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My Story - 660 to 730

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My Story - 660 to 730  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 26 Feb 2020, 20:08
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While I was prepping to take the GMAT, reading people's stories of triumph on gmatclub was extremely inspirational and helpful to me. Having now completed my own struggle, I wanted to pay it forward and share my story, which will hopefully encourage somebody reading this to keep trying.

I started studying for the GMAT near the end of 2018. I finished my undergrad in April 2018, and I liked the idea of getting the GMAT out of the way while I still had some study habits- a GMAT score lasts 5 years after all. My big goal was to score a 700 or greater to qualify for a top ten MBA program. A co-worker and friend of mine who was a few years ahead of me in her career had just finished taking the GMAT, and generously offered to give me her books. Of course, I accepted. She gave me the OG from 2017 and the full Manhattan Prep set of books (Foundations of math, plus like 11 numbered volumes, one for each skill required to nail the GMAT). The books were already out of date, but they were still great resources. I began dipping my toe into these books as I rode the bus or “L” train home from work every day. I started with the diagnostic test in the OG, and then started working through the quant questions. At first I would take 5-10 minutes per question, and still get them wrong most of the time. I was baffled that no calculator was allowed for the quant portion of the test.

Before I even started studying for the test I knew two things: 1) I had always been a poor standardized test taker. I did poorly on the ACT and the SAT, and had no reason to believe things would be different on the GMAT. And 2) I knew the quantitative section of the test was going to be the most difficult part for me. I always considered myself to be well spoken and good at grammar, even for a native English speaker, but I had no such confidence in my quantitative skills. After getting a C- in high school calculus I avoided the subject at all costs. To make matters worse I was very self conscious about my test taking handicap. I enjoyed the image of being a smart person, and I did not like when a test score could let everybody see how I really stacked up. I remember after my first ever practice test (a 570 from Veritas Prep), I was really discouraged- I was even reluctant to tell my wife the score. The best first step to improvement is embracing where you’re really at. I was not good at that.

I kept studying on the commute home and maybe 1-2 hours per week at home. I’d call this study effort level 2 out of 10. My main resources were the books from my co-worker, and Veritas Prep’s free online question bank. I would watch YouTube videos to learn basic concepts as well as tips and tricks. Eventually I picked up that the most challenging part of the test was that I only had 2 minutes per question, and started practicing as such.

I started to learn from reading online forums that the Veritas Prep study material is not exactly first class- I read that their materials were unrealistically tricky, and just harder overall. I really hoped that was true because after taking many practice tests on their website I could not crack 640. Finally I tried the Official GMAT prep test #1 from GMAC and got a 710! I celebrated like crazy after that, and scheduled my GMAT exam for April 2018.

After scheduling my exam, I probably ramped up my studying to what I would now call level 5 out of 10, though at the time it felt like level 10. When my first exam rolled around I had taken a few more Veritas practice tests, and the second GMAC official practice test- on which I scored a 690. I also retook GMAC tests 1 and 2, because they were free, not realizing how much your brain can remember when re-taking a test. I scored a 730 and 710 on 1 and 2 respectively. All this did was give me a false sense of confidence.

Official GMAT attempt #1: 660 (V40 Q42)
I was devastated. I had this idea that I was a clutch test taker, and that I would somehow be able to perform better on the real thing than I had on practice tests. That obviously did not happen. It took me at least a month to recover mentally from that first attempt and get back on the horse, but eventually I did. Lots of people take the GMAT twice, after all.

I was determined to make my second attempt the final attempt. I decided to redefine what level 10 study effort was, and not schedule the next attempt until I was consistently getting 750s in practice. I also learned to get into the very top tier of schools, 700 hundred was probably not good enough- I raised my goal to 730, the HBS median. I drew out a study plan which involved going to the library for two hours after work every night to study, and spend 4 hours each Saturday studying. I even allocated more budget for fast food so I could eat a quick dinner out every night. I would take two practice tests per week, and on the other days I would review the tests, and drill myself on individual skills.

