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The importance of mindset on the GMAT - 640 to 690 to 740 (Q49 V42)

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Joined: 06 Sep 2018
Posts: 72
Location: India
Concentration: Finance, Entrepreneurship
GMAT 1: 740 Q49 V42
GPA: 4
WE: Analyst (Investment Banking)
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The importance of mindset on the GMAT - 640 to 690 to 740 (Q49 V42)  [#permalink]

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New post Updated on: 30 Jan 2019, 10:52
I just got home from the testing center and the reality hasn’t sunk in yet. This has been an absolute war that has drained me both mentally and physically. Upon reading several debriefs of people getting a 720+ score in a month’s study, I figured 3 months would be ample time to get a 740. I started my prep by hitting the OGs (first big mistake), took a few mocks in conditions unrepresentative of the actual test (second big mistake) and went in with a half-baked testing strategy. I was swiftly knocked down a few pegs.

~600 hours of study later, I had scored a 640 (Q45 V33) on my first attempt. I was absolutely shattered. (Experience detailed here:

The second time wasn’t much better. I took the test 1.5 months later, with a slightly revised strategy, but still one that prioritized knowledge over an actual attack plan, and scored a 690 (Q48 V35).

I’m an Indian with an otherwise solid profile applying to T-20 B-Schools. 690 wouldn’t have got me into T-20. My applications due in 3 weeks, I decided to schedule yet another attempt just one day prior to my first application deadline. (Yes, my first application is due tomorrow.) My recommendations had already been sent to the T-20, meaning another poor performance would mean a next-to-no chance of getting into the schools I wanted. It meant waiting another year. It also meant losing out on a key recommender as I could not have used him on my reapplications. So, with all that on the line, I was expected to bring it.

And bring it I did. When the 740 flashed on my screen, my heart started to pound. I finally felt vindicated.

I’ve read several great debriefs on this site, so I won’t bore you with mine. I made a ton of mistakes with my prep and I feel you could learn more from people who had a more structured study plan.

What I would like to shed light on — the “trick” that helped me get from 690 to 740 in two weeks — is the importance of the right mindset on the GMAT.


The testing system in my country places a disproportionate amount of focus on knowledge over application/execution — this is what I was conditioned to. The GMAT is different. Application is king on the GMAT. You cannot ace the GMAT by learning more stuff. A computer with tons of storage but a sh*t RAM is a sh*t computer. The GMAT boils down to a few core skills — an absolute mastery of these skills is the only way you’re going to ace the GMAT. Bruce Lee put it best when he said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”


Test takers often fixate on a particular score, as did I. At the outset, 740 was my target score. Such activity is pointless because a complex algorithm that is far beyond the understanding of us laypeople calculates your final the score. Many variables such as timing, difficulty of questions, experimental questions etc. go into the calculation, making the idea of a target score pointless. Some folks suggest setting section-wise targets. While this is a slightly a better strategy in that it helps you portion out your prep, it doesn’t hold up on the actual test. The simple truth is that you cannot control the test and there's no point obsessing over something you cannot control.

Why do I say this? Because I set Q49 V44 targets on my second attempt, and when I was thrown a hard RC that I just couldn’t understand, I spent more time on it than I should have, keeping the V44 in sight. My timing strategy went out the window and I was forced to guess ~6-7 questions. My verbal score (V35) came crashing down. Targets have a way of motivating you — but they can also weigh you down. And when errors are punished as severely as they are on the GMAT, it’s safer to not fixate on such targets at all.


I’m terrible at standardized testing — it’s just not my thing. Needless to say, the thought of taking a test that could very well define my future makes my heart pound faster. So I didn’t think about it at all. I drew parallels between testing, an unknown entity (to me), and combat sport, which is my thing. I approached the GMAT as it were a fight. GMAT day was fight day for me.

What does that mean?

1. If you step inside the ring with no game-plan, you set yourself up for failure. Not having a concrete attack plan was my biggest mistake on my first two attempts. I had a set technique with which to tackle each kind of problem in my third attempt — this gave me confidence on the test and saved time.
2. In a fight, you never think about the final score going in. You think about slipping the next punch and countering with a right hook. It helped me take one question at a time and do my absolute best on that question without worrying about the big picture, a picture I had no control over anyway.
3. You’re going to get hit in a fight, it comes with the sport. Landing more punches than you take gets you victory. Helped me immensely to not spend a stupid amount of time on a problem I couldn’t answer. I took it as a punch to the gut and used it as motivation to do better on the next one.
4. Prepare for that haymaker. Strategize so you’re not knocked down. The haymaker on the GMAT is undoubtedly the 50-line RC. It knocked me out cold in my first two attempts, but in my third attempt, I was prepared. I took a deep breath and made as many notes as I could. I wasn’t going to fall a third time.
5. Trust your instincts. Instincts, or intuition, is a sum total of knowledge and experience. If you’ve put in the work, your instincts will most likely guide you well. On the GMAT, when there’s no time to second guess, trusting your instincts saves you valuable time.
6. Just because you lost the round doesn’t mean you’ll lose the fight. If you go the V-Q-IR-AWA route as I did, chances are you’re going to come out of your first section (verbal) with a few disappointments. Even at V42, I felt like I’d fudged it up and was disappointed because I couldn’t definitively answer a few questions. Over-analyzing this performance during the break would have invariably affected my performance in the Quant section. I didn’t let this happen — channeling my focus on my quant game-plan helped tune out the noise.


