January 26, 2021

Joined: Aug 04, 2019

Posts: 76

Kudos: 39

Verified score:
740 Q49 V42

My GMAT Journey - from 540 to 740.


Improvement 200 Points

Course Target Test Prep Flexible Prep

Location Online

Hello guys,

I am happy when I am writing these lines. I have been on GMATCLUB for more than 2 years. I read some reviews of the people who had succeeded in GMAT and wondered whether I would one day be the one who writes the review. I love this community, and it is my duty and honor to share my experiences of my GMAT journey so that it can inspire and help someone out there. I will talk about my journey first and then summarize my key take-aways of GMAT. For that reason, my “briefing” will be rather long :)

MY BACKGROUND: I have an undergraduate degree of management and already hold a Master's degree. I need GMAT to apply for a good PhD in management program.

MY FIRST ATTEMPT: I learned MANHATTAN guides and did questions in OG and then took the GMAT. But I scored 540 in my first attempt, many questions in both Quant and Verbal sections not finished. I was rather shocked, especially by the Verbal result because I was quite good at English (I scored 9 on IELTS reading section) and cared a lot about languages in general. My conclusion was that I underestimated the GMAT.

PREPARATION: I started preparing seriously for the GMAT in the summer of 2019. I spent 2 months doing questions on GMATCLUB on a daily basis. My preparation was rather unsystematic. I then spent one year augmenting my quantitative and verbal abilities. After one year, I was more confident in my ability to ace the GMAT. I need a 700-level score to get in my desired PhD program. And because I still had to work and was already married, I had to balance my GMAT preparation and other life duties. I tried to spend most of my free time learning the GMAT. Sometimes I thought of giving up.

One day I read an online article by some person who writes that the key difference between the high-score test takers and the low-score ones is that the latter thinks of GMAT as something to get rid of while the former thinks of GMAT as an opportunity to learn something valuable. Then, I happened to read an article on Reddit, on which someone asked whether it is hard to get a high score on GMAT, and some tutor at Manhattan Prep wrote something like "It's all about determination and persistence, and it can be you. Why not?" I then thought of GMAT as an opportunity to learn something valuable, and the more I studied the more I saw the charm of GMAT. My GMAT preparation, though sometimes stressful, gradually became my daily hobby. I even did all the available questions of “Logical Reasoning” of LSAT on GMATCLUB.

After one-year preparation, I thought that I might need some prep course to systemize my learning before I took another GMAT. I am a self-taught person, and I am not really comfortable to join offline classes. I searched for some prep courses, and TARGET TEST PREP (TTP) was the one highly recommended by GMATCLUB. Fortunately, TTP offered a 7-day trial, so I registered for the course to take a look. My first impression was that the course was professionally designed. I spent a few days studying intensively TTP and realized that this was the prep course I need. I decided to register for the Flexible Scheme. At first, I intended to review my learning, but then I found that there were fundamental quantitative concepts that I had not mastered. I also tried TTP's Verbal Beta Version and found it helpful. My learning with TTP then turned out to be much more intensive and joyful than I had intended. I spent 4 months going through TTP and could feel my progress. TTP is designed in a smart and detailed way. TTP helped me master the fundamentals before using more advanced techniques for shortcuts. I had had some GMAT insights before learning with TTP and indeed found that many of TTP's insights coincided with mine. TTP-made Quant and Verbal questions are of high quality.

MY SECOND ATTEMPT: I finished almost all of TTP chapters before my second attempt. Because of my demanding work schedule, I decided to take the GMAT on December 11th 2020. However, I did not sleep well before the test day and did not take the mock test. Perhaps I was overconfident with my preparation. I did not manage time well during the test and still left some questions unanswered in both Quant and Verbal sections. My score was 590 (quant: 42, verbal: 28), distressing me a lot, especially because my Verbal score was 28, even lower than my Verbal performance 2 years ago. The good point was that even I did not finish the Quant section, I scored 42, so my quant performance really improved. Thinking about my time spent on preparing for GMAT and what I had learned from TTP, I could not accept the result. I registered for my last GMAT attempt in 3 weeks and determined that it would be my last attempt.