My biggest takeaway from attempt #1 was that my time management needed to improve. On both the quant and the verbal sections I got behind in the clock early, and had to just scramble through the last ten questions or so. Not good. I learned some great techniques online for time management – for example, at the beginning of the test draw out tables which tell you the time you should be at every 5th question, and if you find yourself more than two minutes behind at any interval, just guess on a question to make up time.

I also purchased more resources. I bought the MGMAT CAT subscription which included 7 unique CATs which could be repeated, and the GMAC OG Quant and Verbal editions which each came with a bunch of extra official questions I could access online. I also bought the 4 additional GMAC official practice tests, which I used about once every other week. My focus was 95% quant, 5% verbal. I was getting 99% on nearly every practice test I took, so I was not too concerned in that area.
My nightly practice sessions were very structured. I began compiling a word document with tips, tricks and things to memorize for all the quant skills I struggled with. I did the same for verbal. I also wrote a mission statement which laid out my goals and reminded me of the reasons I wanted a high GMAT score, and a self-affirming mantra about how much I loved problem solving, and was so calm and collected while taking the test. I would read the two word documents, the mission statement, and the mantra each night at the beginning of my study, and of course, pray and ask for God’s help with my learning. This structure helped me to keep fresh on skills I had learned, and it also put me in the right head space to begin studying.

I studied like this, at what I would call a truly level 10 study effort, from May until July. I was happy to see pretty consistent improvement as a result of this plan. I was scoring decently on even the MGMAT CATs, which I read were more difficult than the real thing. My scores on the official GMAC practice tests #4, #5, and #6 were 730, 750, and 750 respectively. I was ready. I scheduled exam #2 for August.
I felt great about attempt #2 right up until 24 hours before gametime. I could not fall asleep the night before because of nerves. My mind would not stop racing, I was so anxious to take the test and find out my results. As soon I stepped into the testing center I had to go straight to the restroom, where I lost all the meals I had eaten that day. When I was in the back half of the test (verbal) I could feel the mental fog come in, displacing my ability to focus, as a direct result of the malnourishment. I did not feel well at all.

Official GMAT attempt #2: 690 (V38 Q47)
I was completely shocked when I saw 690 flash up on the screen. I was incensed. Enraged. I could not understand how there was such a gigantic disconnect between my results on official practice tests and the real deal. I was embarrassed to talk about it. I hated when friends and family would ask how it went and I had to tell them I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. It took me months to get back on the horse after this result- which I viewed as a complete failure- for two reasons. First, as I calmed down after the fact I realized that 690 is still a pretty good score. I have close friends who have gone to Booth and Kellogg part time with worse scores, and since I live in Chicago, going to one of those programs seemed like a great option. So I was comforted by a feeling that my score was good enough, so why keep throwing my time and money away for a better GMAT score. The second thing keeping me from getting back on the horse was discouragement. I truly didn’t know how to improve. My downfall in attempt #2 was the verbal portion, and I got nothing but 44s, 45s, and 46s in verbal on practice tests, yet this did not connect to gameday. This disconnect was a mystery to me.

As I pondered my 690 score, and as the anger and shame of getting said score after so much hard work wore off, I came to the obvious conclusion: my issue was not in my preparation, but in my gameday jitters. So how do you beat gameday jitters? I thought of two solutions: the first was to practice while in the worst possible mental state. If It was likely that I was going to be feeling terrible while I took the test, I needed to put myself in that position when I practiced. I began studying and taking my practice tests at times when my brain was not in peak condition (5:30am after a late night while I felt a cold coming on, immediately after a long frustrating grind at the office before I’d rested or had dinner, etc.) The second solution was to take more measures to be chill going into the exam. For me that meant studying MUCH less, and reminding myself that attempt #3 was completely inconsequential- after all, settling for a top 10 school’s part time program is not a bad fall back. I came to these enlightened conclusions in December, and scheduled another test for February.