I worked towards the 740 over a period of 5 months. Even in my first attempt, knowledge wasn’t an issue for me. You really don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge to fare well on the GMAT. I had issues with performance-related anxiety, which would, funnily enough, worsen my performance. Just as a fighter would going into a fight, I trained my mind to help me better handle nerves — to maximize performance by focusing on the present rather than future implications. I did this through meditation, and while you may scoff at it or think it’s not a necessary part of prep, to me, it is what helped me elevate my game. Going into the test, I was perfectly calm. Unlike in my previous attempts, I was relaxed throughout the test because I channeled all my focus on the next question — my heart only started pounding when I saw the score. I’ll admit, that is something for which I hadn’t prepared myself.

If you feel like you’re hitting a wall in your prep, I think changing your mindset could be key to elevating your performance. What makes the GMAT exceptionally hard to beat (and why I annoyed you with the fighting analogies) is that the test is just like fighting another human being — it tries to gauge your performance, to trip you up and to really push you to your limit. You cannot prepare for such a test by just knowing a bunch of facts. The mindset is just as important. (In my opinion)

Some material I used that deserves a shout:
1. OG ’15 and ’19: The gold standard for GMAT prep; just don’t use it to “learn” as I did. Use it as a question bank to solve problems once you’re familiar with the techniques.
2. Manhattan SC: Second only to the OG. Just a cut above the questionable material you will see on this forum.
3. Thursdays with Ron: If you’ve got the time, this takes you deep into the psychology of how a guy with a perfect 800 approaches the GMAT. Great stuff.
4. e-GMAT: Highly recommended for "learning” the concepts. I cheaped-out because I didn’t want to spend the ~$300. I ended up spending $500 on retests. Don’t be like me — this is an everything-you’ll-need-on-the-GMAT course. It covers exceptionally important yet often overlooked skills such as reading comprehension (in its Master Comprehension tutorials) that are absolutely critical on all the GMAT sections and helps you hone specific skills with its endlessly customizable quiz builder (Scholaranium). It's easily the most well thought-out and one of the most comprehensive online courses out there and is well worth the investment.
5. GMAT Club Tests: The quant tests are infuriatingly good. The questions are much harder than anything you’ll ever find on the GMAT, but are still representative of the GMAT style. They’re only harder because they weaponize inane concepts you already know but never thought would get tested, forcing you to crystallize your fundamentals.

Some folks I’ve followed who deserve a shout:
Between them, Bunuel and VeritasKarishma have contributed to most of my understanding of GMAT Quant. GMATNinja and souvik101990 have been immensely helpful on the Verbal forums as well. Special shoutout to mikemcgarry for really explaining what makes a good SC question and why he’s not happy with (and rightly so) most of the questions on the forum. :lol:

PS. Much of the advice is very general. This is by design. What worked for me may not work for you. Feel free to reach me on PM should you have specific problems, we'll figure out a way to address them.

Originally posted by shaarang on 02 Jan 2019, 06:49.
Last edited by shaarang on 30 Jan 2019, 10:52, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The importance of mindset on the GMAT - 640 to 690 to 740 (Q49 V42)  [#permalink]

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New post 12 Jan 2019, 22:09
Amazing debrief!! Definitely got to learn a lot from this. :)
Congratulations shaarang on the 100 points improvement.Its commendable.
All the best :thumbup: for your apps.
Please give kudos if you found my posts helpful!

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Joined: 19 Mar 2018
Posts: 67
Location: India
Concentration: Operations, Strategy
GMAT 1: 600 Q42 V31
GPA: 4
WE: Operations (Energy and Utilities)
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Re: The importance of mindset on the GMAT - 640 to 690 to 740 (Q49 V42)  [#permalink]

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New post 15 Jan 2019, 11:26
Congratulations shaarang and all the very best for the applications part :)
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Re: The importance of mindset on the GMAT - 640 to 690 to 740 (Q49 V42)   [#permalink] 15 Jan 2019, 11:26
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