my part so take this with a grain of salt, but if there was one critique I would have about the Dominate program it would be with the practice tests. The simulator was a little wonky and the questions didn’t quite feel like the GMAC ones. With regard to the tests, I’d rank them GMAC (far and above), Manhattan and then Dominate.

JAN 3 2019: Official GMAC Practice #2: 630 36 Q, 40 V
JAN 10 2019: Official GMAC Practice #3: 650 42 Q, 38 V
Definitely encouraged but this final score.

Important: Have a target score in mind when you head in for test day and stick to it (that can be really difficult as you’ll see, but it makes the decision easy in crunch time at the moment you need to decide). So figure out what that score is depending on your circumstances ahead of time. For me, that number was 650. Even though it was my high-water mark to that point, I had achieved it four times and I wasn’t in any immediate rush to post a score as I had decided to wait until the following year to send out applications.

Other test day notes:
(1) make sure you know where test center is (make the trip the week before)
(2) bring a small snack and some water (you can access during your breaks)
(3) they provide you with noise cancelling headphones – they are awesome

JAN 17 2019: GMAT Attempt #1: 640 33 Q, 44 V

So frustrating. But, it wasn’t the bottom line score. So I cancelled.
Felt like I was close to where I needed to be and wanted to get it done before work started again though, so I almost immediately booked another exam.

Decided to take close to two weeks off.
Definitely allow yourself this time when you need it. You won’t forget the material.
Then, attacked all of the error log notecards I had accumulated and made sure I was solid on my timing. Also had a small bundle of key concept note cards for light review.

FEB 6 2019: Official GMAC Practice #4: 680 43 Q, 40 V

Pumped after this exam. Starting to feel really good.
Comfortable with timing. Kept reviewing my error cards and key concepts.

Lead up to Attempt #2. Felt great the whole week leading up this exam. And not as an excuse, but something hopefully you all can learn from. At about 9:30 PM night before exam I had a call from a family member. It was something relatively benign, but needed to be done on a time crunch and required calling several people etc etc. Ended up being frustrating and keeping me up way too late. (in retrospect, it could have waited and/or someone else could have handed it)

FEB 13 2019: GMAT Attempt #2: 640 39 Q, 39 V

Canceled again. This is where it was really important to have your number in mind before you go into your exam. Otherwise, I probably would have accepted or been tempted to.

Down after this result. Considered putting it off till next fall, but knew I had a better number in me and also got good support from my partner, who sent a check for my third exam fee.

Recharge time again. Great time off here not thinking at all about GMAT.
Started to get back into it the week before the exam, but didn’t take any practice exams.
Lightly went over several error cards and core concept cards.
Phone on airplane mode at 5 PM the night before.

MAR 5 2019: GMAT Attempt #3: 700 40 Q, 45 V

Great feeling seeing that number on the screen.
Still really letting it soak in, but knew I wanted to share it with you all.

So, that’s my story. I hope it helps a few of you out on your own journey.
In closing, do your best to enjoy it and keep going – you got it!
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Re: My GMAT Journey to 700  [#permalink]

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New post 07 Mar 2019, 19:17
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Congratulations brother!
Very gutsy to have cancelled your scores twice, I must say.
But you proved yourself and that's what matters.
A great read. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: My GMAT Journey to 700  [#permalink]

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New post 08 Mar 2019, 08:50
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Congratulation on your 700 score. You have an impressive Verbal scores :)
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Re: My GMAT Journey to 700  [#permalink]

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New post 08 Mar 2019, 09:16
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Congratulations on that killer score and thank you for penning a descriptive debrief!

Best wishes for the rest of the journey!:)
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Re: My GMAT Journey to 700  [#permalink]

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New post 08 Mar 2019, 11:49
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Congrats on a getting a very nice score on GMAT.

Thanks for sharing a detailed debrief. All the best for the applications.
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Re: My GMAT Journey to 700   [#permalink] 08 Mar 2019, 11:49
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