Leading up to attempt #3 my study was much less intense. I’d call it level 4 studying. I would study for an hour in the evening, 3 nights per week, and try to fit in a CAT every other week or so when I was feeling particularly miserable. I also put an increased emphasis on verbal for the first time. I challenged myself to not only score well in verbal, but to really know what I was doing and why. For example, in sentence correction, I ceased trusting my ear to tell me which sentence sounded the best, and taught myself to instead be able to identify the precise grammar rule that had been violated.
I rolled into the testing center on a Wednesday morning groggy, trying to channel my half-asleep self who had been nailing practice CATs. Finally, success.

Official GMAT attempt #3: 730 (V45 Q46)
When 730 flashed up on the screen my head fell into my hands with complete relief. I’ve scarcely felt such a weight be lifted from my body. And I’ve never been so grateful to have persevered.

Top Tips:
1. Don’t give up. You’re smart enough. You can do it. There’s no reason you can’t score above the 90th percentile. Lots of people dumber than you do it all the time (I’m just one example).
2. Use the highest quality study resources whenever possible (GMAC Official guides, and MGMAT). Don’t bother with the other stuff. It can help you improve, sure, but the questions being too tricky or too easy or worded differently really matters.
3. Don’t waste time with anything less than level 10 studying. Almost all of my learning came between May and August when I was dedicating 10-12 hours per week. If I could do it again, I would cut out all the half-a$$ stuff and just go hard. It wouldn’t have taken as long if I did that.
4. Practical advice: learn time management strategies. This is the single most helpful tip I can give for the actual test taking. Not having to worry about time is such a great help. You have to know when to give up on a question, or just skip one all together, its all for the greater good. In all of my highest scoring tests, real and practice, I have made guesses to save time.
5. When you’re struggling to keep heart, engage prayer/meditation. My greatest insights about how to study better came while I was engaged in prayer and meditation.
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Originally posted by brucecrawfordr on 21 Feb 2020, 06:58.
Last edited by bb on 26 Feb 2020, 20:08, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: My Story - 660 to 730  [#permalink]

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New post 21 Feb 2020, 07:23
Thank you for sharing your story! “Never give up” should be the motto of any Gmatclub member))

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Re: My Story - 660 to 730  [#permalink]

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New post 21 Feb 2020, 08:05
Hearty congratulations. Indeed a motivational story.
I am not sure if it is too much to ask but could you please share your word docs for motivation,trips and tricks and also the reason to keep going.

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Re: My Story - 660 to 730  [#permalink]

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New post 21 Feb 2020, 08:09
Few other follow up questions:
-Didn't you feel drain when you were preparing right after job? Did you had time for excercise ?
-Did moving to fast food help? Shouldn't it be better to just eat healthy but a quick snack?
- Shall I assume that one shouldn't buy veritas tests(they are cheap though) just because they are tough?

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Re: My Story - 660 to 730  [#permalink]

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New post 21 Feb 2020, 08:58
Congratulations! Finally welcome to 700 club (and particularly 730 club). Indeed a entertaining story.
Which schools are you applying to?
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Re: My Story - 660 to 730  [#permalink]

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New post 26 Feb 2020, 08:52
Thanks for all the responses! I'm so glad you all made it through my incredibly long post!

jbatra - 1) I will definitely share my word docs. Just as soon as I figure out how. 2) I definitely felt drained after work, but I came to see that as an advantage. It allowed me to practice while in a poor mental state, just like the one I would be in while taking the actual test. My time for exercise definitely suffered. I'm sure exercise would have helped me to focus better, but there are only so many hours in the day. 3) I'm a gigantic Mcdonalds fan, I didn't notice it hurting my performance, maybe I would have done better had I eaten healthier; who knows. 4) I think Veritas tests have their place, but only early on in preparation. You can still improve using these tests, and its great that they're cheap. But as you're nearing the 700+ region, just stick to the good stuff. Just my two cents.

chondro48 - I'm still a little on the young side to apply (finished undergrad in April '18), but my target schools rn are HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, and Columbia.
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Re: My Story - 660 to 730   [#permalink] 26 Feb 2020, 08:52
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