THE LAST 3 WEEKS: I spent some time reflecting on the reasons for my results. The chief reason is a strategic reason. I felt that I could do any question in the GMAT last time but did not manage to do so. I broke down the reasons: (i) I did not manage time well; (ii) I did not really master some of quant concepts, a fact that takes me a lot of time on solving some questions, especially Data Sufficiency, (iii) the Verbal questions on TTP, especially Critical Reasoning ones, were harder than the actual questions on GMAT, so I kept spending too much time on each Verbal question, especially the hard ones; (iv) I did not write down the key points in RC, using up a lot of my valuable time in RC; and (v) I did not do the mock test to prepare myself for the stressful testing environment.

In 3 weeks, I studied between 6 to 8 hours a day. I continued to work with TTP, spending time mastering the quantitative concepts of combinations, permutations, probability, and geometry. I knew that mastering these concepts is essential to getting a high score on Quant section. I also did quantitative questions of diverse topics (number properties, quadratics, rate and work problems, etc.) to train myself to "remember cold". Because the Data Sufficiency is a great opportunity to save time, I spent time understanding the conceptual nature of the topics involved, and when encountering a DS question, I spent time working with the Stem to understand the nature of the concepts tested. My DS performance improved on a daily basis, and I could solve DS hard questions in less than 1 minute. I also tried to do Verbal questions in a decisive way. Moreover, I reviewed intensively my performance in both Quant and Verbal sections. Why did I incorrectly answer this question? Why did I correctly answer this question but did so in more than 2 minutes? I focused on improving my weaknesses and augmenting my strengths. After finishing TTP, I did one mock test of GMATPrep rather than the mock test in TTP because GMATPrep mock tests use the same algorithm as used by the real test. I scored 730 (Quant: 49, Verbal: 40).

TEST DAY: January 6th, 2021.
This time, before leaving home for the test, I kept in mind and followed my STRATEGY: (i) Strategic Skipping: I knew that I would have to resist the temptation to correctly answer ALL the questions: there are some questions that I can solve but in more than 3 minute, so I need to bravely skip some questions. After all, I do not need to score 800 on the GMAT. GMAT questions are smartly designed so that there is always a time-saving way to solve if the test taker really understands the concept involved. So if I do not see that ingenious way and if I spend about 2 minutes without seeing the way to solution, I will skip it; (ii) I will do the Verbal section first because the Verbal section will take up a lot of energy; (iii) On the test day I will bring an energy drink and some KitKat's to boost my energy.

I strictly followed my strategy before and during the test. My mentality was really good during the test. I did each question in Verbal section in a decisive manner. I managed the time quite well and finished all the questions in time. Then I took a break and moved into the Quant section. I aggressively "killed" each quant question, skipping some questions (not in a row). After half of the time allocated for the Quant section, I looked at the timer and saw that I was on the right track and pace: there were 32 minutes and 16 questions left. More importantly, except some questions that I had strategically skipped, I knew that the questions I had did were correct. I could see the traps set by the question maker. When there was less than 1 minute and 1 question left, I decisively chose a random question because I knew that that question could not be finished in less than 1 minute and I did not want to risk not completing the Quant Section. I took the second break, my mentality being very good. I took another Kit Kat and finished the Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing. After completing the Analytical Writing section, I clicked on "End Exam" button. At that moment, I thought that I would score 700-level, and then the result popped up, showing that I scored 740. After the test, I thought that I could have scored higher on Verbal section, but I were satisfied with my results and decided to go on with my application.

