I sat the GMAT twice, in late July 2013 and then a month later. A long time lurker, it seems only right that I share my GMAT experience! I think the level of prep required is different for each person, so I have focused on the key learnings I had.
I first started studying for the GMAT in March 2013 - probably about 10 hours each weekend, covering the Manhattan guides (both Verbal and Quant) and then doing questions, from the MGMAT books
as well as questions posted in these forums, and also the Manhattan practise exams - one each weekend. I stopped studying from mid-May to end June (I lost a bit of motivation as I was finishing full time work at the end of June and had scheduled a month to study before sitting the GMAT at the end of July). In July, I studied about 3-4 hours a day (mostly Quant but some Verbal, using MGMAT questions and OG13 and the questions posted in these forums), still doing one practise exam (MGMAT and OG) each weekend. Over the month, my scores varied from 640 to 710.
I sat the GMAT at the end of July, getting 590 (Q 34, V 37, IR 7, AWA 6). I was devastated, spent the weekend sulking and then booked myself in to retake the exam a month later - I had a lot riding on doing better the second time as I wanted to start grad school in 2014, I had already quit my job and organised volunteer work in India in September - I didn't have time for a third resit!!
Through August, I studied about 3 hours a day - I did one GMAT Club Quant practise set (37 questions) and reviewed all my incorrect answers. I also did one practise exam (re-used OG and MGMAT) each Saturday, with scores ranging from 670 to 730. At the end of August I resat and got 770 (Q 50, V 46, IR 4, AWA 6) - needless to say, I was elated!
Here are my main learnings.Quant
1. Revise basic concepts - I had covered each MGMAT Quant guide earlier in the year but I really should have revised before my first GMAT sitting, even for half a day for each book. This is particularly so for Number Properties, Algebra and Word Problems, because they seem straightforward but it's so easy to get tripped up with little details on the harder questions, especially for DS. In preparing for the resit, I spend the first 2-3 days going through each MGMAT Quant book (concepts only, not the questions).
2. Get the GMAT Club questions - I think if you want a high score, you need to have enough reliable, challenging Quant questions - this is definitely one area I fell short the first time. Admittedly I didn't do much research into other resources, but the GMAT Club Quant questions were a great source of lots of difficult questions which really tested my depth of knowledge.
3. For DS questions - do most of the work BEFORE looking at the answer stems - the first time I sat the GMAT (and during my initial prep), I would look at the whole question and then start trying to figure it out, but I think the stems really confused me. The second time I changed my approach:
-first, I only looked at the original part of the question and asked myself what information I would need to answer the question, i.e. what data would be sufficient (e.g. knowing the sign on some / all variables, having non-negative variables or only integer values).
-second, I went about making any calculations I needed, based on what I'd identified as necessary in the first step, and based on the original part of the question
-third, I looked at the answer stems - after doing the first two steps, the answer was generally pretty obvious.
(The exception to this approach would be when there are units involved, then I would look briefly at the question stems to figure out whether I should be working in a particular unit (e.g. feet, metres etc).)
The benefit of this approach was that I didn't get as easily tripped up by GMAT traps, e.g. sometimes it's D (either 1 or 2) but because one of the stems was obvious, I would end up choosing A / B in my rush to get through the questions.
4. Keep a error log
- the first time I only did this for practise exams, the second time I did this every day. Preparing for the resit, I spent about 2 hours doing the GMAT Club practise tests (i.e. I didn't push to complete the questions in 75 minutes). Then I went through each question I got wrong, tried it again before looking at the answer. In my error log
, I captured the broad topic and where I went wrong (e.g. often in DS, I would overlook certain types of solutions - i.e. what if a variable is 0, negative, non-integer, or careless mistakes) and I used the main points coming out of the error log
in 5 as follows -
5. Keep a theory book - serves the same purpose as flash cards - I started noting the key concepts by issue when I was revising the Manhattan books
. Also, as I developed my error log
, I added to this theory book whenever I had a knowledge gap or if I was making the same mistakes again and again, even if it was a simple mistake - the act of rewriting it in a different way (i.e. noting the theory rather than the mistake) really helped me. In the week before my second GMAT sitting, I think I read over these notes 2-3 times, for about an hour each time. Verbal
I guess I've been lucky to have done all my education in an English speaking country and also Verbal was naturally easier for me. I found the MGMAT guides
really good, especially for SC which was probably hardest for me. My key learnings for Verbal (some of them may be straight out of MGMAT guides
, I don't remember now!!) were:
1. For CR - do most of the work BEFORE looking at the answer options. Similar to DS, I found that for CR, when I looked at the answers trying to find the right one, I'd get really confused. Instead, after reading the question, I would think about what answer I should be looking for - once I got the hang of this approach, it was pretty easy to identify the right answer. And I'm pretty sure it got me through the questions faster, because sometimes the wrong answers were so confusing that it took a while to digest them - doing the pre-work made it easier for me to identify the right answer and dismiss the confusing, wrong answers!
2. For SC - I would highly recommend MGMAT's approach for SC - eliminating the clearly wrong answers (where often the same sentence structure appears in multiple answer choices).
3. For RC - preparing for the GMAT made me realise how often I read without paying attention! My main form of prep for RC was actually just in my day to day reading (e.g. the newspaper, the Economist
, books) - to spend a few seconds after reading an article / few paragraphs to answer the types of questions which come up on the GMAT, e.g. what were the author's key points / arguments, the purpose of the article. I didn't do this with much rigour - only when I remembered from time to time. Also, when I remembered and was feeling motivated, I'd pick up a few articles which I normally wouldn't be interested in - those are the hardest to pay attention to!!AWA
Again I was fortunate to have had to write a lot of essays in school, so I didn't do much prep for AWA. That said, I always took the following approach:
1. Structured my essay with four paragraphs - intro, weaknesses of the argument, things which could strengthen the argument, conclusion.
2. I spent the first 5 minutes noting the key points for the middle two paragraphs - sometimes it felt like a waste of time and it was tempting to start writing as I saw the clock ticking, but after spending this time brainstorming weaknesses / strengths, the rest of the essay came together pretty easily and logically.Overall
I have nothing for IR, it felt like a crap shoot to me, so some overall thoughts, which are by no means original:
1. Take the time to review strategy as much as knowledge - it's easy to keep plugging away at questions without taking a step back and looking at exactly what's going wrong and why. I suspect the first time, I had the knowledge and some of the strategy (though nerves definitely got the better of me!). To prepare for the second sitting of the GMAT, I spent more time focusing on and developing my strategy for answering questions, primarily through the points I have set out above, and also understanding when / why I was getting nervous (e.g. for DS / CR, as I set out above, I would get so confused by the answer choices, so I developed strategies to overcome this).
2. Focus on each question - I think I did so badly the first time because I was so focused on the result (I wanted to "crack the 700 barrier"). Instead, the second time, I focused on one question at a time, both in studying and on the day - this sounds straightforward but was probably the hardest thing for me - not worrying about the final score, what a(nother) bad score would mean, how many more questions I had to get through etc etc, and instead just focusing on the question at hand.
3. Maintaining perspective - I rolled my eyes when I heard people say it before, but the GMAT score is really only one of a number of criteria (I say this not having finished applying to schools - so not yet having been accepted anywhere!). In August (partly out of necessity because I was running out of time!), alongside GMAT prep, I was working on my application essays etc. That sense of perspective was so valuable and I think helped me do much better because it took some of the pressure off the GMAT.
What a journey! That's about all I have, I hope this is helpful!! Any questions, please shout out. Good luck!!!