(Some of my key take-aways are likely to overlap the insights shared by other people on the GMATCLUB forum.)
- Mindset: Think of GMAT as an opportunity to learn something valuable to you. And it is indeed. If you persist on a daily basis and have a good schedule, you will achieve your desired score one day.
- Approach: Master the fundamentals of Quant and Verbal sections first. To take a soccer analogy, GMAT does not test Messi-like skills but rather Zidane-like skills: GMAT tests how you master the fundamentals and strategically apply them in a stressful testing environment. Make sure that you correctly solve every easy and medium question before moving to hard questions. At the end of the day, the "hard" questions are the ones that you failed to correctly answer. You can save a lot of time on DS questions, even hard ones, by understanding the conceptual nature of each quant topic. The key to nailing the Verbal Section is to be able to eliminate 4 wrong answer choices. I like a quote by Sherlock Holmes - “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This is exactly my approach to Verbal section. Hence, when you practice any Sentence Correction or Critical Reasoning question, make sure that you completely understand WHY each of the 4 wrong answer choices is wrong and WHY the correct answer choice is correct. In SC and CR, you should stick to official questions. Fortunately, questions designed by TTP are of high quality. In my opinion, questions in Verbal section even harder than questions in the real test. You should also study Quant and Verbal in parallel.
- Sentence Correction is the section that you have the great potential to improve. Make sure you master the basic structure of a sentence and grammatical topics and then focus on meaning and logic issues. On each SC question, I first read the stem to get a sense of the meaning of the sentence before I check each answer choice. Note: You must keep your mind open, because the intended meaning may be not the meaning in the original sentence (as in answer choice (A)) but rather the meaning in the correct answer.
- Critical Reasoning: The key to doing well with CR is that when you read or hear an argument, always ask the questions “What is the Conclusion? How did the author come to the Conclusion? What Assumptions did he make? Are they justified?” Be critical and make it your daily habits.
- Reading Comprehension section: Because RC takes up a lot of your valuable time, RC needs to be attacked strategically. You should train yourself to read and summarize academic articles (eg. Scientific American, Nature, etc.) In RC and Verbal section in general, alter all, it is all about reading skills, to quote GMATNinja. In doing RC, you should spend time writing the main idea or topic, dates, people’s names or main positions, key events, of each paragraph in a concise manner because doing so will help structure and navigate your reading. “A good memory is not as good as a bad pencil.”
- Study and Review what you have studied on a regular basis. Especially when you have to work, there are many things untangled in your mind. "Quality over quantity" is the motto of the preparation.
- Maintain your strong points and improve your weak points. Do not avoid looking at that fact that you did not understand well enough a particular topic or concept. Every mistake you make is indeed an opportunity to learn something useful.
- During the last phase of your preparation, spend time doing questions of diverse topics in both Quant and Verbal sections.
- When you are confident with your preparation (perhaps when you are 90% correct in hard questions), make sure that you spend time doing mock tests. Formulate your strategy for the test day, implement your strategy and perfect it during your doing mock tests. I recommend that you spend at least 1 month doing and reviewing mock tests. This is a strategic investment to prepare you for the stressful testing environment.
- 1 week before your test day, make sure that you sleep well each day so that your brain can arrange what you have learnt so far and you have a sober mind before taking the test.
- Last but not least. The key to getting a high score on GMAT is to get a high score in Quant section and get a good enough score in Verbal section. I highly recommend Target Test Prep for this reason.

The day when I was done with the GMAT, I felt empty because learning GMAT with GMATClub and TTP had been a part of my daily life, dawn till dusk, over the last two years. I want to thank you, the great and nice people on GMATClub. I have learnt a lot from the insights of @GMATNinja, @Bunuel, @daagh, @Karishma, @bb, some tutors at MANHATTAN GMAT that I forgot the names, and especially @Scott and other people at TARGET TEST PREP. Sometimes, the way to achievement is to put yourself on the right way. Fortunately, I found it with TTP and had nice and great friends on GMATCLUB to go along with me during this journey. Thank you.

Because old habits did hard, I will still be around on GMATCLUB. See you.


February 16, 2021

A highly informative and motivating debrief! I wish you achieve the best in life.

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